The last time we saw each other in this space I talked about Once Upon A Time‘s concept of good and evil and how it is more a battle of altruism and selfishness. I insisted that despite her condescending attitude of late Snow White was a “good” person. She gave up everything for the greater good, martyring her happiness because it was “right.” Regina was evil because she sacrificed everything in her path in her pursuit of happiness. Snow gives. Regina takes.

“The Queen is Dead” shines a big blinding light on that unnuanced concept of morality, forcing these two women to defend their stances on what constitutes “good” and finally, finally smudging the lines of Once Upon A Time‘s black and white world.

That was why Emma Swan was so revolutionary early on. She was that bit of gray stuck between the good and evil. She understood and empathized with Regina and Snow’s altruism freaked her out a little. Unfortunately this season has seen her go from this pretty fantastic surly fourteen year old boy in Jennifer Morrison’s body to a caboose on the the plot train. She’s dragged from story to story, robbed of any agency she might have and left to just react to that massive bombardment of mind-blowing news. And it isn’t even a good reaction! Morrison does solid work. She plays Emma subtle and completely at odds with the bold theatricality of the fairytale characters. Her acting is as deft as can be when she’s reacting to Henry’s barbs or absorbing the news of Nealfire’s engagement. She’s just not really allowed to absorb things for more than a few seconds. CRAZY!EPIC!PLOT! has taken over.

It's all left Emma so confused she can't even muster a derp face.

It’s all left Emma so confused she can’t even muster a derp face.

And it hasn’t just hurt Emma’s characterization. It’s also hurt the most fascinating dynamic of the show. Removing part of your excellent Regina/Emma/Snow triangle boggles my mind, but the show’s done it time and again this season. Keeping these three women out of the same room and robbing great dramatic stories of half their impact. Like Daniel’s return? Yes it was wonderful to see Regina cope and learn how she’s been manipulated her entire life, but it would have been a wonderful time to tackle the Regina/Snow relationship head on. And in “The Queen is Dead” Emma’s middle of the road take on OUAT’s morality code would have been most welcomed.

Instead things become muddled. “Brave and true” Snow learns Cora and Regina are in league and sets out to do what everyone has always done to Regina, manipulate her into changing sides. Is it any wonder Regina rejects her outright and calls Snow evil? Altruism may have given her carte blanche in the eyes of the rest of the fairytale characters but her bald attempt at manipulation isn’t something a “good” person would do either.

Nor would a “good” person lay into their servant because they believe themselves better then Mrs. Patmore.

Snow is a jerk.

Snow is a jerk.

It’s only towards the end of the episode when Snow goes to great lengths to be good, by letting her mother dying in the past and trading Rumpel’s dagger in the present for Johanna’s life. But what does it get her? A pretty corpse of a mother and a flying Mrs. Patmore. At the end of the episode, when nearly all her mother figures are dead and buried, Snow reflects on her altruism–that which has aligned her with good for so many years–and she realizes that just as selfishness has earned Regina nothing but misery selflessness has earned Snow nothing but heartache.

And a flying nanny.

And a flying nanny.

Her vow then, to kill Cora, is meant to portray a woman with a dark mark forming on her soul and headed down a path of evil. Which would be a brilliant path for the character to take. The Snow White of fairytales is a vengeful woman who forces the Evil Queen to dance to her death in iron shoes heated until burning red (my headcanon is Regina knows the story and that’s one of her big reasons for never trusting Snow ever again). Of the princesses found in the stories of the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen Snow is the one easiest to twist into someone evil.

But is killing Cora, a woman who is probably disguised as the coffee you are drinking RIGHT NOW, really so evil? At this point Cora has become so delightfully villainous and so lacking in any good whatsoever that’s she more monstrous than that dragon Charming offed back in season one. How is murdering her her less altruistic than that?

While Snow goes down this ill-defined road to the devil Regina is waffling in her evil relapse. Up until this point her sudden 180 into her mother’s arms felt like bad writing. But her early scene with Snow in the diner where they unload some truth bombs reveals the very core of Regina’s relapse and her only hope for redeeming herself again. She notes that good has gotten her nothing more than an awkward dinner party with a group of people who will forever hate and distrust her. Why should she be good when it’s clearly a sisyphean task?

Besides when she's evil she gets to dig up shit.

Besides when she’s evil she gets to dig up shit.

Disturbingly enough Snow can’t give her an answer. The only people in town who’ve shown any inclination to be kind to Regina are busy dealing with a hooked Rumpelstiltskin, and even they don’t have any real faith in her–believing she was a killer and hunting her and building armories to use in defense against her. At this point Regina cannot be redeemed. Not while the other characters remain so statically against her. It’s an odd thing. Usually the onus of redemption is on the person seeking it, but on Once Upon A Time it is up to the people around them to save these characters from their own evilness.

Notes

  • Regina. Digging. I love that her mother just stands there while she works it in a miniskirt. That just seems so like both of those characters. Regina’s love for her mother would lead her to demeaning herself with peasant’s work and Cora would insist on it because she’s evil.
  • Cora’d! is now a thing. Any time anything bad happens in your life or someone is wierd around you just assume it is Barbara Hershey is disguise.
  • Jennifer Morrison did such good work this week. She’s got a thankless job but the way she reacts to Neal’s fiancé is a study in facial reactions.
  • Rumpel gets real evil with a baffled Henry. Looks like that plan to murder him hasn’t been put on hold despite knowing they’re related.
  • Rumpel also tries to manipulate Emma into hooking up with Nealfire because he is the worst. But Emma don’t play that game you big jerk. She don’t play it.
  • Lesley Nicol was great as poor doomed Johanna. It was a shame to see her fly even though it was the biggest laugh out loud moment of the episode.
  • Bailee Madison continues to be one of my favorite recurring guest stars. Her Ginnifer Goodwin impression is eerily accurate.
  • Regina Murder She Wrote her way through Cora’s epic plot to put her on the throne. It was kind of kooky, as was Regina taking forty years to figure out something she suspected all the way back in “The Stable Boy.” Yet her face when her mother announces her plan to murder Emma and the rest? Makes it worth it.
  • Hook FINALLY wins for half a second, only to get beaned in the head and shuffled off to a basement for the foreseeable future.
  • Nealfire can steer a ship and knows Hook. Either he’s Peter Pan or one of the other lost boys.
  • Next Week: Rose McGowan appears as a young Cora, Regina and Emma hug a lot and someone dies. It’s probably Cora. RIP my favorite evil evil evil villain.
  • lee66132000

    ["But is killing Cora, a woman who is probably disguised as the coffee you are drinking RIGHT NOW, really so evil? At this point Cora has become so delightfully villainous and so lacking in any good whatsoever that’s she more monstrous than that dragon Charming offed back in season one. How is murdering her her less altruistic than that?"]

    Yes, it is. Because Snow White would be killing Cora for selfish reasons . . . revenge. It’s not about the victim’s moral compass. It’s about the perpetrator’s intent. Snow White’s intent is all about anger and revenge. And killing Cora would be an act of evil.

    Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time. She tried to kill Mulan to stop the latter from using the compass to save Aurora from Cora. Didn’t she?