This week, we returned to the development and evolution of the Evil Queen. I always like Regina episodes because watching Lana Parrilla and Robert Carlyle work is such a joy, no matter how I feel about their respective characters. And boy, did I ever feel a LOT this week.
The overall theme appeared to be “letting go” for our erstwhile Mayor of Storybrooke. I really enjoyed the impromptu therapy session with Archie Hopper and honestly, he’s kind of the REAL hero of the piece for me now, as he was the only man in this entire episode that had Regina’s emotional wellbeing front and center. He’s also the only man who appears to give a flying fig about what happens to her, too. I found him irritating and ineffectual last season, but here, he’s not only more confident – dealing with Dr. Whale when he bursts into his office – but he’s also courageous, never once backing down even when Regina clearly doesn’t want to be pressed into confessions. Rafael Sbarge did a great job with very few lines, and was simultaneously sympathetic, brave and all the things a therapist should be. Honestly, I’d be perfectly happy to watch another 17 episodes of him giving the sort of therapy to Regina that she really needs.
Regina has to “let go” of Daniel – and I can’t help feeling that if she learns to do THIS, then letting go of other things might be easier for her too: the sense of injustice she carries with her, the vengeance she’s committed to, the terrible retribution she’s intent on railing down on Snow and everyone in Fairy Tale Land. Rightly or wrongly, the anger that drives her forwards appears to be dissipating, and this episode saw a much more open, vulnerable Regina who, quite honestly, broke what tiny, brittle pieces of my heart that I have left. Thanks, show. Thanks, Eddie and Adam. Job done. And how.
The flashbacks to Fairy Tale Land are as present and meaningful as the ongoing plot in Storybrooke, and we are able to contrast a much younger (and how the hell does Lana Parilla DO that, you know? She looks exactly the right age by just changing the expression on her FACE), far more innocent Regina with the woman who’s ruled over Storybrooke for thirty years, more or less.
We also find out who Dr. Whale really is, although if you’ve seen the promos you would have already known. I have to question ABC for showing promos that reveal the identity of someone who’s been in question for so long. But the showrunners decided to meld fiction and fairytale once more by telling the story of Frankenstein. And that provided the other, perhaps more overwhelming theme of the episode. The novel Frankenstein is all about creating life from death. That provided a great mirror for the moment when Regina becomes the Evil Queen, and life and death was never more prevalent than in this episode.
The word “monster” is used a LOT: both Rumple and FrakenWhale create monsters, Daniel becomes a monster, Regina becomes a monster and Cora is called a monster. This is linked to hearts – taking them, breaking them, using them to create new life. Rumple had to completely break Regina’s heart in order to progress her change into the Evil Queen; FrankenWhale had to replace a heart in order to make HIS monster. And in the battle between magic and science, it’s an interesting point to note that both these practices require a heart in order to achieve a successful experiment. And Rumple, the smug imp, wins out against FrankenWhale when it’s magic, not science, that makes Whale whole again towards the end of the episode.
In Storybrooke, Regina is trying to stop using magic and you know, I totally called it, didn’t I? She’s acting like a junkie, tearful and frightened of it, but determined to keep her promise to Henry. And that’s why she goes to Archie’s office. I suppose he’s her 12-step sponsor. What do you call that support group? Magiholics Anonymous?
On her way home, Regina is convinced that she sees Daniel on the street. We latterly discover that Regina has brought Daniel’s body to this world, preserved by an enchantment spell just like he was in Fairy Tale Land. She can’t let go of him, not even after death and, as we’re reminded by Rumple, “dead is dead.” That’s a recurring theme in this show – that not even magic can transcend death so I’m assuming that once someone’s gone, they really are gone forever. At least, who they are is gone and what remains, however it’s reanimated, isn’t the REAL person at all. Interesting. I suspect they may return to this later on. Some of the anvils dropped in this show are, after all, pretty damn heavy. As it is, the gentle stable boy that we saw last season is turned into a shambling zombie-like creature as Whale brings him back with a magical heart. It seems like everyone knows about Regina’s vault, right?
We’re shown some of Regina’s early magic lessons with Rumple and what’s made clear is that the REAL person she is is a far cry from the Evil Queen we were introduced to in the pilot episode. Rumple tries to make her take a heart from a unicorn (isn’t that like, against the law in fairytales or something?) and there’s genuine anguish on Regina’s face as she says that she can’t. I love this Regina; she’s so innocent, so trusting and naïve. She can’t even hurt an animal, which is a lovely contrast with how she takes a heart from a girl without second thought at the end of the episode. How far we’ve travelled, Regina, dear. How far indeed.
Jefferson appears in Fairy Tale Land to introduce Regina to Frankenstein, whom he’s brought from another land through his magical hat. Frankenstein claims he can bring the dead back to life and HERE’S where I find what they did so despicable. You see, Rumple’s plan was to break Regina as much as he could so that he was able to build her back up again in his own image (yep, delusions of deity much?). He needed her to be bereft of anything approaching humanity and the only way to do that was to take away any last vestiges of hope she might have had about happiness and being reunited with Daniel. And he is more than aware that dead is, in fact dead. So when the experiment fails – as Rumple knew it would because Frankenstein doesn’t even TRY – it’s all part of his master plan.
FrankenWhale wanted a magical heart for his own experiment, so he never had any intention of helping Regina. Jefferson wanted money and was paid handsomely for tricking Regina. Rumple wanted a monster. And boy, did he ever get one. They all got what they wanted at the expense of Regina’s humanity. FrankenWhale talks about how all the hearts he’s tried to use so far haven’t been “strong enough” to withstand his experiments. It’s ironic, then, that the strongest heart of all in this episode is Regina’s, but that by breaking it, Rumple got the monster that he craved. Losing a heart makes someone less of who they really are: inhuman, essentially. A monster.
Yep – are you getting all of this? I suppose there’s no theme like one that’s drilled into you so constantly and painfully as THIS one is during this episode.
But what struck me is the notion of perception. It takes me back to that scene with August and Emma from last season, and also Rumple’s words that “perception is everything”. If you’re seen as a monster, then you’ll eventually start to act like one, no matter who you truly are inside. And that’s Regina’s fate, isn’t it? She’s been seen as evil for so long that to adjust our perception of her and view her as anything else is really hard. Impossible for some viewers, from what I read on the internet. If anything, that’s going to be the show’s hardest sell: to change the perception of Regina for the general populous. I think they did a damn fine job of it in this episode, quite frankly. But then, I’ve always loved my villains to be a little more complex than the ones Disney gave us, and I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you all that “evil isn’t born, it’s made”. This episode was tantamount to a “how to” lesson in doing just that.
I think perhaps the theme of the season for Regina as a character is for her to “find” herself again. There’s a recurring notion of “losing” and “finding” in this show, from King George saying that all is lost without an heir to his throne, to Charming repeatedly saying “I will find you”. It’s repeated even more in this episode when Regina says that without Daniel she’ll be “lost”. And one of the greater themes in this show is that people are constantly searching for SOMETHING – whether it’s emotional security, love, a happy ending or simply a place to call home. I’m enjoying how that notion asserts itself in different ways, particularly as each character has their own quest to follow that seems to return to this idea time and again. “I hope you find what you’re looking for,” Regina told David Nolan last season. Yeah, that’s ironic, isn’t it? Particularly as Regina’s been lost for so long that it’s hard to imagine just HOW she’s going to BEGIN looking for what she wants/needs, let alone FIND it.
There’s a part of me that wished I hadn’t known about David Anders’ FrankenWhale. I love the actor and thought he looked great in his Steampunk Nazi outfit back in Fairy Tale Land. But for me, the Frankenstein parts of the story fell a little flat, mostly because I find Whale pretty repulsive as a character – asking if the nuns can date now they’re not nuns anymore? Um, priorities, Whale? Come on. And even if his intentions regarding Frankenstein’s experiment were to be reunited with his brother, I didn’t find any emotional resonance in that at all.
But the end of the episode that was all in black and white was cool, if predictable. You know, I’ve visited the Haunted House at Universal Studios and their centerpiece is Frankenstein’s lab. I LOVED it. Also, I was scared out of my wits, but that’s quite another story. It was a nice nod to the novel and to the movie – directed by James Whale, no less. Oh, show, subtlety isn’t your strong point. Stop trying, okay? We all rumbled you long before the episode aired with that movie connection. But even the opening titles for the show were in black and white, with lightning striking dramatically across the scene. And sometimes it’s the little things, you know?
However, when magic is touted as the reason for the creature’s reanimation in Frankenstein’s lab, he tells his assistant (was that Igor? He wasn’t nearly as gnarly as I thought he’d be) that it’s not magic, “it’s science”. I’m having all sorts of LOST flashbacks about that, as much of what was unexplained on the show was latterly passed off as science and not some magical property. And in this episode, science is heralded as “more powerful” than magic. Something Rumple takes great pleasure in refuting when he literally makes Whale beg to have his arm back towards the end of the episode.
In Storybrooke, Whale performs his experiment once more, bringing Daniel back to life. The vision Regina saw was actually him, but he’s come back rather more in keeping with the creature from the novel Frankenstein. Poor Noah Bean didn’t really have much more to do than stagger around and grunt a lot, especially when he was being locked in the stables by David/Charming. Is it wrong that I didn’t find him awfully convincing? I mean, yes, it’s difficult to get a look in when you’re in a scene with Lana Parrilla but I felt like they were oddly mismatched in that stable scene which, I have to say, left me distinctly UNSTABLE afterwards. I mean, when Lana pulls it out of the bag, she really pulls it out of the bag.
Regina’s reunion with Daniel was horrible, just horrible. On the one hand we get to see her truly happy (and how often does THAT happen?) but on the other, she’s the only person who can rid Storybrooke of Daniel’s “monster”. And when David/Charming is trying on his “shoot first, think later” attitude – “He’s a monster, Regina. If you won’t put him down I will!” – Regina is literally begging him to let her talk to Daniel.
Yes, my heart broke when she had to let him go, on his insistence. And yes, he did say “love again”. Ugh. Stop that. I must have had something in my eye when I watched that scene and I just want you all to know that I FORCED myself to watch it again for recapping purposes. Thank you, all, for making me do that. But I think the most important thing here is that Regina does, finally, let Daniel go. She knows it’s the right thing to do. And, whereas being forced into doing that in Fairy Tale Land turned her evil, in Storybrooke, it makes her vulnerable, MORE human, MORE remorseful. After she turns Daniel to dust (and there’s Lana with her FACE again, killing us all and making us sorry we ever hated Regina in the first place) she goes back to Archie and her first words are not that she’s lost again, or that Daniel is really, truly dead, but that she’s used magic again. Her promise to Henry and her love for him is paramount here and if anything, THAT’S what viewers should take from the episode. Change really is possible, and probable, even. For the Evil Queen as much as anyone else and, let’s face it, she NEEDS it more than anyone else.
So, Regina finally lets Daniel go. For HIS sake more than her own. I like that idea of sacrifice in the name of true love, particularly as in Fairy Tale World, nothing seems more important than true love, right? And also, I think it proves that now Regina can feel love again – for Henry, if not anyone else – there’s a sea change coming for our Evil Queen. One in which she’s hopefully going to try and find the essence of the girl who couldn’t even kill an animal without crying over it.
Which brings me to Rumple. Sigh. You know, I love Robert Carlyle and can take great pleasure in his performances in this show. But what I hated about this episode was the gratuitously selfish and malicious way in which Rumple manipulates Regina. He ridicules her for not being able to crush a heart; he mocks her “twu love” and tells her that if she wants to find happiness, then she needs to “find it elsewhere”. Well, that was his plan all along, wasn’t it? Dangling the notion that Fairy Tale Land couldn’t give Regina her happy ending so she’d need to seek it in another world – “a land without magic”. And it was a false notion, too, because Rumple knew EXACTLY what he was doing.
The whole plan with Frankenstein and Jefferson was a ruse to force Regina into making the decision to abandon all hope, and Rumple plays it out with glee. He experiences actual pleasure at the pain he’s causing her and I think, if anything, viewers really HAVE to accept that Rumple is morally bankrupt in this episode. He needed to turn Regina into the same sort of woman her mother was – even though, in “We Are Both”, he told her that it would be HER choice. But Rumple takes choice away from Regina with this plan to get what HE wants and needs. It’s a dreadful indictment of who he is as a character and honestly, redemption for him is so far away I can’t even begin to imagine what it might look like.
Rumple KNOWS he’s creating a monster – he even admits to it at the end of the episode. And while Frankenstein denies that that’s what he’s doing, they are both guilty of manipulating life in their own, fetid way. But, like I said, perception is everything and in this show, we’re only able to judge week to week what we see. There’s a part of me that was hoping to see some intrinsic sympathy in Rumple, somewhere, but he’s so corrupt at heart that I’m not sure he even has one anymore.
“Nothing is innocent,” Rumple tells Regina in her magic lesson. But Regina is – or, at least, she was until Rumple contributed to her downfall by removing love and, essentially, removing her heart.
He reminds Frankenstein that “whatever you traffic in, it comes with a price”. Oh lord, THIS again? I think watching this show comes at a price: my sanity. Fairytales, these aren’t; that’s for sure. And there’s an underlying bleakness that really kills me when the show decides to embellish on that theme. I want my happy ending, dammit. I didn’t get much of it this week.
In Storybrooke, Whale goes to Rumple for help and is forced into admitting that he “needs magic”. His idea behind bringing Daniel back was that, if he helped Regina, then she might return him to his own land so he could attempt to bring his brother back…again. Apparently it “ended badly” the first time. Oh yes, I’ve actually read that book. It didn’t end well AT ALL. It didn’t end well in Storybrooke, either. Really, Whale, what on earth were you thinking by bringing Daniel back? You know that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. Mad scientist alert.
Rumple says that he’s able to help Whale, but that “there’s a difference between can and will”. Hm. You know, in Regina’s magic lesson, she was ABLE to take the unicorn’s heart from its chest, but lacked the will to do so. And, just like Rumple, the difference between “can” and “will” lay in the recompense she was likely to get. And if all magic comes at a price, then the ability to perform it is far outweighed by the desire to do so. Regina didn’t take a heart until she WANTED to, until she had the will to take it. So really, being able to do something means nothing unless you really want to do it – just like letting go of Daniel, just like stopping using magic, just like being angry enough to enact a curse on the whole of Fairy Tale Land.
I do like how the show tells stories through other characters, how their themes and motivations often reflect the central ideas of each episode. It’s a nice little structure that they have there, just like the parallels in lines or actions that we see between Storybrooke and Fairy Tale Land.
And at the heart of it all (pun intended), there’s the theme of love: losing it, finding it, wanting it, spurning it. One of the most interesting notes that I made during this episode was that, considering Henry and Emma et al believe that Regina is incapable of love and has no heart, she comes across in “The Doctor” as the person who has the biggest heart of all and the strongest heart of all. And once love was taken from her and her heart was, essentially, broken and removed, she had no other choice but to become the Evil Queen. Tragic. And yes, I might still be weeping a little about it as I type.
Notable mentions: The action in Fairy Tale Land this week was scant, but important. Emma, Snow, Mulan and Aurora return to camp to find that Cora has killed everyone. Well, everyone but Hook, whom I assume was there as a plant. Emma used her superpower again (really? We’re STILL on that?) to get the truth out of him in the end and he confesses Cora’s plan to open a portal to Storybrooke.
Hook tells them that there is a way they can get home, but it involves a great big beanstalk and a giant at the top of it. Is it wrong to say I’m totally excited for next week because of that? And that I don’t really mind if Emma makes out with Hook in the process? Come on, you know you were thinking it too…