‘Once Upon a Time’ Post Mortem: ‘We Are Both’
Last night gave us a brand new episode of Once Upon a Time, the second of the season, and the first that gave us a real jumping off point for the rest of the year (the premiere was more of a regrouping than anything). ‘We Are Both’ followed the aftermath of the wraith attack – and the disappearance of Snow and Emma – but its real focus was on Regina, her fight to regain her magic, and her relationship with Rumpelstiltskin.
Perhaps the best way to look at ‘We Are Both’ is as a nearly direct sequel to last year’s ‘The Stable Boy’. It picks up almost immediately following the events of that first episode, with a young Regina desperately trying to escape her overbearing mother, and a loveless marriage to a King whose daughter she blames for the death of her love, and the loss of her happiness. So, let’s start there, shall we?
In the Fairy Tale Land that was, Regina searches for a way to get out from under her mother’s thumb, not just because Cora is a horrible woman, but because Regina fears becoming her. When she fantasizes about killing the young Snow White, Regina has had enough, and goes to her father for help. He offers up a tidbit about the man who gave her mother magic; taught her to use it. With a place to start, Regina steals her mother’s spell book and summons none other than Rumpelstiltskin, asking him for help. As we mentioned in our spoiler-tastic post yesterday, Rumple alludes to having known not just her mother, but Regina herself way back when she was just a small child. He agrees to help her, perhaps a little too eagerly, with one of the most intriguing lines of the episode:
Rumple: I knew you long ago deary. It’s been some time, but I knew this day would come. I’ve been waiting for it. And I’m so happy we are back where we belong.
Regina: Where is that?
Side note: If you have never read the original story of Rumpelstiltskin, please do so here. Then we can all stop arguing over who Cora and Regina are to Rumple, and move on with our lives. After this episode, its so painfully obvious that I want to scream.
Anyway, Regina insists to him that she hates magic and what it has done to her mother, and at first refuses to use it. But when Rumple tells her that all she needs to do is use a magic mirror, which is a portal to an “annoying little world,” she accepts, though still a bit reluctant. A bit later on in the episode, events finally converge to place Regina and Cora in front of the mirror just as Cora pushes the wrong buttons, and so Regina pushes back, sending her mother to another world forever (or so we are led to believe anyway).
Back in Storybrooke, as David attempts to find a way to bring his family back, and the increasingly confused citizens of Storybrooke break into an all out panic over their dual identities and the fact that leaving will completely erase their memories once again, the current Regina desperately searches for a way to get her magic back (in direct contrast to her FTL past). When she recaptures her mother’s old spellbook, and subsequently regains her powers, she uses them to force Henry to come home with her. Which, of course, he does in an effort to save everyone else, because let’s face it, Henry is the real hero of this story.
With Henry back with Regina, and the rest of the town terrified of the Evil Queen once again, Ruby convinces David to temporarily abandon his search for Snow and Emma, and face his leadership fears once and for all. After heading off the mob of frightened masses, and grandstanding with a wonderfully inspiring speech about accepting those things about their lives in Storybrooke which they hate and fear, he sets out to reclaim his grandson. This proves to be a rather simple task, as Regina allows it without a fight, promising to redeem herself and convince Henry that she does, in fact, love him (which was a brilliant little monologue from Lana Parrilla, and I hope we see more of this tortured, vulnerable side to her).
There is a moment in the DVD commentary for last year’s finale where Jennifer Morrison talks about the psychology of fairy tales, and how each story is about discovering oneself through a metaphorical death and rebirth. This episode is, in a way, a near perfect embodiment of that idea. Not only do we experience the death and rebirth of every character in Storybrooke, now choosing to live their brand new lives by a whole new set of rules, but we see two completely separate transformations in Regina’s character. In FTL, we bear witness to the final stages that take her from hedonistic, lovesick young woman, to the Evil Queen. We see her use magic for the first time, use it for something terrible, and really, truly love it. And in Storybrooke, we see Regina finally look at herself through Henry’s eyes. She discovers that she has become the one thing she hates most in the world: her mother; forcing her son to love her by never letting him go, and attempting to teach him to do the same.
Perhaps what the episode accomplishes best, is in cementing Regina as a sympathetic character. By really showing the audience how much of a product of her mother’s influence, and her terrible situation she really is, the episode forces you to witness Regina’s turn to evil as her only escape route. Regina lost everything so quickly that is was no wonder she turned to magic as a way of giving herself that sense of security and power, and before she knew it, she had lost herself in her subconscious desire never to feel vulnerable again (you could see parallels to real life addictions to drugs, alcohol, money, and power).
Secondary to that accomplishment is the message that people really can change if they want to, and if they need to. Regina needed to change if she ever wanted to win Henry back, David needed to change if he wanted to save the town (getting his priorities straight, and ensuring that his family had something to come back to when he found them), and the townspeople had to change if they ever wanted to have a life with the people they love.
The episode concludes with a bit of a twist, and a lead into next week’s ‘Lady of the Lake’. In what now remains of FTL, Mulan and Aurora drag Snow and Emma to their safe haven, and order them locked up. When Snow attempts to free them by kneeing Aurora in the gut (seriously, can she do anything?), she is knocked out, and they are thrown into a dungeon. There, and with an unconscious Snow, Emma meets the first person who offers to help them: Cora.
This episode was an Evil Regal wonderland, offering audiences a lot to consider when it comes to everyone’s favorite Queen, and it had some stellar performances by Lana Parrilla (though I anticipate even better one’s come the end of the month), but what it really did was set us up for the rest of the season in a very purposeful manner. The end of last week’s premiere offered little in the way of a course of action. It simply allowed the vehicle for where everyone would begin. ‘We Are Both’ however, gave missions to many of the driving characters. Regina will seek redemption from Henry in one form or another, David will be searching for the (possibly non-existent) doorway into FTL, the citizens of Storybrooke will be trying to find a balance, and Snow and Emma will attempt to find their way home, as well as trying to figure out exactly what has happened since the curse took hold. All-in-all, I think they’ve done an excellent job setting themselves up for the first half of this season, but we’ll have to wait and see where these threads eventually lead.
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays on ABC at 8/7c. You can catch up with this season on Hulu, iTunes, and Amazon.