A Case for Evil Dearies
Be warned: massive essay below the cut :)
And, in case anyone disagrees/thinks that I am biased one way or the other, I mean absolutely no offense to any Oncers of any persuasion. I love you all.
Spoilers for 2x05 ‘The Doctor’
I love Regina. I love Rum. I have loved Rum longer than Regina (really, I only started even liking her in the finale of season 1), but love them both I do.
I also completely love (and saw coming ages ago) the whole apprenticeship arc. I love that he corrupted her, and that we have a Rumpelstiltskin who is as much a villain as he was made out to be. This man is not simply misunderstood, at this point, and he is not evil only when it is absolutely needed: he has gone off the rails, is as high on power and magic as anyone we’ve seen on this show, and has no qualms about corrupting an already unstable young woman for his own ends. He is evil. And, when she is sending children to their deaths and raping the Huntsman, Regina is evil too. Neither at these lowest points were more or less than monsters.
Regina wanted magic to bring back her true love. Rumpelstiltskin wanted magic to protect (and now get back to) his son. And it is canon on this show, as of Charming’s mother’s words in The Shepherd, that true love applies to both both parent/child and romantic love. So in my mind, the ends amount to the same thing, essentially.
Regina essentially killed her mother (or at least did to her mind, by pushing her through a mirror with no idea what waited on the other side); Rumpelstiltskin killed Milah. Rumpelstiltskin pre-Curse wouldn’t have dreamed of such a thing, and neither would Regina before she lost Daniel and before she called on Rum for help.
I am a Dearie and a Rumbeller; everyone knows this. And Rumpelstiltskin’s actions toward the corruption of Regina, even in this episode, change nothing of that fact. Because when Belle met him, Rumpelstiltskin was this monster. Falling in love with Belle started him on the very, very long road to redemption, and we can see after he loses Belle that he stops doing randomly evil things: everything is bent on getting the curse cast ASAP.
For Regina, this had to happen later. She lost Daniel, yes, but that sent her on the spiral into evil, the same way as gaining the Dark powers did Rumpelstiltskin. Her redemption started the moment Henry bit that apple turnover. She lost a love, and he was dead and lost the way Belle was for so long to Rum.
Now she has a second chance, the same way Rumpelstiltskin does.
I get all of this as an arc, and it’s very interesting storytelling, the parallels and the intersections. Both lost love, both focused anger on people who probably didn’t deserve it, and both killed people close to them in a fit of anger.
I think it’s very very interesting that Regina is the one who took Belle away, because Rumpelstiltskin essentially took Daniel away in the same way, and she didn’t even know it. He stopped that chance - despite the fact we know Frankenstein’s plan wouldn’t have worked anyway - and made her finally believe she’d never get Daniel back. That made her his ‘monster’. Equally, Regina made Rumpelstiltskin believe Belle was dead and it was his fault. She stopped their chance at a reunion or a happy ending in FTLand, or at least she thought she did. But far from making Rum worse, that started the road to him getting better.
These two characters are so incredibly intertwined, and so important to one another’s decent into evil and rise back to redemption, that I’m starting to wonder how anyone at this point can be a fan of one and loathe the other.
But this is where we get to my issues with this show’s storytelling: I should have felt this way after season 1. Regina is suddenly shown to be a woman with weaknesses and flaws but also a great capacity for innocence and good. She is all of a sudden humanised. We have not seen a glimpse of the Evil Queen proper since We Are Both, and even then she was muted by Henry’s presence by the end of the episode, and a - seemingly sudden - desire for redemption.
Stable Boy didn’t start this, not for me at least, because of her last FTLand line “I should have let her die on that horse”. At this point, Lana Parilla shows perfectly the moment when the Evil Queen slides over baby!Regina’s face, and all her anger is focused on little baby!Snow. That mask apparently stayed there until the curse broke in Storybrooke and Henry was gone. Except now, apparently, it wasn’t there until after Frankenstein.
And there was my problem with Regina last season: the show made all her anger about Snow. It made her simply and basically a villain, with a tragic past, yes, but also who allowed that past to just destroy her in that one moment, never to rise again. Whereas now, in season 2, with that as canon, suddenly she was a young girl struggling with power and morality even after Daniel’s death. Suddenly Snow is barely mentioned, and Regina appears free to come and go as she pleases, and it’s hard to understand how this girl could lose any more and justify becoming the Evil Queen.
I’m left with the question of why, if “I want to be free” is Regina’s mantra now, she doesn’t just… go. Find a teacher of magic who isn’t going to make her rip the heart out of a unicorn. If she’s still a girl batted between powerful players - from Cora to Rum through Jefferson and back to Rum again - then how does she become the Evil Queen?
How does it make sense that the girl who couldn’t kill a unicorn at the beginning suddenly loses a last-ditch, patently ridiculous effort to get back her true love, and this pushes her over the edge? Why is it that losing to Frankenstein something she didn’t have back in the first place pushes her into black leather and evil when losing Daniel in the first place appears not to? She didn’t have Daniel back and have to kill him herself in FTLand; she didn’t have Daniel back and watch someone else destroy him.
She lost Daniel, and was still the innocent, good, conflicted girl she was before, according to We Are Both. But losing a last-ditch chance at getting him back she only heard of five minutes ago pushes her into evil cackling insanity?
How is her anger not toward Frankenstein for failing, toward Cora for ripping out Daniel’s heart, toward Rumpelstiltskin for giving her the power, or toward Leopold for forcing her into marriage? How is Regina’s anger - as season 1 repeatedly told us - solely focused on Snow?
And how, now that she’s trying to be good in Storybrooke, is she capable of destroying Daniel after getting him back, and not going psycho at someone? How is she not right back into a spiral of evil, when it took way less than that before? How did she not even break and go after Whale even once, how did she not need Henry or even Charming to set her straight and send her back to Archie?
The redemption arcs are, I feel, uneven. Rumpelstiltskin lost Belle this season the same way Regina lost Henry, and yet Regina is being set up in flashbacks as some wounded, scarred, manipulated victim, where more and more Rumpelstiltskin is shown as the villain. Last season it was reversed: Regina’s flashbacks, aside from Stable Boy, were all of her as the cackling villain; Rumpelstiltskin however received Desperate Souls, Skin Deep and The Return all as episodes that softened the blow of his later evil deeds enormously.
Now, all we see of Regina is her as a softhearted, unjustly maligned victim. We are Both and The Doctor were both full of this, and no other episode has harked back to Season 1’s Evil Queen. Rumpelstiltskin is cackling and steering her wrong - In We Are Both and in The Doctor, and his wraith-summoning in Broken and killing of Milah in The Crocodile does little to soften this. In my opinion, this combines to give a general impression - at least to some viewers - that Regina’s later evil was all Rumpesltiltkin’s fault for corrupting her.
I think both characters came from unfortunate backgrounds. Both lost loves, both were mistreated by someone close to them who had more control, and both felt powerless before they found magic. They’re very similar, and their arcs are interesting parallels. However, by making Rum seem softer last season and Regina this season, and by sending Cora away so early in Regina’s spiral to evil, the scales seem retroactively unbalanced.
Last season, it appeared that both came to darkness separately: now it seems the writers are skewing us toward favouring one over the other. By kicking Cora out while Regina is still sweetly naive and mostly innocent, and making Rum her corrupter, it’s harder to see her as the baddie in episodes like Skin Deep, when she goes after the things he loves. She is still the bad guy for not only stealing Belle and harming her but then lying about it, but after Rumpelstiltskin’s deal with Frankenstein in The Doctor, it’s hard to see that she didn’t at least have precedent for such actions.
I’m all for later revelations changing the meaning of earlier episodes, but this changes the dynamic of the show to a power game between Rum and Regina, and everyone else is a pawn. I like this idea, but it’s too late for them to set it up now: this should have happened in season 1. If we’d had perhaps an episode like The Doctor around the time of The Return, where Storybrooke!Rum’s first cracks showed, with young!Regina struggling with power, before the start of Stroybrooke Regina’s redemption, this would seem more natural.
But now it seems they’re rewriting her history, making her less a villain so they won’t have to account for her worst crimes, which are worse than anything Rumpelstiltskin did. I’m worried, therefore, that these lovely paralleled redemption arcs won’t be as satisfying as they should be, because the writers overdid Regina’s evil at the start. By making her the villain in every story - Hansel and Gretel for example, and The Huntsman’s rape - she cannot be redeemed without a lot harder work now. Instead they make her back-story more tragic, and pin the blame on Rumpelstiltskin.
So, essentially, it is uneven writing and a lack of structure that is to blame for any difference in morality between our antiheroes. Both were stepped on and abused in their youth, both lost someone very important to them, and both allowed magic to corrupt and turn them evil. But in saving the scenes of Regina’s actual corruption for their second season, and making Rumpelstiltskin her apparent sole corrupter, the writers have made a false imbalance appear.
If their lovely parallels are to work as they should, they should indeed be parallel. The same amount of sad back-story episodes should have happened to both Rum and Regina, and at around the same time. We should each week have been torn as to who we now rooted for, before these redemption arcs truly began after cursebreak. We needed Desperate Souls, Skin Deep, and The Return last season for exposition. But equally, we therefore needed the Regina FTLand back-story sections of not just Stable Boy, but also We Are Both and The Doctor all in the same season.
We might then have come into this season feeling that both characters had the same right to redemption. But by weighing Rumpelstiltskin down with such an influx of evil deeds, and balancing it with sudden victimisation, manipulation and innocence on Regina’s part, the scales feel unbalanced. The parallels are lost, and we feel we need to side with a victim against a monster.
We shouldn’t be condemning Rumpelstiltskin now any more than we should have Regina last season. We shouldn’t have wars between Evil Regals claiming that Rumpelstiltskin is to blame for the Evil Queen, and Dearies claiming he shoulders less blame than he does. Both have done evil, both are responsible for causing massive pain to others, and both deserve to be redeemed if they put in the work now, with Belle and Henry respectively. We should, really, all be Evil Dearies, if the had done its job right, and/or starts making a better effort from now on.