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TV Review: Once Upon a Time – “The Queen is Dead”

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The ability to trade one life for another is powerful magic. And as we know all magic comes with a price. This frames the moral dilemma faced by the young Snow White (Bailee Madison) in this week’s Once Upon a Time episode “The Queen is Dead” when faced with saving her dying mother, Queen Eva (Rena Sofer). 

It is Snow’s birthday back in Fairytale Land. Without warning,falls gravely ill. Told by a loyal servant Johanna (Downton Abbey‘s Lesley Nicol) that Snow might find a cure from the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy), gives Snow a magic candle. But use of this dark magic comes with a high price; Eva may be spared, but only at the sacrifice of another life. All Snow has to do is say the name of the person to be sacrificed and the deed is done. But Snow, who has just vowed to her mother that she will always be “good” is unwilling to kill someone else for the selfish desire of saving her mother. 

Is this offer a test of the young princess’ goodness? Offered her mother’s life, would Snow act selfishly or do the right thing? To commit murder (for that is what the Blue Fairy proposes) would have certainly set Snow White on a dark path, one from which there may never have been a chance of redemption.

The offer doesn’t sound like our dear Mother Superior, does it? And indeed it is not. The evil Cora (Barbara Hershey) in Blue Fairy clothing is behind the magic candle. And either way, she wins. Should Snow have used it and saved her mother by killing an innocent in exchange, she would have embarked on a dark path, part of Cora’s goal to turn her little heart “black as coal.” And even if she had saved Cora, nothing would stop the evil b**ch from trying it again (and again). But Cora must know that the sweet child would not sink to murder just to save her mother, tempting as it might have been. Eva’s death is but the first step of Cora’s plan to place Regina (Lana Parrilla) on the throne as Fairytale Land’s truly Evil Queen. 

Fast forward 300 years or so to Storybrooke. It is Snow’s (Ginnifer Goodwin) birthday, a day that only has for her the bad memory of her mother’s death. But this birthday starts out a little better, as Johanna, a servant and protector in her mother’s house turns up in town, giving Snow her queen’s coronet. And by the episode’s end, once again, Snow has a life-or-death decision to make.

In an episode that is in many ways a great set up for next week’s stunning “The Miller’s Daughter,” this week’s outing finds Snow White questioning the goodness she has held onto for centuries. Her drive to “do the right thing” has cost much: she spared Regina’s life, she sent baby Emma (Jennifer Morrison) through the portal alone, failed to save her own mother because of her refusal to wield dark magic. And now she has another choice to make with Johanna’s life in the balance. Can she allow Johanna to die? And if she’s to be saved, what cost must Snow (and by extension everyone else in Storybrooke, potentially) bear? 

“What if I’m the one who has to change?” she wonders aloud to her prince. Is evil the only way to defeat an even greater evil? And on this Snow and Charming (Josh Dallas) disagree. Is doing “the nice thing” always the same as doing “the right thing?” That is the question faced by Snow both in this episode and next week’s as well.

The last straw comes as Regina and Cora search for Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) dagger. Their goal is to control the Dark One’s power, and should the Evil Royals get their hands on it, all hell will break loose in town. Snow and Charming need to find the dagger first to prevent that from happening. But where is the elusive dagger? Only Rumplestiltskin knows, and he is in New York, slowly dying from a poison hook to his heart. (And for anyone who might have doubted it, Rumple does indeed have one!)

As Gold lies in Bae’s apartment, growing weaker by the moment, he, at last, must trust others. If he doesn’t, and he survives, Cora and Regina will control his power, or perhaps kill him and take it for themselves. It is only by disclosing where he’s hidden the dagger that there is any hope of Snow and Charming getting to it before Regina and Cora.

It matters enough to Rumple that Cora be prevented from using his power to harm his newly discovered family that he discloses the dagger’s location. It’s significant that the dagger, to Rumple, represents his entire being. To own the dagger is to control him, and he is willing to allow Snow and Charming possession to prevent Cora and Regina from using him for ill.

Snow and Charming find the dagger (neatly hidden in the hands of the town clock!), but to no avail as Cora and Regina immediately appear, with Johanna in tow as hostage. We now circle back to the beginning of the episode with Snow’s Hobson’s choice: forfeit Johanna’s life and keep the dagger or surrender it and save the elderly woman’s life. Rather than see Johanna die, Snow gives them the dagger, and Cora, evil witch that she is, kills Johanna anyway! 

Is this be the final straw for Snow? Has she been pushed over the edge by this senseless and cruel murder? And if so, what sort of path will she set upon? All I will say is that you’ll have to tune in to next week’s episode to find out. 

And what about Rumple? What’s to become of him? He, too has a decision to make. After so many centuries, he must begin to trust his life to others. For the first time since becoming The Dark One, he is not in control; he’s a vulnerable as he has been since the day Bae had been threatened with conscription and he’d been forced to kiss the knight’s boot.

Right now, the only hope for Rumple is to return to Storybrooke, where magic is the only thing that can save him from the poison coursing through his body. But how to get him all the way to Maine from New York before it’s too late? Interestingly, it is Baelfire (Michael Raymond-James), last seen wanting nothing more to do with his father, who comes up with the plan to find Hook’s pirate ship and sail it back to Storybrooke. As he explains to Emma, although he wants nothing to do with Rumple, he certainly doesn’t want to see his father die before his eyes. 

There is a moment between Rumple and Henry that echoes back to the final scene of “Manhattan.” Very concerned about his grandfather, Henry approaches the poisoned Mr. Gold. But Gold snaps at Henry, blaming him for his condition. “You led me here,” Rumple snarls. Is this the “undoing” foretold by the seer back in “Manhattan?” (Personally, I don’t think so, but it’s clearly on Gold’s mind!) It’s a quick moment, but unnerving just the same.

“The Queen is Dead” sets the stage beautifully for next week’s episode with much at stake, and right now, Cora and Regina holding all the cards. Tonight on Let’s Talk TV Live we’ll preview “The Miller’s Daughter” (which I have already screened) as well as talk about this week’s episode and what it means for all of Storybrooke. I’ll be joined by Blogcritics writers RHeart Chrissy and JeromeWetzelTV. On March 12, Jane Espenson will be on the show to talk about “The Miller’s Daughter,” an episode she penned. In the meantime, be sure to follow me on Twitter for all the latest on Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time airs on Sunday nights on ABC.

Photo courtesy of ABC Medianet.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • Betsy

    I love how he hid the dagger in the clock tower and how Gold and Belle tricked Cora, Hook and Regina; I knew they would.

    Still not looking forward to next week, though.

    Oh and David – that dagger does NOT belong to you. Ugh, he’s really annoying me lately.

  • Betsy

    Man, the ratings are taking a nosedive. I know ABC likes it, but we really can’t be sure of anything past probably a 3rd season.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/barbara-barnett barbara barnett

    Well, as far as the ratings go, they are a dinosaur. So many watch it on DVR and online, the Nielson’s are almost useless in gauging popularity of a show. The demographics for the series go beyond 18-49 and I’m sure the Mouse knows that as well.

    But you’re right, the numbers are going down (at least the overnights). Not sure why next week’s episode worries you so much, especially after seeing the Paley panel yesterday.

  • WML

    Ratings are still okay, but I would say that I watch the show on DVR several times after the initial showing. Does that count? I still think this is one of ABC’s better rated shows. Especially on a Sunday.

    If AMC can bring David Morissey to The Walking Dead, why can’t ABC bring David Tennant to OUAT? He’d be a great Peter Pan and a great Wizard of Oz.

    Back to the episode – it was pretty good, not quite as interesting as Manhattan but better than the post Christmas OUAT’s (except for the episode that introduced Milah and Hook). Why did they have to kill Mrs. Patmore? Bailey Madison was terrific as the young Snow. Rena Sofer was good, but does she have to be so nice and kind?

    I am really looking forward to more Rumbelle.

    I get the feeling that Gold does not want to harm Henry – thus he is trying his best to keep Henry away by being less than kind to him. So, the big question is, if this is a season of redemption, who gets redeemed? It is increasingly likely that Rumple is ahead of Regina in the redemption path. I hope so. Carlyle is great playing anything. I like the EQ evil, to a degree. I am going to miss Cora, when she finally leaves. And a more evil Snow White? Bring it on.

    Tamara? Makes it interesting. Who is she? I can’t believe she’s just a random outsider. I really like the possibility of the family dynamic between Neal/Rumple, Rumple/Henry, Henry/Neal, Neal/Emma, Emma/Rumple, Emma/Henry, Rumple/Snow/Charming, Belle/Neal, etc. that is sure to percolate in the show moving forward. And if Regina is Rumple’s daughter, watch out!

    In the Paleyfest show, I get this feeling that RC and Emily get along really well in real life. They are so comfortable with each other. Where are the other cast members though (Henry, Red)?

    I am really looking forward to The Miller’s Daughter.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/barbara-barnett barbara barnett

    I think in a lot of ways “The Queen is Dead” is the first part of a 2-parter that will conclude with The Miller’s Daughter.

  • WML

    And Barbara, I know I tweeted this last week. For people interested in more Rachel Shelley (Milah), you may want to watch the Bollywood classic “Lagaan”, which stars the great Aamir Khan. Yes, it’s long. But if you can make a movie/musical/drama about taxes and cricket (and do it well), then it really is a must see.

  • WML

    Barabara, that’s why “The Queen is Dead” seems incomplete. I am really looking forward to seeing Rose McGowan play the young Cora. Here’s hoping we’re all charmed by the performance.

  • Jo

    Back in the day, there were 3 main stations, ABC,CBS,NBC plus PBS. Then USA and Fox came on. You only had a few cable stations, Prism, HBO and Cinamax. Now there are more and each cable station has their own shows. How can you know how many people are watching what anymore-there are so many shows coming on @ 8 pm on a Sunday? If you record a show or watch online, how can the networks count these viewers? Time for a ratings shake-up.

  • RB

    This show had a good season 1 put thei have ruined it in season 2. It has become a soap opera and not worth watching.

  • Joan

    I liked this episode alot and I think it’s setting things up nicely for “The Miller’s Daughter” I can’t wait to see how “dark” Snow will get. I think the last 6 episodes of this season are going to be awesome!

  • Action Kate

    Am I the only one who wants to hold Cora down so Snow can finish the job? Not to disparage Ms. Hershey in any way, but Cora is dragging the entire show down.

    The character is exhausting. She’s melodramatic where the others are delicate, subtle, honest, and vulnerable. Her Hobson’s choice forces Snow into some of the worst, clunkiest, Phantom Menace bad dialogue I’ve heard. The entire plotline is ruining the interesting dynamics which OUAT tried so hard to establish in the first season.

    Gold, Neal, Emma, Henry, Belle — that’s a fascinating story. Snow, Charming, and Emma battling Regina for Henry’s loyalty — that’s emotionally rewarding. Even Hook’s quest for revenge has some weight to it. But Cora’s cloak-swirling maleficence is tiring to the point of getting boring.

  • WML

    I’ve been thinking about the spoilers for the next episode. What if Rumple does dies, but Mr. Gold lives? I wouldn’t mind if Cora somehow makes it out alive. I mean, if the producers are talking about Rose McGowan coming back next year, it must be in the context of a Cora flashback. From whose perspective? Rumple’s? Or Cora’s? Barbara Hershey has been terrific in OUAT, even though Cora is over the top.

    Back to The Queen is Dead. Eva is pure and good? I guess we shall see.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/barbara-barnett barbara barnett

    We shall all see come Sunday night! New article coming out tomorrow previewing/reviewing The Miller’s Daughter.

  • WML

    Barbara,

    Waiting intently on your article and thoughts on the episode. In the meantime, I read an interview with Rose McGowan where she essentially said she relished the chance to work with Robert Carlyle (who she thought was a fantastically talented actor). Jane Espenson is a fantastic writer (and OUAT has a slew of talented writers) but the acting talent in OUAT is equal to the task. That so many people are so invested in Rumbelle speaks volumes to the abilities of RC and Emilie de Ravin. And their fantastic chemistry together. Do you think the showrunners ever imagined Rumbelle to be a breakout couple or for Rumple, arguably, to be the breakout character in OUAT?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/barbara-barnett barbara barnett

    Hi WML–I have a couple of things to do before posting my review (I’m in the middle of writing a novel, and hit a snag in the plot, so as soon as I work that out, I’ll write the article).
    In to your question: I know they never anticipated it. I believe after they saw the first cuts of the pilot, they realized they had a “GoldMine” of screen presence in RC and you can see how the expanded his role (way beyond, from what I recall) from its original intent.

    Emilie was supposed to be a one-time thing (IIRC), and it became very clear that she and Robert had a lot of chemistry, so they brought her back for season two.

    I have to suspect that they had in mind to tell the tale of the Miller’s Daughter from the start, perhaps even as they tell it in Sunday’s new episode, long predating RumBelle

  • WML

    Barabara,

    With RC getting a lot of attention in OUAT, do you think he has a chance for an Emmy nomination? RC has labored for a long time and I think he is somewhat underappreciated (though directors seem to think he is immensely talented).

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/barbara-barnett barbara barnett

    Well, I thought so last year for Skin Deep, and I was wrong. Most people thought he’d get a supporting actor nod and was passed over. So, I don’t know. He is immensely talented–his gift is intensity layered over a real vulnerability. It’s catnip.