With a major character’s death heavily advertised and one of the season’s juiciest flashback subjects in Cora, “The Miller’s Daughter” promised and delivered one of the year’s big events episodes.
As many guessed, Cora drew the short straw. In brilliant fashion, as Snow White channelled Walter White by “breaking bad” and tapping into darkness. A lifetime of Regina hating, chasing, intimidating, cursing, framing, imprisoning her amongst other havoc, left its mark on Snow even if under the surface for so long. That inner hatred Regina put in her, finally came up and Snow became the guilty and red handed figure, Regina had spent so long undeservingly labeling her as and Snow had spent so long denying. Snow had too many reasons to be angry to be the light of goodness in a darker world. David will have to be that light now. As for Regina, she’s now killed both her mother and father and has lost her last chance to be loved. She continues to pay a huge price for a lifetime of magic, as Cora and Rumplestiltskin have.
Cora’s death is brilliant in a number of ways. That it came by her own candle, is the ultimate example of magic’s price - rearing its heads decades after giving it to Snow. Rumplestiltskin playing such a large role in her death with their history and his importance to her life’s arc, also had poetic justice. Finally, her exit lines of “This would’ve been enough. You would’ve been enough.” to Regina is a brilliant moment, containing the regret of her life in a few lines.
While Snow made a turn from light to dark, what fascinated me about Cora’s flashback is the darkness in her from the beginning. Rose McGowan plays young Cora as a slithering untrustworthy snake, full of hatred for others and herself as she schemes her way up, believing riches will cure the hole in her. At first I had a hard time buying Rumple and Cora’s emotional connection or that they’re in love, but perhaps that’s the point. Cora is disconnected and unable to show how she feels. Naturally her relationship with Rumple would be icier and lacking trust compared to Belle’s. Nevertheless, I do feel a few more scenes of Cora and Rumple enjoying each other's company could have made them being in love, more believable.
Robert Carlyle dominates the Storybrooke scenes, arguably his finest acting yet in the series as he faces his impending death and wanting to share his hidden love with Belle and Baelfire. Michael Raymond-James as Baelfire is just as impressive in reaction, including the money line of “I didn’t know you had that in you”. I love everything about the Baelfire character and casting so far. If he’s a long term lead character, they may have struck gold with this performance.
Emma looking up and relishing using magic is a memorable moment, but also dangerous with the history of those who’s become too attached to magic. Another small moment I appreciated is the shot of the upward looking masked dancer, when entering the ballroom scene in Cora's flashback. The combination of visuals and score in this entrance felt film like.
The most memorable line of the episode other than Cora’s exit, is the “The bride has to be snow white.” “When you can see the future, ironies are everywhere” exchange. This line pokes fun at Rumple seeing the future, but also adds nuace by reminding us of the timeline, decades before Snow is born.
Once Upon a Time continues to deliver excellent episodes, full of incredibly complex character dynamics and psychology. Characters are the heart of storytelling and Once does that as well as any show on TV, even to a masterful level. "The Miller's Daughter" is another terrific episode exemplifying this.