“Once you blacken your heart it only grows darker.” So at the end of this week’s Once Upon a Time, “Welcome to Storybrooke,” the evil queen (Lana Parrilla) believes her revenge on Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) has ironically been set in motion, not by her own hand, but by Snow’s own. And who knows better than Regina about taking the dark path through life?
“Welcome to Storybrooke” is an episode packed with information and answers as we are transported back to the first days of the town, a place that doesn’t exist beyond its borders. To that very first day after Regina’s curse is enacted, bringing them all to a modern-day (but slightly surreal) New England town.
Awakening in 1983, Regina is delighted with her “win.” Everyone goes about their business as if they had done it “as long as anyone can remember.” But what they don’t remember, except for Regina, is their lives before Storybrooke.
But Regina has only gotten part of what she wanted. Yes, she’s put an end to the happiness of the Charming family. But she, herself, has not gotten that happy ending she has for so long craved.
Realizing that her curse hasn’t worked quite the way she wanted, she tinkers with it, but still, she acquires no happiness. No one loves her, and that is the one thing that has always eluded her.
Complaining to Mr. Gold in his shop, she insists this was not the deal they had made so long ago. But alas, it appears as if Mr. Gold, too has no recollection of life before Storybrooke. (Or does he, and is just not saying?)
The episode begins with a teaser that seems right out of The X-Files (and ironically guest stars John Pyper-Ferguson, who appeared on that iconic series in season five). A father (Pyper-Ferguson) and son, camping in the woods in 1983 experience a bizarre storm, but they soon discover the existence of Storybrooke. “It’s as if an entire town was dropped right on top of us,” says the bemused father to his son Owen.
Regina is surprised by their presence in her town; they don’t seem to belong there. They worry her, but she is drawn to the boy. In her own perverse craving for love, she mistakes the boy’s warmth for love, and schemes to keep him (and the dad) in Storybrooke. When she realizes that it’s a bit more complicated than just desiring it, she uses her power and magic to hold them both–until she realizes she cannot, and lets the boy go.
But that incident has now come back to haunt them all as we finally learn that the boy is all grown up and has reappeared as Greg Mendell, who has for all these years searched for his father, presumably still Regina’s captive. (Any takers for my bet that the dad is being kept in the Cuckoo‘s nest in the hospital basement?)
(By extension we also learn the meaning of Greg’s Star Wars ring tone. All these years he’s carried with him a lanyard keychain, given to him by his dad as a light sabre on that fateful camping trip. Cool, huh? Sometimes a ring tone isn’t just a ring tone. )
Both the flashback and the present-day story revolve around Regina’s complex desires of both love and power. She craves love, something denied to her by her own mother for so many years, but the only way she knows how to get it is to use magic and force it, whether that’s in controlling Sheriff Graham’s heart or scheming to control Henry’s.