Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 2 Episode 15 – The Queen Is Dead:
One of the more interesting narratives for this season of Once Upon A Time has been the question of what, exactly, we suffer for standing by our principles. You’d need all ten fingers and all ten toes to count the number of times our heroes would have been better served just killing their enemies in their tracks. Whether it’s Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle), Regina (Lana Parrilla), Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) or Cora (Barbara Hershey), it would be easy to imagine the number of lives that might have been saved had any number of our protagonists had taken the low road. But then they wouldn’t necessarily be heroes, at least not in the traditional sense. They’d be something more like anti-heroes: sympathetic figures with whom we’re meant to identify, but who have a darker shade to their actions/attitudes. More often than not, they do what needs to be done, in service of the greater good. Sure, they might not be as pure-hearted as your average hero, but they understand the utility of morally ambiguous actions. “The Queen Is Dead” forces our ostensible heroes to confront the notion that maybe they’ve been doing this all wrong. Maybe the path of least resistance is the path away from death and heartache, even if it’s a slippery-slope down from the moral high ground.
The episode mostly details, through flashbacks, the relationship between a young Snow White (guest star Bailee Madison, who is as scarily good as ever in her role as a young Ginnifer Goodwin) and her mother, Queen Eva (Rena Sofer). Initially, we see that Snow White was actually kind of a brat before her mother’s good parenting started to sink in, as Snow laces into a servant for touching her family’s precious heirloom tiara. Queen Eva gives her the business for being disrespectful, instilling in Snow the value that all of the subjects of the kingdom are equal, and deserve respect (a cute notion, surely, but the kingdom isn’t going to go to hell if one servant dies, for instance). When Queen Eva suddenly takes ill, the servant, Johanna (Downton Abbey‘s Lesley Nicol), tells Snow of how her mother can be saved using magic from the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy). Snow sets off into the woods and meets the Fairy, who gives Snow a candle made with dark magic — it will save Queen Eva’s life, but in exchange, another life must be offered. However, Snow can’t bring herself to do this. Her mother’s teachings are too far ingrained. Snow apologizes to her mother on her deathbed for her weakness in not being able to go through with the sacrifice, but Queen Eva instead praises her strength, and tells Snow to always maintain that goodness within her. Unfortunately, as is so often the case in the real world, simple goodness isn’t enough — Queen Eva dies, and the funeral is held on what would have been Snow White’s birthday (explaining her perpetual misery on every birthday from then on).
This Fairy Tale World story about the pull of darkness is paralleled in Storybrooke, as Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) discovers Cora and Regina’s plan to recover Gold’s dagger. She tries to plant the seed of doubt in Regina’s mind as to her mother’s true motives, while trying to figure out a plan of action with David (Josh Dallas). Long story short, Snow and David recover the dagger, but Regina and Cora materialize and force Snow to make a choice: hand them the dagger, or they’ll kill Johanna (who’s apparently been in Storybrooke this whole time, because sure). It’s here that Snow learns that Cora had been disguised as the Blue Fairy on that fateful night so many years ago, and had offered her the candle as part of a long-con to tempt Snow White into darkness — which itself is simply facet of a larger ploy to get Young Regina seated on the throne.
Even though Johanna pleads with Snow not to give over the dagger, and despite the fact that handing over the dagger to the most evil person in the show’s history will damn every last one of them, Snow simply can’t bring herself to allow an innocent to die. She turns over the dagger to Cora…who then kills Johanna anyway, sending her flying out the window in one of TV’s finest defenestrations in quite some time, if I do say so myself. After Johanna is put in the ground later that day, Snow comes to the realization that sticking by her principles has gotten her nowhere in life. Quite the contrary, actually, as her fidelity to goodness has caused more than just a handful of deaths and heartaches. Snow recognizes that her goodness has filled the ground with her friends and family, while Regina’s family mausoleum remains completely empty. It may be a darker path for the show to take, but it was hard not to be satisfied by Snow announcing her resolve to kill Cora/Regina. It’s a change that Snow realizes had to come, and really, it’s a change that has been long in coming for the character, as goodie-good Snow White was never really as interesting as the wise-cracking, Robin Hood-esque Snow White we first met in the Fairy Tale flashbacks of season one. This could mark a renaissance for the character. There’s also a pretty strong bit of development in the conflict between Regina and Cora, as Regina deduces that Cora set up the fateful first meeting between she and Snow White by scheduling a riding lesson when she knew that Snow would be passing through. I find it weird that I was as roped into that revelation as I was, given that it doesn’t really change anything in a huge way, other than sowing further seeds of doubt in Regina as to Cora’s true motives. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a good, long, drawn-out gambit. I’m not sure there are any who do the long-con better than Cora at this point.
The remainder of the episode further details Gold’s conflicted relationship with Bae/Neal (Michael Raymond-James), while also getting into Neal navigating the foreign waters of fatherhood with Henry (Jared S. Gilmore). It’s a quaint little storyline that gets a bit more complicated when Hook incapacitates David, retakes his hook, and sails the Jolly Roger to New York, just so he can stab Gold with the poison-tipped hook. With time running out, Neal and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) go searching for a car to take Gold to a ship so they can sail back to Storybrooke and use the magic necessary to save his life. Because if The Walking Dead has taught us nothing, it’s that nothing beats a good fetch quest. The storyline also furthers a potential reigniting of Neal’s romance with Emma, as the two slowly get used to being in each other’s company…before lowering the boom in the closing moments of the episode, as Emma learns that Neal has a fiance, a beautiful woman named Samara. I don’t know if I’m really invested in an Emma/Neal romance, although I suppose, at the very least, it brings several disparate elements of the OUAT world together. But I do enjoy the presence of Bae/Neal, who brings a world-weary resignation to the proceedings, reconciling the two aspects of his own personal history: the Fairy Tale part, and the Modern Man. It’s an enjoyable characterization to watch onscreen, in my opinion.
“The Queen Is Dead” is a pretty fascinating look into the implications of sticking to our guns. Not unlike magic, goodness comes with a price, and with each passing week it falls to our heroes to measure whether it’s a price worth paying anymore. On the strength of this premise, “The Queen Is Dead” proves to be one of the more engaging, compelling episodes this season.