Once Upon a Time
Episode 16: The Miller's Daughter
Episode 17: Welcome to Storybrooke
By: Carlos Uribe
Once Upon a Time is a show about fairy tale characters who got sent to our reality, which has magic now.
The Miller's Daughter:
The fairytale flashback in this episode has to do with Cora. This whole time her character's motives have remained in question and this episode does a lot to add dimension to why she's evil. She didn't start out that way as she chose her path. She grew up the daughter of a lazy miller's daughter which meant she had no respect in the hierarchical fairytale world. She resents the royalty for this but gets herself in a troubling spot when she claims to have value because she can spin straw into gold. The kingdom is in debt, because they always are in this show, so this means that her skill would have a lot of value to the king. So much value that he decides that if she can do it then she can marry the prince. She can move up in the world. If she doesn't then she's going to die. It's a pretty bad scenario but Rumpelstilskin swoops in and saves her. He does more than that as he teaches her magic and how to rip hearts out. The two become more than friends as they actually sleep together. Cora's desire for revenge is so strong that she decides to get rid of her heart because she sees her love for Rumpel as a distraction that will guide her away from her goal. Without this heart, she never really could love her daughter nor could she ever truly be good. She became evil because she wanted to not only be seen as having value to society but also because she wanted to bring the royalty down a peg. Those motives are real and human. Her quest against Snow's mother makes sense now because it was her character that first made Cora feel worthless. The flashbacks were essential to our understanding of the characters but also in helping to establish the relationship between Cora and Rumpelstilskin.
This is partially what makes her death so tragic. Mr. Gold is dying from the poison but he has a way to save himself. If Mary Margaret can use the candle on Cora then he'll be able to live. Mary Margaret isn't sure if she wants to do this at first but she goes through with it before regretting it immediately. Her instructions are simple. She has to take the candle and find Cora's heart in Regina's tomb. She must use the candle to curse Cora. She then has to find a way to put Cora's heart back inside her body. She manipulates Regina into helping her. She claims that she wants to save Cora but the only way is for her to be able to feel love. Without a heart, Cora can't do that. Regina inadvertently kills her mom by trusting Mary Margaret. The heart goes into Cora and for a fleeting second Regina sees maternal love for the first time in her life. It's a brilliant moment that works for multiple reasons. The first is that the flashbacks made us understand Cora as a human being. The second is because Regina might be evil now but it's still sad to only give her a brief moment where somebody actually loves her. The third is because Cora's corruption of Mary Margaret works. She does chose to kill somebody in order to save another life. That was partially her plan this whole time and she succeeded. In doing so, it led to her own death. That Mary Margaret immediately regrets it simply adds to the sadness of that scene. Sure, a villain who was dangerous to our characters died. It's still a scene that made me feel sad simply because for a brief moment we got to see Cora as a human being.
The Miller's Daughter is one of the best episodes of the season and even the show. It's one that turned what had been a two-dimensional character up to this point and gave them depth. It actually made her death seem tragic rather than a moment of victory for our characters. The flashbacks were well used in connection with the main plot. Just about everything in this episode worked. The narrative momentum also really picks up speed with the way Cora died. She didn't just get killed by the good guys. They used Regina to kill her. That's going to send Regina into a dark side and it's actually going to make sense. Regina becoming a villain because her mother said so was never really executed well but having her accidentally kill her mother? A perfect way for the writers to really sell the idea that she's going to be acting as an antagonist.
Welcome to Storybrooke:
This episode doesn't really have a fairytale flashback as it instead decides to show us Storybrooke from it's early days before Emma came into town. The curse has happened and Regina feels victorious. She believes she has gotten her revenge. The only flaw is that a man and his son happened to be camping near the town's location. They stumble upon the town after the storm that came with the town knocked a tree into their car. Regina is suspicious of these strangers at first so she ensures that their car is fixed as soon as possible. Regina's happiness is thwarted when she realizes that the curse has made everyone a little too complaint. She doesn't want them to do what she says because they have to but because they want to. She's bored because she doesn't really feel like she's earning her power. The curse might have been her revenge but it made life too easy. This means that without any challenge, her life is really dull to the point where it's repetitive. It doesn't help matters that the town is stuck on a Groundhog Day loop where everyone basically repeats their days. That's where the strangers come in. The son is a free spirit who provides her that challenge. She desires that he wants to please her so badly that she's willing to arrest his father and do anything to keep him in the town. He manages to get away by crossing the town line. It's a nice way to show just how desperate Regina is for someone to love her. It makes the pain of losing her mother just as she showed love that much more tragic and helps explain her actions in the present. The flashbacks are also a way to get the stranger who came into town more relevance into the story as he's a grown-up version of that little kid. He didn't just happen to pass by Storybrooke by chance but because he was looking for it. A pretty good twist.
The present day has two characters reacting very differently from Cora's death. Regina wants vengeance. She wants to kill Mary Margaret because she got tricked into killing her own mother. She doesn't want to lose Henry in the process. She finds a spell from her mother that she believes will allow her to have everything. She'll kill Mary Margaret and use a spell to make Henry think he loves her. He won't actually be love her but he'll be under the impression that he does. She thinks this will allow her to win over her son while finally allowing her take care of her enemies. She does decide against the spell because of Henry. He makes her realize that fake love isn't going to be a good substitute for actual love. She puts off her mission of revenge but that doesn't mean she's going to be friends with out characters. Snow feels guilty over everything that's happened. She is completely devastated over her role in Cora's death to the point where she largely can't do anything but stay in bed. The guilt devours her so much that she actually goes to Regina to beg for her death. Only Regina won't do it because she knows Henry would hate her. She does point out that Mary Margaret's heart is getting darker and that she doesn't have to do anything to defeat Snow's family. Mary Margaret is going to do that all on her own. She believes that she'll be able to have anything. It's certainly an interesting place for the show to go with corrupting Snow.
Welcome to Storybrooke is a pretty great episode of Once Upon a Time. It relies a little bit too much on Jared Gilmore to be completely sell itself but the narrative is strong on it's own. The flashbacks once again really fit well with the actual episode but I have a small complaint. It was sometimes a little difficult to really keep a track of which decade we're in. That's partly because the producers mystifying gave the characters modern fashion senses when it was supposed to be the eighties. There was one scene I at first thought had taken place in the past before realizing I was mistaken later on. It would have been nice if the show had found a smoother transition rather than merely relying on easily-missable “PRESENT DAY” words.
When Benjamin Stockham was in that opening scene, I thought I had somehow stumbled on 1600 Penn by accident.