The winter finale of Once Upon a Time was an episode that answered a veritable plethora of questions, including questions that arose as far back as season 1 and in the season 2 premiere. Here’s what we learned:
Who is the Queen of Hearts? The Queen in Wonderland is none other than Cora. The episode opened with Hook breaking into Belle’s prison cell beneath Queen Regina’s castle in hopes that she might be able to tell him how to kill Rumpelstiltskin. She didn’t have the answers, but Regina interrupted the little get-together with a proposal for Hook: he would travel to Wonderland to take her mother’s heart and she would give him the means to kill Rumpelstiltskin by bringing him to Storybrooke where Rumple would be unable to protect himself with magic. He agreed to the plan and headed to Wonderland where Cora revealed herself once he was brought before the Queen and announced who he was there to see. But she had an alternate proposition for him: he would get her close to Regina and she would defeat her daughter and stop her from enacting the curse which, Cora told him, would not help him kill Rumple.
How Did Part of the Fairytale Land Survive the Curse? Hook did bring Cora’s body back to the fairytale land, but she was only disguised as dead. Regina asked for a moment alone with her mother and tearfully confessed to Cora that she actually loved her, but that she couldn’t take her with her to Storybrooke and needed her dead because she couldn’t show weakness at this time in her life. These words convinced Cora to leave Regina alive. But she took Hook to another part of the fairytale land and generated a giant dome over that part of the land. She said that once the curse was broken this part of the land would be unfrozen and she would be free to help Regina in Storybrooke.
Where Mr. Gold and Regina Scheming to Keep Cora Out of Storybrooke? And how! Since David had fallen under the sleeping curse, they were unsure whether his message had been delivered to Mary Margaret and, more importantly, whether the women would be able to stop Cora from arriving in this land. Convinced that Cora needed to be stopped before she ever set foot in Storybrooke, Mr. Gold convinced Regina to help him double-cross everyone who would help Emma and Mary Margaret get home, including Henry. They stole all of the enchanted diamonds from the mines and then set up a booby trap on the portal that would kill anyone who tried to come through it. After being notified about the missing diamonds by Ruby, Henry rushed to Regina and begged her to let Emma and Mary Margaret come through. Eventually the boy got through to Regina and she removed the spell.
Did Mary Margaret and Emma Make it Home? They did! And what a hard-fought battle that was. The women headed to Rumple’s cell only to discover that the squid ink was missing (although, they did find a parchment with Emma’s name again and again). That’s when Cora played her hand and locked them in there, revealing that Aurora had been under her control this entire time. She stole the compass back and headed to the lake with the rejuvenating waters (remember the one that cured Snow White after she was poisoned not to have children? It turns out that the waters had been buried under the lake that whole time and Cora just burst them up through the barren ground). Back in the cell, Mary Margaret realized that the squid ink had been used to write Emma’s name on the parchment and they used it to break out of the cell. A fight ensued by the lake and Mulan was able to retrieve Aurora’s heart to take back to her. Cora was prepared to take Mary Margaret’s heart until Emma stepped in front of her mother but, as it turns out, Emma really is the savior (despite her doubts that she was simply a pawn of Rumple’s plans all along) because her heart remained in her chest and some sort of magical force propelled Cora back and away. Mother and daughter retrieved the compass and jumped into the portal.
What Happened to Aurora and Mulan? Mulan managed to get Aurora’s heart back in her chest and Aurora passed on the news delivered by Cora that sometimes a soul stolen by a wraith can be reunited with its body. It appears that the two women are off to save Prince Phillip!
Did Everyone Live Happily Ever After? Some people did, in a manner of speaking. Mary Margaret rushed to Gold’s shop to wake up David with a kiss and the family was all happily reunited. And while Henry acknowledged that Regina had changed, he still chose to go off with his mother, grandparents and the other happy townspeople to celebrate the women’s return. Mr. Gold reminded Regina that all of her hard work simply drove Henry back into Emma’s arms and may have cost her her son. How will Regina react to these new developments? Will she continue to embrace her inner goodness or is she prepared to fight dirty again for what she wants?
What Happened to Cora and Hook? The portal closed after Emma and Mary Margaret traveled back to Storybrooke, but Hook had another trick up his sleeve: the petrified bean he had stolen from the giant. Using the rejuvenating lake waters, he and Cora were able to grow a beanstalk. As the people of Storybrooke headed off to Granny’s Diner for a celebratory dinner, the viewers spotted Hook’s ship off in the distance.
In other words, Captain Hook and Cora have arrived in Storybrooke.
The Once Upon a Time winter finale was a terrific end to the “Emma and Mary Margaret in fairytale land” plot. Some shows may have chosen to drag that particular arc out longer, but I’m happy that the writers brought the women back to Storybrooke to open up the possibility of other arc. As I watched the Charming family reunion after Cora’s plan had been thwarted I thought “well, now what?!”, so I was thrilled to see Hook’s ship in the Storybrooke harbor. Their arrival in town sets up what’s sure to be a dramatic second half of season 2.