Posts Tagged ‘queen regina’

I don’t normally write about TV shows, despite being a big TV junkie, but ever since I started watching Once Upon A Time, I’ve wanted to write about it frequently. I refrained from the urge because I felt I would dwell too much on its feminist aspects, something I would not like to do for a show that’s mildly complex. I say mildly, not as criticism, but as truth; it’s a good show, but it lacks the layers and complexity of a show like, say, Fringe for example (another show I’m in love with)

Instead, I’m focusing on the portrayal of women in Once Upon A Time. Its devious of me, I know. Its still a feminist theme, but cleverly disguised as television discussion. I’m evil that way.

And so is Regina. The Evil Queen Regina, who wanted to kill her stepdaughter, Snow White. When the brothers Grimm transcribed this folktale in their first edition of Grimm’s Faerietales, they wanted to keep the evil mothers as stepmothers, not just because it was un-Christian to want to kill your own blood (the brothers were deeply religious) but also, because doing so fulfilled their nationalist intentions for writing this book, i.e. to emphasize that when you are with your own people, be it countrymen or family, you are safe and loved (as indicated by the pure, motherly love of mothers in The Goose Girl, The Wolf and the Seven Goslings, and strong bonds between siblings in The Twelve Brothers and The Brother and Sister, to name a few)but when you are with an out-group, you will suffer, and be treated as a secondary citizen, denied your rights; in the case of the faerietales, those rights were a child’s right to be safe, loved, protected, taken care of.

Because of this, women in the Grimms’ stories had one-sided characters. Ambition was a characteristic for evil women such as Aschenputtel’s evil stepsisters, who aspired to marry well. Submissiveness, an inability to fight against injustice, being a constant victim, were characteristics of good, modest, pure women awarded in the end with the overly hyped knight in shining armour.  Strength, more importantly, was a vice, wielded, along with power, by the evil female characters. And so, Snow White’s evil stepmother tried to kill her, because Snow White was prettier than her. Note that Snow White is all the more fairer for being unaware of her beauty, whereas the Evil Queen is less beautiful because she is conscious that she is attractive; a confident self-image it seems, is not worthy of the good Christian woman the brothers Grimm wanted to portray.

So is that who the Evil Queen Regina is in Once Upon A Time? A woman driven by jealously to murder her own stepdaughter? No, not really. Actually, Regina was a sweet, kind, gentle soul. She hated magic which her mother wielded with darkness. She strove to escape her mother’s evil influence several times, and feared her so much that she did not even tell her of the stablehand she loved, afraid of her mother’s rage, since her mother wanted her to “do well” in life. And as for Snow White, Regina saved her life when she was a little girl. She was friends with Snow as well, something that Snow’s father deeply appreciated, and therefore, asked for Regina’s hand in marriage. Regina’s ambitious mother, happy her daughter would be a queen agreed to Regina’s dismay. Then Snow discovered that Regina loved someone else, and accidentally let it slip to Regina’s mother, who promptly killed the stablehand. And that was why Regina hated Snow; because her childish naiveté cost Regina all her happiness.

Regina didn’t kill Snow immediately though. It took her many years to formulate her revenge, culminating when Snow was an adult, starting with the death of Snow’s father. As events unfold in the TV show, a battle resulted, where Regina was defeated, but banished instead of being executed. She then transported all the citizens of the kingdom to a land without magic, a town named StoryBrooke in our world. Here they would live their lives stuck in stasis for 28 years, remembering nothing of their past lives. What would happen in 28 years, though? Snow and Prince Charming’s daughter, Emma the Saviour, would come to break the spell on the town. And in the meantime? Emma had a baby she gave up for adoption. This baby was adopted by Regina, who grew up to be a precocious eight-year-old and brought his mother back to StoryBrooke to break the spell.

This is where the show starts, with flashbacks to the past in The Enchanted Forest, the land where it all started. And Regina is evil, yes. She’s evil not for insane jealously, but out of love; her son Henry has found his real mother, and knowing the truth about Regina, drifts away from her. Regina loves her son with the fierce, protective love only a mother can possess, which is why Emma is her enemy. She takes steps to ensure Henry remains hers and hers alone, from keeping him from meeting Emma, to finally resorting to poisoning Emma. Tragically, its Henry who eats the poisoned apple pie meant for his mother, which results in Regina breaking down, and teaming up with her enemy to save her son.

The layers begin to unravel. From a mean, vindictive, petty woman, Regina turns into a young girl who lost her happily ever after, and swore to deny the person responsible every chance at happiness as revenge. From the embittered witch that does so, she transforms into a mother terrified of losing her son, and willing to do anything to keep that from happening. This evil stepmother is apparently, an onion. That statement is hilarious for me but unfortunately, people don’t understand my sense of humour, so you probably think its lame. I apologize. Amidst much chortling.

By season two, Regina starts to see parallels between her mother and herself. She uses magic to keep Henry from escaping her clutches, the same way that her mother did with her so long ago. Whatever her reasons, she remains evil, you think. Ah hah! That’s where you’re wrong. In an episode which critics described as pivotal in Regina’s redemption, memories of Regina’s tortured childhood drives her to “free” Henry, allowing him to live with his grandfather, Prince Charming/David Nolan in the absence of Emma. Her redemption continues when, to keep a promise she made to Henry, Regina refrains from using magic, making a conscious effort to change and be a better person for Henry. Though once again, Snow and her daughter Emma keep Regina away from her happily ever after with her son, she doesn’t remain the static evil character throughout the show; she evolves, as a woman, a mother, a human being. She’s driven, not by insane hateful jealousy, but rather, by an aching loneliness from the ever-human yearning to be loved, channeled into vengeance against the person responsible for the loss of her happiness. In StoryBrooke, she’s driven by the same desire to keep the amnesiac Charming and Snow apart, but also, by love, love for her son, and her heart is broken time after time when Henry rejects her. She isn’t an evil, stone-hearted monster; she feels, loves, aches, weeps, and when Henry, out of his still-childish love for his mother, spends time with her, she smiles from happiness and contentment at being with her son.

So there you have it folks. An Evil Queen in a faerietales with a heart, layers of complexity, and more importantly, despite her power, frequently vulnerable, like all humans are. The brothers Grimm gave you countless women to hate simply because they were powerful females; Once Upon A Time gives you powerful females that you not only have difficulty hating, but can also relate to. Can anyone really blame a mother for trying to keep a son all to herself? For saying, “No, you gave him up for adoption and I gave him the love you denied him, how dare you come back and try to make any claim to the child that’s rightfully mine?” Can anyone blame a woman who lost the love of her life for her anger at those responsible, for trying to destroy that person’s happiness? We’ve all had dark moments when we have either come close, or done the same. I know I have. I know I’ve tried. At times, I’ve successfully stopped. Other times, I haven’t. And such is that darkness that to this day, I don’t regret a thing. That darkness, along with the knowledge of knowing there’s no justification for cruelty no matter how great the wrong (let’s not confuse justice with cruelty here)but being capable of both immense good and evil makes us human.

Like me, like you, like all of us, Regina is very much human. She’s capable of good, like saving a child’s life, and evil, striving to destroy that same child years later. And like all of us, she’s capable of learning, changing, redeeming herself, of leaving her past to be a better person for the sake of someone she loves. And isn’t that more interesting and realistic than the evil stepmothers of the Brothers Grimm?