Episode Review: Once Upon a Time 5×22 & 5×23

Okay.  I don’t want to be hyperbolic and say that this is the worst pair of episodes this show has ever seen but…this is the worst pair of episodes this show has ever seen!

Clearly, I delayed watching these episodes. Partly, that was because I was on vacation overseas with limited time and internet, but it was also because I’d seen hints of what was to come on Tumblr and did not like it.

Let’s start with the one single thing I liked:

Every time Regina and Emma interact, it is perfection. Seriously, these two play off each other so well, and both actresses are brilliant. Emma’s deadpan Straight Man attitude is such a great foil to Regina’s snark. And I will never get tired of them being called Henry’s parents. Oh, if only Hook had stayed dead, think what could have become of Regina and Emma! I mean, look at Regina – hardened, reserved Regina is so vulnerable with Emma. For a crappy pair of episodes, that speech Regina gave about the two sides warring within her was beautiful. I just wish it hadn’t been foreshadowing for what came next.

Okay, now for the bad:

First of all, this whole Author thing is ridiculous. So Henry literally has the power to alter reality? He’s basically a God? That’s a ludicrous thing to have on your show, because what’s the point of any action if there exists the possibility of just writing it down to make it happen? I mean, why didn’t Henry just write magic out of the world? Or why not write himself a solution to ending magic? What’s the point of anything if he has these powers? This is Writing Rule #1, foks: you don’t put God in your story.

Speaking of Henry, there was way too much of him in this episode. I don’t know if it’s the character or the actor, but he is just so grating. I don’t mind him so much when he’s just hovering in the background, but he was basically the lynch pin of these two episodes, which meant he was in the spotlight all the time. The dude just makes me cringe; he’s so embarrassing. One minute he wants to end magic, the next he’s giving a speech on how magic can be good. Talk about being a moody teenager.

Also, not to get all pedantic librarian on you, but what the hell was up with that scene in the NYPL? I’m assuming Henry and Violet were going to the Brooke Astor Russell Reading Room, but that’s not a room full of rare books – it’s just a reading room where you can read material requested from the Rare Books Division. And even if it was the collection of rare books, no librarian is just going to let a couple of teenagers (with their coats and bags!) into the archives and just leave them there to do whatever they want. And no one’s been to the Rare Books Division in years because they’re too busy reading YA? That is not only a pointless dig at the YA genre, but also a sanctimonious commentary on those who read YA and an unbelievable statement. No one in New York City has used the Rare Books Division in years? I’m sorry, what alternate dimension of New York City have we fallen through?

Then we have the whole Jekyll/Hyde situation. I’m still not clear on how the gang fell through the portal, but I suppose the plot needs them to be there, though what an awful plot it is. This is the best the writers could come up with? The Evil Queen is back? Not only is that basically rehashing the earlier seasons, it is a complete slap in the face to Regina’s character growth.

Throughout this episode, I was uncomfortable with the way Regina kept referring to “the Evil Queen” in the third person, like she was a literal alter ego, but I didn’t think much of it because I assumed that was just Regina’s coping mechanism. This was her way of dealing with the horrible crimes she’s committed in her past, by trying to separate her current self from them. I never thought the writers would literally separate her past self from her present self. Because that’s the thing: when I talk about past and present Regina, I’m still talking about the same person. The Evil Queen is the same woman we see today, not some separate entity who exists to exonerate Regina of all the wrong she’s done.

Regina tells Emma she feels heavy guilt all the time, but that’s not an indication that there’s something wrong – Regina should feel guilty. I enjoy Regina as a character very much, but she is a mass murderer. She’s committed horrible, horrible acts – including massacring an entire village. That she feels guilty means that she’s becoming a better person, because she’s truly regretful. That she will continue to struggle for the rest of her life is just something she has to live with, and considering what she’s done, it should be a small price to pay. It also makes for a fascinating narrative – a woman struggling to come to terms with what she’s done and trying her best to hold back the darkness.

Instead, all that is trashed. What is the point of Regina’s entire redemption arc if now the new canon is that the Evil Queen is not really Regina but totally and completely separate from her? Not to mention, none of this makes any sense. I know I should know better than to expect too much logic from this show, but it’s always made sense in terms of its own rules, at least! I don’t understand what this is or where we’re going with this? What does this even mean for Regina, now that she is free of the Evil Queen? Is she the same person? Does she no longer feel guilt over her acts because she’s convinced herself she wasn’t the one who committed them? And what is the Evil Queen, anyway? A manifestation of Regina’s past self or all of her dark impulses (which we all have)? Does this mean she will no longer struggle with making a choice between what is right and what is easy?

This makes absolutely no sense.

Worse than all of this is that the episode was boring. It was boring and utterly predictable.

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