Whoever thought I’d be writing a piece saying I’m thankful for the Evil Queen? Certainly not my younger self, that’s for sure.
Snow White might not have made a big impression on me when I was a kid, but the Evil Queen did. She was awful. The worst villain I’d ever seen in my entire life. Maybe it was the visual, which, for a little girl, was stunning. All that purple! Maybe it was the transformation into the creepy old lady. Or perhaps it was that, back then, I still saw the world in black and white. I didn’t understand the Evil Queen, nor did I want to.
Many years later, the feeling as Lana Parrilla, playing a rather dashing version of the Evil Queen made her appearance, was pretty much the same. Sure, the clothes had improved exponentially, and the sass was on point, but I was never one to fall for the villains.
Or so I thought.
Loving Regina, or even liking her was next to impossible at first. Unless you’re one of the people who go for the bad guys, I mean. Sure, she was (is) stunning, can really deliver a one-liner, and yes, the wardrobe department has made its name purely on her costumes, but she wasn’t exactly…nice. Or sympathetic. In Season 1, Regina was a one-dimensional character. She seemed to care for Henry, but we weren’t even sure of that. And, well, she seemed to care for her revenge.
That’s it. That’s all I got from Season One Regina. A somewhat tragic backstory and a bitter woman.
So, if you ask me if I liked her from the start, the answer is no. I didn’t. I despised her. She was the bad guy, I was supposed to. And I’m very good at doing what the writers expect me to do. I ship my canon ships, like my likeable characters, and I’m usually happier for it. But then the script changed. The actress changed. Or who knows, maybe I changed.
Redemption arcs can be wonderful or they can be messy and complicated. Regina’s falls in the second category – and that’s why I love her. I hate easy things. I don’t usually fall in love with heroes who have no reason to be heroes. I might like them, but to love a character, I need to understand him, to connect with him. I need to see what makes him tick.
Our Evil Queen wasn’t born evil – and yet, few characters are. She’s the perfect example of evil being created because of circumstance. In a way, she became her mother to not be like her mother, and how relatable is that? She didn’t want to be evil, didn’t set out to be, and even when she was the evilest in all the land, she never saw herself as the villain. Rumplesiltskin was a villain, she was justified.
And no, that doesn’t make her easier to like, but it does make her much more real.
Life is hard. Changing is hard. It takes self-awareness and strength and, most of all, it takes dedication. That’s why you can’t change for someone else – that’s why Regina couldn’t do it just for Henry. She had to find a way to want it for herself before it could even have a chance of happening.
And no one can say this Regina doesn’t want it. You can say she hasn’t earned it, not yet, and you might be right. She did some awful things. But, deserve it or not, I like this version of Regina who’s fighting for her happy ending. I like when we think she’s finally on the right path and then she stumbles again, I love it when she fails and gets back up to try again.
So I’m thankful for Regina too. Thankful for the Evil Queen who didn’t want to be evil, and yet chose to be; I’m thankful for the woman who stepped away from the darkness, and then did it again, and again and again.
I’m also thankful for Lana Parrilla.
Token good guys and token bad guys are easy to play. Nuanced characters that are not black or white, but shades of grey, however, are not. The beauty of the performance is in the quiet moments, in the breaks between the Evil Queen and the good person – in those instances where you don’t really know what she’s going to choose, who she’s going to be. That’s where Lana Parrilla excels.
Score another one for the magnificent Once Upon A Time casting department.
Of course, Regina’s journey is nowhere near done. She’s what you would call a work in progress. She’s a fun character, yes, but she’s not who we want her to be, not yet. She still needs to take a hard look at herself and own up to some harsh truths. She still needs actual resolution with some of the people she’s wronged. And she still needs a fully realized romantic arc that allows her to not only love the way she hasn’t done since Daniel, but allow herself to be loved in return.
But we’ve got Regina for a while, and I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful that the writers will allow us the chance to continue on this journey with her. I’m thankful for the reminder that good isn’t always easy and evil isn’t always simple. I’m thankful.
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.