Fairy tales continue to be woven together in "Once Upon a Time," and the "Queen of Hearts" episode ties those bonds stronger while baiting viewers with the promise of a magical gunfight in the Storybrooke corral as the inevitable Cora versus Regina battle looms. It's as good a place as any to have the midseason intermission. The show will not return until Jan. 6, but for now we'll concern ourselves with this last tale of 2012.
We start with the resourceful, yet always manipulated Captain Hook in the past, still going after his "crocodile," Rumpelstiltskin. After breaking into Queen Regina's tower to get to Belle, hopefully finding a way to kill Rumpelstiltskin, Hook receives a proposition to join Regina against her mother. She'll give him a way to kill Rumpelstiltskin after her ultimate curse is complete.
Back in the now, in Storybrooke, the manipulative Rumpelstiltskin wants to make sure that Cora doesn't make her way to the town. He pleads his case to Regina that they join forces to make sure whatever portal opens from the Enchanted Forest dimension destroys whomever comes through it. Of course, that could be a problem if it's Snow White and Emma who come through the portal first. For now, that's a chance they'll have to take. Rumpelstiltskin appeals to Regina's desire to keep Henry safe above all else, and Regina tells Henry that she'll do anything to bring Emma and Snow back -- which is a bit of a half-truth.
TIMELINE: Snow White through the years
Snow, Emma, Mulan and Aurora get to Rumpelstiltskin's cell in the Enchanted Forest world, only to find a blank canister of the squid ink that they were hoping to use against Cora. We also learn that it was Rumpelstiltskin who told Prince Charming and Snow White that their daughter was destined to lift a curse and be a savior. They continue to search the cell, and Emma gives an "I'm not a savior" speech that convinces no one. She still is, and good will beat evil, sayeth Snow White.
Past Enchanted Forest Regina's plan is to send Hook to a place called Wonderland, and with his newly enchanted hook, he was to take Cora's heart and bring her body back to the Enchanted Forest. Hook is sent to Wonderland, but is promptly captured by the Queen of Hearts' forces. When he's brought before her, it is revealed that the "off-with-his-head" Queen of Hearts is none other than Cora! Did she kill the last queen? Was she always the evil queen who was given a hard time by Alice? Who knows. Hook, though. does try to kill her. But she, being the Queen of Hearts, had magically moved her heart so that Hook's enchanted hook hit nothing. In another twist for Hook, Cora does not kill him. She wants to use him to go after Regina. Another allegiance forged.
Cora returns, having faked her death, to the Enchanted Forest realm for Regina's inspection. She doesn't kill Regina, though, and instead chooses to be thought of as dead and wait until after Regina's curse is complete to crush her. Cora figured out a way to combat Regina's curse. "Once Upon a Time" followers may have wondered how part of the Enchanted Forest remained untouched by the curse, and now we know ... Cora's own enchantment kept them all safe. Wow. She is powerful.
Back in the present Enchanted Forest, Emma, Snow, Aurora and Mulan can't find anything in the cell except a weird piece of parchment with the name "Emma" written on it over and over again -- serial-killer style. Then (finally), Cora plays her Aurora trump card and uses her to trap the quartet in Rumpelstiltskin's inescapable cell. The group finds out that Cora has had Aurora's heart and that Hook -- the one who took it from her -- was still a little upset that Emma left him at the mercy of a giant. Cora takes back the magic compass, and now they're going to get revenge on Regina and Rumpelstiltskin in Storybrooke.
PHOTOS: Movie princesses through the years
At the same time, back in Storybrooke, Regina and Rumpelstiltskin steal the magic from the crystals that the dwarfs found under the city. Rumpelstiltskin uses a dead fairy's wand to collect it. Wonder if we know this fairy? Hmmm ...
Red and Grumpy find the magic gone from the crystals, and after gathering Henry, they know that Rump and Regina are planning something. Henry is hurt (emotionally) because he'd hoped that Regina was really trying to help -- but now they have to stop her. Henry and Red get to the well (where the portal is -- wolf tracking, perhaps?), and Henry protests while Rumpel subdues Red. With their combined magic, Rump and Regina set a trap so that whoever comes through the portal will be killed.
Now to the battle in the Enchanted Forest. After figuring out that squid ink was used to write "Emma" on the page, Snow blows on it, and they magically escape. Aurora hangs back since she knows that Cora actually controls her. The rest leave -- and take the fight to Cora and Hook. Before the evil duo can jump into the lake/portal, Snow and Emma and Mulan get there just in time. Mulan blocks a fire ball from Cora, Snow White ues her bow and arrow, and Emma takes the fight to Hook.
Mulan gets Aurora's heart back after a save from Hook, and leaves the battle to get it back to her. With possibly their strongest fighter gone, the bad guys are that much better initially. Not sure how much sword training Emma has actually had, but Hook toys with her -- until she brings him in close enough to deliver a right hook to the jaw. Snow is not faring as well, and Cora is about to take her heart when ... Emma steps in. Cora grabs for Emma's heart, but can't take it out. Emma flings her back magically, surprising herself and Snow in the process. No time to dwell, though, and they jump in the portal.
Back in Storybrooke, Regina has been having a crisis of conscience. Henry tells her to trust him, and she undoes the magic that she and Rumpelstiltskin conjured. Just in time, too. Emma and Snow make their way back to the world. Henry and Emma are reunited. Charming is awakened by Snow White and love's true kiss. Regina does a good deed, getting back on Henry's good side -- though she's still a bit on the outside looking in as her son takes to his new mom. Emma has some kind of good magic inside of her since she's a "product of true love," as Rumpelstiltskin called her, and all is right with the world.
Then the show ends with Captain Hook and Cora, sailing their way toward Storybrooke. That darn magic bean. Oh well, let the fireworks begin again.
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