Title Welcome to Storybrooke
Two-Sentence Summary Flashbacks to the first days of Storybrooke reveal Regina’s isolation and boredom as she watches its cursed inhabitants relive the same day over and over again—until a man and his son who were camping in the woods when the curse created the town enter its limits, and Regina discovers that a child might be the way to fill the emptiness in her heart. In present-day Storybrooke, Regina embarks on a quest to cast a spell on Henry that would make him believe he really loved her, Snow’s guilt turns suicidal, and the boy who entered Storybrooke in 1983 is revealed to be Greg, the hospital patient.
Favorite Line “You know what my problem is? I never learn from my mistakes.” (Regina)
My Thoughts I know this episode is a divisive one, and I’m not even sure how I really feel about what the writers are trying to say and what direction the rest of this season is going to go in. But I think there’s one thing we all can agree on: That last scene between Ginnifer Goodwin and Lana Parrilla was nothing short of brilliant. No matter what you feel about this episode, it gave us that brutally powerful moment between two actresses who are both masters of genuine emotion—perhaps one of the strongest scenes of the entire season.
I’ll talk more about the combined brilliance of Goodwin and Parrilla later, but first I think there’s one more thing the entire Once Upon a Time fandom can agree on: It’s always good to see Sheriff Graham again. It’s been too long since that beautifully scruffy face and swoon-worthy accent were on my television screen. The only bad thing about seeing Graham again was the reminder that I loved him and Emma together so much more than any other option we have now. (Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of both Emma/Hook and Emma/Neal for different reasons, but Emma and Graham’s second kiss will be difficult if not impossible to top, in my opinion.)
I love all of the flashback portions of this episode. I know it’s weird to say, but I kind of missed cursed Storybrooke and its inhabitants. There was something reassuringly simple about the Storybrooke of Season One, before the chaos that this season has brought descended on the town. I loved the unsettling take on Groundhog Day, and I loved the way Parrilla played Regina’s initial glee and then growing restlessness over the results of the curse. I especially liked her interactions with Mary Margaret. Regina’s glee over Snow not recognizing her husband was only bested in my opinion by her frustration with Snow’s fighting spirit being taken from her. Regina wants Snow to suffer—not this little mouse who barely resembles the strong woman she was challenged by back home.
Regina is a woman who wants to have everything because she was a girl who grew up with nothing—no love from her mother, no support from her father, no hope of love after her mother killed Daniel…So even the curse isn’t enough for her; she wants her subjects to love her because they choose to, not because she’s forcing them to. This is the reason she clings to Owen—because he genuinely seemed to care about her and wanted to bond with her. But Regina is so broken, so damaged by growing up with a (literally) heartless mother and spineless father that she has no idea how to show Owen that she cares about him. She’s so desperate for love that she becomes blind to logic and the feelings/needs of the person whose love she desires, which is something we see again and again from Regina. It’s a tragic flaw, and Parrilla does such a wonderful job of allowing you to see the tragedy inherent in the incompatibility between Regina’s twisted obsession with love and her inability to show love properly.
That dichotomy between wanting love and being unable to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy means of obtaining it is beautifully paralleled in Regina’s relationship with Henry. For a woman who was so desperate to find someone to love her out of their own free will, she seemed frighteningly quick to take away her son’s free will in this episode. That spell showed me just how broken Regina is. While I may not sympathize with her as much as some do, it’s hard not to understand why she is the way she is. Regina has never been irredeemably evil, and so much of her complexity comes from Parrilla’s tortured performance. I wanted Henry as far away from Regina as possible at the start of this episode, but after she destroyed the spell, I actually found myself angry that he ran to hug Emma rather than Regina. If that’s not a sign of a truly complex relationship between villain and audience, then I don’t know what is.
Another villain that I have a very complex relationship with is Rumplestiltskin. I went from hating his actions in this episode and growing frustrated with the Charmings for welcoming him with open arms to finding myself with tears in my eyes over his last scene with Snow. Again, so much of Rumplestiltskin’s complexity can be attributed to acting. Robert Carlyle’s delivery of his lines about convincing yourself that you’re doing the right thing was absolutely heartbreaking. It was so clear in that moment that Rumplestiltskin has never been able to convince himself that he’s done the right thing, and that acceptance of his own evil rather than trying to make excuses for it makes him such a compelling villain. He never plays the victim, but it’s clear in that scene that centuries of evil acts have taken their toll on him in a way that I haven’t seen on this show before. It’s amazing how such a short scene can contain such depth, but that speaks to the power of Carlyle’s performance.
While I loved the complexity given to the villains in this episode, I was somewhat taken aback by the black-and-white morality that took center stage in the “heroes” storyline. I know that Henry is a kid and that kids see things as black-and-white, but he annoyed me this week. I think this episode was supposed to show Henry learning that heroes can fall sometimes and that even good people do bad things, but I didn’t see that clearly enough. What I saw was a kid who is still holding an unreasonably intense grudge over Emma lying to him about Neal and is strangely willing to call the woman who is trying to brainwash him into loving her “Mom” but won’t show any affection towards her after she destroys the aforementioned brainwashing spell. I know he’s just a kid (and a kid with obviously a lot of very understandable issues), but I’m getting a little sick of Henry lately, especially his interactions with Emma (which used to be a highlight of the show for me). In this episode, he felt more like a puppet for the writers than a real character, and I didn’t like what the writers were having their puppet say about morality.
I was also left wondering why we didn’t get any scenes of Charming and/or Emma trying to talk to Snow. I know she wasn’t responsive, but it would have made me as an audience member feel better to see them trying to help her through her darkness. I was especially worried about Charming’s reaction to Snow killing Cora, and that worry wasn’t really abated this week. I know he was protecting her, but I wanted a scene where we at least knew he understood that she isn’t perfect but he still believes she’s ultimately a good person. Or a scene where he talks through things with their daughter. The lack of Charming/Emma bonding scenes is breaking my heart right now, and this would have been an ideal episode to start bringing them together.
What this episode ultimately showed me was the effects of loneliness and a lack of love and support on a person. Regina’s lifetime without love turned her into the unstable, broken woman we saw this week. And Snow’s self-imposed (but sadly unchallenged) isolation from her loved ones brought out her own darkness. Snow has always had trouble coping with pain—this is the woman who erased all of her memories in order to escape the pain of a broken heart. And that unhealthy coping mechanism turned suicidal this week.
I’ll admit, as a fan of Snow White from the pilot, seeing her so broken and full of self-loathing that she was willing to give herself up to Regina was hard for me to watch. I missed my fearless fighter, my warrior wife and mother. But I would be lying if I said that scene felt unrealistic. No matter how much Cora needed to die, Snow still killed her and tricked Regina into helping kill her own mother. That’s enough guilt to cripple even the strongest heroes. And sadly, Snow has always lived with the unrealistically high expectations placed on her morality by others, including her own husband. Snow’s desire to die shed a light on the problem with seeing the world in black-and-white; when a “good” person does something “evil,” does that make them irredeemably evil?
I certainly hope the show doesn’t start behaving like that’s the case. Snow is tormented by what she did, so I’m choosing to believe that Regina is going to be wrong about her heart and the blackness inside of it. I’m choosing to believe that her heart is black because she believes it should be black; Snow is destroying herself with guilt and self-loathing. Yes, Snow’s heart has a dark spot, but I think that’s a beautiful symbol of the fact that we all have darkness inside of us. It’s how we choose to handle facing our own darkness that determines who we are and who we become. I can only hope these last few episodes are written in a way that shows this rather than trying to go for the melodrama of making Snow turn more and more evil.
I believe the difference between Regina and Snow is ultimately going to be the people they had around them after they began their descent into darkness. Regina was alone, with only the memory of a life lived under the thumb of an emotionally abusive mother and a father who let her be abused. Snow, however, has a family that loves her and has always had faith in her. While I was somewhat disappointed in how that was handled (or not handled) in this episode, I think their love will become very important in the coming episodes, bringing her back to herself and helping her see that a moment of darkness doesn’t have to determine her whole life.
The final twist in the episode was one that I called near the very beginning, but I still loved it. I liked the fact that it made Greg a more important character with personal stakes beyond exposing Storybrooke to the outside world. His motives make sense, and his story feels compelling now. I was initially skeptical of Greg’s storyline, but I’m actually really excited about it now. I can only hope that my trepidation about Snow’s arc will follow in that same vein.