In “Once Upon a Time,” Regina’s Torment is Sisyphean
For a show based on the concept of happily ever after, Regina really can’t catch a break.
By Emily Suvannasankha, University of Central Florida
In “Once Upon a Time,” a hit ABC series in which people’s blood-pumping organs are already thinly tethered to their chest cavities, no one’s heart is crushed as often as the former Evil Queen’s.
Regina Mills, played by the unfailingly talented and eternally hot Lana Parrilla, has got to be the most sympathetic, best-developed character on the whole show by now, and yet the writers keep chucking her hopes and dreams straight down the toilet. Seriously, the poor woman can never catch a freaking break.
The wounds are especially fresh after the fifth season ended with—SPOILER ALERT—the murder of Robin Hood, the man everyone, including the actors on the damn show, thought was Regina’s true love. (Besides shippers of SwanQueen, of course.) Straight out of the clear blue sky, that one. It was a bit of a head-scratcher for all involved, I think, and the fandom is still churning out tearful Tumblr side blogs and defiant Outlaw Queen fanfics.
But for those who have yet to succumb to the majestic and heart-wrenching wonders of “OUAT,” allow me to enlighten you.
“Once Upon a Time” essentially combines all the classic fairytale stories and plops them in together in the real world—or as they like to call it, “The Land Without Magic.” It’s a mashup that practically achieves “That’s So Suite Life of Hannah Montana” levels of beauty.
While I (and a few million others) have no qualms with the amount of creative liberty the writers take for the sake of ratings, the show isn’t for everyone. If you’re a hard realist who can’t stand plot twists that employ as much dubious logic as imagination, or a literary purist who could burst into tears at the idea of Snow White texting “I love you…btw we’re being chased by the Abominable Snowman lol come save us,” to Prince Charming, then please, save yourself some grief and stay far, far away from this series. Realms away, if possible.
The point of the show isn’t to make perfect sense; it’s to grow to love the characters and have fun watching them encounter new faces reinterpreted from stories fans are already familiar with. After its first season, the show goes on to explore more magical alternate universes, such as the Enchanted Forest (home to many classic fairytale characters), Wonderland (re: Alice ), Neverland (“Peter Pan”), Oz (guess), Arendelle (“Frozen”), Camelot (from the legends of King Arthur) and most recently, the Underworld of Greek mythology, ruled by Hades himself.
But here’s the basic story: In order to exact revenge on Snow White and finally attain happiness, the Evil Queen casts a curse on the Enchanted Forest that traps its inhabitants in a town called Storybrooke, Maine, where she is the mayor. And a very surly mayor she is when Emma Swan, the “Savior” and spawn of none other than Snow White, comes to take her son away from her.
This Evil Queen is Regina Mills. This Bitch Mayor, as I like to call her, is also Regina.
Looking at these two less-than-flattering titles, it’s no wonder Regina gets the Character Most Frequently and Spiritedly Kicked in the Face by Plot award.
It’s karmic retribution for decimating all those villages back in the Enchanted Forest, one might think. No one who has made a hobby of abducting children, torturing innocents and casually tossing fireballs over her shoulder when she’s in a bad mood should reap anything but the harshest of comeuppance, a reasonable Dick or Jane could assume.
I mean, we are talking about a woman who murdered her own father in the name of becoming mayor of her own personal torture town.
However, I think I speak for the vast majority of the fans of “OUAT” when I insist that Regina, the former Evil Queen, definitely does deserve her happy ending. But before I get into that, let’s run through the list of damages our favorite sarcasm-laden antihero has sustained over the course of five rather pain-filled seasons, shall we?
Just the big ones. If I included all the sufferings—well, we’d be here all day.
1. The Murder(s) of Daniel
Ah, the original knife in the eyeball that made Regina go Evil Queen in the first place. Upon discovering that her daughter had fallen in love with a lowly stable boy, Regina’s sixteen-faced, power-hungry mother Cora tears out his heart, squashes it to smithereens and sprinkles the dust over a plate of fettucine alfredo. (All right, I may be exaggerating. But not by much.)
And let’s not forget when, after years and years of the festering wound driving Regina to chase Snow White past every fallen twig and pebble in the Enchanted Forest, Dr. Frankenstein resurrects Daniel. And is ol’ Danny happy to see her? Does the revived couple embrace and live happily ever after like they should have all along?
In a word, no.
In more words, Regina has to dispose of the bloodthirsty shell of her true love herself. As if the first time didn’t screw her up badly enough.
2. The Robin-Marian-Zelena Fiasco
After the show’s history of handling Regina’s love life a smidgeon less than delicately, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that her second time around went, if possible, even worse.
Since apparently her mother killing her first true love wasn’t emotionally traumatizing enough, a number of things go awfully, terribly, horrifyingly wrong when Regina falls in love with Robin Hood. In fact, the whole situation turns to trash so spectacularly that if it hadn’t been for the tears I was rapidly shedding and bottling, I would have been highly impressed by how thorough and complex the fuckery actually was.
I’ll try to be brief. After suffering a rather…extended grieving process that involved much vengeance, many murders and extreme torment of herself and others, Regina finally—finally—opens herself up to love again.
And then this bitch comes in and smashes up the whole production.
(Well, former bitch, I suppose. Her redemption is *ahem* ongoing.)
Zelena, the Wicked Witch of the West and Regina’s long-lost half-sister, disguises herself as Marian, Robin Hood’s presumed-dead wife, in order to seduce Robin away from Regina, effectively plucking her sparkly new happy ending right out of her long-suffering grasp.
Oh, and she also manages to get herself pregnant with Robin’s child. Just to spite her sister—which is made no less knife-twistingly ironic by Regina’s self-imposed infertility. (It’s a long story.)
And this is despite the fact that while Zelena was impersonating Marian, Regina cured her of a freezing spell set by the Snow Queen—and proceeded to insist that Robin take his wife and their child outside of Storybrooke in order to save Marian’s life and be together as a family. She did this all knowing full well that it meant she would never see her true love again.
Yeah. And somehow, it gets even worse.
3. The Death of Robin Hood
It’s a cold day in hell when the writers of “Once Upon a Time” kill a character in a way so permanent that the individual is prevented from ever returning through some kind of crazy plot twist or convenient asspull. Just ask Gold, Zelena, David, Hook, Henry and even the Blue Fairy, all of whom have come face to face with Death and high-fived it on the way out, miraculously resurfacing on the other side and continuing to run around Storybrooke slaying CGI dragons as if they were never a casualty in the first place. (I say this lovingly. I love the show despite its liberal toying with our emotions—and the concept of staying dead. I do.)
But it must have been absolutely blizzarding in the Underworld when Robin Hood died, because the writers made it very, very explicit that He Ain’t Comin’ Back.
Let me supply a direct quote that illustrates my point a little too well.
Hades, pointing the Olympian Crystal at Regina and Robin Hood: “This isn’t going to kill you, it’s going to end you. No Underworld, no moving on. One minute, you exist, and the next you don’t.”
I mean, come on. It’s as if the writers were speaking through Hades’ mouth, saying, “Regina will never get her [second] true love back. No freakish resurrections, no work-arounds, no magical miracles or tearful reunions this time. Believe it or not, we really killed him. Move on, folks.”
No other character has ever gone out with such plainly declared irreversibility in the history of “OUAT”—or dare I say, storytelling in general.
Also, just to add insult to injury, Captain Hook, Emma’s boyfriend, whom we had all assumed dead/trapped in the Underworld for good at this point, respawns about two minutes after Robin Hood’s funeral. Yup, that’s right, Zeus decides he owes Hook a favor and plops him down not five yards from the super-incredibly-dead-and-definitely-not-coming-back thief’s coffin. And just like that, Emma gets her happy ending while Regina is neatly stripped of hers.
So that brings us to the season five finale that aired a few weeks ago, wherein Regina, in her everlasting battle against the darkness inside her, splits herself in two—Regina and the Evil Queen—in an attempt to crush the heart of her crueler, more theatrically corset-clad self.
But of course, instead, the Evil Queen persists and is coming after her and everyone she loves. Naturally.
The show has made a point of illustrating just how hard Regina has worked to change herself—to become a better mother, friend, sister and partner who, you know, doesn’t kill people for fun. At this point, she has directly sacrificed her life to save Storybrooke, willingly given up her happy ending for the sake of a family she would never be a part of and been dragged to Hell and back (literally) in countless missions to rescue the people she loves.
And yet she’s still been the scapegoat of the town for seasons, always falsely accused of bringing this monster or that curse upon the rest—not to mention all the flying monkeys and Dark-One darkness that come crawling after her, attracted to the vestiges of her evil past.
However, by now, we shouldn’t expect anything less than constant heartbreak, misery and misfortune for the most wonderfully three-dimensional, fascinating, lovable character on the show. It’s just how “Once Upon a Time” works.
Nevertheless, I just can’t help but think that this whole “punishing growth and undermining redemption” thing is a bit counterintuitive to the themes of hope and atonement “OUAT” has worked so hard to build.
But honestly, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t leap off the couch and whoop with joy the moment the Evil Queen was revealed to be alive. Why? Maybe the writers are rubbing off on me; maybe I’ve become a sadist. (Well, more like masochist, with how much I care about the ol’ Bitch Mayor.)
It’s undeniable, though, that this new twist will bring loads more character development for Regina—as if she wasn’t swimming in it already. And that, my friend, is what I (obsessively) watch the show for.
Allow me to be the first to admit that despite all the heartache and secondhand weeping it entails, it’s a good time to be a fan of the Queen.