Sunday, April 28, 2013

'Once Upon A Time' 2.20 "The Evil Queen" Review

It’s clear that the second season of Once Upon A Time is gearing up for its finale, but tonight’s episode ‘The Evil Queen’ only spent a fraction of its time showing how the sides will shake out for the impending war on Storybrooke and magic on Earth in general. This show is still employing some techniques that the writers should know better about using, including an over-reliance on flashbacks that don’t mean anything. Read on for why someone needs to give Regina a hell of a talking to, and why it’s such a frustrating feeling to want to support some characters even when they’re in lame story lines.

This episode perfectly encapsulated in its 40-odd minute run time all the reasons why Regina is in the largest rut of character development on this show. There is no question that Lana Parilla clearly loves to purr and flaunt whenever she’s buckled into one of Regina’s many corset/leather pant combos. Whenever a scene opens up and she’s in a new frock, it’s hard not to smile a little purely at the sight of the luscious grand-villainess in the flesh. Especially when she’s paired up with the equally as pleasing Rumpelstiltskin in full-on Dark One magical mentor mode but that’s where the pleasure of this episode ends for Regina as her flashbacks and present-day scenes display a number of issues with the character as is.

Let’s begin in the past, this week it was another chapter of Snow V. Evil Queen for our flashback sequences and the time could have been better spent elsewhere. Say, maybe in the land of science that Victor (affectionately nicknamed Frankenwhale) was from that we glimpsed what seems like years ago though it was only the beginning of this season. I understand a fan’s desire to see a favorite character as much as possible when watching something. On the surface, Regina fans are meant to be sated with the fact that she was in so very much of the episode but what she was actually given to do just didn't match up to the standard that her fans should hold for her character.

In the flashbacks, we were presented with a magically incognito Regina posing as a peasant in order to try to sway public opinion toward herself and the bandit Snow White. As you might imagine, it doesn't go very well when—shocker—she finds that the peasants hate Queen Regina’s guts whether they’re flesh and blood or made of straw in effigy form. After a misunderstanding due to her disguise, she winds up with her head on a stump about to be executed by her own guards until the one and only Snow saves her. Together they have a moment that could be a heart to heart if anything even remotely resembling growth or character development resulted in the present day. This is a story we know the core of and that’s never changed: Snow hurt Regina, Regina wants to ruin Snow, and on and on it goes. Who can I implore that we put a moratorium on all Regina/Snow flashbacks? We never get anything from them but gratuitous shows of dressed to the nines evil queen Regina or the more fun slightly badass bandit Snow White. This is actually one of the show’s biggest problems, it wants to provide different forms of fan service but rarely can figure out an organic way to go about it.

The moment Snow and not!Regina come upon the dead villagers from earlier in the episode, everyone should have groaned when Regina claimed she still wanted to be good. No, what Regina wants is for people to feel differently toward her without having to actually do any work to earn that change. She’s got a lot of red on her ledger with no true desire to wipe it out—just for everyone else to ignore it. It’s easy to make these conclusions because with flashbacks that don’t change the present, there’s no different perspective to view current events.

Regina gets the chance to work with Hook in order to activate a fail-safe mechanism beneath Storybrooke. It winds up as another pale LOST homage, a gemstone in a pouch is no frozen donkey wheel but I digress. When she betrays Hook, just as she once did to Emma back in season one, it shows a complete lack of being able to work with allies. I may not be one for the love is all you need message of the ‘good guys’ of the series, but at least they realize that a team effort works so much better than the lone wolf strategy. Hook is a character who readily changes alliances to those that are worthy, and this quality alongside with a pure affection for Cora could have led Regina to having someone on her side in this upcoming battle. Instead she screwed him over and paid the consequences for it.

Say what you want to about her mother, but Cora knew how to respect an ally and it’s why Mr. Gold can cross the line from time to time and have the other characters assist him. At the same time, if I may use Henry’s black and white morality view, Regina stands as a toothless villain. So she has on a cuff that somehow blocks magic? Cut your hand off because it’s not as though another character didn't receive full function of the limb once more thanks to magic earlier on in the season. You want Henry so damn badly, Regina? Take him, take a bean sprout, and make it happen. Be the evil queen; you want to be her anyway so why fight it? At least villainy gets shit done instead of lingers in the background doing nothing but giving out the occasional threat or enacting a half-cooked plan. They won’t love you, the path is a lonely one, and that’s the price of being this person. Regina doesn't put in the work required to get love back so she needs to abandon this foolish notion and take what she wants or it really will all slip between her fingers since half-assing attempts at being civil with her enemies aren't working for her.


Now, as for Greg and Tamara all I can think is that I like the idea of magic vs. science. It’s been hinted at very sparingly through the season but it’s been there. However, instead of dragging in a couple of total strangers why not actually throw this story over to a character the show has on it and has since season one? This could have been Dr. Whale/Victor’s time to shine. He has an ax to grind against the town, against Regina and he is from the land of science. So why exactly isn’t he involved in this story at all? Oh that’s right, because it wouldn't jibe with the Swan family focus that comes included with having Neal’s fiancee be part of the plot. Instead of a chance for a character to fully live up to his potential, we get new characters who most likely won’t survive the year and another finale that’s going to be about the Charming/Swan family. 

All I can hope is that Hook continues to get a lot of screen-time next year (and with the Peter Pan-baiting episode titles of the last two episodes I’m sure he will) because he’s actually the character that’s making the most sense right now on this show.  He’s self-aware of the perils in focusing only on one goal, he can work with many different characters, and he’s outside of what fandom refers to as the ‘Charmplemills’ focus—at least for now. I daresay he’s one of the show’s only hopes for a brighter future.

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