Queen of Hearts
This episode revealed more about the strained relationship between Regina and her mother, Cora. My previously reported "mild curiosity" about Cora has since grown into a genuine interest.
Flashbacks reveal that Hook broke into Regina's castle and, pretending to rescue Belle from the Evil Queen, unsuccessfully tried to convince Belle to help kill Rumpelstiltskin. Once he realized that she did not have the knowledge or the desire to assist him, Hook decides to kill her but is interrupted by Regina. Set before the original curse was unleashed, Regina does not want Cora being able to follow her to the "new land". So she enlists Hook to remove Cora's heart, kill her, and bring back the body from where Regina and Rumpelstiltskin had banished her to. We finally learn that Cora was sent Wonderland where, not surprisingly, she became the Queen of Hearts. My biggest complaint with this plot twist is that the Queen of Hearts was insane and, while Cora is sadistic and incredibly selfish, she appears to be perfectly sane.
Meanwhile, in Fairytale Land, Emma, Snow, Mulan, and Aurora finally reach Rumpelstiltskin's cell. They find an empty vial of ink and a cryptic 'message' in the form of a scroll with Emma's name scrawled all over it. I immediately realized that the magical squid ink they were looking for is what Rumpelstiltskin used to write her name with. Had it been an actual letter, instead of just one word repeated over and over, I might not have initially suspected that it was enchanted. Cora uses her control over Aurora to lock the ladies in the cell and then steals the magical compass. Hook publically announces his (current) allegiance by admitting that he removed Aurora's heart as "a gift" for Cora. He then privately admits to Emma that he would not have left her, as she did him. As I suspected, Hook seems to be more of an opportunist than a villain.
In Wonderland, Hook (obviously) fails to kill Cora so she grasps his heart and makes him tell her everything. Cora pretends to be dead to in order to kill Regina but has a change of heart when she hears her daughter speak. Instead, Cora protects herself and Hook from Regina's curse so that she can reunite with her daughter later. This is the first time Cora was shown to have any depth beyond a generic villain with no redeeming qualities, which I thought was a refreshing change.
Emma and Snow arrive in Storybrooke safely after Henry convinces Regina to remove the death vortex from the portal. Regina may have an unusual (and, admittedly, sometimes twisted) way of showing it but I truly believe that she loves Henry. Rumpelstiltskin used this to manipulate her, tempting Regina with the idea of having him all to herself again. He also reminds Regina how dangerous Cora is and plays on her maternal instincts to protect Henry at all costs. Personally, I enjoy watching Regina stumble and get back up. It makes her transformation seem more genuine.
By the end of the episode I found myself sympathizing with Regina again, despite her former title as the "Evil Queen", particularly when no one bothered to invite her to the group dinner and just left her standing alone.