Once Upon A Time 2.20: "The Evil Queen" or "I Can't Make You Love Me"

I admit, I had to watch this week’s episode of Once more than a few times before I could get around to reviewing it.  I kept getting distracted by Lana Parrilla’s FACE.  It’s really one of the only reasons that keeps me coming back week after week – understandable, as in The Evil Queen, Lana not only out-acted, out-emoted and downright out-stripped the rest of the cast, but, as always, made them raise their game in every scene she shared with them.

I’m a simple woman, you know?  Okay, so I’m not, but I like my villains complex and hard to love.  The only problem with Regina is that while she’s complex, I find her very easy to love.  So I had to wonder, then, as the Evil Queen demanded villagers give up the whereabouts of Snow in return for riches and subsequently condemned them all to death when they refused – “no mercy” – if I’m really the sort of catch my fiancée appears to think I am.

Anyway, this week saw Greg and Tamara – or the Spy Kids, as I’ve internally named them – bring Hook back to Storybrooke and make a deal with him as he discovers that Rumple is most definitely NOT dead.  Poor Hook.  He’s kind of made of fail, isn’t he?  I mean, this show is chock full of villains and honestly, they’re all a bit rubbish.  It’s hard to see why, actually, because the so-called “good guys” are blithering idiots most of the time.

Speaking of, David and Mary Margaret are sitting by the docks discussing what to do with Regina when they go back to Fairy Tale Land.  David doesn’t want to take her and Mary Margaret keeps going on about all the chances they’ve given Regina and how she keeps “slipping”.  Maybe they could put her in Rumple’s jail cell.  Um, okay.  Because that’s humane.  That’s what good people do.  And we all know that the way to redeem someone is to punish them, right?  Nothing says “encouragement” quite like incarceration.  And honestly, you two, I can’t take you seriously when you’ve got your little cups of whatever and a plaid blanket over your knees.  I feel like I’m looking at my parents who are both in their 70’s and can’t walk far without a stick or a sit down.

Back in Fairy Tale Land, Regina is furious that the peasants don’t love her.  She rants to Rumple and he reminds her that she did just kill an entire village and maybe that’s why they call her the “Evil Queen”.  “I’m not evil!” Regina tells him and you know, I honestly think she believes that.  She’s so righteously hurt that she’s convinced if Snow was dead, then people would see her kindness.  In time.

She makes a deal with Rumple for him to shapeshift her (is that a verb?  Eh, it is now) into a peasant so she can go among her people.  In return, she’s to cut all trade ties with King George because Rumple wants him bankrupt.  Ah, the master plan.  Can’t forget that.  And I can see how the orchestrator of all of this is really suffering back in Storybrooke with his fancy girlfriend and everyone leaving him alone to beat men to death with his cane.  Yes.  How dreadful for Rumple.  How regretful he must be feeling for getting a pass while the woman he’s quite literally tortured into doing his work for him is vilified and hated.  Not that I’m making any observations about the general themes in this show, you must understand.  Nope.  Not me.

Turning into a peasant girl, Regina thinks she looks “as regal as a potato”.  Hey, lady, King Edwards are really popular over here.  There’s nothing lowly about a potato.  And when Emma’s giving Henry fries for breakfast, consider that the potato’s revenge.

In Storybrooke, Regina approaches Henry and unveils her plan to him: there’s a failsafe to the curse that will allow her to return to Fairy Tale Land, take him with her and it will all be as though none of this ever happened.  Storybrooke, however, will be destroyed and all the people in it will die.  You know, there’s something about the way Regina says that that’s intrinsically childlike.  So matter of fact.  I sometimes feel like, somewhere along the way, she lost all her ability to quantify human life; there’s a notion that everyone and anyone is expendable when it comes to winning.  Because winning is the thing, right?  It’s the first thing she said when she woke up in Storybrooke in 1983 and it’s always been what she prizes the most.  Well, apart from Henry’s love, of course, which is the reason she’s doing this.  By isolating him from everyone else, she imagines that he’ll love her again.  “As long as there are other people in our lives, you can never be fully mine.”

“Why would you even tell me this?” Henry asks, telling Regina that she’s a villain and that he could never love someone who could do such a thing.  “Because I don’t have anyone else to talk to,” Regina tells him.

Oh, Regina.  Honey, no.  No.  Henry’s a kid.  And you know what?  You do have someone else to talk to.  Dr. Hopper might have got his PhD from a curse, but he still wants to help you.  And he’s already been a damn sight more successful at getting you to talk about the things that bother you than the dim-witted Charming clan.  I’m kind of uncomfortable that Regina uses magic on Henry to make him forget the conversation.  Also?  Jealous, because there are any number of conversations I’ve had where it hasn’t quite turned out like I hoped.  Must make a mental note to learn forgetting spells.  Charred remains of villagers and ex-girlfriends optional.

Regina makes a huge mistake in this episode.  She imagines that walking among her people in disguise will enable her to hear how they truly feel about her.  It’s always interesting what people say about you when they think you can’t hear or see them, and it’s one of the reasons nobody should ever google themselves, search on forums for their username or go hunting around on twitter and tumblr.  NOBODY.  This is Fairy Tale Land’s version of the internet, where manners don’t exist and boundaries are…well, not only crossed but so far back in the rearview mirror they’re practically invisible.  The villagers, of course, are hostile and resentful and looking to burn an effigy of the Evil Queen because they hate her.  She’s the Evil Queen!  Wow.  Almost two full seasons in and I’m not quite sure the show has rammed that point home enough.  We get it, okay?  Nobody loves her.  Well, except an internet army who would gladly kneel at her feet.  And let’s face it, with those Evil Queen outfits I’m not sure my legs would hold me up anyway.

Defending herself – which is pitiful and courageous and horribly desperate – Regina gets herself arrested.  By her own guards.  If they ever decide to do a spin-off of The Queen At Home, I’m there.  Because she knows all their names!  I barely know my own, let alone those of the people who work for me.  Her guards don’t recognize her though – oh, the irony – and are ready to behead her.  She’s got no magic and is utterly vulnerable, which I can’t help feeling is the underlying theme of this episode.  Regina without magic is just…Regina.  The helpless girl she once was, only with a bitter heart and a lust for vengeance.  It’s quite the juxtaposition, really, putting her in this sort of situation.  Especially with what comes to light later on when she’s completely at Snow’s mercy.

“I hired you a year ago despite your drunkenness,” Regina tells her guards.  “And you – I had you flogged last week for lateness.”  You know, when you look at it that way, it’s no wonder her guards are so loyal.  Rehabilitation and discipline: the cornerstones of being a firm but fair queen.  I bet Rivers and Berkley (not to mention Claude) probably get dental, too.  And then there’s those shiny uniforms.  Gotta say, they might have to raze villages to the ground and kill people, but good jobs are probably hard to find in Fairy Tale Land, right?  And at least Regina’s guards have a solid work ethic.  I’m just saying.

Bandit!Snow turns up with some impressive moves (clearly HG has been time travelling and taught her Kenpo) and saves Regina, whisking her off into the woods.  But more on that later…

Hook brokers a deal for revenge with Regina.  The thing that interests me most is that the word “trust” is bandied around between them like it’s going out of fashion.  I can’t help feeling like Regina really does want to trust people, but knows not to.  It’s still there, though: that inherent need she seems to have for trust, even if she’s aware that it’s always been non-existent in her life.  I mean, she trusted Cora and…well, we all know what happened there.  I think sometimes Regina instinctively expects betrayal because that’s all she’s ever really known (curses on you, Snow and Cora!) from a young age – promises made and broken.  So the fact that she double-crosses Hook doesn’t really come as a surprise, and he’s left fending for himself against Zombie!Maleficent while Regina raids the glass coffin for the trigger to redact the curse.  Oh – and she takes back the magical bracelet/cuff/whatever from Hook that Cora gave him.  Poor Regina, wanting her mummy’s things as a reminder.  She’ll probably regret that…

There’s an overly long fight scene between Hook and CGI Maleficent (no Kristen Bauer van Straten, boo, hiss…) in which Maleficent makes pterodactyl noises much like the ones I regularly make when watching this show.  The life of a fangirl is borne of pain, I tell you.  Pain and suffering.  We’re all Regina, in the end.  Just without the magic and the outfits and the sass and the hatred for Snow – wait.  Maybe not that last one.

Back to Fairy Tale Land, Snow is tending to Regina’s wounds.  Or, should I say, “Wilma”.  Quite where that came from is anyone’s guess.  Answers and suggestions on a postcard, please.  Let’s comfort ourselves with the fact that Regina spent a lot of time watching The Flintstones with Henry when he was little, secretly laughing about the fact that Charming is Barney Rubble.  Or Dino.

The scenes between Regina and Snow in this episode are almost too late, you know?  They should have done this ages ago – instead of the clunkers they gave us mid-season, I’d have liked to see something like this earlier on.  Because Snow and Regina are really the central relationship of this entire show, and these two girls need to figure out their shit.  Snow tells “Wilma” about being rescued as a child and it’s heartwarming and sad and horrible for Regina to hear.  We also learn that someone in “another forest” taught Snow how to hunt and I’m telling you now, if that’s Robin Hood then I won’t be happy.  NOT A FAIRYTALE, GUYS.  Stop with the rewriting of history, please.

But Lana’s face…oh god.  She needs to stop with that.  Lana Parilla manages to say more with her face in reaction shots than Snow does in a plethora of speeches about “good” and forgiveness.  But I suppose that’s mainly why these scenes work.  And I think this is where we get to the heart (no pun intended) of the matter, really.  You see, as they make their way through the forest, Snow gives Regina a sword.  Regina could have killed Snow at any time – which she told Rumple she was going to do.  But instead she presses Snow for information about the Evil Queen and finds out that Snow still loves her.  Ugh.  Stop it, girls.  STOP IT.

“Regina wants to hurt people.  I think she’s in constant pain and is always looking to figure out whom to blame for it…She wanted revenge more than she wanted love and I can’t imagine living that way…She’s just afraid to look vulnerable.”

THIS.  It amazes me how Snow can come so close to the truth about Regina and then fall short of the mark.  Because Regina does want love more than revenge – she wants Snow to love her, her mother to love her, the people she rules over to love her.  But revenge is easier.  Exacting power over people is easier.  And in the fight, that’s where Regina feels strongest.  She never feels more powerful than when she’s battling.  Admitting to her need for love and her desire to be loved makes her horribly vulnerable.  And, as we’re constantly reminded in this show, love is weakness.  So in order to be strong, Regina must deny herself the possibility of it.  It’s all incredibly sad and I hate that this show has managed to create such an enduringly sympathetic character while at the same time making her reprehensible.  But I suppose that’s the essence of drama and in this respect, the show does succeed.  It’s just all the other stuff that bothers me.

There’s this moment that Snow and Regina reach where they’re almost there, you know?  They’re almost at a point where Regina believes it’s not too late for her.  Snow says something interesting about wanting to be “guided by love”.  And there it is: Regina’s never had that.  She was only guided by her mother, and Cora was incapable of feeling real love for her daughter for Regina’s entire life, right up until the moment before she died.  It’s a horrible truth about Regina that she was only guided by hatred and power and all the things that have made her what she is.  Evil isn’t born; it’s made.  I’m reminded of that a lot in this scene.  And hopeful, heartbreakingly sad Regina wants to know if there might be forgiveness for her – she even uses the word “family” to describe her relationship with Snow and yeah, I have to admit, that got me.  Damn you, Lana.

The possibility of change, for Regina, is very seductive.  But, as she and Snow discover the bodies of the villagers that Regina had killed, that possibility is pretty much stamped out.  “We’ve gone further than I thought,” says Regina.  I loved that.  Because they have done, and now they’re too far gone in opposite directions to ever come back.  You can see how Regina hardens as Snow retracts ideas of forgiveness and she expects Snow to kill her.  Snow draws her bow but doesn’t shoot.  And you know, the fact that neither woman can kill the other even though they have the means is pretty telling about how they feel.  And it’s poignant that Regina tries to comfort Snow as she blames herself for the dead bodies lying in front of them.

Theirs is definitely the most compelling relationship in the show, for me.  The way they constantly give one another second, third, additional chances.  The way they can’t quite bring themselves to kill one another.  The way they punish each other and try to remove all that’s good in both their lives.  It’s a constant back and forth and if the show were just about their relationship, I might look forward to it a bit more every week.  But by telling Regina there’s no good left in her, Snow only reinforces everything Regina’s ever been told or experienced and when it comes to “making” evil, you have to put some of that blame onto Snow’s shoulders at some point.

Returning to Rumple, Regina admits that he was right and that “they’ll never love me.”  Her only source of retribution, then, is to “punish them.”  So in one fell swoop, we’ve gone from “I’m not evil” to “the queen is dead, long live The Evil Queen.”  I find myself disappointed and excited all at the same time.  It’s exhausting, quite frankly.

The secondary plotline this week was Emma having suspicions about Tamara.  She bumps into her in the diner and finds a list of names with their corresponding fairytale characters that Tamara drops.  Again, we’ve got that word “trust” being thrown around.  Tamara tells Emma that she can trust her, leading Emma to voice her concerns to Mary Margaret.  I’m rolling my eyes so hard during this scene that I think they actually fell out of my head at one point, because not only does Mary Margaret think that Emma has “feelings” for Nealfire, but so does Henry.  Let’s all heave a huge sigh, shall we?  Because Emma has about as much chemistry with Nealfire as a wet weekend in Grimsby.  For those of you who’ve never been there, the word “grim” is part of the town’s name for a reason.  And I have to give Emma props for resisting the barrage of pretty boys being thrown at her, even if I can’t help feeling like she’s suddenly going to confess her secret love to Neal before the end of the season.  A love that’s so secret it’s almost like it doesn’t exist at all.

But I get that this is how the show goes.  Romantic interests, blah blah blah.  You know, ever since Emma started wearing turtlenecks all the time and straightening her hair, she got a whole lot less badass.  Once again, I’m thinking of setting up a petition to bring back the leather jacket.  It clearly had magical properties.

“Your superpower has been known to be unreliable,” Mary Margaret says.  Translation: it’s neither super nor a power.  “Especially when you’re emotional.”  Translation: every time you’re near Regina.

But our Savior isn’t deterred and takes Henry on a stakeout with her.  Yep, that’s right.  Emma takes Henry on a stakeout and also asks him to keep lookout when she breaks into Nealfire and Tamara’s room.  A few questions:  one, can that whole Mothering 101 course not just apply to Regina please?  Two, doesn’t Granny’s hotel have any security to stop people just wandering in like that?  Three, can Emma please do more dorky door-kicking because that was far too adorable for words?  Thanks.

Nealfire finds them and Emma tells him that she’s suspicious of Tamara.  Jeez.  Now he’s going to think that Emma has “feelings” for him, too!  Stop that!  If Emma belongs with anyone, it’s not with a man who thinks that scarves and goatees are still in fashion.  Um, they’re not, right?  But this is tiresome.  Just because they had a thing he’s supposed to be the great love of her life?  Can I gently remind you, dear readers, that when Nealfire was making the moves on Emma, she was little more than a child and illegal in several states?  First loves are important – just ask Regina – but they’re first loves for a reason.  And besides, Son of Rumple is no match for the Evil Queen and I highly doubt that “And Daddy Makes Four” is any competition for “Henry Has Two Mommies”.

Hey – remember how Hook and Regina were down in the caves beneath the library?  I know, I almost forgot too what with all the weeping over Regina and the muttering under my breath at Nealfire.  When she returns to the library, Regina finds Hook waiting for her.  And he’s brought the Spy Kids with him.  Turns out they saved him from Maleficent and have a “way against magic.”  So much so, that the bracelet/cuff/whatever that Regina took from Hook prevents her using magic.  It inhibits it with “science”.  Ohhhh, so that’s where all the supposed chemistry between Emma and Nealfire went, then.

“…now, here, you’re nothing,” Greg tells Regina.  Harsh.  But it kind of rounds out her story nicely in this episode because let’s face it, Regina’s spent her entire life trying to be something and failing miserably.  I’m reminded of The Stable Boy, when she asked her mother if she couldn’t just be herself.  Cora wouldn’t let her.  Snow wouldn’t let her.  And now Greg is telling her that she really is what she most fears: nothing at all.  In fact, the only person who’s ever really seen her as just “Regina”, at least for a certain period of time, has been Emma.  Aaaaand I’m just going to leave that there.

So, Regina’s kidnapped by The Spy Kids and Hook.  Meanwhile, on the other side of town (or what looks like a really lonely country road somewhere in Canada – and Vancouver looks almost as rainy as Britain, to be honest) Snow, Charming and Grumpy drive out to the beanfield only to find it destroyed and all the beans gone.  Gone!  Horror!  Who could have done such a thing?

I’ll give you two guesses.  No, actually, just one.

With only two episodes to go, and fandom quite literally whipped up into a frenzy about what will happen next, I’m buying in large quantities of alcohol for the finale and offering an open door policy for those brave enough to join me.

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