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?