Regina Goes Full On Xena In The Latest Episode Of Once Upon A Time
By Alex Cranz
One of the biggest problems with Once Upon A Time has been Regina Mills, the Evil Queen. Every week Lana Parilla’s portrayal of the characters has been at odds with how she is written. Parilla takes a character that’s cartoonishly villainous (and a bit stupid) on the page and imbues her with a striking sense of humanity that leaves you…frustrate with the show as a whole.
It has also, in the past, left one feeling the show has a few issues with villainous ladies. While Rumpelstiltskin’s had a carefully developed back story that gives him agency and desires and reveals the weak man behind the mask desperate to do good but perverted to evil Regina’s been portrayed more as a bad seed that needed just a little push (a dead boyfriend) to send her into full on Vaderville.
That changes in “We Are Both” when Regina’s back story is further illuminated (and her early and warped relationship with Rumpel is revealed) and, more importantly, Regina says what every good villain turned hero should say–”I want to redeem myself.” It’s like an addict admitting they have a problem. Once those words are uttered its a slippery slope in eventual ticker tape parades, or at the very least a reputation as a Xena-esque hero out to right wrongs to save their very soul.
This is the third episode in a row, counting season one’s finale, to suggest that this show is ready to foist off its original conceit and get down to truly playing in its sandbox of fairytale and storybook characters and the tropes they inhabit.
Out for exploration this week was the wicked mother. Once Upon A Time grounded the fantastic aspects with a focus on the cycle that abuse creates. Because many abusers weren’t born into the world that way. They’re taught abuse as they themselves are abused. Mother hits daughter so daughter learns that the best way to parent is to hit her own child (or in this case tangle them in sentient tree branches).
Regina’s heroism then isn’t spun from the same fairytales as her counterparts. She doesn’t slay a dragon or rescue a princess. She breaks the cycle of abuse and in the process tugs the whole black and white morality of fairytales into the gray. Because breaking such a cycle is heroic but it requires a hero with a nasty darkness that, in many ways, is much more cruel than the witch who eats children or the trickster who orchestrates a curse. Abusers aren’t out and out evil, but they lack the capacity for self-perception.
Regina’s mother, for all her mustache twirling, sees what she does as being right and necessary. She isn’t evil for the sake of evilness. She’s trying to build a future for her daughter no matter the cost. Regina too sees herself as being right. She rescues Henry from idiots and wants to teach him how to use magic. She lied to him–horrifically manipulated him–before because she honestly felt she was protecting him. It’s only the one two punch of Henry and Rumpel reminding her of her own mother that allows Regina to realize she’s caught in a cycle and force herself out of it.
While Regina embarks on a very internal journey of self-discovery Charming/David spent the episode showing us just how different the new world of fairytale characters merged with annoying townspeople is. Charming is a heroic BAMF. David Nolan is a wishy-washy fool. Combined they’ve become something as murky as newly christened wannabe hero Regina. David Charming is selfish, and sometimes obnoxious, but rooted by a desire to protect the town, its citizens and the family he keeps losing. While Regina’s arc is one of redemption and a path to heroism, David Charming’s chronicles a very sudden fall from grace.
It’ll be interesting to see how the other characters find themselves merged. Many of the characters were painted as confident and absurdly competent in one world only to have all the luster removed and their few bad habits grossly exaggerated in the next. Now they have to marry their mundane existences with the superheroes they once were and become, in the process, more human.
They, Regina and Rumpel, are all set on paths spawned at opposite ends of the goodness scale and destined now, it seems, to meet somewhere in the middle. While it’s satisfying to watch villains become redemptive how satisfying can it be to watch heroes become human?
- Also Mary Margaret Snow and Emma have been tied up behind horses and dragged through a rainy Enchanted Forest and get thrown in a pit with their step grandmother-great grandmother/Queen of Hearts.
- Archie was on a mission to get in Regina’s sphere of influence this week. I hope that doesn’t continue…I might just irrationally dislike him? Jiminy Cricket and I have a long-standing feud.
- Henry oh Henry. You kind of want to dislike the kid because he doesn’t get how awesome Regina is. Then you remember that she is awful to him 90% of the time and also he is 10. Stop making me conflicted little dude!
- Rumpel tried to flee town to find his son. But question: didn’t his son disappear into the portal years and years before even Regina was born? So shouldn’t his son be in like his 60s? He could just sit outside voter booths and IHOPs at 3pm and find him in not time.
- Charming waltzing into Regina’s house with his sword on his shoulder and a complete lack of swagger gave me the giggles. I miss the idealistic fairytale Charming.
- Regina’s dad? Officially the worst and a great portrait of how abuse can exist with “nice” parents around. No wonder your daughter ripped your heart out dude. Your denial and inability to act are nearly as bad as your wife’s tendency to murder people and force children into marriage.
- Regina strangling Snow was awesome for two reasons. One: her restraint and horror over her personal thoughts. Two: that kid playing baby Snow is the tits y’all. I need her and Ginnifer Goodwin to be in scenes together or to just do an interview together in character.
- Next Week: Lancelot shows up! Snow may or may not recognize the woman she knows murdered Regina’s boyfriend and set her on her path to evilness! Post-apocalyptic fairy tale land! Ogres!