Once Upon a Time S02E20: "The Evil Queen"
Remember Season 1 of OUAT, how when we got to three episodes before the end, those were like can’t-miss episodes? Season 1 flew toward its finale with a clear purpose, drawn by its mounting storylines as if it were a sled pulled by a pack of fierce wolf-dogs. But Season 2 three episodes before the end is moving like a sled drawn by a pack of three-legged, rabid raccoons: hissing and shrieking at each other, walking off into the snow for a piss, and sometimes jumping up to claw my face. I don’t even want to tell them which way to go to survive anymore, I just want to get the hell away from those damn raccoons.
Last night was approximately the fourth episode of this season that relied completely on Lana Parrilla’s sensational acting. She pulled off an impossible script in both FTL and Storybrooke because she’s capable of captivating the audience with a face of pure emotion, and hey, if Watching Lana Parrilla React was a show, I’d DVR Season Pass that shit. But the way OUAT is writing Regina currently is seriously inconsistent with the fan-favorite character she's spent the last two years building. Regina has been morphing over the last three episodes into a bit of a spaced-out baby-snatcher, and last night Henry acted VERY uncomfortable around Regina, backing away from her and giving her shifty glances even before she revealed her curse’s "fail safe" to destroy Storybrooke. Bitch, SHE CHANGED EVERY DIAPER, SHE WAS THERE FOR EVERY FEVER... show some respect to your mom. She's been the only parent Henry has known for the last 10 years, yet Henry was so callously, thoughtlessly gung-ho about abandoning his single mom to go frolick about in the Enchanted Forest. And the fact that Henry wants Neal and Emma to be together, as his parents? I hope you like Easy Mac and no health insurance, Henry.
Speaking of Neal—the idea that Emma spent this whole episode sort of staking him out and giggling about him with Henry and snooping on Tamara made my skin crawl. I know when a man teaches you to bump into a door with your mouth open while you’re standing as a lookout, that sort of transcendental wisdom can turn him into a bit of a personal guru. But for Emma to sheepishly be like, "Hey I know this looks bad, like I’m being a crazy ex, let's slap a romantic context on this," and for Neal to be like, "Hehehe oh I guess you want me and my fringey scarf that was popular five years ago," NOPE. Nobody wants any of this, guys.
I didn't want ANY of the new elements they tossed into the unsavory plot element stew last night. What was with all the never-heard-of-them-before devices that popped up this episode?! Regina blew memory-loss powder off the Book of the Dead from the Mummy, the "failsafe" in the curse was a big plastic gem in a hidden compartment in Snow White’s coffin (sigh), Hook de-magicked Regina with a leather snap bracelet from Hot Topic that Regina recognized as being Cora’s...
Um, Cora had the same fashion instincts as Liberace; in what world would she have thrown on an a leather ska cuff to complement her blue satine hoop skirts? Whatever. I don’t even have time to get angry at what everybody wore the episode, that's how jacked the plot was.
Because Kristin Bauer is way too busy filming True Blood/being too respectable to reprise her role as Maleficent, when Regina led Hook down to the cavern below the library he fought with a bunch of re-animated dust that was only capable of shrieks (sorry, Bauer must not've been available for ADR either), while Regina dug through the glass coffin. Which once again, the one-step-forward-two-steps-back nature of this show: You kill a dragon, and now its dust is a witch-zombie. So does killing it the first time even count? Why have I emotionally invested in any of this? And then to top it all off, the most boring villains in any primetime show ever were waiting to "bag her" once she and Hook returned to surface. Lana acquitted herself beautifully, but the chain of actions her character took this episode simply didn’t link up very well.
Luckily we had the broad comedy of the Evil Queen in FTL to entertain us. For once the fairy-tale flashbacks were legitimately the best part of the show. Lana’s insane militial evening gown and campy, over-the-top lectures to the peasants were infinitely admirable/quotable. The show pulled a genius move in "transforming" her looks without swapping in another actress. Their transformation only missed one small detail:
Ah, much better.
I thought it was sort of bafflingly inconsistent writing that MOMENTS after Rumple hauled her in front of a mirror and explained that no one could see what she actually looked like (she even admired the results and was like, "WOW am I ever disguised! About as regal as a potato!"), seriously less than an hour later in the timeline of the show, she was angry at her guards for not recognizing her. More than that, she appeared puzzled and stupefied that they couldn’t. Then they dragged her through the three chickens they’d rented for that day of filming over to ye olde beheadin’ block, which is out in the market square 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Luckily Snow interceded.
Apparently before rushing her off to the chopping block one of the guards was merciful enough to give Regina some knock-out drops, because she awoke days later in a charming forest house with Snow White tending her wounds. What followed was essentially Snow White telling this perfect stranger how awesome Regina was apropos of nothing, until halfway through a line about how vulnerable the current Queen was—and then they both almost fell into a yawning mass grave of fairy-tale villagers. Whoops!
Here’s my thing with this: Making Regina responsible for a small-scale genocide is not consistent with her modus operandi; she went to a lot of trouble to whisk an entire population to Maine alive and well, and cursed them rather than killed them. And the show obviously recognizes that Lana Parrilla’s emotional depth is one of the two engines keeping this crazy train moving along. So why would they push her character even further into "irretrievably bad" territory? Why undermine the character-building Parrilla has done? How does it really change any of the dynamics to make her a sociopathic mass murderer? It was aggrandized water-treading, and while it cemented that Regina wanted to be good (but just couldn’t stop murderin’!) and that Snow has valid reasons to feel that Regina is irredeemable, these were all things we already knew.
It's my own theory that in the pilot, when Regina told Emma she loved Henry and Emma was like "LIE ALERT ACTIVATED," the show was originally going to make it an important part of Regina’s through-line that she DIDN’T love Henry.
But because Parrilla is an insanely exceptional actress, she made strong emotional choices and Regina became such a fan-favorite that her love for Henry is one of the driving motors of the show. The dynamic of someone becoming less selfish and more considerate to be a better parent could be so gorgeously rendered because of the foundation Parrilla created for the character, but sadly the OUAT writers don’t seem inclined to capitalize on it.
So yes, we are two episodes out from the pilot with a ton of brand-new information. The beans are all burnt (not that we had that much time to get attached to them) except for a single plant in Regina’s office. Tamara and Greg are up to their very, very boring schemes, which were given almost no build-up over the course of this season. I’m really hoping the next few episodes will pull it all together in some way, but at this point I'm more curious about how far off the rails this is going to fly, I'm not seriously expecting emotional justice.
... Did Regina posing as an old fisherman make you laugh, or were you too busy wondering why Charming and Snow were hanging out under a blanket down at the docks?
... Is Henry essentially Emma’s best/only friend and is that bad parenting?
... Who burned those beans?
... Was "The Evil Queen" what you were hoping for?