‘Once Upon A Time’ Season 5 Episode 19 Review: ‘Sisters’ Bids Farewell To Longtime Villain
Recap and review of Once Upon A Time Season 5 Episode 19 – Sisters:
Once Upon A Time is entering the home stretch of Season 5, and that means some major changes, as “Sisters” bids farewell to a longtime series villain. And it’s a satisfying moment, albeit not because of a sense of justice being served, but rather due to a feeling of redemption being attained. It brings the respective journeys of several characters full circle, and it does so in a way that is both engaging and poignant.
Yup, we’re talking about Cora (Barbara Hershey), who finally moves on to the afterlife upon completing her “unfinished business” — making peace with her daughters, Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Zelena (Rebecca Mader). While Cora has never been a character for whom we’ve been asked to expect any kind of redemption, her plight at the start of this half-season at least put us into a position to sort of feel sorry for her, as she’s condemned to being a miller’s daughter for all eternity. It’s with that mindset that she’s placed back into the story to serve a more noble function, to unite her daughters in the hopes they’ll prevent Hades (Greg Germann) from returning to life in the real world, since his plan involves restarting his dead heart with True Love’s Kiss. It’s a more than adequate story for a set of characters who haven’t really been given all that much to do lately. For Zelena, she makes the argument that Hades can be saved, and I suppose it’s as good an argument as any, since redeeming Hades would be as good as defeating him, no? Meanwhile, Regina has an opportunity to finally connect with a sister who’s been her enemy for as long as they’ve known each other. And, lastly, this gives Cora one last shot to atone for what she’s done to these two women, since they’re at odds because of her. And that’s what makes this interesting, as this is an episode that wants us to root for Cora, while also illustrating that she might not deserve our sympathy at all. In the flashbacks, we see how she drove a wedge between the two girls, first using Zelena’s healing magic to save young Regina’s life, and then separating the girls forever by obliterating their memories of one another. These were two girls who desperately wanted a sister in their lives. These two girls loved one another. But Cora ripped that away from them, because she felt Regina’s love for Zelena was a weakness. It’s a brief reminder to audiences of just how awful Cora could be. And yet, her redemption is all the more powerful for her recognition of how awful she’d been, noting she was a fool for thinking love could be a weakness. She praises both her daughters for their strength, and apologizes for all the suffering she’s put them through, restoring their memories of one another in the process. This has the effect of creating a bond between Zelena and Regina, as Regina now trusts Zelena to be able to redeem Hades. Or, at the very least, Regina now trusts her sister enough to feel she deserves the chance to try. After all, Regina is someone who’s come back from the brink of darkness herself, and who just needed someone to believe in her enough to give her that second chance. In a sense, this was Regina paying it forward.
This essentially brings us to the end of Cora’s journey, barring any flashbacks or other magical whatnots. And if this is the end, it’s been a great run for Hershey on the show. I think she’s been one of the most consistently effective villains this show has ever had, due in large part because of the understandable nature of her turn towards evil. Her villainy came as much from a deep, pathological sense of self-loathing as it did her similarly pathological desire for power, and perfection from her daughter. While I do miss the black-and-white morality of the early seasons of Once Upon A Time, I appreciate that the show has evolved to a point where no one is all good or all bad. Granted, the show does tend to get carried away, in this regard, in that no true villains seem to really exist anymore. Everyone can be redeemed, and, more often than not, even the worst of the villains will be. But it can be rewarding to see that journey play out, even in relatively abrupt fashion. Cora’s turn towards the light came virtually out of nowhere, but it still worked, because it was anchored in the journey of two characters struggling to come to grips with their lives now. Seeing Cora’s beaming, peaceful face right before she enters into the light is surprisingly emotional. And it allows Regina and Zelena to see that the origin of their journey doesn’t need to define them. They can be sisters again, and they can be good people, because their mother showed them it’s possible to overcome even the worst stigma about who you are. Of course, you could argue that’s a lesson Regina and Zelena gave her, but hey, it works both ways. Regardless, I found this to be really poignant storytelling, and gratifying beyond what I would have expected of a story centered on Cora.
Come to think of it, I liked more of this episode than I disliked, really. While David (Josh Dallas) having a fist-fight with his evil twin brother, James, should have been ridiculous, it actually turned out to be a thrilling climax. James had been allied with Cruella (Victoria Smurfit) to take Zelena’s baby from Robin (Sean Maguire) in order to hold the child hostage in exchange for a way out of the Underworld. But David illustrated his growth as a hero by confronting his brother one-on-one. When Emma (Jennifer Morrison) tries to interfere with her magic, David waved her off, assuring her he had things under control. And, to her credit, Emma trusts in her father. She may be the Savior, but this experience in the Underworld seems to have taught her that not every issue necessarily has to fall upon her shoulders. Certain people are capable of settling their own debts, as we see with David, who really does give James a run for his money. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really get the closure he would have liked to have gotten with his brother, as he accidentally knocks James into the River of Lost Souls. In a sense, his journey mirrors Zelena’s, in that the chance at redeeming a loved one is stolen from both of them. David’s chance at redeeming James is stolen from him by his own aggression, and Zelena’s chance at redeeming Hades is stolen from her by Gold (Robert Carlyle), who introduces her to the returned Peter Pan (Robbie Kay) — who introduces himself by abducting her. So yeah…it’s hard out here for a Witch. And it’s going to be even harder out there for the rest of the group once Hades realizes the woman he loves has been taken. But Gold is doing this to try and awaken Belle and free their unborn child, so I guess everybody has deeply personal reasons.
Ultimately, I think Once Upon A Time has been doing a great job of telling character-driven stories this season, more so since the return from hiatus. “Sisters” is a surprisingly emotional episode that manages to bring character journeys full circle in poignant fashion. And I think these sorts of stories will make the final stretch of episodes towards the end of the season all the more resonant.
But what do you think of Once Upon A Time Season 5 Episode 19, “Sisters”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Once Upon A Time, read our recap and review of last week’s controversial episode!