“Power is seductive, but so is love,” the Evil Queen’s father, Henry, tells her just before she rips out his heart. Evil seeks happiness through power, but good finds happiness in love, and this week shows just how far the Evil Queen (EQ) went to create a world where she has nearly absolute power. After the general fairy tale flashbacks of the pilot, EQ is the first character to get the Lost-style spotlight in “The Thing You Love Most.” Writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis delve into what happened between EQ crashing her stepdaughter’s wedding and her curse finally taking effect, and the episode has the same problems as the pilot: It takes itself too seriously, the flashbacks are hilariously campy, and Henry is a horribly obnoxious character in an unfortunately central role.
The episode starts where last week ended, with Henry staring out his window as the frozen clock in the middle of town starts ticking. Cue Cat Stevens’ “Don’t Be Shy” as the clock speeds forward, and we’re given a mini-tour of Storybrooke before catching up with Regina, who is peeking through the pages of Henry’s book. While staring at last episode’s storyboards, she notices that Henry ripped out the last pages of the book. She gives him some grief, but he’s all like “whatever, witch” and leaves. He actually said some other stuff, but it would be better if all of Henry’s lines were cut down to the bare essentials, so Jared Gilmore wouldn’t have the chance to use his “I’m a child actor trying really hard to not look like I’m just reading lines, so I’ll be super enthusiastic and annoying” voice.
Regina goes to visit Emma with a basket of apples, greeting Emma with a completely naturalistic line: “Did you know the honeycrisp tree is the most vigorous and hearty of all apple trees?” This show really needs a huge dose of subtlety, because that is a ridiculously stupid opening line. “Just in case you were wondering if I’m actually the Evil Queen from my son’s crazy fantasies, here’s a basket of shiny red apples. I have a whole orchard of them.” Also, those are not honeycrisp apples. This is a honeycrisp apple:
Regina gives a variation of her “stay away from my son” speech, and then the episode flashes back to EQ’s appearance at Snow White’s wedding, just before Prince Charming chucks a sword at her. After dissipating in a puff of smoke, EQ materializes in her CGI castle, where her servant (who is also her dad) and Magic Mirror (Giancarlo Esposito) are waiting for her. Yes, Gus from Breaking Bad is the Magic Mirror on this series, which is fantastic casting, even if it is weird to hear him without a thick Chilean accent. He doesn’t have much to do this episode, but hopefully there will be much more of him in the future, because he’s too much of a talent to waste on occasional guest spots (unless he’s working on a better series somewhere else).
Casting is the one thing this series really has going for it, and the Mirror directs EQ to this week’s other exciting guest star: True Blood’s Kristen Bauer van Staten as Maleficent, one of the best Disney villains ever. Years back, EQ traded the Dark Curse (subtle!) for the Sleeping Curse that Maleficent used against Sleeping Beauty years ago, and when Maleficent refuses to give it up, EQ takes it by force. Bauer is delightfully campy as vampire Pam on True Blood, but she doesn’t get much chance to show off her sense of humor this episode, discussing spell trading and the dangers of losing your soul to magic before engaging in a CGI witch-fight. The production values have definitely taken a step down from the pilot, and the show’s reliance on CGI for the flashback environments and magic effects is taking its toll on the budget. The CGI this week is choppy and sloppy, and it makes the flashbacks look cheap.
After obtaining the Dark Curse, EQ gathers her most evil friends for a bonfire where she takes a lock of hair from each of them and throws it in the flames with the heart of her favorite childhood steed. The curse doesn’t work, and the action returns to the real world, where Regina is walking through her not-honeycrisp orchard when she is met by Sidney (Giancarlo Esposito), the editor of the Storybrooke Daily Mirror. He’s helping Regina ruin Emma’s stay by publishing headlines like, “Stranger destroys historic sign. Alcohol involved.” This show is so silly.
Henry meets Emma at the local diner so she can take him to school and they can have a momentum-stopping info-dump as they walk down the street, catching up any viewers that may have missed last week’s episode or the “previously on…” segment. It also gives Henry the opportunity to be grating, which he is excellent at, devising “Operation: Cobra,” the new codename for Emma’s mission intended to get Regina off their trail. Because saying “Operation: Cobra” is a totally not suspicious thing that people say all the time. When she drops Henry off at school, Emma talks to Mary Margaret and asks her which fairy tale character Henry thinks she is. Mary replies “Snow White,” and Emma stares at her with this look on her face that is all “OMG you might be my mom,” and then she goes to Dr. Hopper’s office to take a look at Henry’s psych files because she is an awesome parent.
Dr. Hopper explains to Emma that stories are Henry’s language to work through complex emotions, and then gives her his files on Regina’s orders. I wonder if this show would be better if the flashbacks were completely absent and it was a mystery about whether or not Henry really is making this all up. It would probably tone done some of the performances, as the characters wouldn’t have to negotiate their exaggerated fairy tale personalities with their real world depictions. It would probably also make everything a little less obvious, but alas, that’s definitely not what Kitsis and Horowitz are going for.
Under Regina’s influence, Dr. Hopper tells Sheriff Graham that Emma stole the files, and while the Sheriff knows it's unicorn shit, he still arrests her. Regina shows up to Henry’s class and tells him that Emma was a con trying to learn information so she could steal from them, which only solidifies his theory that his adopted mother is an evil liar. Mary Margaret takes him to the police station where she pays Emma’s bail, and Emma gets her revenge by taking a chainsaw to one of Regina’s trees. The short scene is probably the best of the entire episode, and it’s nice to see Emma openly antagonistic and refusing to be whipped around. It doesn’t stop Regina from whipping Emma around later, though, and she tricks Emma into calling Henry crazy while he’s in earshot.
In flashback land, EQ tries to figure out why the curse didn’t work, and the Mirror directs her to Rumpelstiltskin, the man who originally gave her the spell. She visits him shortly after Snow White and Prince Charming spoke to him in the pilot, and he tells her that the only way to make the curse work is to sacrifice the thing she loves most. The two speak in vagueries for most of the conversation, laying down fodder for future flashbacks as EQ talks about Snow White destroying the thing she loved, but never actually saying what that is. Rumpelstiltskin also tempts EQ with information on how the curse can be broken, which she can only learn if she agrees to give him a pampered life in their new world, and does anything he says if he says “please.” She agrees, learns about Snow White’s daughter, and peaces out to kill her dad.
After Emma gets kicked out of her room at Granny’s because of a “no felons” rule and Henry freaks out over the “crazy” thing, Emma considers leaving town but is convinced to stay by Mary Margaret. She apologizes to Henry at Dr. Hopper’s, telling him that she only called him crazy to distract Regina, and tells him that from now on they should keep “Operation: Cobra” a secret. She burns the ripped-up pages of Henry’s book as they prepare to write a new story together, and it would be adorable if Henry wasn’t such a pain to watch.
The final flashback shows EQ back at her favorite camping spot, where she throws her dad’s heart on the fire, and the curse suddenly works. Good thing the spell saved where she left off last time and didn’t need everyone’s hair again, because she turned that one gnome guy to stone. The episode ends with a scene between Mr. Gold (Rumpelstiltskin) and Regina, where more vagueries are exchanged as Mr. Gold talks about the favors he helped Regina with, most important of which was retrieving Henry for her. Regina implies that Mr. Gold is keeping information from her, and he doesn’t deny it, asking her to excuse him (with a “please”) as he walks off to cause more mischief.
Comparing the final scene to the earlier one of EQ and Rumpelstiltskin is like looking at two completely different shows. Robert Carlyle’s performance in the flashbacks flies past camp into ham territory, so over-the-top that it’s hard to take any of the subject matter seriously. He has a startlingly different personality in the closing scene, calm and smooth but still menacing, and it’s the kind of character that is much more interesting to watch.
Parilla faces the same problem as the Evil Queen, with lines of dialogue like “Since when have I cared about anyone’s happiness but mine?” and “The only comfort for me is Snow White’s suffering.” Her character is so two-dimensional for most of the episode that the final moments of her with her father lack emotional weight and honesty. There are flashes of compassion when she plays Regina, particularly during the orchard scene with the Sheriff, but her character is hard to connect to because there’s nothing that she really loves. As I listen to the Into The Woods soundtrack while writing this, it’s interesting to note how Stephen Sondheim makes the audience care for the Witch by giving her someone to care about. The Witch keeps Rapunzel locked up in a tower because she’s desperately lonely and wants to protect her “daughter” from a world full of hatred and fear. Her actions are cruel, but she believes herself to be selfless and kind. The Evil Queen has power, but if the writers want to make her a captivating character, they need to give her something to love.
- The “Previously on…” describes the characters as trapped between two worlds, which makes me believe the fairy tale world is probably another dimension or something along those lines. It’s going to be messy when the writers start delving into how the characters will get back there, but that's what magic is for.
- Two unicorns this episode, one running in the background of the title card, and Maleficent’s doomed black unicorn. More unicorns!
- Anyone have theories on who everyone is at EQ’s bonfire? Emma Caulfield is slated to appear as Hansel and Gretel’s witch so that’s probably not the eyes-sewn-shut lady. That’s probably Jack’s giant. I have no idea who the red guy could be, though.
- Storybrooke: Where everyone knows how you like your hot cocoa.
- Regina’s sitting room is decorated with forest wall paper, a horse statue above the fireplace, and mirrors everywhere. It’s both awesome and hideous at the same time.