"Once Upon a Time" season 2 revealed quite a bit about Cora's past in the Sunday, March 10 installment, episode 16, "The Miller's Daughter," which saw the death of one character and a dark move by another.
Once Upon a Time in the fairytale land that was, (the younger) Cora (Rose McGowan) was just a miller's daughter, delivering flour to the king when Princess Eva tripped her on purpose and the king made Cora apologize and kneel until they had passed. "You are where you belong," he told her, and that was his mistake. So she returned for the masquerade ball, and when the king recognized her even with her mask, she told him she could spin straw to gold. He announced just that to those in attendance and told her if she proved just that and spun the straw in the tower into gold, she could marry the prince. Otherwise, she would die. But Rumplestiltskin came to her in the tower and offered his services as he could spin straw into gold. All he wanted in return was her first-born child. "She is quite important," he told her. However, instead, she amended their deal and made him teach her. He explained magic was about emotion. She had to think of the moment that made her so angry she'd kill. For him, it was being forced to kiss the man's boots. And so she told him about being forced to kneel. She wanted to make them bow to her, their kneecaps crack, and their necks break. And so the straw turned to gold and she earned the prince.
But when Rumple found Cora in her wedding dress ("Royal brides have to be snow white," she told him. "When you see the future, there is irony everywhere," he replied), their deal changed, and instead, she owed him his child. But first, she wanted to kill the king and show him his heart before he did it so he would know what she was doing. Rumple could show her how, but when she went to the king, he told her he knew about Rumple. "Love is weakness," he advised her, and she had a choice to make—love or power—which made having a heart a liability. And so she returned to Rumple, but it was her heart she had in the box. "I had to," she explained. "You told me not to let anything stop me until they were on their knees. My heart was stopping me." And then, after she had Regina, she had the kingdom on their knees before her.
Snow Dark and the Heart in a Box. Thanks to a phone tap, Regina and Cora listened in and learned about Mr. Gold's condition as he, Emma, Neal, and Henry returned to Storybrooke on Hook's ship. Cora had a new plan: stab Gold with his dagger and take his power. Regina wasn't so sure because of what it would do to Henry, but Cora refused to end up on her knees in front of the others. When the others returned, Henry was sent off with Ruby, while David refused to go along with Mary Margaret's plan to kill Cora to protect their family. He knew she wouldn't be able to live with herself if she killed her. They went to Gold's shop, where magic could protect them, and Gold had Emma use invisible chalk to protect the entrance and cast a protection spell. Meanwhile, Mary Margaret found the candle in a cabinet, and he wanted her to use it on Cora by cursing her heart and putting it back in her body. Though she was torn, when Regina and Cora showed up at the shop, she snuck out and after a moment's hesitation, she cursed Cora's heart. And when Cora realized someone was with her heart, she sent Regina to it.
Meanwhile, the first battle left David outside the shop and Emma and Neal in the back room with Gold while Cora tried to get past the chalk's barrier. Gold called Belle, even though she didn't remember him. "You are hero who helped your people," he told her as his goodbye. "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." But the heartbreaking moments for Gold weren't over as he and Neal then had what could've been their final words. "I've spent a lifetime looking for you, for a chance to say I love you, and I'm sorry," He told his son. "I just made the wrong choice." While they still had a long way to go to even begin fix things between them, Neal took his father's hand in his.
When Regina found her, Mary Margaret told her she was going to give her Cora's heart because she couldn't love her without it. With it, maybe she could. Regina argued that Cora always wanted what was best for her, calling that love. "Imagine real love," Mary argued. "You'd have a mother and a start on making a family Henry could be part of. Or you could have her be the dark one. The choice is yours." But when David found her sitting outside the mausoleum, Mary Margaret admitted, "You were right. This isn't me." But it was too late. Cora got through the protection barrier and sent Emma and Neal to the woods. When Gold asked, "Did you ever really love me?" she replied, "Why do you think I had to rip my own heart out? You were my weakness. You're the only man I ever truly loved." But before Cora could stab him, Regina gave her mother her heart back, and she was dead before Mary Margaret burst in, yelling at her to stop. "You did this," Regina realized.
Love it or hate it? Loved it. This was the episode for the character of Cora to shine, both with Rose McGowan, clearly the right choice for the younger Cora, in the fairytale land that was, and Barbara Hershey, who continued to be wonderful as Cora in the present, in Storybrooke. And with the focus so on Cora, could the episode have ended in any other way but with her death? It's the perfect catalyst for Regina's storyline moving forward through the rest of the season as the Evil Queen has been struggling all season with her magic and trying to do right for Henry, but now that Mary Margaret's responsible for her mother's death, Long Live the Evil Queen?
But the events of "The Miller's Daughter" also led to what was a significant moment for Mary Margaret, and Ginnifer Goodwin has been at her best in recent episodes as she has struggled with trying to remain pure at heart while also protecting her family. "This isn't me," she told David after she cursed Cora's heart and gave it to Regina, and while she realized she had made the wrong decision, it was too late—and that's something she's going to have to live with going forward and face Regina's wrath for.
"Once Upon a Time" season 2 airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC. What did you think of "The Miller's Daughter"?