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.