How did we get to the mid-season finale already?
This episode was a great culmination of what I have been calling "the adventuring Disney Princesses." Part of me didn't really want Emma and Snow to get home, simply because I enjoyed the Fairytale Land adventures so much, but the final battle, with swords and bows and arrows and lots of badass defiance (along with some cringe-worthy lines) was too fun to pass up. Plus we continue along Regina's fascinating redemption arc, with the idea that she does the right thing, saves the day (albeit from herself), and is still left on the outside, separated from her son. Meanwhile, we discover that Cora is not being the stereotypical evil mother figure, out to kill her child, but is actually hoping to be reunited with her so that they can wreak havoc together.
But the best thing about this episode, to me, was all the fairy tale inversion going on. On the more obvious side of things, Snow White must fight her way through evil in order to kiss the prince and awake him from the (not-so) wicked queen's spell. Once Upon A Time is apparently all about equal-opportunity true love rescues.
And then we have Aurora and Mulan. I am not sure whether we are on a "two women who are entirely different, but learn to respect one another and work together" arc, or a "two women who are different, love the same man, and then fall in love with each other" arc, but both are fascinating and powerful narratives in a genre that has traditionally made women into the agentless victims, and which has more recently favored kickass, sword fighting "Strong Female Characters" over other possibilities of femininity. The message that both can respect and love and fight for one another, because both are worthwhile in their own ways, is an important one. Aurora's heroism in this episode is a kind of stubborn fearlessness, as she offers to be tied up and left behind to save the others, while Mulan's is a more overt sword-wielding heroism, but both have immense value and bravery in the story. Meanwhile, this episode was full of barely-concealed metaphors for their relationship. Often, fairy tales and fantasy stories have princes fighting for the hearts of princesses, either performing impossible tasks to impress them, or busting out their heroism in order to save and marry them. Instead, Once Upon A Time had Mulan, another princess, fighting for Aurora's literal heart, to save Aurora from a horrible fate. When, at the end of the episode, Mulan restores Aurora's heart, the scene seemed reminiscent of Buffy Season 4, Willow-and-Tara scenes. At the very least, it made a powerful inversion of the usual fairy tale tropes by having women save one another and then team up, go on and save a prince together.
If we don't continue to see the two worlds simultaneously and follow Mulan and Aurora in their quest to save Philip (and fall in love with one another in the process), I will be pretty heartbroken.