ONCE UPON A TIME: “The Queen Is Dead”


On Once Upon A Time, it’s often daddy issues that we find ourselves grappling with. But in “The Queen Is Dead,” Once takes us to the other end of the spectrum with mommy issues as we learn about Snow White’s mother, Queen Eva, and young Snow’s fairy tale experiences prior to Regina entering her life.

Though not specifically helmed as a two-parter, it’s worth noting that the events that occur in next week’s “The Miller’s Daughter” (an hour that focuses on young Cora and Regina’s family history) are essentially a continuation of this week’s complex mommy issues. It initially took me some time to realize that we had yet to see a backstory concerning Snow’s mother (Rena Sofer) and that in of itself was a treat, because it meant we got to spend a good portion of the hour watching the fantastic Bailee Madison, who outshone most everyone in this episode – seasoned actors included. Madison convincingly stole every one of her scenes, making me wish that there could be young Snow backstories more often (I’m also still not entirely convinced that the show didn’t time travel 30 years back to extract a young Ginnifer Goodwin from her early years.)

As viewers who have been trained to believe Snow has always been pure, it was a nice added layer to see that “the fairest one of all” had a stubborn and bratty streak that came from growing up as the privileged daughter of the queen. Among its many plot twists, the ultimate reveal of “The Queen Is Dead” was that stripped of their respective histories and character journeys, Regina and Mary Margaret are not so different from one another. The bigger picture of Once is about hope; another bigger picture is about choosing your own fate – and shaped by their pasts, Snow and Regina are similar entities. Where Snow started out selfish and turned good, Regina started out good and turned selfish. Yet because Snow had her mother’s love and support, she was able to put herself on the right path while Cora’s need for power caused Regina to become hardened and vengeful (it was also interesting to me that while Eva’s confidant in fairytale land was the Blue Fairy, Regina’s was Rumple.)

In case we had any doubt of how far Cora would go to claim her power, her actions towards poor former servant Joanna (Downton Abbey’s Lesley Nicol) seemed to seal the deal. To her credit, Regina seemed shaken by the revelation that had she essentially been nothing more than a pawn in her mother’s scheme to become queen (forging a relationship with Snow by rescuing her was the catalyst in getting Cora’s foot in the door to the kingdom) and in some of Parrilla’s best acting of the night, she finally seemed to be fully questioning her mother’s motives. But Regina’s entire life has been shaped by power, and her quest for redemption has truly only been secondary to her quest to earn her mother’s love. So long as there is even a small part of her that believes her mother does care, Regina is not going to look the other way – not even if Henry can convince her otherwise.

In Storybrooke, Snow was less than enthusiastic about celebrating her birthday and understandably so, as it was the day her mother unexpectedly died from an unknown illness that Snow would later learn was a poison planted by Cora (does anyone have a theory on the relationship between Cora and Eva? Sisters, perhaps?) Devastated by the possibility of her mother’s death, a young Snow attempts to seek out the Blue Fairy in hopes of finding a cure, but the Blue Fairy tells her that there is no cure for saving a life unless dark magic is invoked. She gifts Snow with a candle, instructing her that to use it will save her mother but will also involve taking another’s life. True to her heart, Snow chooses good over greediness, giving up her mother’s life at the cost of keeping herself pure – which means her heart and belief in “the greater good” is essentially shattered when she finds out in a stand-off for Gold’s dagger that Cora had impersonated the Blue Fairy that night, Snow’s “life for a life” being a test to turn her heart dark. Ginnifer Goodwin outdid herself in this episode and while I love everyone in this cast, it was nice to finally get an hour that focused more on the core characters of the series.

With the Charmings taking on Regina and Cora, Emma, Rumple and Bae struggled to bond in New York. As Bae attempted to forge a relationship with Henry, Rumple attempted to talk to Emma, hoping to find a way she could use her feelings towards Bae to convince him to return to Storybrooke. I suppose that’s one plot advance we can thank Hook for, as the vengeful pirate found his way to the city and wasted no time targeting his enemy. By stabbing Rumple, he effectively injected a poison into his system that could only be possibly curable with magic – magic that existed only in Storybrooke. As Bae told Emma, there’s a difference between being angry with your father and watching him die in front of you, and despite his reservations, Rumple’s son found himself taking matters into his own hands by announcing that they would use Hook’s ship to return to town.

Captaining a pirate ship, growing up in another land (where if he hadn’t, he would “older,”) having seemingly familiar relations with Hook? It would seem a little too easy to have Bae be Peter Pan, so my money is on the assumption that he was one of the Lost Boys, Neverland being where he disappeared to when Rumple sent him through the portal all those years ago. I’m curious to know just how much Hook knows about Bae and of the history between him and Rumple, and I’m hoping that we get those answers at some point down the line.

Just like “Manhattan,” “The Queen Is Dead” was a game changer of an episode. It set a new character on a path back to a “real” home, and it put forth some character developments that could very well change the course of the series. We’ve always known Snow White to be good, and in Storybrooke, Mary Margaret has always been one to err on the side of believing in the best of someone. With Cora’s actions putting her over the edge, its quite possible Snow is on her way down another path – the path that Cora was hoping for when she killed her mother. As we know from Regina’s history, one is not born a villain – they become that way due to terrible hurt that has left them angry and alone. And if Joanna’s death was truly the final straw for Snow (who, by the episode’s end has declared she’s going to get her “eye for an eye” by killing Cora), I’m anxious to see how this change is going to play out for the rest of the season.

Final Thoughts:

  • I always love when the show imparts its own “history” into these fairytales we know and are familiar with, and therefore loved that we got a small explanation of the origins of Snow’s name with Johanna telling her that “you were born during the harshest of winters.”
  • Only Regina could make digging in the woods any kind of attractive with high boots and a short skirt.
  • I very much enjoyed the contrast of Mary Margaret’s “snow white” sweater and Regina’s dark ensemble when the two met at Granny’s as Snow tried to convince her of Cora’s bad motives – a subtle moment, but one that didn’t go unnoticed, especially when contrasted with the darker wardrobe Snow had acquired by the end of the hour (you say funeral mourning, I say change in personality…)

What did you think of the episode? Are you excited for next week’s installment, in which we finally meet a young Cora? Sound off below!

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