As ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME builds towards its sophomore finale, “The Evil Queen” takes a moment to examine what it means to be evil. In Fairy Tale Land, we see Regina (Lana Parrilla) order the death of a village full of people because they won’t help her find Snow White(Ginnifer Goodwin). Yet, when she disguises herself as a peasant, she is surprised to hear her subjects refer to her as “The Evil Queen,” as that is not how she sees herself.
We know Regina doesn’t think ill of herself, usually, but it’s quite a shocker to see her do something so bad and then trying to justify it. She doesn’t see anything wrong with slaughtering the villagers because, in her eyes, they deserve it for not obeying their rules. She feels she is right in doling out such a punishment, and maybe even that fear will breed more respect from them.
Regina couldn’t be more wrong, of course. It’s a rude awakening for her. Speaking out for the queen as an anonymous subject, it doesn’t take long for her to end up on the chopping block for execution, powerless in the disguise Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) puts her in.
Snow happens to be the one that rescues Regina, not realizing who she is, and they have a very sweet heart-to-heart. Snow is willing to forgive Regina and be a family again, something Regina clearly wants. We know Regina has bitterness in her heart against Snow, but she is so desperate for love, especially feeling vulnerable after hearing of her reputation, that she fully intends to make up with Snow. That is, until Snow finds out about the massacre and changes her mind about being able to forgive Regina.
Regina and Snow would never have had a happy ever after in the castle, whether Snow found the village or not. Regina is insecure by nature, and combats that by making others bend to her will. Even if Snow came home, something else is bound to happen sooner or later that would put them at odds again. The kind woman that saved Snow on the horse is gone and is not coming back.
The resolution is somewhat startling. Once Regina realizes it is not in her power to change the hearts and minds of her subjects, she decides to embrace her villainous moniker. It’s likely a power play, unable to just accept that she needs to change, and wanting to reassert her dominance. In her mind, if the people think she is evil, then they deserve to be led by an evil queen. This is a turning point for the character, and one she won’t soon come back from.
The one thing that bothers me just a bit about this story is that Rumple is willing to let Regina be killed, not coming when she calls for him. Isn’t she part of his multi-step master plan? Does he really know she’ll be OK and is just toying with her, or does he put his whole mission in jeopardy? If the latter, why?
Regina’s justifications and lack of understanding carry over into the modern day Storybrooke. Regina wants to take Henry (Jared Gilmore) with her back to the Enchanted Forrest and kill everyone in Storybrooke once she hears that Snow / Mary Margaret and David (Josh Dallas) have no intention of taking her back with everyone else unless she’s in a cell. To get even, Regina destroys their bean crop, making sure she is the only one with the magic plant that can get them home.
Once more, Regina thinks she is in the right, her enemies deserving to die because they are plotting against her. She’s so convinced that she is on the correct side that she tells Henry everything, only to wipe his memory when he doesn’t take it well. This shows just how out of touch with reality Regina is, and that she hasn’t learned her lesson. As much as we may want her to be redeemed, at this point, it’s not possible.
The same thing is reinforced when she takes Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) down to Maleficent’s lair, intending to use him only as bait for the creature so that Regina can get something she needs. Hook hasn’t wronged her, but he is a pawn in her game, and Regina thinks it’s acceptable to sacrifice him to meet her goals. This is the kind of attitude that makes people turn on her.
And turn on her they do. Hook is working with Greg (Ethan Embry) and Tamara (Sonequa Martin-Green), who trick Regina, by her own hubris, into losing her magic. Now she is powerless to stand up to them, or anyone in town. Regina is the only one that knows what these bad guys are up to, but can’t stop them, nor warn anyone else. She’s in a bad spot.
Do Greg and Tamara hate all magic? Will they make exceptions in their plot for those who bring good into the world? Something tells me they want to destroy all the fairy tale characters, and will not judge any as being better than the others.
Hook understands evil better than anyone. He freely admits that once he kills Rumple, his life will be empty, as revenge is an ending, not a beginning. He is OK with this. This self-awareness is interesting, and makes him a more layered and quite intriguing, even as it means he may be even farther from redemption than anyone.
Parrilla continues to deliver a fantastic performance this season. As much as one sometimes wants to hate Regina, Parrilla makes her sympathetic, or at least understandable, even at her darkest. It’s to the actress’s credit that Regina’s tale comes across as tragic, rather than just one to root against.
Regina’s best hope lies in Emma, again. Just as Emma has to step in and fix Regina’s mistake last year when she accidentally poisons Henry, Emma is now the only one who is suspicious of Tamara. She has no evidence to support her theories, which is why Neal (Michael Raymond-James) thinks Emma is just acting like a jealous ex. But to Emma, there is something that isn’t quite adding up, and she will have to be the one to put the pieces together.
I absolutely love when Neal catches Henry guarding the door for Emma and immediately recognizes a tactic that he himself taught Emma in Henry’s behavior. It’s such a great connection to their past, and will give fans of a Neal / Emma pairing hope that there is still something between the pair.
“The Evil Queen” shows a side of Henry that isn’t usually obvious – he’s just a kid. He often seems so much wiser than many of the adults around him, partially because he is instrumental in breaking the curse in Storybrooke. But this week, we see the vulnerable child who just wants his parents to get back together. He helps Emma investigate Tamara not because he really is concerned about what Tamara might do to the town, but because he wants Neal to be free to be with Emma. Poor kid.
“The Evil Queen” is a fascinating look at one of ONCE UPON A TIME’s most compelling characters. It sets up the finale a bit, but also takes time to delve into the depth of a blackened soul. It’s another excellent installment in the exciting series.
ONCE UPON A TIME airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.