The Evil Queen learns to embrace her dark side in the past -- and finds her power in jeopardy in the present

By Hillary Busis
Updated April 30, 2015 at 08:46 PM EDT
Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

How do you solve a problem like Regina?

Don’t get me wrong: Lana Parrilla certainly brings her A-game to Once week after week, and layered anti-heroes are certainly more interesting than one-dimensional, purely eeeevil villains. Plus, anyone who presumably has an entire closet filled with tiny hats will always be capable (and worthy) of our attention. But even though Once‘s writers have tried to cast Regina in a more sympathetic light this season, it has been and continues to be mighty difficult to empathize with a character who takes several leaps backwards every time she takes a single, halting step toward redemption — no matter how much of a witch her mother was.

And learning more about Regina’s past crimes tonight really hasn’t it any easier to want the best for her. The queen’s homicidal bent has never been a secret — but come on, the woman killed an entire village just because none of its inhabitants would give up Snow White? She’d willingly let everyone in Storybrooke die so that she and Henry could be alone together forever? (This for Henry, of all people!) And all the while, she apparently remains convinced that she’s the real hero of this story, that she deserves other people’s devotion, that she’s just misunderstood?

I get that Regina is deluding herself — but honestly, the queen’s inability to understand why the people of Fairy Land or the people of Storybrooke don’t like her doesn’t really make her a pitiable figure, or a tragic one. It just makes her seem… kinda dim. And that breathtaking obtuseness is just another factor making Regina difficult to root for.

At least this show features one charismatic rogue whose charms we can all agree upon: Hook, who has no trouble leering even when he’s being held captive by two menacing plot devices. Greg/Owen — for simplicity’s sake, perhaps we should just call him Growen? — and Tamara tell the pirate that he failed to kill Rumpelstiltskin, then offer him a deal. They’ll give him the magic-sucking ability he’ll need in order to take the Dark One out for good, as long as Hook helps Growen locate his long-lost father. Hook agrees, perhaps because he too wants to speed along Tamara and Growen’s exit from Storybrooke.

Meanwhile, Regina is doing some plotting of her own. After learning that Snow and Charming plan to lock her up in Rumpel’s cell once they return to the Enchanted Forest, she decides to activate the curse’s fail-safe — a trigger that will eliminate Storybrooke altogether, making it as though the curse was never cast at all. (Hmm, why does this sound familiar?) Before putting the plan into action, she confesses the whole thing to Henry, telling him that they’ll hitch a ride through a magic bean portal just before judgment day. Her son is rightfully horrified, telling his mom that heroes usually don’t go around slaughtering everybody. Unless “everybody” is a bunch of Frost Giants, I guess. No matter; after a quick memory charm, Henry can’t recall the exchange, and Regina’s safe to set things into motion.

NEXT: Regina Mills and the Wig of Doom

Fairyback Regina is launching into a new scheme as well. We’ve joined the timeline sometime after the Huntsman — RIP, Sheriff Skinnyjeans! — set Snow free; Regina is searching high and low for her darling stepdaughter, letting no thatched-roof cottages stand in her way. But even though she’s massacring folks and innocent buildings left and right, Regina is still puzzled as to why her subjects are siding with Snow. As Rumpel helpfully reminds her, the massacres might have something to do with that.

Clearly, there’s only one solution: Murder the princess, which will automatically make the people love Regina. (Those two steps must be separated by a gigantic question mark on the ol’ brainstorm board.) Regina asks Rump to teach her how to shape shift, allowing her to get close enough to make Snow fall. And though the spell’s too complicated for her to learn quickly, the imp offers her the next best thing: He’ll transform her so that she looks like another person, then change her back once the deed is done. The disguised Regina will still be played by Lana Parrilla, though; guess another actress couldn’t do the Evil One justice.

Ah, but the best laid schemes of queens and giggling sprites often go awry. Regina’s barely been playing peasant for like, three minutes when she spots a group of commoners embroiled in a game of “Shoot the Queen Through the Heart.” And unfortunately, the queen herself isn’t as good an actress as Parrilla. She demands that a group of nearby guards put a stop to the game, then acts shocked when the guys don’t recognize her as their fearsome leader. Regina is even more surprised when telling the guards what idiots they are doesn’t immediately endear her to them. The queen, magic-less in her new guise, is about to get Anne Boleyn’d when she’s suddenly saved by a skilled fighter in a similarly ratty wig. That’s right: Regina now owes her life to her worst enemy. Cue “Javert’s Suicide.”

Back in Storybrooke, two merry plotters join forces when Hook shows up in Regina’s office unannounced. He tells her all about Tamara and Growen’s plan — leaving out the important fact that they know how to disable magical creatures — and proposes reestablishing their old Triumvirate of Evil. Though she tells Hook that Cora’s gone, Regina does agree to join forces with him — rather too quickly, though we’ll learn soon that she’s only done this because she intends to turn him into Maleficent chow.

Speaking of: Regina and Hook descend beneath the clock tower, where she says her fail-safe is hidden. After a quick jewelry exchange — Regina notices Hook wearing a cuff that belonged to Cora, and demands he give it back to her — the queen lets the pirate know the real reason she’s brought him along. See, getting the trigger is a two-person job. It takes one person to, you know, actually acquire the trigger… and one person to serve as a distraction. Ruh roh.

NEXT: Oh yeah, also Emma has a storyline

So what, exactly, will Hook be distracting? None other than Maleficent, who apparently survived her battle with Emma in last year’s finale — though in the intervening time, she’s transformed into some sort of giant, shrieking Nazgul thing. In fact, as Hook soon learns, there’s a spell in the caverns that makes the beast pretty much invincible. (Please, please let this mean we can expect to see Kristin Bauer van Straten again!) Yo ho ho ho — a pirate’s death for Hook?

As her ex-partner’s life hangs in the balance, Fairyback Regina is on the mend, thanks to Snow’s careful care. She still hasn’t quite got the whole “acting like a peasant” thing down — but even so, Snow’s too innocent to sniff through her stepmother’s B.S. The princess treats her patient — “Wilma” — like a cherished friend, telling her all about the kind woman who once saved Snow’s own life when she was just a round-faced child.

Regina drinks in the story like a woman dying of thirst, thrilled to know that Snow once loved her — and that the princess hopes the old Regina will reemerge some day. Just like that, all thoughts of murder fly out of her transmogrified head. There’s only one thing love-starved Regina wants now: to get Snow’s forgiveness. And she might have a shot at securing it, too… if the two hadn’t happened upon the pile of people Regina ordered slain for sheltering Snow. The princess, horrified, takes back everything she’s just said about her stepmother: “It is too late for her! I could never forgive her! There’s no good in that woman!”

Strong words — but when “Wilma” accidentally reveals that she’s actually Regina, Snow stops short of putting the queen out of her misery. Why? Well, because the show wouldn’t exist if she had killed Regina, that’s why. Regina runs off to Rumpelstiltskin’s castle, where she decides that if she’ll never be loved, she might as well fully embrace being feared. Hey, this whole subplot could have been avoided if she had just read “The Prince”!

Back in Storybrooke, a triumphant Regina — gem-shaped fail-safe in hand — has her victory bubble burst when she finds that Hook has somehow survived his encounter with Maleficent. On top of that, he found a way to beat her back to the clock tower. Oh, and did I mention that all of a sudden, Regina’s magical hand flourishes aren’t exactly so magical?

Enter Growen and Tamara, still a free woman even though Emma’s getting wise to her “innocent” act. (The sheriff can’t find any hard evidence proving that Tamara is the “she” August tried to warn everybody about, but she still thinks something’s up with Bae’s lady — and hey, at least Henry believes her.) Hook explains that the pair has developed something that can block magic; whatever it is, Regina unwittingly put it on when she took Hook’s cuff. And she won’t be able to take the contraption off, either: “You might be able to get rid of the leather, but inside are the toughest metals and machinery known to man,” Growen helpfully and nonsensically declaims. “And right now they’re counteracting every magic bone in your body.” Oh, okay, that explains everything.

NEXT: Tamara’s hit list (curiously Henry-free)

Regina sneers that she can’t believe Growen would go to all this trouble just to find his father. Growen counters that he’s got a new mission now — and by golly, he must be the only person in town who’s seen a movie before, because he refuses to immediately spill what the rest of his plan is. And then, for good measure, Growen has Tamara put a bag over Regina’s head. They can capture her, they can torture her, they can steal her magic — but to mess up her hair? These two must truly be monsters.


– Probably a dumb question, but: Regina used magic to get down to the caverns. Why didn’t she need to use magic to get out of them again?

– Hook, before he learns that Rumpel is still alive: “I’m sated, complete. My life’s purpose met.” I bet he says that to all the ladies.

– Tonight’s episode takes place immediately after last week’s; when Hook spots Rumpel walking with his ladylove, “Lacey” is still wearing her blue sequined dress.

– So this is why King George needed to form an alliance with King Midas: In exchange for casting the shape-shifting spell on her, Rumpelstiltskin persuaded Regina to cut off trade with George’s realm. Never forget who’s really pulling the strings here.

– Another timeline note: Belle has already come to live with Rumpel, though the two of them don’t seem to be in love yet. Oh, and if George’s realm isn’t yet bankrupt, that means Charming is still plain ol’ peasant David at this point. So wait — exactly how long was Snow on the lam?

– Regina urgently tells Henry that he can never truly be hers unless everyone else they know disappears: “With everyone gone, you’ll love me again” Uh, did I turn on Bates Motel by accident?

– Emma tries to convince Snow that something’s fishy about Tamara by reminding her that she knows when people are lying. Snow gently reminds Emma that her “superpower” has been known to be… unreliable. That’s putting it lightly, Mom.

– Emma also knows that proper stakeout protocol requires a bright yellow car.

– Other possible Tamara targets, based on the list of fairy tale beings she’s been carrying around: Snow, Charming, Rumpelstiltskin, Jiminy Human, the Blue Fairy, and Geppetto.

– When Henry starts daydreaming about his biological parents getting back together, he sounds like Sebastian at the beginning of “Kiss the Girl”: “Moonlight, wine…”

– Uh oh, all the magic beans at Snow and Charming’s patch are gone! Is this Regina’s doing, or have Tamara and Growen struck again?

– When Regina is having her creepy Norma Bates chat with Henry, we can see a place named “George’s Taverna” standing in the background. So there is another restaurant in Storybrooke! Clearly, this is setting up a major storyline in season 3.

Episode Recaps

Once Upon a Time

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

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