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TV Review: Once Upon a Time – “Welcome to Storybrooke”

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“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.

About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • WML

    I really liked this episode. It’s great to see Regina get some love (or not get love). Good acting by Lana and the Sheriff (Jamie Dornan, you are missed). I am glad to see that Henry still loves his mom. She’s not totally lost, The struggle in Regina has always been her need to be loved. I wonder what happens when she finds out that Greg is the boy she lost all those years ago. And I wonder who the unlikely hero will be.

  • Betsy

    I kind of thought Gold’s comment about Regina being more dangerous than Cora because she has a heart was very wise because he above all else knows what it’s like to seek vengeance out of the loss of a loved one. Post-wraith, Gold has done nothing to seek revenge on Regina and, in fact, this entire season has seen him on a beautiful, slow, realistic redemption arc.

    I love him so much….

  • Alli Purple

    This a random thing I was thinking about: Episode 19 (I think) is entitled “The Evil Queen.” What if it’s Snow? I mean, it would make sense with her heart growing darker and all. And we’ve seen the good sides of Rumple and Regina, and I honestly think it would be really cool to see that happen. I don’t know, just a thought.

  • Barbara Barnett

    Interesting theory.

  • WML

    You can tell that Rumple does not really like the man that he has become, that aside from Belle seing the good in him, he loves Belle because she allows him to find the good in himself. His redemption is not complete if he only does things because he wants to please Belle. It will only be complete when he is no longer happy to be deluding himself with falsehoods. Notice what Rumple tells Snow when she asked him how he can live with himself. “If you say it often enough you may even believe it yourself”, or something to that effect. It was a comment filled with regret and a knowledge that deep down, he knows that he has done harm. And this would not have been possible, I don’t think, without Belle’s love. The Rumple before Belle would not help the Charmings to the degree that he is doing in this episode. He is now capable of showing empathy for others. And he seems to even care. This is Rumple before the curse. Manifested in Gold, in limited amounts. I think Belle would really be proud of how he really is changing.

  • barbara barnett

    “If you say it often enough you may even believe it yourself”, or something to that effect. It was a comment filled with regret and a knowledge that deep down, he knows that he has done harm.

    This was a gorgeous line reading by Carlyle. He imbued with centuries of regret and a lifetime of experience. Brilliant. One line that carries with pages and pages of subtext.

  • Jo

    Barbara, do the writers know that Snow White had a sister named Rose Red?

  • Robin

    The tale “Snow-White and Rose-Red” is actually a different story from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”. Different characters, same name.

  • Jane E

    I really enjoyed this episode. It took some unexpected twist. I loved Rumple guarding Snow White, a bit shocking. I also enjoyed Henry the peace maker and can’t wait to find out how Regina adopted him. I think your right Owen plays a part in this.

  • brittin

    I Just watched this Once Upon a Time Episode 18 Promo.