The Whole Truth Of Regina Is Revealed When The 80s Hit Once Upon A Time
By Alex Cranz
For a show that prides itself on its Lost heritage and densely plotted narrative Once Upon A Time can have some monstrously large plot holes. There was at least two last night that a viewer could have driven a giant orange Bronco through if they so desired. Yet in spite of all the head slapper moments this Regina-power hour was one of the best the show’s attempted. Because for once it was unflinching in its portrayal of the Evil Queen. This was the best and worst of the show’s breakout character. The show has seemed to wrestle with precisely what it wanted to do with Regina lately. Is she an antiheroine on the path to redemption? A flashy villain with moments of humanity? A broken child trapped in the body of a woman? Should we love to hate her or despair every time her heart breaks? With the whole world against her are we meant to be satisfied or despondent?
In “Welcome To Storybrooke” the writers asked that we reconcile the queen with the mayor with the daughter with the mother. To see that as far as they’ve strayed from the path with how the characterize her she is a multifaceted character capable of sacrifice and, more importantly, capable of immense evil. She’s a dastardly villain and a broken daughter.
This was the queen in her first days of success and it’s a treat to watch Lana Parilla vamp through Storybrooke like the cartoonish queen while dressed like a normal human being.
She’s a child with an immense box of toys that do whatever she wills. The noble werewolf is a vampy idiot, the gorgeous huntsmen is her sex slave and her mortal enemy quakes in fear when they run into one another on the street. But like a child she grows tired of it (it may also have something to do with how the town is so sleepy it’s basically Groundhog’s Day). Like a child she seeks out new toys and she finds one in Owen, the boy who takes her seat and interrupt her breakfast but can still be kind enough to give her a keychain.
It’s that childlike interaction with her world that opens Regina up to the viewers. We’ve seen glimpses of just how deep her madness goes, but in this episode the whole of it is unearthed for us. And it is a madness. She’s not a villain like Cora or Gold. There’s a sense of agency in their actions. Regina lacks that. She is and always has been a child with a set of tools she can’t properly wield and a desperate desire for love. It’s why she’s always interacted so well with children. She’s one of them. Look at the way she whispers commands to Graham’s heart or demands a kid get out of her seat. There’s no thought of consequences or social propriety. There’s desire and fulfillment. The id sans superego. A girl watched her lover die in a stable and stopped growing, instead twisting back in on herself and becoming more and more closed off, fragile and terrifying.
And yes as empathetic as Parilla’s performance might make Regina she’s still a terrifying creature. Regina spends so much of the episode aching for connection but she spends the other half being really, really nasty. She just waltzes into Snow’s apartment to rip out her heart, and until Henry calls her on it she’s perfectly willing to curse him into being hers rather than deal with his biological family and work at rebuilding her life with him. And what she does to Owen out of a desire for a friend is unconscionable. She orphans a child because she’s lonely, and what’s more, she doesn’t see that as a problem. Once Owen’s dad is in Graham’s custody she directs her attention to Owen and never wavers. She’s obsessive and damn anything that comes between her and her goal. There is nothing more awful than that moment when she stands on the other side of the town barrier and cries for little lost Owen, because she understands him and wants to help him, but she’s still gladly making him an orphan to protect herself first.
The tragedy of such a monster is those little glimmers of morality that flare up. These kids reject her and Regina is just self-aware enough to know they’re right. So she lets them go–sends them away from her own warped sense of familial love. Regina, when she chooses to, understands that the curse and her own choices have turned her into something awful. The comprehension of what she is makes those rare moments when she torches a curse or lets a boy run past the boundary that much more bittersweet.
And it makes her episode ending confrontation with Snow that much more powerful. This is the first time really that these two characters have gotten to hash things out post curse. They’ve interacted before, but this is the first time you have an evil queen tempered by 28 years as a mayor and a “pure” Snow White sullied by existence as Mary Margaret. The arch quality of their Fairy Tale Land performances isn’t present, but all that history is there between them. Snow comes to Regina because she hates what she’s become and Regina delights in that self-hatred because she’s been experiencing it every other minute of the entire episode. But seeing it on Snow’s face–seeing Snow finally, unwillingly, genuinely empathizing with her for the first time ever–it’s orgasmic to Regina. Parilla and Ginnifer Goodwin knock the scene out of the park–taking ridiculous talk of “darkened” hearts and grounding it in the ache of depression and the sweet relief of success.
But Regina’s madness still peeks through. And here is where I found a bit of a bone to pick. I liked a lot of the things about this episode. I like that the show isn’t going to wave a wand and “woobify” Regina or back away from her psychopathic behavior. She’s a villain very much in the vein of Spike–a psychopath desperate for love but so warped by magic that they’ve perverted love as well. And like Spike the show suggests there’s a magic cure to what ails her brain (the curse blackened her heart beyond measure but true love could probably fix that). But the show’s most prominent female villain is still suggested to be completely nuts. Moreover, her desire, like a Second-Wave feminist, to “have it all” is purported to be insane.
Maybe Once Upon A Time isn’t trying to critique the feminists who said we could be successful in business, have children and families and be blissfully happy. Yet they use the phrase “have it all”–and that’s a phrase with a good fifty years of baggage attached to it. Compounding things by setting half the episode in the 80s, when women were returning to the workplace in droves and reaching out for that dreams makes it feel like it isn’t an accident. So saying that she’s crazy to want it all? That’s really problematic.
Between it and the plot holes it’s any wonder that this is my favorite episode of the season. Besides Regina being bonkers, Snow spent the whole episode depressed and alone (okay that was actually great) and poor Emma was back in “I’ll be whatever character the writers decide they need this week” land. The woman who staunchly defended Regina months ago is suddenly her greatest critic and for no reason besides they needed someone to yell at Regina while she fixed things with Henry. Perhaps one day the show will treat Emma as well as they treat Snow and Regina (from a characterization perspective).
- Regina doesn’t know who the Boss is and just assumes that’s a dude’s name and the kid’s mom lives with him.
- Rape culture is how casually the show treats Regina’s violation of Graham. Sexist culture is how we all talk about it and ignore similar circumstances when guys on Vampire Diaries or True Blood or something do it.
- Sure it was set in the 80s but it didn’t LOOK 80s. I was going to post this Olan Mills photo of my family from 83 as proof but remembered my mother and sister would both murder me. So here’s Kate Jackson in the show of my heart in 1983 for proof that the show did some of it right but the hair all wrong.
- Disturbing thought. That curse in Cora’s dress? She’d probably been planning on using it on Regina.
- According to the show if it’s true love they’ll always find you. Then Regina finds Henry knowing nothing but what trail he was near. I see what you did there.
- Henry was the MVP this week. At eleven he decides to stop all the feuding by his lonesome, acquires dynamite, WIRES dynamite and then tries to light it. Then he shares a scene with Regina where she actually behaves like a mother and instead of like an evil queen wanting to be a friend. It’s a rare and precious moment and we need more of them.
- People hating on poor Henry for running to Emma when it’s all over? He’s eleven. You can love your parents and still hate them when you’re eleven. Let the poor little wiener kid be.
- Ethan Embry is Owen all grown up. He and Regina have yet to share a scene together face to face and I can’t wait for when they do.
- Okay, so Regina couldn’t leave town during the curse? SO HOW DID THE TOWN ACQUIRE SUPPLIES?! This has blown my theory of her and the Mad Hatter making Wal-Mart runs for the whole damn town out of the water and that saddens me.
- Snow’s motivation for seeking Regina out is impossibly selfish but such a natural progression for a “noble” character. She can’t kill herself so she tries to martyr herself. Gross Snow. Real gross.
- Next Week: Nealfire takes a break from being that dad that makes divorced mom’s murderous to introduce everyone to his fiance. Word is Regina will finally have a reaction to his existence. Also August is back…and made of wood. Lord fetch me all of the port to make it through THAT.