Once Upon A Time 2.16 "The Miller’s Daughter" TV Review(opens in new tab)
Writer: Jane Espenson
Director: Ralph Hemecker
THE ONE WHERE In the past: Young Cora, a miller's daughter, is so outraged at being insulted by the royal family that she swears revenge. Making a deal with Rumplestiltskin, she spins straw into gold and thus marries a prince. But she and Rumple fall in love in the process, and that's a problem... In Storybrooke: Rumple is dying after being stabbed by Hook, but Regina and Cora are determined to kill him first so that Cora can become the Dark One. Snow finally snaps and curses Cora's heart so that she dies. Murderer!
VERDICT Ding dong, the witch is dead! And what a send-off she has. The origins of Barbara Hershey's Cora are explored at last, with Rose McGowan putting in an absolutely astonishing performance as her younger self. Looks-wise, the two actresses don't have much in common – it takes more than the same lipstick and some hairstyling to match up – but the way McGowan speaks, stands and even smiles is uncannily Hershey-like. You don't doubt for a heartbeat that she's the younger version of the nasty Cora, and her backstory gives the old witch a fantastic parting tale. So determined to get revenge that she removes her own heart when she realises she's in love with Rumple, Cora is one hell of a bad guy.
And it does look as if this is the last we'll see of her, because thanks to some (very clever) spell-casting and double-crossing from Snow, Cora is finally dead. While you're naturally rooting for her to die, the fact that it's Snow who effectively murders her is a real twist: she's supposed to be one of the good guys! And her tricking Regina into cementing the deal by placing Cora's cursed heart back inside her is the icing on the cake. Look out, Snow, Regina's going to be maaaad...
“The Miller's Daughter” is packed with lovely scenes, some of them surprisingly emotional. Rumple and Bae making up after so many years apart is a real chin-wobbler, and beautifully performed by Robert Carlyle and Michael Raymond-James. If that's not enough, Rumple calling Belle to say goodbye is an absolute heartbreaker – surely one of the best scenes of Once Upon A Time 's entire run, even if poor Belle has no idea what's going on because she has amnesia (there's always something, isn’t there?). Most amazing of all, however, is the erotic charge between young Cora and Rumple. He nuzzles at her ear and neck as she explains to him that she wants her enemies to bow down to her, explaining how their knees will crack as they kneel on the hard ground... it's a visceral, compelling scene and crackling with sexual tension. Utterly breathtaking.(opens in new tab)
A final shout-out to the writers for making young Cora a match for the tricksy Rumple, having him teach her magic instead of taking his first offer of a deal – if only everybody who tangled with the Dark One was this smart!(opens in new tab)
WAS IT JUST US, OR...? Did anybody else wonder why Cora felt faint and told Regina it was because someone was near her heart? Snow didn't find the heart until a while after this happened, and Cora certainly showed no signs of weakness when Snow actually opened the box and cursed it with the candle. Was it an editing mix-up?
FUN TIMES Even with all the drama in this episode, there are a couple of brilliantly funny lines. Rumple spinning straw into gold and then announcing cheerfully, “Well, would you look at that!” is glorious. Elsewhere, Cora telling Rumple that brides have to be “snow white” is met with a giggle before he says, “When you see the future, there's irony in every word.”(opens in new tab) (opens in new tab)
IT’S THE CIIIIIIIIIRCLE OF LIFE! Cora holds baby Regina in the air before the royal court so that they can bow to her. Ever since The Lion King came out, there is absolutely no way to see this without bursting into song.
MAGIC VS TECHNOLOGY All in all, Cora has adjusted very well to life in Storybrooke (not surprising, really, given that she'd already conquered Wonderland – clearly she's a woman who can take anything in her stride). It's all the more comical, then, that when Regina voice taps Snow's phone call, Cora hits the speaker in a huff, calling it an “enchanted box”.(opens in new tab)
GRAND DESIGNS Check out how Cora positions herself while she's talking to Regina. We're betting the set designers have been wanting someone to stand there for ages.
THAT SPEECH IN FULL Rumple's parting speech to Belle is so wonderfully written (take a bow, Jane Espenson) that we can't resist printing it here in full. Hankies at the ready...
“You are a hero who helped your people. You're a beautiful woman who loved an ugly man. Really, really loved me. You find goodness in others, and when it's not there, you create it. You make me want to go back. Back to the best version of me. And that never happened before. So when you look in the mirror and you don't know who you are, that's who you are. Thank you.”
THIS WEEK'S OPENING CREDITS IMAGE The spinning wheel that so dutifully turns straw into gold.
Rumplestiltskin: “You're hoping I'll bleed to death, aren't you?”
Emma: “You're Henry's grandfather. We're family now.”
Rumplestiltskin: “Did you ever love me?”
Cora: “Why do you think I had to rip my own heart out?”
• New episodes of Once Upon A Time air in the UK on Channel 5, Sundays, 8pm
• Read our other Once Upon A Time reviews