In a show that’s enamored with flashbacks explaining character motives rather than doing the heavy lifting themselves and writing it naturally into dialogue, it was only a matter of time before they did the origin story of this retelling of origin stories.
This is the episode of how it all began. As a father and son watch a cloud of purple smoke terrorize its way through the woods they’ve been camping in, we know that the purpose of this episode will in some way pursue the necessary growth or redemption of characters who have been run over the coals in the past few episodes.
Regina, to be specific.
I’ve gone on and on about how unnecessary her character assassination has been in the last couple of episodes, having her perform evil acts with little to no justification as to why she would do them, beyond servicing the plot.
Sadly, despite the obvious manipulation, it works. Regina’s storyline is without a doubt handled the best in this episode—especially considering the writers have taken a break from sabotaging her. However, where Regina shows growth and qualities that indicate depth, the other characters—most notably, Snow—falter.
The father and son walk into the magically fabricated town, Storybrooke, just as Regina is awaking for the first time in the new world. “I did it, I won” she said and for a while I’m happy she did. As we do a quick sweep through the town where Red is still insecure and dressed in little to nothing, Mr. Hopper is the kindly soul, rather than a cricket, Snow White is demure and afraid to fight with Regina and the eye candy, if lifeless, character Sheriff Graham is back, it’s a nice throwback to the beginning of the series. It’s back to where the innovative nature of the show was still in full throttle and the cornball effect of the scenes were done so deliberately, rather than the showrunners deciding that their show is one to be taken seriously.
We see everything going as planned for Regina, day after day, reveling in the perfect situation she’s cast herself in. That is until it becomes so monotonous that she runs to Rumpelstiltskin, even though he cannot remember her past life either, to complain about how everyone obeys her because they have to, not because they want to.
And there lies Regina’s fundamental issue in life, her need to hold power and be loved without knowing how to obtain both.
She ends up bonding with the two strangers in town, Owen and his father and invites them over to dinner where she treats Owen to a cooking lesson of making apple turnovers. She finds out he isn’t happy back home since his mom died and tries to make him feel better. In this scene it’s hard not to feel annoyed at Henry for the amount he complained about her parenting skills.
She asks them to stay and, understandably freaked out, the father denies the request.
In the here and now, Snow is comatose with guilt as Emma, Charming and Rumple try to figure out a way to destroy Regina before she casts a spell to get Henry.
Henry overhears this and being the apparent guiding light for lost souls tells them they can’t kill her and that while they used to be his heroes, it’s all changed.
Emma brings him to Neal to try and help change his mind. Neal tells Henry that they should get out of town for a little bit, to New York, so that the magic cannot reach them. Henry agrees, at least until he runs away.
Seriously, no one likes Henry. Why does he still get storylines?
In past Storybrooke, we see Regina finding out that Owen and his father have left early and Regina manipulates Graham into stopping them but not before Owen’s father catches her talking into the Sheriffs heart—for all of you who forgot this part, she stole his heart and made him do as she willed which included sleeping with her, hello consent issues.
Owen and his father manage to make it to the town line before they’re caught and the father urges Owen to run away as fast as he can away from the town. He does so reluctantly and I’m not going to lie, the image of a little kid running away from his father, after losing his mother, crying is effective and was genuinely sad until he was forced to yell out “I’ll find you, I’ll never forget you”.
Regina realizes what she has done and is filled with remorse and we watch as she looks around at what she could have had and what she lost.
It seems needless to say that Lana Parrilla killed this episode. Required to be vengeful but not over the top caricature it was easy to feel the character’s pain and confusion at the loss of her mother.
In present day, Regina is plotting to kill Snow and manipulate Henry’s love but is running into obstacles from every direction. Rumple guards Snow’s bed and the rest are out to find her.
In the woods, Henry runs and runs into all grown up Owen (the man who got into an accident a couple of episodes back) and he calls Regina to alert her of his presence.
Charming, Emma and Red realize what Henry’s up to when in the mines they discover the missing explosives and realize he is going to blow up the portal to get rid of magic, but will most likely hurt himself in the process.
So that ending. The part that ruined it is that it could have been so much better! Henry stands at the edge of the well with a pack of dynamite—because you know, what ten year-old can’t get his hands on explosives—to blow up the only entrance to the fairytale world which will subsequently get rid of all magic in Storybrooke. He says he won’t do it as long as Regina promises not to use the spell on him to make him love her.
Emma, Charming and Neal rush to stop Regina and before they can do anything, Henry gets between the two parties and Regina finally gives up, lighting the spell on fire, and watching again as a chance of happiness turns its back on her and walks away.
The episode ends with Snow going to Regina’s and begging her to kill her. She says that there has been too much death between them and she needs to end it, unable to stand her own guilt in the problem. Regina at first seems like she won’t, considering Henry, but then reaches into Snow’s chest anyway to grab her heart. She watches it for a moment, contemplating, as Snow begs her to finish it. Regina stalls however when she realizes there’s a black haze floating in it, signaling her descent into less than virtuous territory. She puts the heart back in and tells Snow that she wants her to suffer in her own misery.
There is one reason why this isn’t working for me. Snow was in fact, in her mind, saving her family from a terrible end by Cora’s hand. Sure, it’s awful because she should have just allowed Cora to have her heart back –unblemished since it hasn’t been in her chest for decades- and everyone would have been okay. However, the way the show’s handling this is painting Snow as the bad, villainous traitor to virtue, with Regina and Cora being the ultimate victims.
Let’s just all forget that they killed a woman an episode before.
While what Snow did was by no means admirable, it wasn’t the worst thing a character on this show has done and it only appears that way because of the boxes the show has put them in. Snow is good and sweet and will only do what is right and when she steps over that line she’s immediately labeled as evil and wrong. Regina and Rumple are put in the bad side so they’re given more leeway. They can do bad things and it’s within character, or do good things and it’s simply a strengthening of their characters.
With such wealth of characterization when it comes to Regina and Rumple it’s absurd that that ability can’t transfer over to others such as Emma and Charming and in this episode Snow, who have been left rather one-note for the majority of the series. The reason why the former two are such fan favorites is because they’re viewed as “damaged goods” who just need to be saved which is almost a disservice to their characters, as well as hypocritical when it comes to this version of Snow. Snow didn’t do the right thing in terms of morality, but in terms of what she thought would save her family, she did. What would the reaction be if say, Rumple, had done the same thing under the same circumstances.
It was a solid episode weighed down by detrimental characterization. With a show whose quality is constantly out of sync with the performances delivered by the actors, it was a nice change of pace to see the two go hand and hand. Things are in an upswing so far, so let’s see if season two can bring it’s A game for the climax.