We finally learn why Regina despises Snow -- and get to see Barbara Hershey as a strangely familiar mean, manipulative mama

By Hillary Busis
April 30, 2015 at 08:52 PM EDT
Jack Rowand/ABC
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Throughout its first season, Once Upon a Time has repeated several refrains: true love is the world’s most powerful force; magic always comes with a price; there can be miracles when you believe. (Oops, sorry — that last one is actually courtesy of Dreamworks.)

Tonight’s episode took one of these oft-recited phrases — evil isn’t born, it’s made — and ran with it, finally giving us the story of why a young Regina came to despise an innocent child named Snow White. And while “The Stable Boy” didn’t answer one giant, glaring question — why does Regina blame all her woes on Snow, rather than her wicked mother Cora? — it was still great to see some important blanks filled in.

Speaking of filling in blanks: Our first scene reveals that orchestrating Kathryn’s disappearance was Mr. Gold’s idea. He came to Regina’s office a week before “The Stable Boy’s” main (mane?) events, looking for a crisp red apple and a reprieve from some nasty battery charges. Regina agreed to make the charges disappear if he’d help her nab MM and drive her to flee Storybrooke. As we remember, that part of the plan didn’t totally pan out; MM took the skeleton key bait but ended up back in prison. At least this makes it easier for Regina to find both her and Emma whenever she feels like getting in her bi-daily sneer.

Back in Fairy Land, a young Regina has no interest in sneering, or plotting, or Cruella de Vil decor. In fact, pre-Evil Regina is a model of kindness and purity — you can tell because she wears her hair tied back in a Katniss braid. Her dual true loves are horses and Daniel, a stable boy who’s a dead ringer for Jack Bass. Unfortunately, the future wicked stepmother has mommy issues of her own. You would too if your mom were played by Barbara Hershey.

Cora — a.k.a. Regina’s Tiger Mom — wants her daughter to stop riding like a man and start getting married, preferably to someone rich and powerful. What’s more, she’s not afraid to use some magic to force her daughter’s obedience. Cora is the embodiment of pure evil. Still, I bet a bunch of parents watching the show must envy her ability to get results.

Regina manages to find a few spare moments to secretly meet Stable Boy Daniel. He wants to take her on a romantic picnic to Firefly Hill, which must be Fairy Land’s equivalent of Lovers’ Lane. Their rendezvous is interrupted when a young girl comes barreling past on an out-of-control horse. Uh-oh, is anyone else getting Gone With the Wind flashbacks? Regina hops on her mount and manages to grab the girl from her pony. They introduce themselves: Regina is Regina. The little girl is Goldilocks. April Fools! She’s Snow White, of course — and Regina has just saved her from suffering Bonnie Blue Butler’s fate.

NEXT: King Charles Widmore’s Storybrooke alter ego revealed

At Storybrooke’s prison for wayward schoolteachers, Gold explains to Emma and Mary Margaret that he’d like MM to do a pre-trial interview with the local district attorney. Theoretically, this should help to prove that his client has nothing to hide. As they talk, Sidney drops by with a vase of tulips for Emma and a bit of bad news: He hasn’t been able to find any information that incriminates Regina. Emma accepts what he says, even though the journalist is lying to her face. Maybe tulips are her kryptonite?

MM decides to talk to the DA, and as if by magic, Regina shows up with the attorney in tow. And, wouldn’t you know it, he’s played by Sam Waterston! Nah, I’m fooling again — apparently, the DA is none other than King Charles Widmore. In Storybrooke, he goes by Albert Spencer. His first name means “noble;” very clever. But I have no idea if that last name is significant. Is it supposed to be a Princess Diana reference?

Anyway: Albert is just as much of a hardass as King George. He interviews MM, and though the teacher starts off strong, Spencer cajoles her into saying some very incriminating things. Namely: “Yes, of course I wanted [Kathryn] gone! She was the only thing keeping us apart, so yeah, I wanted her gone. Is that what you want to hear?!” Oh, Mary! This is like when Michelle Tanner scored a goal for the wrong soccer team — except this time, the blunder might result in 25 to life.

Fairy Land Regina’s mansion also has a royal visitor: King Leopold, who’s come to meet the woman who saved his daughter’s life. Before she greets the monarch, Cora majicks Regina’s riding habit into a facsimile of Sleeping Beauty’s powder blue gown. (The costumes tonight, by the way, are uniformly gorgeous.) Leopold tells Regina that he’s honored to make her acquaintance, and that though he’s scoured the land, he has yet to find a woman who takes an interest in his daughter. Before Regina or we know what’s happening, he pulls out a ring and proposes to the equestrian on the spot. Cora takes the liberty of accepting his offer. She is seriously about three seconds away from bursting into “Rose’s Turn.”

Regina races to the stables, where she breathlessly tells Daniel what’s just happened. She thinks their only option is to run away, and Daniel agrees. He pulls out a preemptive wedding ring for Regina, and the two embrace. But when they break apart, they find they’re not alone — Snow is standing in the stable’s doorway, gaping like she’s just seen Mommy kissing Santa Claus.

The little girl takes off, and Regina follows hot on her trail. Eventually, she catches up to Snow, who’s totally devastated — the motherless girl was totally jazzed to have Regina as her step-parent. But as Regina calmly explains, she doesn’t love Snow’s father. Before long, Snow has become an ardent Regina/Daniel shipper. She even wants to find her dad and tell him directly that he can’t marry Regina. The future queen, though, knows that Cora won’t exactly be thrilled with this news. She asks Snow to promise that she won’t breathe a word of what just happened. Too bad Benjamin Franklin doesn’t exist in Fairy Land. If he did, Regina might be aware of this handy quote: “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

NEXT: The telltale shovel shard

Emma’s gotten so desperate for evidence that she’s scouring Henry’s story book for clues. August happens upon her, and she reveals to him what the audience already knows: “I used to think I had these great instincts. Super powers. Now I don’t know.” Bonus points for acknowledging Emma’s descent into inefficiency, writers! August suggests that she try retracing her steps, and Emma decides to go back to the T[r]oll Bridge to look for more clues.

There, Emma actually manages to discover something useful: a piece of a shovel. And the sheriff has a hunch about where she’ll find the rest of the spade. She gets Henry to act as lookout as she breaks into Regina’s garage that night… where, sure enough, there’s a shovel with a broken blade. I don’t know much about criminology, but somehow, I have a feeling that this evidence wouldn’t really be admissible in court. But hey, at this point, there’s no use pointing out precisely how Once abuses the legal system.

Cora cozies up to Snow and plays her like an adorable fiddle, manipulating the little princess into revealing that Regina has a secret luvvah. Granted, this isn’t exactly tough, since the kid is operating at a 5th grade secret-keeping level.

A triumphant Emma arrives at Regina’s again, this time in daylight — and with a search warrant in hand. Unfortunately, the queen has once again managed to stay a few steps ahead, and the broken shovel has been replaced. Poor Emma is definitely the Wile E. Coyote in this relationship.

Emma’s next move is to head straight to August’s, where she accuses the writer of confessing their plans to Regina. August tells the sheriff that she should have had a little faith in him — refrain alert! — and that he’s not a liar. “That’s exactly what a liar would say,” Emma snaps back before walking away. August is awfully vocal about always telling the truth. Maybe those who think he could be Pinocchio might be onto something.

Storybrooke Regina takes another opportunity to gloat in front of an incarcerated MM. Fairy Tale Regina, meanwhile, is all set to head for the hills with her stable boy in tow. Alas, Cora has other plans. She sweeps into the barn and wastes no time threatening to lay down some hocus pocus. “You’re impossible to talk to,” Regina complains. “Stop with the magic and listen to me!” Oh man, haven’t we all had this very same argument with our own mothers?

Cora has no interest in being reasonable. She says that she’s sacrificed too much — and made too many deals — to see Regina end up with a stable boy. This, coupled with the fact that Cora was once a miller’s daughter, strongly implies that her powers and status originate from a pact with Rumpelstiltskin. We establish that Regina loves Daniel, Daniel loves Regina, and Cora loves Regina. Everyone loves everyone! So what’s the problem, then?

NEXT: Mother knows (how to murder) best

After hearing her daughter’s plea, Cora apparently softens and gives in. She walks over to Daniel, and tells him that she has to impart an important lesson: “You always have to do what’s best for your children.” Because no matter what you do, children don’t listen. And then she punctuates the advice by reaching straight into his chest and Damon Salvatore-ing him. Cora crushes Daniel’s heart into dust, and another Once hottie’s lifespan is sadly cut short. A moment of handsome silence, please.

Cora delivers an impassioned, Voldemort-esque speech about love vs. power to her shell-shocked daughter. Then she tells her to clean up, get rid of those tears, and start practicing her arabesques — she’s going to be Swan Lake‘s principal dancer! And also an evil queen!

As a numb Regina is getting fitted for her unbelievably beautiful wedding gown, a happy Snow accidentally confesses to spilling her secret; she thinks Regina’s preparing to marry Daniel. When she sees that Regina is upset, the princess tells her future stepmom that she just didn’t want Regina to lose her own mother.

After hearing this, Regina turns and almost breaks down. But then we almost literally see her evil switch be pushed to the “on” position. She turns to Snow with a faux-sweet smile and tells her that she isn’t mad, that Daniel has run away, and that she can’t wait to be a part of Snow’s family. And that, my friends, is how you make a serial heart-stealer/child killer/amateur horticulturist. Cora is pleased to see that her daughter is finally learning how to be a villainess. Clearly, though, she’s got a long way to go; Cora not only engineered Regina’s shift into wickedness, but also planned every event that led to Regina rescuing Snow. She plots at a 13th-grade level!

A few non-Emma police officers escort MM away as the sheriff complains to Gold. He assures her that Regina hasn’t won yet, and that there’s still time for him to work a bit of magic. Still, Emma’s so frustrated that she chucks the vase Sidney gave her against the wall. Her destructive impulse turns out to be a good instinct — the vase is bugged.

Emma carries the listening device to Granny’s, where she presents it to August, along with an apology. The two have barely made up when they hear a bloodcurdling shriek coming from the alley. It’s Ruby, Once‘s designated Finder of Creepy Things. And this time, she’s discovered a dazed, dirty, disoriented Kathryn… who happens to be very much alive. But is her heart in the right place — a.k.a. inside her chest?

NEXT: Breadcrumbs… and Baelfire?

Breadcrumbs

– Major kudos to the show’s casting director, who managed to find a child Snow who not only looks but sounds exactly like Ginnifer Goodwin. Seriously, the resemblance is uncanny.

– Oh yeah — David also briefly showed up to tell Emma that he thinks MM is innocent. Someone should serenade him with the seminal JoJo ballad “Too Little Too Late.”

– Regina still has the ring Daniel gave her. She’s seen clutching the precious both at the top of the episode and near its end.

– Very strange moment: When August is walking down to the spot where the heart was buried, he suddenly jerks back and starts limping. Ruby got to that same spot without issue, so it can’t be a problem of reaching Storybrooke’s limits. What’s happening here, then?

– Did anyone spot anything else of interest in Regina’s garage?

– Mary Margaret cries that she didn’t kill Kathryn, and Regina answers by saying, “I know.” Did Sidney’s bug pick up that exchange?

– Cora’s last big speech reminded me of this Rodgers and Hammerstein song, as well as Voldemort. Want to bet that her troubles all stem from falling in love with the wrong person?

– Wonder what happened to Cora once she arrived at King Leopold’s palace? My guess: Nothing good.

We won’t get another new Once until April 22 — though that episode, too, should be a doozy. (Hint: We’re going to find out what happened to Baelfire, and also, August might try to kill Rumpelstiltskin.) So in the meantime, let your wildest theories run free — and tell me what you thought of “The Stable Boy.” Were you satisfied with this explanation for Regina’s Snow-hatred?

Hillary on Twitter

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Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.
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