‘Once Upon A Time’ Review: ‘Mother’ Brings Dragons, Fire and Blood

Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 4 Episode 20 – Mother:

As we near the end of Once Upon A Time Season 4, “Mother” helps tie the entire season into an overarching narrative that focuses closer on family than on happy endings.

Yes, the “happy endings” motif is still front and center, but for many of the characters, those happy endings are tied directly to their family constructs, as we see tonight with Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten) and Lily (Agnes Bruckner) or Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin). Of course, it also featured heavily in the story that centered on Regina (Lana Parrilla) and her sister, Zelena (Rebecca Mader), whose impending motherhood threatens to rob Regina of the happy ending to which she feels she’s entitled. Hell, even the Author (Patrick Fischler) notes that Regina was the one character he wrote for that got screwed over the most. Sure, the flashbacks reveal that Regina was mostly a deplorable human being when she was the Evil Queen, but when you have a mother like Cora (Barbara Hershey), it’s virtually impossible to turn out any other way. But then, that’s the sort of excuse that reinforces the nature vs. nurture argument from last week. Are villains born that way? Are they made evil by the circumstances of their life? Or do they simply choose to be evil? It’s all fascinating stuff that the concept of motherhood helps us to explore, since one could easily make the argument for either side: that some villains were shaped by their circumstances (Regina), whereas others never even had a chance (Zelena).

'Once Upon A Time' Review 'Mother' Brings Dragons, Fire and Blood

Credit: ABC

So the long and short of it is that Regina obtains the ink needed to enchant the Author’s quill by cutting Lily’s hand. The darkness that was meant for Emma, but bred into Lily, would “charge” the ink and allow the Author to write a new ending for Regina. However, this action on Regina’s part has the unintended side effect of unleashing Lily’s dragon form. The visuals aren’t perfect, but they’re admittedly better than I expected from the budget, and all the fire-breathing looks cool, particularly the fire that can be seen burning in Lily’s chest. It could have been better, but I’d be needlessly nitpicking if I didn’t note just how far the visuals have come in four seasons. The manifestation of Lily’s dragon form also has a welcome narrative significance, as it jump starts the reconciliation between two sets of mothers and daughters. When she and David (Josh Dallas) accompany Maleficent in their attempt to stop Lily, Mary Margaret hits her head on a rock. Emma arrives on the scene, sees her mother with a giant, bloody gash on her forehead, and realizes that she’s been unfair to her parents for expecting them to be perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, and you can either live in the past, with all the hurt that goes along with it, or you can look ahead to the future. This is the choice Emma makes, and it’s also the choice Lily makes with Maleficent. Having previously decided her mother was a coward for refusing to pursue revenge against the Charmings, Lily had planned on leaving Storybrooke, even after finding out that she’d never be able to return, and that Maleficent would never be able to leave with her. The dragon transformation brought about a certain understanding within Lily, as she recognized that while her mother isn’t who she expected her to be, she’s still her mother. And so Lily gives her one week as a trial to see how this will all work out. And given that this is Once Upon A Time, it can’t possibly be as straightforward as “they lived happily ever after,” can it?

Once Upon A Time - Recap and Review - Season 4 Episode 20 - Mother

Credit: ABC

I would imagine not, and I would predict the same for Regina. Her flashbacks add a lot more pathos to her character this week, revealing that Cora tried to trick her into thinking the Sheriff of Nottingham was really Robin Hood, her prophesied soulmate. Upon learning that Cora set her up, Regina develops the theory that Cora wanted her to give birth to a royal heir so she could then kill Regina and rule the kingdom as steward. In order to show strength by spiting her mother, Regina chooses to drink a potion that will make her infertile, failing to recognize that Cora, in her own twisted way, really was just trying to help Regina find some measure of happiness (granted, I don’t really buy it. But still, drinking an infertility potion is a bit of an extreme way of getting back at your mother). Now, Regina is left with the last resort of forcing the Author to write Zelena out of existence, essentially erasing any memory that she was ever here, and that she was ever pregnant with Robin’s child. It isn’t until Zelena compares Regina to Cora that she begins to see just how far she may fall if she goes through with her Author plan: in an epiphany that’s been an entire season in coming, Regina decides that she’s the Author of her own destiny. After spending far too long blaming everyone else for why she’s never gotten her happy ending, Regina decides she’s going to make her own by living her life to its fullest. It’s a triumphant moment for Regina, and one I wish we’d have gotten to sooner, although the build did help this moment resonate more. It also helps close a chapter in Regina’s life, as she seems to have put all negative aspects of her mother behind her, choosing instead to look forward towards a better, less bitter existence. Which is all well and good for Regina, but less so for the Author, who decides to take advantage of the magic ink by returning to Gold (Robert Carlyle) and begin writing the happy endings for the villains. And it all begins with four little words: Once Upon A Time…

Once Upon A Time - Season 4 Episode 20 - Recap and Review - Mother

Credit: ABC

“Mother” is a bit subdued when you consider this is the penultimate episode of the season. But taken in isolation, it’s one of the best standalone episodes of Once Upon A Time this season, at least from a thematic standpoint. The notion that happiness is couched in the connections we make, and the love we foster through family ties, is significant enough, but it becomes far more profound when you consider that, ultimately, the only Author that can write our happy ending is us.

But what did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!

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