ABC and Once Upon A Time have been touting ‘The Stable Boy’ as the episode we’ve all been waiting for: the reveal of why Regina (Lana Parrilla) hates Snow White/Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) so much. So does the truth deliver? In a word: mostly.
Let’s bitch it out…
After so many weeks of being stuck on the sidelines, popping up with a snarky line from behind a hedge, it’s nice to see Lana Parrilla front and centre again. And, for anyone who’s tired of her one-note caricature, ‘The Stable Boy’ gives her a chance to flex her acting muscles as we travel back in time farther than ever (with the possible exception of the creation of Rumpelstiltskin in ‘Desperate Souls’).
If anything the episode reiterates many of the themes that we’ve circled for the better part of Once Upon A Time‘s inaugural season: the lure of power, thwarted/unrequited love, the corruption of children by their parents. Man, it sounds like we’re discussing Game of Thrones! In truth, there are many parallels if we’re looking at the shows in terms of thematic content; in execution, however, there’s a fairly big gap. Once Upon A Time remains a family event, so even though another character lost his heart, the violence and evil at the core of this show is primarily implied.
And really, ‘The Stable Boy’ is all about love. I’m uncertain if we’re meant to be surprised by the fact that the Evil Queen was not always evil, and in fact was actually a person very much like Snow. This is another example of how power manipulates good intentions, as well as how love can rescue them. See Regina is desperately in love with Daniel (Noah Bean), but her mother, Cora (Barbara Hershey) is a social climber – a self made woman who has magic and isn’t afraid to set her daughter on a path to greatness, even if it means killing her love and, in the process, making her hate a child.
The most obvious visual reference we’re meant to make is adequately captured in the shot above. Cora, who has magic and no love, is dressed in a very “Evil Queen”-esque outfit, while Regina looks every inch the princess. Even in the opening, when Cora berates Regina for “looking like a man” and wishing that she would wear a dress, we realize that this is one of the few times that we have ever seen Regina wear pants (she does have a leather pair in some FairyTale flashbacks, though they are always black, sexualized and even a touch fetishistic). This visually narrative device is not simply to indicate that we’re in a different time, but rather a reflection of who these characters are: as Regina adopts her mother’s techniques that she so resents, she will eventually come to resemble her mother. Even if it is obvious, it works.
And overall that’s how I feel about the entire episode. The reveal that adorable, cherub faced Snow (Bailee Madison) makes an innocent mistake and believes Cora’s duplicitous lies, which ultimately leads to Daniel’s murder and Regina’s life-long vendetta, feels appropriate and yet obvious at the same time. From the very first scene, with the disapproving mother and the secret love affair, it is clear that Cora will kill, harm or send Daniel away and that Snow will be the one responsible for helping it happen. Does it make everything Regina has done excusable? In the world of the show: yes. We’ve been told time and again that love is the most important thing (that’s why every week we have characters fighting for it, losing it, killing for it, taking potions to forget it, etc). On the flip side, rational adults may look at this and think “Wow…that is one petty woman with a lot of misplaced anger.” Clearly the person that Regina ought to be angry at is her mother, the true villain (hence the dark outfits!) and not the child for whom she has gone to such great lengths – across so many worlds! – to punish. But that’s a different story, so…
Significantly we do not see what becomes of Cora, so it will be interesting to see if in order to obtain her power (and wardrobe?) Regina commits matricide. If she has, then there’s no turning back. If she hasn’t and her mother is simply locked up (perhaps with Belle down in the Alcatraz-esque dungeon beneath the hospital?), then there may be hope to redirect her vengeance…
- Emma (Jennifer Morrison) leans on August (Eion Bailey) to talk her through a strategy to help clear MM. I liked the writing metaphor to convince her to change her perspective. Less successful: the ridiculous B&E of Regina’s garage to find the broken shovel used to uncover the box-o-heart. Not only would her dubious crime-fighting methods hold up in court, but a broken shovel hardly implicates Regina in the murder or clears MM. At least now the truth that Sidney (Giancarlo Esposito) is working for the Mayor is out in the open as Emma finally figures out he’s feeding the Mayor info (this time via a mic in a vase of flowers).
- Side Note 1: August complains about his leg climbing down the “Troll” bridge ravine. He dismisses it as shin splints, but that’s clearly a fib. What’s really going on with the author?
- Side Note 2: Does Emma know that we made fun of her greasy kidnap hair last week and that’s why she keeps hiding it in her oversize poncho hood? It defies explanation to cover your lead actress’ entire head. Soooo distracting.
- We learn the details of how Gold (Robert Carlyle) and Regina came to their agreement. The fact that Gold approached her makes me suspicious. I’m still not convinced that this isn’t part of an elaborate strategy to get back at her for the incident involving Belle and the teacup in ‘Skin Deep.’
- Alan Dale (King George in FairyTale) shows up as the district attorney, Albert Spencer. How ludicrous was that interview scene, culminating in MM sarcastically confessing that she wanted Kathyrn (Anastasia Griffith) gone? So silly.
- Finally, as I called it here and here, Kathyrn is not dead (the show would never introduce a love interest and then only use him for one episode!). Apparently she’s just been hanging out in the alley behind Granny’s for the past week or so because Ruby (Megan Ory) finds her decked out in full “Derelicte” hobo mode. Anyone want to bet amnesia? Le groan.
And that’s our episode. Obviously MM will now be free to go, so how will Regina get her revenge now? What do you think is the real story behind August (is he perhaps related to Fringe‘s September)? Sound off below!
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8pm EST on ABC. The show will take a brief hiatus until April 22.