Now, this also leads to the two tiny potential continuity errors. The first is that in that episode, it seemed that Eva was visiting as a possible bride for Prince Henry, however that can be explained either one of two ways: (a) she wasn’t actually one of the ones vying for Henry’s hand in marriage, and she was actually just there either to observe or for some other reason, or (b) Leopold and her marriage didn’t proceed as planned at the time–perhaps he was angry with her for revealing the truth about Cora, and it wasn’t until later that he was able to fully forgive her, and, in the meantime, she was considering an alternate option–either way, the strength of the revelation far outweighs the need for the viewer to potentially do a little plothole spackling. And if it is (b) and Cora did ruin that engagement, Eva has an even further impetus for humiliating her. We learned in “The Queen is Dead” that Cora hated Eva enough to be hellbent on destroying both her life and her daughter’s, as well, and this is far more potent motivation than Eva simply having been rude to her in public. Eva not only nearly tried to ruin her chance of attaining her dreams of royalty but married the man Cora had set her sights on, not to mention later–to add insult to injury–having a daughter who loved her the way Cora’s never could.
The second “inconsistency” is that, all the way back in “The Stable Boy,” King Leopold didn’t seem to recognize Cora when they crossed paths after Regina saved young Snow’s life, and afterwards proposed marriage to her. Now, head co-writer Adam Horowitz claims that, if you rewatch that earlier scene, it actually does work–that, although their shared history isn’t overtly spoken of, it is there underneath. I’m a little skeptical but haven’t had a chance to rewatch to confirm. Even if not, however, Cora had such a meticulous plan in place to get her daughter on the throne, including poisoning Eva and attempting to corrupt Snow in the process, and later magically spooking Snow’s horse so that Regina would save her, that I wouldn’t put it past her to have done a little memory whammy spell on Leopold to forget her. I prefer this second option, but either way, it adds a whole new deliciously twisted layer to Cora’s plans, because now we know that not only was she trying to live through Regina by essentially having her live out a do-over of Cora’s own life, as it “should” have gone, but with the very king who Cora had lost all those years ago.
The reason these revelations cause Regina and Snow to bond, particularly after Cora’s ghost possesses Snow and reveals the entire truth to her, is that, for the first time, Snow’s image of her mother as a perfect bastion of kindness is undermined. Significantly, it isn’t shattered. She still knows that, by the time Eva raised her, she had become an extremely good person, but Snow had never suspected that her mother would ever at any point have been the sort of person who could be as stuck-up and cruel as she was to Cora, and while this doesn’t justify either Cora’s actions or her hatred, it does explain them. Simple definitions of good and evil aren’t so easy to apply anymore. In the words of Stephen Sondheim in his classic fairy tale musical, Into the Woods, “witches can be right, giants can be good…” Significantly, Snow had never seen herself as a perfect person, and so in some ways, this revelation brings her even closer to her mother, because both of them had, at a young age, revealed a secret that nearly destroyed a life, while at the same time bringing her closer to Regina, truly empathizing with her over the pain she caused her.
That isn’t to say that Cora was fully a victim in this situation. After all, she was using Leopold, and furthermore, she later abandoned Zelena because she realized that she would be an impediment to her future dreams and goals. As we see in “The Miller’s Daughter,” she never gives up on these ambitions, largely cemented in her head by the actions of the false prince, Leopold, and Eva. And in a perfect inversion of the recurring Once theme of someone giving up a baby in order to give that child his or her “best chance,” Cora tells baby Zelena, right before abandoning her in the woods, that she’s doing it in order to give herself, not the baby, her own best chance! Which is just so Cora. That describes the character to a “t” in one darkly funny, flawless moment of character writing.