Following the spectacle of the season premiere with its twist endings, new (old) lands, and family reunions long in the making this week’s Once Upon A Time episode ‘We Are Both’ settled in to deal with a town whose people are in many ways as broken as the curse that once held them from their former lives. It focused mainly on Regina and Charming as each dealt with a bit of an identity crisis now that the curse has been broken.
“I did the fighting, Snow did the talking.”
That’s a quote from Charming/David when he explains to Red/Ruby his frustration with trying to lead the town now that things have changed so dramatically for everyone.
The title of this episode refers to the first thing we learn in a post-Curse world, namely that when you leave Storybrooke now you lose your former identity and your curse self becomes, as Leroy puts it, ‘your always self.’ And that’s why you can’t just leave Storybrooke even though the curse is broken which is going to give these characters more time to work together to help themselves and each other to exist in this modern world. Especially now that Regina has decided to take advantage of magic existing in this world in order to get what she wants no matter the price her soul may pay for it.
Charming has an awful lot on his plate throughout this episode. He has to calm and unite the townspeople in the face of a recently re-powered Regina, keep his grandson safe now that he’s the only blood relative he has left in this realm for lack of a better word for it, and he must try to figure out how to save his wife and his daughter from parts yet unknown. Along the way he shares his first scene with Jefferson (special guest star Sebastian Stan returning from season one) and realizes that not only is it going to be difficult to get his family back because the portal of the hat was destroyed during the melee caused by trapping the wraith, but it’s because as much as he’s Charming (or at least the man who grew into the prince of the storybook tales) he’s also average insecure David Nolan. Reconciling both his storybook self with his Storybrooke self is Charming’s main emotional challenge in this episode and by the end it seems like he’s closer to getting the hang of it. His speech to the townspeople encouraging them not only to keep from crossing the town’s border line thereby losing who they used to be, but also to embrace their dual selves and get back to actually living their lives was inspiring stuff indeed. It was great getting to see Charming interact with newer characters like Jefferson in addition to boldly confronting dangerous people like Mr. Gold (current hoarder of all that is magic in this world) as well as Regina herself.
Most of the episode followed Regina’s internal struggle with being both in a different way as we glimpsed more flashbacks of her past following Daniel’s demise and her growing hatred toward her mother, Cora (Barbara Hershey). We see that she’s known Rumpelstiltskin for a very long time indeed as it was he who gave her a chance at vengeance against Cora for killing Daniel as well becoming a sort of magical mentor to her. Deny it though she may, it’s obvious that Regina loves the darkness inside of her in a way that’s constantly going to interrupt any chance of her trying to be kinder to those around her. From the moment Rumple is in her presence he can sense that she is truly naturally powerful and all she needs is the right push in order to embrace it. A literal push, as Regina confronts Cora on her wedding day and magically banishes her through a looking glass that Rumple gifted her with at their meeting.
Even though she claims she doesn’t want to live her mother’s life she’s very much in line to when Rumple stops her from leaving and tempts her with the chance to get to know her own power and potential in order to rule the way she wants to. Regina obtains her mother’s old spell book (the very same one from her past with Rumple) from Mr. Gold in the present day and begins to use it again. I loved the visuals of the inhalation of the magical dust within the pages itself in order to ‘absorb’ the power within. As soon as she does, she’s right back where she wants to be as she storms into a town hall meeting that Charming doesn’t make it to as he’s off trying to get Jefferson’s help with the portal. She’s flinging townspeople left and right and back to using her regal vocal embellishments with that Queen Regina nastiness we all know and love as she coerces Henry to come with her lest the town feel more of her magical wrath. Of course it’s all playing exactly like it did when Regina herself tried to leave Cora behind but the difference this time is that when faced with the prospect of how miserable Henry would be as a ‘prisoner of her love’ she relents and lets Charming have him back. Sure, Charming had a sword that he was eager to use when he came for his grandson, but she’d already decided it before he burst through her door.
The thing about the idea of ‘we are both’ that Charming expressed during his rousing speech at the town border is that for everyone in Storybrooke that means something different. Anyone that’s ever cracked upon a book of fairytales knows that actually being some of these characters wouldn’t be an ideal situation. So when Charming/David encourages the townspeople to be both of their selves it’s a way for them to embrace more the weaknesses and strengths of two different people. In Charming’s case letting himself be a little more like David is a good thing while Regina could do well to embrace more of her Madam Mayor Mills side than Regina the evil queen. Even though Queen Regina is always fun to watch let loose it’s going to cost her everything one day. In fact, I have a theory that the idea of the town border meaning a loss of former self makes it an excellent weapon of sorts against the more dangerous fairytale characters in this town. I’d love to know what happens if Regina crosses that orange caution line.
Elsewhere in the remnants of the Enchanted Forest, we only get a few moments this week with Emma and her mother Snow White. They’re hauled into a refugee town of sorts by Mulan and Aurora and after a failed escape attempt initiated by Snow they wind up locked into a prison called the pit. Once there we get the big reveal of the episode which is that Regina’s mother Cora has somehow wound up there herself and she’s offering to help Emma and Snow get out. As much as some people couldn’t wait for the Charming family reunion at the start of this season I really can’t wait for Cora to be face to face with her darling daughter Regina once more.
Extra Bits Worth Noting
- We got our first glimpse of August in the start of this episode in his full on wooden (though sentient) form. But what was interesting was that when Gepetto found where he was living, August had vanished despite being completely wooden. Willing to bet this has something to do with last week's man of mystery who received word of the curse being broken from outside of Storybrooke itself.
- No one knows who Dr. Whale is yet but it was fun to watch David Anders in the background of various scenes reacting to the action. It's suspicious how he doesn't seem quite as intimidated by the queen as others do--watch as he stares her down even when she has magic at the town hall meeting.
- One of the biggest moments of the episode was seeing a young Regina with Rumple only to have him say that the first time he saw her she was far more 'portable'. Namely, a baby. Get your theories ready for this one guys because that vague line could mean a number of things.
- I just really want Sebastian Stan to be on this show all the time. He's that damn good on here. Jefferson is a character you immediately want more of when he's gone. Not to mention his delivery of the lines about how much worse it is to be both were pretty heart-wrenching. He's been both for a while now...I wonder how long it will take for someone else we know to go mad from having two lives in their head all the time.
- Who besides an irritatingly noble little kid could resist that massive magic cupcake? I'll have it if Henry doesn't want it, Reg. Also the way she obtained magic from the book really took the idea of people that enjoy the smell of old books to a whole other level didn't it?