Fairytales are real, but you don’t know the whole story.Victoria
Starring Lana Parrilla, Colin O’Donoghue, Andrew J. West, Dania Ramirez, Gabrielle Anwar, Alison Fernandez, Mekia Cox, and Robert Carlyle
Episode 9: One Little Tear
Once is careening towards its mid season finale this week, as all of the elements are set for a climax before the festive season. In fact, if this had been the final episode before the mid season break, it would have been quite satisfying an appetiser for what’s to come. With massive amounts of new information about Victoria, our original villain, as well as Anastasia finally awakening, Lucy collapsing and Nick and Jacinda kissing, there’s plenty to unpack from this episode.
Something that Once has always done incredibly successfully is not only to retell classic fairytales, but also to twist them and subvert expectations within them. Part of that has been in merging different fairytales almost seamlessly. Rumplestiltskin, for example, as well as being his own fairytale character, is also the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, as well as the Crocodile from Peter Pan.
It has also been very good at humanising the villains within the show. Very rarely have we had adversaries who remain purely evil for too long; the show is always very careful that the audience understands their motivations, and can see the tragedy of their malevolence. Up until this point, Victoria Belfrey has been very one-note, and I have really struggled to find her an engaging or interesting presence. Without knowing the particulars of her background, her very slow, posh drawl is nothing short of irritating. Even knowing her story still makes it feel like wading through molasses, but at least you have a bit more understanding of what makes her tick.
As it turns out, Victoria is not only Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s vicious stepmother, but also Rapunzel. This change is undoubtedly game changing. It might, in fact, be the first time (or at least the first time that I remember) in which a stereotypical hero character has ultimately become a villain. We know Rapunzel in fairytale as somebody who was unfairly treated and ultimately triumphs over the evil that plagues her and achieves her happy ending. Here, however, Rapunzel forms part of a much larger, and arguably more tragic story that ultimately results in the vengeful woman that Tremaine became.
This episode forces us to reconceive of Victoria as a woman who would do anything for her family, and we see her make that decision multiple times during this episode. It’s through her love and devotion to her daughters and husband that she broke into the witch’s garden and stole vegetables, and she sacrifices her own happiness in order for them to be cared for and fulfilled.
Her reward for this is, upon returning to her family, to discover that her husband has remarried, her youngest daughter treats her new stepmother as her true parent, and she is forced to work as a maid to her own family. She takes this on the chin, and she accepts this new role in her life, even though she can feel that Drizella is slipping further and further away.
When she is given the chance to be reunited with her family, she does not initially take it. She originally stays true to her own morals that she shouldn’t do anything to Cecelia, as another innocent human being, but she is tipped over the edge by Drizella calling Cecelia “mother”, causing her to poison Cecelia with the curse of the poisoned heart, leading her to flee. This results in Rapunzel, once again, being married to her husband, and the mother of Drizella and Anastasia, with Ella thrown in as well.
Throughout the episode we see the enormous lengths and sacrifices that Rapunzel makes in order to be with her family; even depriving herself of happiness in order to provide that for her daughters. Anastasia is the daughter who remains faithful to her, the daughter who still makes room within her life for the mother who risked everything just to keep them alive. When Anastasia dies by falling into the frozen lake, as her husband only saves Ella, the audience can really feel how much this devastates her.
This doesn’t wholly explain her descent into villainy, however. While it helps us to understand her a little better, and see that she clearly suffered through an awful lot, just to lose the most important thing to her, her greatest, most visceral love, there are still a few missing pieces, which I wish the show had explored more thoroughly here, as they are hinted at, but rife with dramatic, emotional potential.
Victoria here becomes massively more complex than we had previously given her credit for. Previously, we knew that she valued Anastasia over Drizella, to the extent where she would even sacrifice Drizella in order to ensure Anastasia’s survival. We now understand that this is due to Drizella’s lack of love and affection towards Rapunzel, effectively flipping the script on what we thought we understood. Drizella has always contended that she was just seeking her mother’s approval, but really it was Drizella’s withdrawal of this affection that started her mother’s deep rooted disdain for her younger daughter. We also have more of a clear idea as to Victoria’s contempt of Ella, not only as a reminder of her family being pulled away from her by Ella’s mother, but also Ella’s role in Anastasia’s death.
Yet, what we understand about Victoria here is the sheer lengths that she will go to in service of her family, which is in stark contrast to her neglect to Drizella, and her role in her husband’s death, in deference to resurrecting Anastasia. She is so dogmatically obsessed with that purpose and goal that she sabotages the chances at family that she could have in the real world. Anastasia’s death was a tragedy, undoubtedly, and it is a heartbreaking situation to lose a child, especially in such circumstances, and in a universe where these things can be undone.
However, that didn’t have to be an ending point for Rapunzel’s family. She still had her other daughter, her husband and a stepdaughter with whom she could have made an emotionally satisfying family with. Even her relationship with Lucy and Jacinda in the real world, would have been an opportunity for her to start afresh and to build these familial relationships, but she seems so focussed upon Anastasia. It’s almost as if nobody else matches up to the ideal and pedestal upon which she holds Anastasia. Yet, ironically, if Rapunzel had let the rest of the family in, she probably would have been able to resurrect Anastasia much more successfully with Drizella’s and the rest of her family’s help without having to resort to such extreme measures.
I think lots of this stems for Victoria from a concept of blame. She lets her grief isolate her from the rest of the family. Her view of Anastasia as innocent, and as perfect, is what makes her pursue this idea of resurrection for such a long period of time. Anastasia is the pure, wonderful daughter who lavished her mother with the love that she craved. We know, as an audience, that Drizella just wanted for Rapunzel to see her, to pay her the same attention and devotion that she gave to Anastasia, but Rapunzel never really gave this a chance.
She was too caught up in what Drizella had done, in welcoming Cecilia into their lives, in pushing Rapunzel towards getting rid of her, leading to Anastasia’s death, that she cannot reconcile that sense of betrayal with forming a stronger bond with her daughter. Ella was never somebody who Rapunzel wanted to bond with in the first place, a symbol of the life that she had been robbed of by getting trapped by Gothel. Now the only thing that she sees when faced with Ella is “you’re here, and Anastasia should be instead”. It’s almost impossible for her not to feel one when faced with the other. Then there’s her husband, whose murder she personally arranges, out of that same idea of betrayal and blame.
It’s Victoria’s grief that separates her from those around her, consciously or not. This profound loss, which spans decades and literal universes just so that she can be reunited with her daughter, regardless of the cost. It’s also notable how Victoria makes it clear herself how she doesn’t view herself as a villain, but merely doing what any hero would do in that situation, in protecting those that she loves. It’s just so tragic that Victoria couldn’t see and lean upon those closest to her, and create that family that she so craved because of how overwhelmed she was by her devastation at Anastasia’s death.
Where Victoria separates herself from a regular hero’s journey, of course, are the lengths that she would go to. She, unlike a hero, doesn’t seem to hold herself to any moral code. Nothing is out of the question so long as she achieves her ultimate goal, and that’s the chief distinction between a hero and a villain, regardless of how motivated she is by love.
Victoria’s manipulation of Lucy demonstrates again the extremes that she will go to, and while it initially seems like nothing more harmful than a tear, the fact that Anastasia resurrects at Lucy’s expense is unbelievably callous of Victoria. Knowing as she does the pain of losing a child, that is something that she wilfully inflicts upon Jacinda, and does not feel bad for. It was, however, a lovely part of the episode to see the storybook back, and for Lucy to finally be clued in on all of the fairytale realities.
Victoria’s remarks about how fairytales are real, but happy endings are not promised also fit in with the show’s remit of adding a sense of realism to the fantastic, which has been prevalent since the first season. Having said that, Lucy crying just because her mum and Nick kissed was a little bit overly dramatic, and I thought that Lucy’s faith might be stronger. Little Henry never cried, not least because Jared Gilmore couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag. I am also slightly perturbed about what’s going to happen once Lucy eventually recovers and suddenly has knowledge that the curse is real.
Jacinda and Nick growing closer in this episode was thoroughly predictable, and, moreover, dreadfully annoying. It’s not even that they lack chemistry, I just lack any interest whatsoever in seeing what Jacinda does. Literally don’t care. Give me more Sabine, or anyone, in fact, but I have no interest in what Jacinda does. Or Jay, as apparently she is now known.
Another key element of the flashback is that it helps us understand how Gothel herself came to be trapped in the tower that Hook found her in that she needed to escape from. The fact that she was tricked by Rapunzel was wonderful, and felt like a victory, though it did beg the question of what exactly Gothel gained by taking Rapunzel away again to be trapped in the tower, and also what she got up to once she escaped from the tower. Alice seems like she’s in her early twenties, so that’s a good twenty or so years that we have unaccounted for where Gothel seemingly disappeared into thin air, so I imagine that will be a massive part of some of the upcoming flashbacks.
Additionally, we discover that Gothel is also seeking the Guardian, much as Rumple is. Quite what she wants with the Guardian is unclear, unless she wants to harvest the power of the Dark One’s dagger for herself, but it is Gothel’s belief that Anastasia is one of the Guardians, which now puts pressure on both Rumple and Gothel in the present now that Anastasia is awake.
Speaking of Anastasia being awake, Ivy is none too pleased. In fact, devastated would probably be the word that I would use to describe her facial expression when she sees her sister resurrected. I imagine Thanksgiving might be a somewhat awkward affair and, despite Ivy’s quest to ruin her mother’s life, her need for that approval and affection will still be lurking underneath the surface. It’ll be interesting to see how her relationship with Anastasia is affected, additionally, as Anastasia will be wholly unaware of the rest of Drizella’s upbringing.
Unfortunately, there were no Regina or Henry in this episode, as they are off seeking out whoever Regina believes can help them against Victoria or against Drizella or whatever Regina is planning on doing. It was a shame not to see either of them, as both of them are hugely engaging on screen, but fortunately the strong premise and engaging flashbacks were successfully captivating throughout.
With Anastasia finally awake, Lucy unconscious and Rumple and Gothel on the hunt for the Guardian, the mid season finale looks set to be incredibly climactic, and hopefully will bring a few more answers about the origin of this curse and what the show will look like moving forward, especially since there seem to be more awake people than not hovering around Hyperion Heights.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. Seasons 1 – 4 are now available on Disney+ in the UK. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.