Did Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz consult a checklist of Unsolved Once Mysteries while writing "The Queen of Hearts?" It sure felt that way as the episode trundled along, resolving question after question. What happened to Cora after Regina pushed her through that looking glass? She traveled to Wonderland, naturally, and soon schemed her way to a throne. Why did part of Fairy Land remain unchanged when Regina's curse hit? Because Cora conjured a Bio-Dome bubble that enveloped Snow White and Charming's kingdom, protecting it from the spell's ravaging. How did Hook manage to rip out Aurora's heart when he's never shown magical acumen before? Because Regina enchanted his appendage so that he could remove just one heart -- and though she intended that heart to be Cora's, Hook didn't use his gift until after he had gone to Wonderland.
And so on, and so forth -- in fact, by the episode's end, the only really big question left danging is "What the hell happened to Baelfire?" (Okay, one more: And Pinocchio! Where is that hunka hunka lying wood?) I'm glad that Kitsis and Horowitz tied up so many loose ends in tonight's winter finale, since season 1 was hurt by storylines that dragged on far longer than they should have. At the same time, I wonder if Cora and Hook's arrival in Storybrooke is really enough of a cliffhanger -- especially since it wasn't really surprising that they found their way to the "Land Without Magic" after all. Sure, "The Queen of Hearts" was a game-changer -- it just wasn't as much of a game-changer as I was expecting it to be.
Tonight's fairybacks focus on how Hook and Cora became a dastardly duo. It all begins when Hook-of-the-past, who's evidently found a way out of Neverland, storms Regina's castle. The captain is hoping that Regina's prisoner -- a lady who loves books and monsters, and not necessarily in that order -- can give him the inside scoop on how to cut down Rumpelstiltskin. Belle can't help the pirate -- but Belle's captor claims that she can. It must be said that eeevil Regina has never looked better than she does in these flashbacks, clad in a gloriously blingy gown as she explains her plans to Hook.
At this point in the timeline, Regina is just about ready to curse Fairy Land into Kingdom Come, or at least Maine. There's just one problem: She doesn't want her mother mucking everything up by following the gang to Storybrooke. The solution? She tasks Hook with killing Cora in the most poetic way possible: by ripping out the heart of the universe's foremost Heart-Ripper-Outer. In return, Regina will bring Hook to the land without magic, where she says that Rump will be powerless -- and the captain can finally kill his enemy once and for all. Beware extravagantly-dressed witches bearing gifts, Killian!
Present-day Regina isn't feeling quite so bloodthirsty. Rumpelstiltskin tells her that the two of them should prepare for Cora's arrival in Storybrooke, just in case Snow and Emma can't defeat her. Regina is reluctant at first, since she's really, honestly trying hard to change her wicked, wicked ways. But all it takes is some talk of Henry's well-being -- love is weakness, dearie! -- to convince Regina to go with Rump into the mines, where he uses Cinderella's dearly departed Fairy Godmother's wand to suck up every last magic diamond. Hi ho, hi ho, to to the wishing well they go.
NEXT: The missing ink (that is extremely easy to find)