Recap by Lori Fitzgerald - @MedievalLit
"Mother" is an intricately crafted episode exploring the core Once Upon a Time themes of family relationships and happiness. It is amazing how many truths about the human condition are found "this side of the fictional realms," and it is truly a testament to the brilliant writing of Jane Espenson as well as the show's overall vision.
As soon as we see the black carriage thundering down the road, we know we are about to witness the Evil Queen in all her dark glory. True to form, Regina interrupts a wedding ceremony, taking the groom's heart because they are on royal land without her permission. Her father knows the real reason behind her actions: today is the anniversary of Daniel's death, and Regina cannot bear to see another couple gain the happiness that she lost. But when he tries to counsel her against her actions, saying that she needs the citizens' support and they may view her as weak and short-sighted, Regina flies into a rage. She crushes the groom's heart, just as callously as Daniel's was crushed.
Regina then proceeds to visit Daniel's grave and discovers a yellow rose...and Cora! The yellow rose is a symbol of friendship, and later in the episode Regina discovers that her mother has returned from Wonderland with a "friendly" peace offering: she wants to help Regina find her soul mate.
We cut to Robin and Regina in a New York bar, both looking positively devastated. Regina is upset because "understanding and seeing are two different things." (No kidding.) Robin is worried about his son, who Regina will help with a forgetting potion, and he is angry that Zelena killed Marian "like she was nothing." Regina seems hopeless, but Robin is the one who insists they can move forward from this. This conversation is almost a summary of a theme we have seen throughout Once: relationships are messy.
"What do we do now?"
Go back to Storybrooke, of course. Go back to home...and family.
Hook gleefully informs the "toothless old dog" (Gold) of Emma's imminent return as Gold and the Author eat breakfast at Granny's. This is a problem, as the ink needs to be governed by Emma's dark impulses. Gold is having serious heart issues now, and later in the episode we see it is almost completely black.
The yellow bug returns. I always love Once's reunion scenes; to me, they really portray the heart of the show... the characters finding each other, and finding themselves in the journey. Emma has hugs for Hook and Henry...but still not for Snow, who you can tell is hurting terribly but trying not to show it. And here is a new reunion: Maleficent's face is suffused with hope as she sees her daughter for the first time. Lily looks doubtful. It is almost a mirror of the "reunion" in Season 2 when Snow realizes who Emma is ("You found us") and Emma looks so uncomfortable.
Regina secures Zelena in Belle's old hospital cell before she heads to the Pawn Shop. She takes the quill from an ailing Gold, who tells her that she doesn't want to face the Dark One "when no one else is home." So here is another clue as to the nature of his curse: Rumple the man can die, but the Dark One essence cannot. He also tells her she is being "short-sighted." It is interesting that the man who guided her life in almost a parental way (albeit a dark one) echoes the words of her actual father that he goaded Regina into killing as "the thing you love most."
In the vault, the Author reveals that Regina is the recipe for a compelling character: clear goals, damaged personality, self-destructive streak. (Calling all writers...we have advice directly from Jane here.) He is pleased to write her happy ending and was only with Mr. Gold for protection....against what, or whom? The Sorcerer perhaps? He also reveals an important piece of information: Regina's extra page was written by him for a book he never got to write, and something, a force beyond them, must be looking out for Regina. The Sorcerer again? Apparently, as we saw in the Apprentice Mansion Library, and as we see at the end of this episode, there can be more than one storybook.
At this point in the episode we begin to see connecting threads in the family theme.
The hope we saw in Maleficent has truly changed her instantaneously: all she wants is to spend time with Lily, not waste time on revenge. "We can be happy about the future or angry in the past." Lily, however, callously pushes her mother away, disappointed in what she views as weakness. Mal comes to the Charmings for help, truly showing how she has changed. Lily is just like Emma was (in fact, like so many of the characters): her walls are up. And Regina doesn't help matters when she cuts Lily's palm to take riled-up Savior darkness from her blood for the ink.
Lily turns into a dragon. "She looks just like me!" Mal says with pride. Snow is injured by Dragon-Lily, but healed by Emma, who finally forgives her mother after Hook reminds her that all her parents wanted to do was protect her and have her be proud of them. Emma realizes she has to stop punishing Snow, not only because she is a hero, but because Snow is her mother. At the same time, Mal shows Lily she recognizes how Lily feels by saying she is too late, and not what Lily had hoped for. But the best thing Mal does is listen to Lily's concerns, and show unconditional acceptance and openness: "I don't mind a little darkness."
These two mother/daughter relationships show what family can be: messy and complicated but ultimately rewarding. Daughters tend to get angry and hold things against their mothers. And mothers, who have their daughters best interests at heart, hold their arms out, no matter what, and do what needs to be done to get to the heart of the matter, whether it be patiently waiting or listening or something else, but honesty is always involved. Snow/Emma and Maleficient/Lily are examples of this.
Regina and Cora's relationship, however, is a negative foil to this theme. Cora does not have her daughter's best interests at heart; or if she thinks she does, it is skewed, because Cora does not have her heart. Cora conspires with the Sheriff of Nottingham to pretend that he is Regina's soul mate with a magical lion tattoo. Regina discovers the ruse when the Sheriff lets slip his usual sleazy chauvinistic attitude. Whether or not Regina was right in her assessment of Cora's motives, that she wanted Regina to have a child for Cora to control, is fuzzy, to me at least. Cora's intentions are slippery at best, and what Cora thinks is a good match for Regina is not what Regina thinks, as seen in the past. (How often this plays out in the real world between mothers and daughters!) What Regina does, however, reflects the enormity of her anger and the betrayal she feels by her mother. Whereas Emma realizes that she punished herself into loneliness by alienating her own mother, Regina goes a step further and makes herself barren to spite her mother. Unfortunately, it was a short-sighted and impulsive action, and my own insides twisted as I watched the pain and horror run through Regina's body with the potion. Even more unfortunately, this can also happen in the real world, when relationships are not just messy, but dishonest and destructive.
Both Cora and Rumple have had twisted parental influences on Regina, but they also both have given her kernels of truth once in a while. As Cora does now: "The only one standing in the way of your happiness is you."
And after all this time, Regina finally realizes this. She brought the Author into the hospital cell to finally write Zelena out of the story, and she looked so much like the chillingly triumphant Evil Queen (and I admit, I was rooting for her to DO IT). But, Regina realized, she already has her happy ending...which is finally feeling at home in the world.
The apple tree that she brought from home to the castle, the one under which she would meet Daniel and is in her backyard in Storybrooke, represents Regina's character arc. In Celtic mythology, apple trees symbolize a personal quest for identity, for wholeness and finding one's full self. Integral to this journey is taking the right actions, and being kind and generous. At this moment, in sparing Zelena, she takes the "high" way. But Regina has slowly become more open-hearted and cognizant of doing the right thing for several seasons. Even at the beginning of the episode, in the bar, she was closed off to any good things that could come out of this situation. Now, she is open to hope and the possibility of happiness, even if things are "messy." Like Maleficent earlier in the episode, and in light of the conversation with Mary Margaret earlier in the season, Regina has finally embraced hope, and it has changed her.
Robin and Henry and the others are a part of this possibility of happiness, but ultimately, Regina has accepted herself and has realized that the only one who can make her happy...is her. Which is true for all of us. We can't rely on others to make us happy, we have to find our own happiness through self-acceptance. She has everything she needs...she has hope and love and peace.
But the Author doesn't.
A writer needs to write, after all. What we do defines us.
So he whisks himself back to the Pawn Shop and begins to write in a book titled Heroes & Villains...
As both a daughter myself and a mother of a 10 year old girl, I absolutely loved and related to this episode ("scary dragon bitch" indeed). I always am touched by the repeated motifs that make Once so special to me, even a phrase that we haven't heard for a while like "Love is weakness" from the Evil Queen in the throes of her original anger and pain. It reminds me of where the characters came from and how much they have evolved, and I am so grateful to have been a viewer every step of the way.