It’s been a while since Once Upon A Time had an episode quite as bad as this one, which combines a gross abuse of magic with far-fetched plot developments and incredibly repetitive storytelling. Dear god, how many variations of Regina hunting down Snow White are we going to see on this show? The situations are slightly different each time, but no matter the time or place, these episodes always boil down to “Snow White good; Regina bad.” The conflict becomes even more black-and-white in “The Evil Queen,” which shows how Regina came to embrace her evil side in the past. Using that old trick of dressing royalty in peasant’s clothes to give them a new perspective (see: Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure, The Sandman’s “Augustus”), writers Jane Espenson and Christine Boylan have Regina change her appearance so that she can convince the people that Snow White is their enemy, but she ends up sympathizing with her archnemesis.
Prince Charming, Snow White, the eight dwarves and Emma are horrible at keeping a secret (maybe next time don’t tell so many people?), and Charming and Snow screw themselves over when they’re at the docks talking about what to do with Regina when they go to the Enchanted Forest. Regina has shapeshifted into a fisherman and listens to them as they talk about their super secret plans within earshot of other people, so she decides to make the first move and tries to convince Henry to kill everyone. It turns out that there’s a failsafe for the Dark Curse because of course there is, and Regina wants to use it to go back to the Enchanted Forest with her son and obliterate Storybrooke in the process. He rightfully thinks she’s a maniac and refuses to play along, which is probably the most rational thing that happens in this episode, and she reacts by erasing his memory because she’s totally evil. Did you catch that? Regina is evil.
In the fairyback, the public refuses to give up Snow White’s location to the queen, so Regina has Rumpelstiltskin change her appearance so that she can get information and turn public opinion in her favor. After being transformed, she tries to stop the burning of her effigy but ends up being taken captive by her own royal guard, sentenced to death until Snow White saves her from the chopping block. Snow nurses Regina back to health and tells her about a woman that forever changed her life by saving her when her horse ran wild, and seeing the way Snow White really feels about her softens Regina’s heart. Then they come across a giant pile of dead peasants who wouldn’t follow soldier’s orders and give up Snow White, and Snow immediately forgets about any good Regina ever did her in the past. She’s evil through and through, and seeing Snow White’s anger forces Regina to embrace her malevolent nature. We’ve known it for 40 episodes, but just in case you forgot, this week’s episode reiterates that Regina is the Evil Queen.
You know who else knows that Regina is the Evil Queen? Tamara, who has it written down on a list Neal gave her revealing the fairy tale identities of everyone in Storybrooke. Bad idea, Neal. When Emma literally runs into Tamara at Granny’s, she immediately becomes suspicious of her top competition when Tamara enthusiastically tells her that she can be trusted. Snow White thinks that Emma is jealous and imagining things and doesn’t want her to tell Henry, but that little rascal is eavesdropping and will do anything to Parent Trap his birth parents. If Tamara’s evil, that means the wedding is off, and Neal and Emma can get back together, and there’s dramatic potential in the way mother and son are going after Tamara as a way of dealing with their own fears and insecurities.
If Henry were played by a different child actor (after watching this most recent season of Walking Dead, I’d love to see what Chandler Riggs could do with the role), this week’s Emma-Henry storyline wouldn’t be that bad, but it becomes immediately obnoxious once Jared Gilmore starts talking about “Operation: Cobra,” now renamed “Operation: Praying Mantis.” They have some family bonding time with some good old B&E in Tamara’s room but are busted by Neal, who, after some convincing, ultimately helps Emma lift up a loose floorboard that is hiding nothing. It’s a shock that she’s not leaving clues everywhere, because Tamara and Owen aren’t trying to be very secretive anymore, making their big move this week by using Captain Hook as their pawn.
In order to retrieve the failsafe, Regina needs another person to distract the giant skeleton monster she has guarding Snow White’s coffin, and Captain Hook is the perfect piece of hunky, hairy man-bait. Before going into the cave under Belle’s library, Regina has Hook give her the leather cuff that belonged to her mother, inadvertently ensuring her capture with Cora’s accessory. After grabbing the deus ex machina, Regina is ambushed by Hook, Owen, and Tamara, who are able to disable her magic with the metals and machinery in that leather band. Owen says it's science, but as a narrative tool, it’s just another form of magic. The writers are using Owen’s vague “science” as a convenient way to move the story along, finding a way to disable Regina without giving any sort of real explanation. Magic may help move the plot forward, but it keeps characters stagnant. Purple fog has been replaced by inconspicuous leather, but the result is the same: The circumstances are now changed while the characters remain the same.
- Once Upon A Time may not be Fables, but it’s venturing into comic book territory with an original graphic novel spotlighting Regina’s relationship with the Huntsman. Written by OUAT executive story producer Daniel T. Thomsen and Star Wars: Legacy scribe Corinna Bechko, the book features a diverse, extremely talented group of artists including Nimit Malavia, Vasilis Lolos, Mike Del Mundo, Stephanie Hans and Mike Henderson. It’s going to be visually stunning, and hopefully, the writing will reach that same level of quality.
- Someone from another forest (most likely Sherwood) taught her how to hunt royal livestock, and it’s a looong story. We are definitely going to see that story, the story of how Robin Hood taught Snow White how to kill chickens.
- “About as regal as a potato.”