We’ve already seen two prequel episodes on ABC’s sister show, Revenge, but this is the first time we’re visiting the past history of Storybrooke on Once Upon A Time. There’s always a fear that these episodes only tell us what we already know (since we already know the outcome), to which I say…perhaps you missed the reappearance of a certain hunky Sheriff?
Let’s bitch it out…Oh Sheriff Graham (Jamie Dornan) – how we’ve missed you! One of the best episodes of the first season was 1×07 ‘The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter’ because it helped, in part, to confirm that the series was playing with life and death stakes. It wouldn’t be afraid to brutally execute one of its more intriguing characters and it established Regina (Lana Parrilla) as a great, terrible villain.
It also, unfortunately, cut short the life of one of the most enjoyable characters on the show, the hottie Sheriff. Thankfully, like all good sci-fi/fantasy, no one ever truly dies and so in this episode we get the return of the long deceased protector of the peace.
Unfortunately it’s not really his episode. No, instead ‘Welcome To Storybrooke’ is a Regina-centric episode that aims to not only reveal the origins of the off-the-map Maine town, but also explore where Regina’s burning desire for a child first came from.
In the latter regard, it’s quite interesting. The Regina that opens the Groundhog Day-like episode believes that she’s “won” because she’s imprisoned all of her enemies in a make-believe world where they all do what she orders. Naturally this gets old (admittedly Regina gets tired of it much faster than I would have anticipated). Compare this to the Regina that closes out the episode who is willing to let what she wants go. The latter Regina is a much more “human” character…and there’s one significant reason why: Owen (Benjamin Stockham), the little boy who wanders into town with his mommy issues and dares to speak his mind.
It’s clear that we’re meant to infer that Owen is the only thing that can humanize Regina and neutralize the black evil in her heart. It’s a solid carry-over from last week’s episode wherein we learned that Cora (Barbara Hershey) would have been satisfied solely with Regina had she had her heart. Thematically it makes sense: the series has always worn its “family-first” motto on its sleeve (which makes sense given that it is aimed at families and is a Disney show).
Of course, the bond between child and mother goes both ways. The loss of her mother (and her role in the matricide) certainly doesn’t make Regina very forgiving when Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) comes calling looking for an easy way to assuage her guilt. In this way ‘Welcome To Storybrooke’ tells a story of several Reginas: original curse Regina at the start of the episode is similar in spirit to the Regina that gloats over Snow’s pain at the end, with the Regina who interacts with Owen and Henry (Jared Gilmore) is the “humanized” monster that our heroes should be trying to draw out (maybe they should consider placating her with a puppy or something?)
The maternal influence of children on Regina is all a little obvious (as is often the case with Once Upon A Time), but Lana Parrilla gives a nicely layered performance that helps to remind us why Regina is an interesting character. As much as I enjoyed Barbara Hershey on the show, it really took the death of Cora to make Regina her own character again. Earlier this season she was stupidly obedient and alarmingly easy to manipulate. Now that she’s back on the warpath and “Owen” is back in town, it’s good to see the fire back in Regina (and Parrilla’s performance). Guess the queen ain’t dead after all.
- Obviously the big “twist” is that Owen, the child Regina set free outside of Storybrooke, has grown up into Greg (Ethan Embry), who burst into town in 2×11 ‘The Outsider’. This is so painfully obvious that it’s absolutely no surprise when we see him shooting video of Regina stealing and replacing Snow’s heart at episode’s end. The only real remaining mystery is who is he sending videos to? (Remember that both Regina and Robert Carlyle’s Rumpelstiltskin have foolishly performed MAGIQUE out in the open now)
- Naturally we’re also meant to wonder what Regina and Sheriff Graham did with Owen’s father, Kurt (John Pyper-Ferguson). My bet: he’s in one of the cells underneath the hospital
- My favourite aspect of the repeat reiterations of Storybrooke life: seeing what new variation of red slut-wear Red (Meghan Ory) wears each day
- Anyone else wishing that Henry had blown himself up with the sticks of dynamite? Considering the Lost connection, I was hopeful that Once would take a page from the island drama and kill off the increasingly insufferable child actor. Alas, no luck
- I get that Snow (mostly) inadvertently killed Cora, but how silly is it to watch her a) mope around in bed for days on end and b) show up on Regina’s door asking to die? Snow has easily been one of the most frustratingly inconsistent characters on this show and this latest show of de-empowerment is doubling frustrating. Blech
- Finally, now that we’ve seen both Charming (Josh Dallas) and Sheriff Graham in the same episode, is it safe to say that studly Charming inherited the tight pants of the studly former Sheriff? It’s been a while since Once has had a good man candy parade, so kudos for bringing it back
What are your thoughts on the prequel episode: did it succeed in telling new stories or were you bored by its thematic obviousness? Who is Greg sending his videos to? Why is Snow so boring/wimpy? Would you have liked to see Henry go boom? Speculate away below!
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8pm EST on ABC