How I love that feeling of breathless anticipation as I impatiently await the show to recommence after a commercial break. It's that sense of anticipation that tells me I'm watching a truly fabulous episode, no matter the series. This week's Once Upon a Time episode "Queen of Hearts" certainly falls into that category, and a great way for the series to gracefully take its bow until after the New Year holiday.
Earlier today on my personal blog (you can find the link in my bio), I criticized the series for (among other things) dragging on the Mulan/Aurora/Ruined Fairytale Land story arc a bit too long. And doing it at the expense of several other significant storylines. Some of that criticism still stands (for example, after bringing Emilie de Ravin (Belle) into the regular series cast, they've terribly underused her, neglecting the lovely bittersweet "Rumbelle" storyline).
But there is no denying that "Queen of Hearts" is a fantastic episode, tying together several story threads extremely well while plucking several new ones (and perhaps conjuring a Pandora's Box for Regina and Rumple, played exquisitely by Lana Parrilla and Robert Carlyle, respectively). That potential Pandora's box comes in the guise of Cora (Barbara Hershey) and the notorious and nefarious Captain Hook (Colin O'Donoghue).
But "Queen of Hearts" is less about the conflict between Storybrooke's antiheroes and the truly evil Cora and Hook, and so much more about the value, virtue, and power of love. Love is one of the series' most important themes, and "Queen of Hearts" explores it from the distinct and diametrically opposed vantages of Once's two most powerful sorcerers — Cora and Rumple.
To Cora, "love is weakness." It is something to be exploited, and the Queen of Hearts has no equal exploiting feelings of the heart, especially since she has no heart (or it's safely buried in a tightly locked safe). Rumple believes strongly that "true love is the most powerful magic." As powerful as he is, and as much as he has manipulated the entire world in which they all dwell, he did not make Emma (Jennifer Morrison) who she is, with the power she now seems to have. That, he tells her, is because she is the product of true love.
But I have to wonder if he had known, or at least had suspected? The curse he created, borne of the true love between Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) — just as Emma had — might have given Emma heroic superpowers. Another side effect of the curse being broken? Perhaps. And what will Emma do with her magic, if indeed it's there?