“Do people ever truly change?” And other existential questions.
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Jared S. Gilmore, Meghan Ory, and Robert Carlyle.
Redemption is the theme of Once Upon a Time this week, in the show’s mid season premiere. A bit of an anticlimax after the set up provided in the episode before, with our main antagonists, Cora and Hook, choosing to remain in the shadows for the time being, allowing for more chess pieces being moved into place for further explosive conflict to come. It’s somewhat of a change of course compared to the high octane season premiere, in which wraiths menaced the entire neighbourhood. Instead, the show settles itself with Emma and Snow back in Storybrooke, re-exploring their relationships with Henry and Charming, as well as their standing within the community in general. On top of that, Emma starts trying to determine how to navigate her relationship with Regina who, in spite of everything, is Henry’s mother and Emma is keenly aware of how much Henry wants Regina to be accepted into the family. Unfortunately, things do not remain calm for long, as Cora’s dastardly plan to rip Regina’s happiness away from her (as if she ever had much) starts to be enacted. Ultimately, this episode is hugely focused upon Regina and her ability to change.
The flashbacks explore the last time Regina was given an opportunity to redeem herself. After King George’s forces folded, Snow offered Regina the opportunity to parley. Unfortunately, Regina does not take it, opting instead to try and kill Snow, which was Snow and Charming’s test all along, resulting in Regina’s capture at their hand. She is sentenced to execution, and is encouraged by her father to show remorse. Faced with a firing squad, Regina expresses regret only for not having succeeded in killing Snow, but Snow calls a halt to the execution regardless. She insists to Charming that Regina is capable of good, as she saw in the past. Unwilling to let this go, Snow releases Regina from her cell and tells her that she can leave, but that the evil should remain behind. Regina decides to attack Snow, and stabs her with a dagger that Snow had taken for protection. However, it transpires that this was another trick by the Charmings, assisted by Rumplestiltskin. They reveal that Rumple has used Regina’s hairs to give Snow and Charming a protection spell against Regina, meaning that she is unable to do them any harm. Snow is saddened, confessing that she hoped that Regina would have passed their test and shown remorse and repentance for her evil deeds. As punishment, they banish the Queen. Much later, on the day of Snow and Charming’s wedding, Rumple arrives at the Evil Queen’s palace and reveals that Charming and Snow are only safe from her harm in that realm, inspiring Regina to cast the Dark Curse to enact her revenge.
In the present, Regina’s ability to change is also at the fore of everybody’s minds. At a welcome home party for Snow and Emma at Granny’s, Emma invites Regina. When she arrives, she does not feel welcome and leaves. Emma follows her, and explains that she wants to get on for Henry’s sake, but when Regina suggests that she see Henry, Emma isn’t completely convinced that that is what is best for him. Regina almost starts an argument, but stops herself and apologises for the way that she spoke to Emma, who reveals that she is heartened that Regina is committed to changing, having heard from Archie about her therapy sessions. Regina angrily confronts Archie for discussing their private sessions with anybody else, an argument that is observed by Ruby. That night, Regina arrives at Archie’s office and attacks him. Again, Ruby witnesses Regina entering and leaving the building. However, when Regina turns the corner, she transforms back into Cora.
Cora and Hook have changed their original plans and have decided to remain unnoticed in Storybrooke upon their discovery that there is Magic in the Land of No Magic…which I suppose just makes it the Land now? Part of Cora’s plan to break Regina is to strip away her support system – not that she had very much to begin with. The next day, Emma and Ruby find Archie’s dead body in his office and Ruby immediately points the finger at Regina, who is pulled in for questioning. Regina herself has no knowledge of the murder, and claims to have had nothing to do with it, and contradicts Ruby’s claims that she entered and left the building the previous night (However, her defence of “Well, she’s lying” would have been much more persuasive if she’d argued “Well, she was mistaken”). While Snow and David are resolute in their belief of Regina’s guilt, Emma thinks that Regina is innocent, claiming that Regina’s surprise at Archie’s death was genuine, and lets Regina go.
Emma is convinced that Regina might be being framed, especially when Regina’s file is missing from Archie’s office, which leads them to Gold – the obvious perpetrator of a frame job against Regina. He instead suggests that they extract the memories of Archie’s dog, Pongo, to discover the true culprit. For this task, he “catches” Pongo’s memories into a dream catcher (I thought dream catchers caught dreams, but there you go), and encourages Emma to use her magic to display them. Through this, the group see “Regina” murdering Archie.
Emma is now convinced and ready to arrest Regina and they confront her at her house. Regina wants to speak to Henry about what has happened, so that he can hear her version of the story, but the Mother Superior uses her magic against Regina. Regina easily protects herself from it, and then turns upon Emma, throwing her across the ground. Emma angrily tells Regina that Henry will never believe her again, and that she will never change, prompting Regina to disappear in a swirl of magical smoke. While Emma tells Henry about what has happened, Regina watches, heartbroken and tearful, from a distance.
As a final twist – because there has to be a final twist – at Hook’s (now magically concealed) ship, Cora reveals a bound and gagged Archie to Hook, revealing that she actually killed somebody else and masqueraded them to look like Archie. Who did she kill? She doesn’t know. She’s new in town. However, she has been in town long enough to work out that Archie knows a lot of its secrets, and could be helpful in Hook’s quest to kill Gold. The fact that, ultimately, Archie seems to have very few patients at his office is entirely besides the point.
It is clear from this episode that Once is highly committed to exploring the possibility of Regina repenting and changing from being the Evil Queen. While it doesn’t alight upon a particular answer, and whether it is possible, it is worth noting that Regina is easily able to take out all of the Charmings if she so desires. It’s her attachment to Henry that prevents her from doing this, and she knows that if she does anything to harm anybody then she will lose his trust. Unfortunately for Regina, however, she is now a victim of her mother’s machinations, making her lose Henry’s trust anyway. The difference between the past and present storylines was clear: Henry. In the past, Regina didn’t have anybody to rehabilitate herself for. She was viewed by everybody as the Evil Queen and nobody else. There was nowhere that she could go from there, other than stay in the rut that she had fashioned for herself, pursuing a revenge to try and fill that hole in her life. In Storybrooke, however, she has Henry, who sees her as somebody capable of much more good than she believes she can. Somebody else having this faith in her gives Regina the freedom and belief in herself that she truly can be good. Removing that safety net of Henry’s faith, however, it remains possible that Regina could slide back to her more villainous ways. After all, she’s got very little to lose. Ultimately, I suppose that’s Cora’s plan for Regina, making her reliant upon the support and love of her mother and driving her towards more nefarious plans for success and power.
At the heart of this episode is also the massive fake out that Archie has been murdered. Personally, this doesn’t actually affect me too much as I haven’t been too keen upon Archie’s character for a while now. He doesn’t contribute very much to the overall storyline and the writers simply don’t know what to do with him outside of therapy sessions. Apparently, this is their solution and, while it’s interesting for him to actually be involved, this plot does seem reminiscent of Mary Margaret’s arrest for Kathryn’s murder last season.
Lana Parrilla does another star turn in this episode, performing the flashback scenes with acerbic vitriol, her bitterness and her anger swarming underneath every word that she spits in the direction of her enemies. Yet, you always get the sense through the performance that there is something hidden underneath that still, and that Regina’s anger always comes from a place of hurt and sadness. Which, of course, we know that it does. Regina in the present storyline is much more sympathetic. The scenes where she desperately wants to be involved with Emma’s welcome back party, but finds herself completely ostracised and unable to interact tugs on the heartstrings of the audience, regardless of how many atrocities the character has committed. Her conversation with Emma, similarly, shows heaps of character development as she earnestly apologises for her words. The turn of Regina from a position of power to one of social isolation definitely makes her more keen to reform, if for no other reason than to persuade the rest of the community that she can be trusted with Henry.
One element that I am disappointed with here is the sheer injustice of the sabotage of Regina’s positive development by her mother. This is truly the mark of a sinister villain, but with a character like Regina, who is ready to turn to the other side at a moment’s notice, this act might have much larger ramifications for the character. Hopefully this doesn’t happen, as I cannot imagine anything more frustrating than seeing Regina backslide.
- In the Enchanted Forest, Snow and Charming give Regina several “one last chance”s to redeem herself, all of which she squanders.
- Cora impersonates Regina and seemingly murders Archie.
- Pongo’s memories reveal “Regina” murdering Archie, leading to a confrontation with Regina.
- Regina is left without allies within Storybrooke.
- Some more delightfully witty lines in this episode. Regina telling Ruby to take herself for a walk was brilliantly delivered, as well as her protestation, “Need I remind you that your PhD comes from a curse?”. Once works best when it isn’t taking itself too seriously, so more lines like this would be greatly appreciated.
- Belle, again, is just a part of the scenery in this episode. I think the grand sum of her contribution is delivering snacks to Gold at the very beginning and absolutely nothing else. I have every confidence that she will likely play into Hook’s revenge on Gold, but I really wish that she would start to get more storylines of her own, rather than playing into Gold’s all the time.
- Still no progression on the Baelfire or the Pinocchio/August or the Neal front this episode, so I wonder at what stage those storylines will start to be incorporated meaningfully.
- Snow and David’s steamy bedroom reunion was a bit of a PG-13 moment for this usually wholesome show. Can you imagine if we’d had such a bunk up in the Enchanted Forest? It seems so un-fairytale, but it’s also a wonderfully adorable scene, especially when they’re interrupted by Emma and Henry. Emma is understandably slightly grossed out, but Henry is completely oblivious (which is completely ridiculous that an 11-year-old would have no idea about sex, but whatever). Furthermore, why is Snow even sleeping on the bed that has no wall between it and the kitchen when there is a perfectly good bedroom upstairs? Did she give Emma that bedroom? That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Presumably that’s where David was sleeping when Henry was staying, as we constantly saw Henry sleeping there. Oh well, I’m picking holes needlessly. Who cares.
- I am baffled by how Cora doesn’t know who she murdered – or indeed the poor man she turned into a fish – but she is keenly aware of Archie’s importance, even though I maintain that she got that wrong. I personally think that if Archie was murdered that might, in fact, be the most exciting and relevant thing he has done in his entire life.
- Another interesting idea this episode, in the way of redemption, is how far the good guys go in excusing and rising above the actions of their enemies. Charming in the past has clearly had enough, as demonstrated by his decisive actions in deciding that Regina should be executed, though Snow still decides to give Regina a chance. This then informs Snow’s decisions in the present when she doesn’t trust in Regina.
- Did nobody think to use the weird dream catcher thing on Regina herself? They would’ve seen that she was, in fact, at home the entire time. And surely there’s some sort of magic that Regina could do herself to reveal the truth behind the events? Even if she encountered “Archie’s” corpse, surely it would be obvious that it had been magically altered?
- In that vein, it was nice to see Emma intentionally using magic, if a little premature considering the only time that she previously demonstrated any ability was the previous episode. It also seemed ridiculously easy, so either it’s lazy writing, or she’s fiercely powerful.
- It’s notable that the flashbacks continue to emphasise how manipulative Gold was in ensuring that the Dark Curse took place, yet continues to ignore his present day storyline and motivations in escaping Storybrooke so that he might find Baelfire. Fingers crossed those hanging plot threads are soon tied up.
- I also can’t help but feel like I wish there had been this much outrage when Albert Spencer sawed a living man in half in his attempt to frame Ruby for murder. But then when it’s Regina killing Archie, suddenly it’s a big deal! We didn’t even see Spencer being arrested! Are they even looking for him? He’s a psychopath, and a murderer! Where is he? I demand to know, dammit!
The mid season premiere boasts marvellous, sympathetic exploration into one of the most complex characters in the show as well as suggesting a promising, cohesive direction moving forwards into the remainder of the season.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.