This was the last episode before the winter hiatus. It originally aired on December 2, 2012. It was rerun on Jan. 6, 2013 at 7:00 pm, before a new episode. It was rerun again in the regular time slot on March 31, 2013, in an enhanced-rerun version.
Hook breaks into Belle’s cell in the Evil Queen’s palace. He frees Belle from her chains, but when he finds out she won’t help him kill Rumpelstiltskin, he hits her, knocking her out. It looks as if he’s about to kill her with a swipe of his hook, but Regina stops him, saying that Belle is a “valuable chess piece.”
Regina promises to help Hook kill Rumple — if Hook, in exchange, kills Cora. Regina enchants Hook’s hook, giving it the power to rip out one person’s heart. But when Hook encounters Cora (as the Queen of Hearts), his attempted heart grab fails.
She’s not so careless, Cora tells him, as to keep her heart where everyone else does. “This,” she says, “is how it’s done,” and she reaches into Hook’s chest and makes him confess that Regina had sent him to kill her. In the end, though, Cora doesn’t pull out Hook’s heart. Regina, she says, would know if Cora was controlling him, so Cora wants him to help her out of his own free will. She entices him by saying she can get him to Storybrooke without his forgetting who he is. In exchange, Cora wants Hook to bring her close to Regina, so that she can rip out her daughter’s heart. So much attempted heart ripping in this episode!
Hook presents Regina with a casket containing Cora, who appears to be dead. Regina talks to what she thinks is her mother’s corpse, saying she was sorry but she had no choice but to kill her. She throws her mother’s words back at her — “Love is weakness,” Regina says — the same thing Cora said after killing Daniel.
The curse is coming. Cora creates a protective dome over part of fairy tale land. (Now we know how Aurora and her crew survived.)
Cora, it appears, in her warped way just wants to be needed. She looks forward to the time, 28 years in the future, when the curse will be broken and Regina will lose everything. Then, Cora thinks happily, she and Hook will go to Storybrooke. Hook will get his revenge against Rumple, and Cora will be needed at last, helping Regina to “pick up the pieces.”
In the ruins of Rumplestiltskin’s cell, Emma, Snow, Aurora, and Mulan find a parchment with Emma’s name written repeatedly on it. Suddenly Aurora starts a mechanism that lowers the cell’s bars, locking them all inside. It was Cora’s doing — Hook had given Cora the poor girl’s heart. Hook, still bitter that Emma left him on the beanstalk, is happy to leave Emma and the others locked up in the cell, where it seems they will surely die.
But Snow figures out the solution. She blows on the parchment, and the ink — magical squid ink — lifts off the page and dissolves the cell’s bars. They’re about to leave when Aurora has a heroic moment. She says they have to tie her up and leave her behind because she can’t be trusted as long as Cora has her heart. They do leave her — but Mulan vows to recover Aurora’s heart.
Back in Storybrooke, Gold, who is usually scared of nothing, is afraid that Cora will enter Storybrooke through the portal in the Wishing Well. He wants to close it, which will kill whoever enters from the other side. He needs Regina’s help and tries to convince her she will be better off even if it’s Snow and Emma who come through and are killed. Regina is torn — she is still trying to be good, for Henry’s sake, but she too is afraid of Cora, who she believes will destroy everything that Regina loves — which means Cora will destroy Henry. Regina convinces herself that she needs to go along with Gold’s plan in order to save Henry.
On the other end, Cora and Hook open up a portal in the lake. At Storybroke’s wishing well, Rumple uses magic to make the portal deadly. Before Cora and Hook can jump in, Mary Margaret, Emma and Mulan show up and they rumble. Hook, surprisingly, gives Aurora’s heart to Mulan. Emma grabs the compass and knocks Hook out, but they still have to deal with Cora.
Cora tries to rip out Snow’s heart — to present it as a warped gift offering to Regina, who Cora still imagines will need her — but Emma throws herself between them. Cora’s hand goes into Emma’s chest — “Foolish girl,” she says, “Don’t you know that love is weakness?” — but to Cora’s, and our, surprise, she tugs and tugs but can’t pull Emma’s heart out. “No,” Emma says. “It’s strength.” Cora goes flying backwards. Emma is more powerful than she, and we, knew.
Snow and Emma hold hands and jump into the portal.
Henry shows up at the Wishing Well, and sees what Regina and Rumple have done. Henry tells Regina that good always defeats evil, and that it will be Mary Margaret and Emma, not Cora, who will be coming through. “You said you wanted to change,” he tells Regina, “to be better. This is how. You want me to have faith in you? Have faith in me.” His words sink in. Regina goes over to the well, pulls out the magic, in the nick of time. Emma and Mary Margaret appear and embrace Henry — as Gold walks away. Henry tells his mother and grandmother that Regina saved them.
Mary Margaret rushes to her husband and revives him with true love’s kiss.
Emma confronts Gold, saying she saw the scroll in his cell. She says he could have used the squid ink to escape from the cell at any time, but Gold tells her he was where he wanted to be, that she needed to find the scroll so that all this could occur. Emma says Gold created the curse and made her the savior, so that everything she has ever done was what he wanted her to do. “I created the curse, dearie,” he says, “but I didn’t make you. I merely took advantage of what you are… the product of true love.” That’s why she is powerful, he says, and everything she has done, she has done herself. Whatever magic Emma used to repel Cora was not Gold’s doing — it was Emma’s.
Henry embraces Regina. “I was right,” he tells her. “You really have changed.” Henry and Regina have a tender moment, perhaps the first one ever, but when Emma invites Henry to come to Granny’s for dinner, he slips out of Regina’s arms and goes with Emma — as does everyone else in the crowded room, leaving Regina behind.
Meanwhile, Mulan manages to put Aurora’s heart back into her chest, and they go off to try to save Prince Philip. And Hook regenerates the dried-up magic bean in the waters of the lake, and at the end of the episode, he and Cora are on an ancient sailing ship, heading straight towards Storybrooke.