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.