Once Upon A Time: “The Stable Boy”
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Once Upon A Time: “The Stable Boy”

Regina has been one of Once Upon A Time’s most problematic characters, responsible for the entire premise of the series but lacking a clear motivation for her actions. That is, until “The Stable Boy.” Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz reveal the reason Regina hates Snow White so much, and after 18 episodes of build-up, it’s a bit of letdown. Regina, young and in love with handsome stable boy Daniel (Damages’ Noah Bean), loses her beloved when she rescues Snow White (Bailey Madison), setting off a chain of events that makes her the witch we loathe today.

The episode’s prologue is set a week in Storybrooke’s past, when Mr. Gold offers Regina help in getting rid of Mary Margaret if she’ll help him get rid of the battery charge from when he beat up that burglar a few episodes ago. He gives Regina the idea to get rid of Kathryn and blame it on Mary Margaret, but in typical Gold fashion, he’s playing more than one game here. Regina’s given him too much control of the situation, and he allows the situation to escalate to a level that will cause the most damage when he throws a new curveball. Like, say, the reappearance of a presumed-dead Kathryn.

Just like an episode of Lost, the credits spoil the final twist by listing Anastasia Griffith as a guest star. She wouldn’t appear in a fairyback about a young Snow White because Princess Abigail would be just as young, so she’s got to show up in Storybrooke at some point. I’ve made my appreciation of Anastasia Griffith very clear in these recaps, and I’m very happy to see her come back to the show. It’s unclear if she’s gone through a Rousseau-style mental break, but her reappearance thankfully puts an end to the “Mary Margaret: Murderer” plot.

Regina is her usual hammy self in Storybrooke, but this episode reveals a softer, happier side of the character that is refreshing to see. The first image we get of Regina in the fairyback is her riding on horseback in a Tiffany blue riding jacket and her hair pinned back in two braids. She’s a younger woman, and one that Lana Parilla plays much more naturally. Parilla is more believable in the romantic princess role, and like “Fruit Of The Poisonous Tree,” this episode benefits from showing a Regina that loves.

With her overbearing witch of a mother, Cora (a suitably over-the-top Barbara Hershey), Regina has never been allowed to follow her heart without mommy dearest getting in the way. Most of the Disney princesses are motherless, because, as this episode shows, the girls with mothers are the ones that grow up to be evil stepmothers. Regina wants to be with Daniel, but when she rescues Snow White from a wild steed, her instant connection with the girl makes Regina the ideal woman to be her new mother. Regina loves Snow when she first meets her, and Parilla and Bailey have strong chemistry that adds depth to the conflict.

When Snow’s father proposes, Cora forces her daughter to accept, and Regina hatches a plan to run off with Daniel. When Snow White discovers the lovers kissing, Regina convinces her that she has a love with Daniel that is magical and true, and forces her to keep it a secret. It’s a lot to ask a girl that looks to be about 10 years old, especially when she’s face-to-face with a devious snake like Cora. She appeals to Snow White’s longing for her dead mother, and convinces the girl to tell her everything so that Regina doesn’t lose her own mother. Of course, Snow spills the beans, but having that be the motivation for years (decades? centuries?) of hatred is a little pathetic.

Regina was never able to stand up to her own mother, and when she’s forced into a loveless marriage, she blames it on the little girl because it’s the easier choice. It’s insane to blame Snow White for Daniel’s death when Cora is the one that ripped his plastic glowing heart out, and it’s still nearly impossible to sympathize with Regina. Standing over Daniel’s dead body, Cora tells her daughter, “This is your happy ending.” It’s pretty clear who the villain is here, and it’s not the kid.

Bailey Madison is a solid young actress, but she also looks remarkably like Ginnifer Goodwin. It’s almost creepy how similar their mannerisms are, and I doubt that Madison sat down with tapes of Goodwin and tried to mimic her behavior. It’s amazing casting, and even if she does stare into space a lot (Goodwin also loves a wide-eyed stare), Bailey shows a lot of talent navigating the complicated emotions of her final scene with Regina. As Snow explains that she told Regina’s secret because she didn’t want her to lose her mother the way she lost hers, Regina’s hatred becomes even sillier. At the same time, though, betraying Regina’s secret makes a better reason for disdain than being the fairest one of all, so I’m not sure if the writers could have come up with anything that was satisfying without being just a little ridiculous. It is a show about fairy tales, after all.

My biggest problem with Regina is that her grudge against Mary Margaret makes no sense in Storybrooke, where no one remembers any of the fairy tale world. When Mary Margaret insists that Regina tell her why she hates her so much, Regina doesn’t have a real answer. Mary Margaret is Henry’s teacher and got involved with a married guy, but why does that warrant the full wrath of the town mayor?

Emma teams up with August to prove Mary Margaret’s innocence, and they find a shovel shard from one of Regina’s shovels when they go back to the scene of Kathryn’s disappearance. The shard ends up being a dead end, but the subplot has successfully made me root for an Emma-August romance. Eion Bailey is not only attractive, but approaches the material with a slightly sardonic tone that lightens the mood.

While in the forest, August begins to develop a limp; any guesses on which fairy tale character he might be? The preview for next week’s episode suggests a relationship to Rumpelstiltskin, so I’m going to guess that he’s Rump’s son Baelfire, whom we haven’t seen since his daddy first became the Dark One. The return of Kathryn and Eion Bailey in the spotlight? It looks like Once Upon A Time is on track to a strong finale after an uneven season.

Stray observations:

  • Did any commenters check out Mirror Mirror this past weekend? Not very many people did. I’m eagerly anticipating Snow White And The Huntsman, though.
  • The tepid interrogation scene between Mary Margaret, Mr. Gold, and the D.A. is a prime example of Once Upon A Time trying too hard to be too many things. Hard-boiled crime drama is not this series’ strong suit.  
  • Daniel wants Regina to come to Firefly Hill, establishing some nice continuity in the geography of the fairy tale world.
  • Ruby finds Kathryn because she’s a tracker. Nice touch.
  • “We got her, Daniel. We got her.” Does Regina really think Daniel would be happy she finally got revenge on that poor little girl with no mom?

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