Anyone who has watched the last three seasons of Breaking Bad knows what a remarkable actor Giancarlo Esposito is, so it’s not that big of a surprise that his first spotlight episode of Once Upon A Time is a highlight of the series. “Fruit Of The Poisonous Tree” has Esposito pulling fairy tale double duty in my favorite fairyback twist of the series yet, revealing that Regina’s Magic Mirror is actually the Genie of Agrabah, the big blue guy from Aladdin. The story of how the Genie enters the court of King Leopold, Snow White’s father (Richard Schiff of The West Wing), and gains the affections of Leopold’s new queen, Regina, is the most captivating fairyback yet, giving viewers a reason to care about the Evil Queen for the first time.
What sets this episode apart from the last 10 is that we finally get some real emotion and motivation from Regina. For someone that doesn’t want to be thought of as a villain, Regina is a raging bitch all of the time, but we finally see her softer side come out in the fairyback in an instance that isn’t patricide. Regina confesses to the Genie her feelings of inadequacy living in the castle, telling him how Snow White represents the memory of her dead mother, and that for as long as she lives, Regina will never truly have Leopold’s heart. Regina feels trapped, always falling short of a corpse, and she uses the Genie’s emotions to make her play for control.
Regina’s BGL (Big Groanworthy Line for those just joining) this week is conveniently also the episode’s theme: “You’re not thinking about Henry or his safety, just ways around me. Ms. Swan, don’t let feelings cloud your judgment; people can get hurt.” Throughout the episode, this idea is constantly reiterated in typical Once Upon A Time fashion, with nearly every major player making some sort of comment about emotions affecting decision making. Mr. Gold gets his in, and he’s barely in the episode, telling Sidney and Emma in the woods: “Emotional entanglements can lead us down very dangerous paths.”
When Sidney Glass turns to Emma in hopes that she’ll help him get revenge on Regina for ruining his reputation, Emma plants an illegal bug in Regina’s office, raids her computer, breaks into her house, and blames it on children. She uses stolen evidence to mount a campaign against the Storybrooke mayor at a town hall meeting. Emma has some serious misconceptions about what her job allows her to do, because she has very little problem breaking the law in this episode. She stoops to Regina’s level, and there’s nothing she can do to defend herself when she’s forced to face the consequences. Regina demands that Emma stay away from Henry for the foreseeable future, and for once, she’s right. She could easily get a restraining order after Emma’s actions, but she chooses not to, which I’m sure is a decision that is going to bite her in the ass.
This is the second episode co-written by The Vampire Diaries’ Andrew Chambliss, and his fingerprints are all over the Regina story, finally providing some pathos for the show’s protagonist. If you’re not watching Vampire Diaries, you really should be. The series moves through plot with impressive efficiency, moving quickly without sacrificing quality. It’s also very effective at making the viewer sympathize with a cast of murdering vampires, werewolves, and witches, and it’s usually through one central emotion: love. There hasn’t been much to admire about Lana Parilla’s performance on this show, but love opens up her character on this show, revealing a gentle, soft side of Regina that we’ve never seen before. She does strong work during the fairyback, showing a quiet sadness as Leopold dotes on his daughter and subtle sensuality as she flirts with the Genie. I’m interested in seeing more of the pre-Genie Regina, because the post-Genie version is obnoxious as hell.
The more times Regina refers to Sidney as “disgraced reporter,” the more I start to suspect Sidney’s story, and surely enough, the guy is playing the good old triple cross. In the last segment of the fairyback, we learn of how the Genie went from imprisonment in a lamp to a mirror, and writers Ian Goldberg and Chambliss weave both stories together very smoothly at the conclusion. After being given one of King Leopold’s wishes, the Genie uses it to always be by Regina’s side, and he’s trapped in the mirror as a result. That’s what you get when you let your emotions get the best of you. The king ends up dead by viper bites, you get trapped in glass, and the woman gets away with everything.
Checking up on last week’s cliffhanger, it turns out no one but Regina saw David and Mary Margaret’s main street make-out, and they get the teensiest subplot this week as they have a romantic picnic in the woods. Mary Margaret gets a text asking to meet up, she goes to the picnic, and she is then awkward about it around Emma and Sidney. That’s the extent of the story. The characters are basically just having a flat-out affair right now, and it seems that the writers are keeping the relationship in the background until the episode David officially breaks it off with Kathryn. It’s just hard to sympathize with an adulterer.
- The Genie has granted 1,001 wishes in the past, which is a nice little easter egg.
- Emilie de Ravin plays Belle in two weeks, with Rumpelstiltskin as the beast. I’m cautiously optimistic, although I can already tell the VFX will be shit.
- Regina looks fantastic in her fairyback wardrobe this week. Kudos to the costume designers.
- The Stranger is still around, wearing a bandana around his neck and stealing books from little kids.
- Regina’s playground gets built magically fast. It’s also looks incredibly dangerous and poorly designed. What the hell is that giant orange tube with silver slides along the side?
- “All we need is a crack in the mirror to show everyone.” Groan.