TV Time: Once Upon a Time 2.20

Title The Evil Queen

Two-Sentence Summary As Regina embraces her evil side in both Storybrooke and flashbacks to Fairytale Land, she reveals a “self-destruct button” of sorts for the curse, which would allow her (and Henry) to leave Storybrooke before destroying the town and all its inhabitants. However, she is ultimately captured by Greg and Tamara (with some help from Hook), who use science to take her magical abilities away from her.

Favorite Line “Oh hell no—I taught her that!” (Neal, seeing Henry alert Emma to his presence by bumping into his apartment door)

My Thoughts I’ve missed Emma Swan more than I realized. For so much of Season One, Emma was the grounding force that kept Once Upon a Time honest and kept it from taking itself too seriously. I think this season has suffered a lot from pulling the focus away from her and her family dynamics, and this episode only proved my point. There were a few  eye-roll-inducing moments in this episode, but Jennifer Morrison’s performance kept me engaged enough to ultimately find this episode the most enjoyable of Once Upon a Time’s recent less-than-stellar bunch.

Emma’s relationship with Henry was always one of the most beautiful and genuine things about Once Upon a Time, so I was thrilled to see it get a nice chunk of screen time in this episode. Morrison and Jared Gilmore have a very believable and sweet chemistry, and their stakeout brought me back to the good old days of Season One. Just hearing “Operation Cobra” again filled me with nostalgia for a time when this show was so much simpler and more focused. I loved Emma trying to teach Henry how to bump into Neal’s apartment door; Morrison was at her awkwardly adorable best in that scene.

The thing I love most about Emma is that she may be awkwardly adorable in some scenes, but she’s also one of the most determined and fiercest women on television when she really believes in something. And I was so happy to see her be the first one to believe that Tamara has something big and evil up her sleeve. While Emma’s “superpower” has been known to be unreliable, she isn’t as incompetent as Snow and Neal made her out to be—she seemed like a pretty darn good bail bondswoman from what we saw in the pilot. Snow’s disbelief seemed more like clunky exposition/explanation than anything else. (Ginnifer Goodwin had more than her fair share of clunkers this week in terms of dialogue.) I love that Emma clearly has no interest in getting back together with Neal anytime soon (hence her superpower actually working because she has no emotional investment in this situation). I just wish Snow, Henry, and Neal could see that. Emma came off looking like a crazy ex-girlfriend, and that made me sad because she’s anything but.

Speaking of crazy…Let’s get to the Regina situation in this episode, shall we? Remember when she was trying to find redemption through Henry earlier this season? I wonder if the writers remember that—and how much more interesting that storyline was than what we’re dealing with now. I hated Regina using magic to wipe Henry’s memory because it negates everything we watched her struggle with for the first half of the season. Those scenes now feel like such a waste of time if that story was going to be abandoned like it has been. Don’t get me wrong; I love the Evil Queen. But I love the dichotomy of her being pure evil in flashbacks and conflicted in Storybrooke. Now she just seems delusional and trapped in her own “victim complex” in the present-day plot, and that’s not fun to watch. Hearing her talk to Henry about heroes and villains was too heavy-handed, even for this show and even for an actress as talented as Lana Parrilla.

Parrilla did have some great moments in this episode, but they were mainly connected to the flashback scenes. Whenever she shares a scene with Robert Carlyle, I find myself on the edge of my seat, and their two scenes in this episode were no exception. Their gleeful levels of evil never fail to impress me. I especially loved Rumplestiltskin telling Regina to cut off ties with King George. It just added another layer to his schemes and made me wonder how far back he started pulling the strings not only to enact the curse but to bring about Emma’s conception and birth as well. It’s slightly unsettling—and I love it.

I also love the interactions between Regina and Snow because Parrilla and Goodwin bring such depth out of each other as actors. Snow’s mixture of strength and sweetness came across better here than perhaps ever before. I feel like the Storybrooke scenes this season have lost that balance in favor of making Snow more one-dimensionally “good.” I’ve missed the ferocious fighter we saw in her battle against the queen’s soldiers, and I loved seeing that ferocity believably tempered with her innate kindness. Snow’s combination of strength and softness made her my favorite character from the pilot onward, and I liked being reminded of the many facets of this character. Those facets also reflected really well against Parrilla’s nuanced performance. There’s so much more than meets the eye with both of these characters, and that’s why I love whenever they share a scene.

While the performances made this episode work, they succeeded almost in spite of a script that was full of plot holes and glaring deus ex machina moments. One of my biggest gripes with this episode was Regina’s behavior while she was in the peasant girl disguise. Did she forget everything Rumplestiltskin told her about the spell, or was she just stupid? How could she possibly think that talking to the guards like she did was a good idea or a smart way to hide her identity? Regina’s no idiot—she’s usually quite good at lying to manipulate people, so this made no sense. Also, why did she keep forgetting that she couldn’t use magic? Was it a “force of habit” reaction?

I also had a hard time buying into the self-destruct mechanism built into the curse. Did Rumplestiltskin know this existed (because I can’t imagine he’d want a way to possibly destroy the curse before he found Bae)? And if he didn’t know, how did Regina alter the curse to create this escape plan? This just felt too contrived. I don’t like the fact that there seems to be a magical answer for everything on this show because it gives the writers too many options for quick fixes to their narrative problems as well as too many shiny new toys to distract themselves with.

Another “shiny new toy” is Tamara and Greg, and I still don’t care about them—even now that they have Regina. Like the self-destruct clause in the curse, the “Anti-Magic Cuff of Science” was one of the worst deus ex machina plot developments I’ve seen on TV in a long time. The science vs. magic debate was somewhat interesting back when Dr. Frankenstein first proposed it earlier this season, but without him, I couldn’t care less—especially because the science is unexplained and, thus, seems as believable as the magic we witness on the show.

I was ready to like Greg as a character. I think the actor is talented, and I thought the character had a sympathetic story and a genuine reason to want to see Regina brought down. But now that we’ve learned his father is not his priority, I just want him gone. I don’t want these two villains to be part of some larger anti-magic group, I don’t want them swooping in and destroying any more characters I love (still bitter about August), and I don’t want them taking time away from characters and relationships that don’t get enough attention to begin with (like Charming and Emma or Rumplestiltskin and Neal).

I’m so torn over my thoughts on this episode. On one hand, it allowed some of the show’s most important and engaging relationships to take center stage. But it also ended with a cliffhanger that did nothing but promise more of two characters I have no interest in. I have so many questions heading into the last two episodes, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued by the prospect of what’s to come—if only because I know the majority of this cast will sell the heck out of whatever they’re given. I suppose I’ll withhold my judgment until the finale, which is still one of my most-anticipated finales of this TV season.


5 thoughts on “TV Time: Once Upon a Time 2.20

  1. Oh the dance of one step forward, two steps back that this show continues to take. I think you hit the nail on the head around characters we don’t care about undercutting characters we care a great deal for based on their storylines. This whole get rid of magic plot I suspect will bring ‘good and evil’ together to fight against the interlopers. The story plot disconnects were maddening for sure, however, I was still vastly more interested in the episode when we were in Fairyland (save for the break in scene at Neal’s). I think the complex relationship between Snow and Regina is critical to the show because unlike most fairy tales it isn’t simple evil. Back in Storybrooke however I think they still haven’t found a way to bring Regina back from the complete derailment that was Cora showing up. Her 180 turn away from trying to make good for Henry’s sake has been one of the season’s great disappointments. They are a show in desperate need of character house cleaning. The fact that Gold’s sole reason for existing was to find Bae/Neal and we have barely seen them together since he nearly died is telling that the subplots have taken over the thrust of the show. I think the cast is strong enough to weather the storm because it hasn’t all been bad. For every Greg, there has been a Hook. But I do hope with the promise of landing in Never Never Land and the plot to get rid of Storybrooke some characters are jettisoned with it.

    • I completely agree with your comments here. I do think this cast is good enough to weather the storm of inconsistency that has been this season, and I just hope the writers trim down the characters/plots for Season Three. I loved Regina’s struggle to redeem herself, and I am sincerely disappointed that it was abandoned so swiftly. I understand that Lana Parrilla is masterful at playing evil, but she’s also masterful at playing a conflicted woman with real, human emotions. I wish they would allow Regina to get some of her humanity back in the present-day story. I’m also incredibly confused about the lack of scenes between Rumplestiltskin and Neal. For the better part of two seasons, reuniting Rumplestiltskin with Neal was the reason for basically everything that we watched, but now that got lost in the shuffle when it should be one of the main focuses of the show. I’m hoping the finale changes things enough to breathe new life and new direction into the show, and (this may be my unbridled sense of hope talking) I honestly think it will.

  2. I love your OUaT reviews!
    This episode showed what elements the show must have to be good. It wasn’t 1st season quality, but compared to the laters, I liked this episode. They remembered that Emma exists as a leading role, so it’s a good idea giving a plot to her. It was nice to see her and Henry doing something interesting together *-*
    Now they need to develop something with Greg/Tamara. I also don’t care about them, but I hope we have a great finale, so 3rd season can be everything this season wasn’t. I also want the writers to stop bringing new characters to develop the ones they already created, Ruby, Dr Hopper, Aurora, Mulan and even Belle, Emma, Rumples and Regina are totally put aside (in Storybrooke) and need an exciting story!
    PS: Sorry for any mistakes, my English is not that good yet (:

    • First of all, your English is great! And you make great points. This episode did a good job of reminding viewers of the things that have always made this show great, especially Emma and her relationship with Henry. I definitely hope the third season brings the focus back onto characters that haven’t gotten a lot of development or forward momentum this season. I especially want more real development for Belle, not just development for “Lacey.”

  3. Very aware that i’m about 4 years late with this but think it’s a good point to bring up to those that have just discovered once and your brilliant reviews, but here goes anyway…

    I’ve been reading all your reviews and re watching Once at the same time and i note in this episode you missed an absolute MAJOR part of Hooks arc. In his talk with Regina in Maleficent’s cave, he talks about how he has come to realize that vengeance is an ending not a beginning. That it is not a happy ending and that he realises now (after spending a few weeks thinking Rumple was dead as he was held prisoner first in the NYC janitors closet and then by Tamara), that it (revenge) was empty and not worth it. HUGE part of Hooks story. Just saying.

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