Regina wants to have it all: family, love, and murderous revenge. Is that too much to ask?
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Jared S. Gilmore, Meghan Ory and Robert Carlyle.
There’s always been a missing piece to the puzzle that is Regina Mills, and that has been the space that she has fashioned in her life for Henry. Up until now, the intense love that Regina displays seems inconsistent with her Enchanted Forest persona, intent upon gaining revenge upon Snow and Charming. There seemed no space within that narrative of revenge for there to be a maternal longing. That is, until this episode. As Regina struggles with the loss of her mother, she sets her sights upon both regaining Henry’s love, and destroying Snow for good.
As she does so, she reminisces upon the last time she tried to force love, and that’s where the fairytale flashback comes in. We finally see Storybrooke upon its first creation, as bemused camper Kurt Flynn, and his young son Owen happen upon the town after a freak storm during the night. Though Regina is initially intent upon driving the pair out of time, she soon grows tired of her own victory. She starts to realise that her win over Snow and Charming mean nothing without any recognition of that. She finds herself reliving the same day ad infinitum, and with nobody who she can truly confide in, despite the affection and attention of Sheriff Graham. She starts to latch onto Kurt and Owen, trying to persuade them to stay in town. When Kurt rebuffs Regina, and indicates that his life is still in New Jersey.
Desperate to have somebody to share her life with, Regina resorts to drastic measures by enlisting Graham to arrest Kurt for drunk driving so that she can take ownership of Owen and raise him as her own. Unfortunately, Kurt overhears this, resulting in a dramatic car chase to the edge of town, where Kurt is arrested and Owen flees over the town limits. Regina tries to coax him back, telling him that they can be a family, but Owen cannot love her under these circumstances. Though he tries to bring back the police to the spot where Storybrooke was, they cannot view the town from the outside, and Owen desperately proclaims he will find his father again, all while Regina tearfully watches from the other side of the town boundary.
In the present day, however, Regina deals with the aftermath of her mother’s death at the hands of Snow White. Though she is intent upon finally getting revenge on Snow, as well as getting Henry back, Gold tries to persuade her that it’s impossible to get both: as Cora had proved in her own life. Regina rejects this notion, however, and it seems that “the curse of the Empty-Hearted” is her solution – a curse that makes the target believe that they love somebody. One of the ingredients is also the heart of the one who they hate the most, which is obviously Snow. Charming has enlisted Gold to protect Snow for having saved his life in the previous episode, and he manages to prevent Regina from ripping her heart out.
Elsewhere, Henry continues to be the arbiter of all things moral, and has become convinced that magic is a corrupting influence, now that Snow has been sullied by the act of murder. As a result, he steals dynamite from the mines and prepared to blow up the well so that he can get rid of magic in Storybrooke once and for all. It’s a flimsy plan, and an irritating one, but ultimately the plotline works out in wonderfully predictable fashion: with Henry lamenting how much magic has influenced and corrupted those around it, turning them evil. This is enough to persuade Regina to destroy her curse, realising that cursing Henry wouldn’t be real love or true happiness. Recalling the same situation with Owen, Regina realises that using magic or force to create a family is not the solution that she craves.
This episode gives us our strongest understanding of Regina’s love for Henry yet. In the past storyline, she realises that her vengeance has not filled the emptiness that she previously felt, and at heart she is deeply lonely and isolated. This is why she latches onto Owen so desperately in the past, and doubtless why she adopted Henry in the first place. It’s been a glaringly obvious plot hole from the beginning: nobody accidentally adopts a child, and the fact that the so-called “Evil Queen” had done so, and shows genuine devotion and commitment to her son, was always a bit of an inconsistency that wasn’t really acknowledged by the rest of the community as indicative that Regina is, indeed, capable of love and change. It’s also instructive in demonstrating to us that revenge really isn’t what Regina craves, and it doesn’t bring her happiness. She thinks that it will, but it doesn’t. Henry, however, does bring her happiness, so hopefully this is something that Regina will realise as time goes on.
There are further dramatic revelations in this episode, though it is not without its frustrating moments. Snow spends the entire episode practically catatonic on her bed, staring out of the window into the middle distance as she still reels from the fact that she was responsible for Cora’s death. What frustrates me about this storyline is the concept of black and white morality. We have known before from the actions of the villains that nothing is quite so simple, and yet the actions of the villains have somehow always been portrayed in a sympathetic or understanding light. Yet, Snow seems to be being horrendously judged in this episode. It’s a bit like the Madonna-Whore complex. Now that Snow has been sullied by murder, she is a horrible woman and character, and that’s almost how Henry treats her throughout this, attributing Snow’s actions as her being corrupted, and completely ignoring the fact that Cora was a huge danger to the entire community.
This storyline is only made worse by the fact that the story leans into this, by having Regina rip out Snow’s heart to reveal that it has been blackened by her actions. This is a horrendous representation of morality, making it seem as if actions are either good or they are bad, and the concept of a literal blackened heart makes it appear as if we as people are the product of what we do, and not who we are, which is, in fact, the narrative that Once Upon a Time has been peddling to us since the beginning. If we are to believe that Regina is to be redeemed, then why, then, does an entire episode admonish and demonise Snow for besmirching and sullying her goodness by doing something that a “villain” or “bad guy” would do? What adds to that is the fact that nobody’s contrasting point of view is given. Despite the fact that everybody was acknowledging that Cora was an evil being who needed to be stopped in previous episodes, not one character comforted Snow and tried to tell her that what she did was the right thing in the circumstances. In fact, I would say the only devious or nefarious thing that Snow did do, which I did not think appropriate, was manipulating Regina to being a key player in Cora’s death instead of doing it herself. That wasn’t cool, but that isn’t even addressed here.
What’s more, I’m fairly certain that they were all for finding ways to neutralise and eliminate Cora when they were in the Enchanted Forest, but I suppose that murder is fine in a fairytale kingdom but not on Earth, right? If Emma had shot Cora, would that have been viewed as worse, because it didn’t involve magic? Furthermore, why is Snow shooting a troll through the eye and killing that not an issue in the program but her neutralising a villainous person instead of a supposedly villainous creature isn’t? As you can tell, I am passionately annoyed by this narrative. If evil people can do good things, good people can do bad things for a noble reason. It is naive to presume otherwise. Look at you, Henry.
Oh, and the final stinger in this episode is that Greg, the Outsider who crashed into town, is, in fact, a grown-up Owen, still searching for his father, and with video evidence of Regina using magic. So yup. That’s not good.
- Shortly after casting the curse, Regina becomes very attached to newcomers-in-town Kurt and Owen.
- She resorts to drastic measures to try and create a family with child Owen, but ultimately fails and he flees Storybrooke after she arrests his dad.
- Regina swears revenge on Snow, and start to prepare a curse that will get Henry to love her and requires the use of Snow’s heart.
- Henry tries to use dynamite to destroy magic and ultimately persuades Regina to give up on her plans to cast the curse.
- Greg is a grown-up Owen come to find his dad.
- The whole Henry-hates-Emma storyline really has to come to a stop. There’s always something with Henry, and he needs to stop being so self-righteous. He doesn’t understand the adult world, and that is the truth of the matter. He continues to demonise Regina and not see her as a complete person, except when it suits him. He flits back and forth from adult to adult as if it doesn’t matter to anybody. Now he’s being all pally with Neal, despite his transgressions in the past, and is shaming Snow for actions that he, quite simply, does not understand. Moreover, an eleven-year-old child should be intelligent enough to know that strapping dynamite to a well will not destroy magic. That’s just basic physics.
- Not one person comforted Snow. That’s not okay. Not even Ruby, who is supposedly her best friend, and has also killed in the past.
- I loved the glimpses back into the Storybrooke of the past and living the same day over and over again, and the fact that poor Snow was forced to teach the same bloody lesson day in day out. Speaking of which, was it the same day the whole time? Or did people still have weekends? Did they realise that they were living the same day? Did they forget each day, or was it more like living in a weird brain fog? It must have made it entirely bizarre for poor Henry to grow up there, when nobody else did. No wonder he has no friends his own age: none of them ever aged. I feel like Regina should have thought this through when she adopted a child in the first place.
- Speaking of which, Regina must have noticed when Emma arrived in town that time started moving once more, yet she never really properly clocked it throughout the first season. Considering the control that she has here to be able to chase down Kurt and Owen for doing nothing wrong, you’d think she might have tried it. But then again, Emma seemed to weaken Regina’s hold on the town in general, so that’s interesting.
- You would think that Regina would have had more of a personal transformation after about 18 years of loneliness, and then raising a child, but who am I to judge?
- It was also delightful to have another glimpse of Sheriff Graham. Nice that the programme doesn’t forget. And also that Jamie Dornan was actually available.
A deeper and instructive insight into what Regina values the most, as well as worrying and dangerous clues for the inhabitants of Storybrooke moving forwards.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.