So Now we’ve got the premiere out of the way, the show has started to introduce us to some of the themes I imagine will stretch out over the season. And I have to say, so far, so good. Episode one laid out the town and Fairy Tale Land post-curse. But in “We Are Both”, we saw an uncertain future unfold for Storybrooke and its citizens. Not least, for Regina herself. She was the focus of this episode and Jane Espenson didn’t let me down in terms of writing a backstory for Regina that ripped out my heart, threw it down on the ground and stomped on it a bit before giving it back to me with a smile. Thanks, Jane. I appreciate it.
If anything, the theme of this week’s episode was “identity”. In Storybrooke, Charming stepped up to the plate and proved his worth, even though by his own admission he was always rather more suited to fighting and “Snow did the talking”. Well, at least we know who wears the trousers in THAT relationship then.
As usual, we flipped back and forth between Fairy Tale Land of the past and Storybrooke of the present. We found out, through a pretty foolhardy experiment, that once a denizen of Storybrooke goes beyond town lines, they revert back to their cursed selves and forget who they were in Fairy Tale Land. Poor Sneezy became just Mr. Clark, while Rumple discovered that, should he leave town and search for his son, he would forget everything he’d ever known. And, probably, lose his magic too. I can’t help wondering if that was the source of his frustration as he smashed the glass cabinets in his shop. I mean, remember when Bae asked him to forgo his powers in the past? He couldn’t do it.
Which brings me to an interesting strand that played out through the episode. Much has been made of the correlation between magic and power; how giving up those powers weakens the person who possessed them in the first place. And it’s a fascinating notion, really – how we are challenged to give up the things that we feel protect us and make us strong in order to have the things we want – in Regina’s case, Henry. For Rumple and Regina, strength was always inextricably linked to magic. Living without it made them vulnerable. So once the prospect of having it back again is presented to them, it throws up some complex character developments for them both, I’d say. And the fact that it’s MAGIC, and Jane Espenson writing the episode just made me have some hardcore Buffy the Vampire Slayer flashbacks to when Willow was struggling under the influence and use of magic. Or crack. Or magicrack, as I liked to call it.
Let me preface any comments I might make about Regina’s journey in this episode with some obnoxious fangirl flailing. You see, Lana Parrilla has taken what could have been a two-dimensional character and given her such depth that sometimes it’s like being dragged under a frickin’ OCEAN when she’s onscreen. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone watching this episode and not wanting to just give Regina a great big hug – in either world, really. She suffers at the hand of her mother and there’s a wonderful exploration of identity and purpose in the scenes between Regina and Cora, not to mention some heartbreaking scenes with Henry in the present day.
Okay, so I flailed a little there. But when an Evil Queen is only evil because she’s manipulated into it, then even the hardest of hearts must have a modicum of sympathy for the tortured existence that made her that way. And I have to admit that I like the way the show has explored some of the issues associated with parental abuse – both emotional and physical – because it’s not an easy topic to broach, but it DOES tend to look at the sort of origins that fairytales had before they were Disneyfied. And yes, that’s a word now.
David/Charming takes charge of Storybrooke, where a crisis center has been set up to deal with the aftermath of the wraith’s appearance there. Marco is looking for Pinocchio, and we’re shown poor old wooden August blinking in the opening sequence of the show. I’m assuming we’ll return to that little nugget in a later episode. Sidenote: I loved the additional sign pinned on the board telling Pyramus and Thisbe to “please come home!”. Well, with this show, it seems anything and everything is fair game.
The scenes between Charming and Regina are interesting, mostly because any previous scenes they had together were of them as friends. And now they’re not. In fact, Charming is pretty insistent that Regina is having trouble with her magic (she is) and bursts into her house without so much as a ‘hello’. Rude. But also fulfilling the role of resident hunk in a particularly pleasing way. You know, Charming is the feelingsiest man alive; he really is. He talks about ‘faith’ and believing in things like there’s no tomorrow and eventually forces Regina to admit that the Enchanted Forest still exists, where previously we were led to believe that Fairy Tale World is gone.
But he’s a great foil for Regina, particularly when he points out to her that keeping Henry through magic means she doesn’t really have him. Ooh, burn. Regina tells him that she “will not listen to childcare lectures from a man who put his daughter in a box and shipped her off to Maine”. Oh my, double burn. Suck on THAT, Charming.
But I do like their scenes together; they’re such opposite ends of the parenting spectrum that I actually think, ultimately, they might work things out between them. He could even be a helpful ally for Regina, emotionally speaking. Certainly, towards the end of the episode, Regina realizes that in telling Charming that the Enchanted Forest still exists, she’s set him off on an heroic quest. And his speech to the townspeople about “we are both” is a little ironic, as it’s precisely THIS that confirms his truer identity even though he’s retained all of David Nolan’s memories.
It’s magic, though, that dominates throughout. And in Fairy Tale Land, we’re given The Stable Boy Part 2 as young Regina tries to navigate her way through her mother’s machinations. Cora is evil; no doubt about it. Ambitious and greedy and the sort of mother nobody would wish on anyone. She’s essentially trapped Regina – literally and figuratively – in a life that we’re told the girl just doesn’t want. And nobody wants to know: Regina’s father maintains that Cora is trying to give her “all the things she never had for herself”.
But Regina just wants to be “free”, even when Cora tells her that “power is freedom”. And she has a point, but when that ‘freedom’ comes at the expense of self and, yes, even Regina’s personality, you have to wonder if it’s all worth it. It looks as though, by the end of the episode, Regina’s wondering that too. And that’s not an easy thing to admit for anyone – but particularly for her.
Regina’s resistance and her attempts to escape are futile, in the end. But they do provide a fascinating glimpse into the sort of woman she might have been, had she not been seduced by magic and power. “I’m angry all the time!” she tells her father. And it’s a telling line, isn’t it? Because Regina takes that anger out on anyone and everyone once she has the power to do so. Now, I’m intrigued by the psychology here, particularly of the abused child who grows up to be an abuser herself. And I think that’s why the scene between Regina and Snow is so monumental in a way, because Baby!Regina really does seem to have affection for the child, but the daydream in which she strangles Snow opens her up to the anger that she’s trying so hard to quell.
I loved Lana in that scene. I mean, Regina tells Snow that she’s “beautiful” and is sitting with the girl in a classic maternal pose. But from the moment Daniel’s name is mentioned, all that anger and pain and suffering and loss just floods out and Regina assumes the expression of the Evil Queen. “My mother corrupts young souls. If you were stronger none of this would have happened.”
And there’s the crux of it, really. Because Regina’s been SO strong all her life; she’s HAD to be, hasn’t she? And Snow, who was raised in a loving, supportive, indulgent environment, was weak. It’s a stark look at the differences between them, and an interesting little bit of foreshadowing considering that Snow was forced into being strong later on in her life by the very person who maligned her for lacking it in this scene.
Cora has a book of spells that she uses against Regina and, in Storybrooke, Regina goes searching for it at Gold’s shop. It seems that the book is what Rumpelstiltskin used to give Cora her powers in Fairy Tale Land, and Regina NEEDS it in order to get Henry back. I love the parallels here between what one has to sacrifice for magic, and what can gain through using it.
It also brings us to Rumple and the influence he’s exerting over Regina – how he’s done that all her life. When she summons him in Fairy Tale Land, he explains how he held her as a child and that their lives are linked in the past AND in the future. He really is an odious creature, manipulating people into giving up parts of themselves in order to further his plan. But, as always, the scenes between Robert Carlyle and Lana Parrilla are the most interesting on the show. And even though he relinquishes the book of spells to her in Storybrooke, it’s a ‘gift’ back in Fairy Tale Land.
But it’s when he tells Regina that he can see the family resemblance between her and her mother that I think I hate him the most. All the way through the episode, Regina maintains that she doesn’t want to become like Cora. She doesn’t want that sort of life and she absolutely doesn’t want to use magic.
It’s telling, then, to see Regina in Storybrooke, inhaling magic like it’s some sort of drug – which is absolutely is. Her younger self tells Rumple that she “loved it”, and we see that again when she storms into the town meeting just like the Evil Queen did Charming and Snow’s wedding in the pilot episode. Regina is so utterly badass. I mean, the woman CATCHES AN ARROW. But she’s clearly high on magic (Willow!) and I can’t help wondering if all the time she’s been using it, whether in Storybrooke or in Fairy Tale Land, it’s been the driving force behind her rage. If magic, rather than her own self, has somehow infected her. Well, that and Rumple. He tells Regina that magic can “set you free”. Yep, just like a bad trip. But you know, there has to be a come down at some point, right?
The first time Regina uses magic, she’s angry. It’s her frustration and resentment towards Cora that propels her into using her powers – powers that Rumple knows she possesses. Yes, she might be “kind” and “gentle”, but she’s also “powerful”. And it’s that power that Rumple is drawn to; he’s the one that tells Regina that magic will do what she can’t – get rid of her mother. The looking glass leads to Wonderland, right? I mean, that’s where Regina pushes her mother to: a “specific, annoying little world”. I bet Cora’s the Queen of Hearts, and I’ve thought so ever since “Hat Trick” back in Season 1.
Regina loses herself in that moment, and, in an episode that explores ‘identity’, it’s easy to see that using magic once terrifies her, but that it also overwhelms her. No wonder, then, that when she tells Archie Hopper “I know who I am”, it’s not so much defiance but rather admission. Because Regina is made painfully aware of who and what she’s become. The scene between her and Henry is so sad, especially when he echoes her younger self and says “I don’t want to be you.”
And there’s the whole point of this episode, I think. Even though Regina has told Archie that she knows who she is, she doesn’t. I don’t feel like Regina has any idea who she is; or, if she does then it’s a far cry from the woman she imagined herself turning into in Fairy Tale Land. In the first episode of Season 2, remember how she talked about herself in the third person? “You want your queen? Well here. She. Is.” The Evil Queen is a persona that she adopted in order to deal with her pain; she’s been doing it for so long that she’s forgotten who she is at heart. Henry seems to remind her – to jerk her into a desire to redeem herself because, as the showrunners keep telling us, that void inside her has been filled with love for her son. And it’s precisely that love that Regina’s going to need to rely on as she tries to redeem herself. I get the impression that it’s not going to be a particularly easy journey for her, but I have to say I’m really excited to see it because if anyone can make me believe it, then Lana can.
By the end of the episode, we have Henry going off with Charming because Regina wants to prove herself. She wants to get him back the right way, which is admirable, but damn, that woman really does love to torture herself doesn’t she? That last shot of her standing in the doorway watching him go is just…ugh. Sad. Hurtful.
We barely saw Emma and Snow in this episode, but when we do, it’s a doozy of a scene. They’re taken to the ‘safe haven’ that Mulan told Aurora about and even though they try to escape, they’re thrown into “the pit”. And…oh dear. Guess who’s down there with them? Cora.
Yep, I gasped. Damn right I did. Because I want to know how Snow will react to seeing her there. Also? How the hell did Cora get back to Fairy Tale Land? And is she still evil? Someone, for the love of God, get that bloody hat to work and open up a portal so I can jump forwards a week and find out. Writers of the show, get on that, would you? Thanks.
Notable mentions of the episode: Sebastian Stan reprising his role as Jefferson, and Dr. Whale asking if he can date the fairies because they’re not nuns anymore. Way to focus on the pressing issues of the day, Whale. And does anyone have any ideas as to who the hell he is? Let me know, won’t you? I haven’t got a clue. Also, LOVED the image of Rumple/Gold standing at the town’s border and knowing that he can’t leave. I suspect that there are things about the curse that even HE can’t have anticipated, and this is one of them. I’m looking forward to seeing how that little notion will play out…