‘Once Upon a Time’: In defense of Regina Mills

I’m a Once Upon a Time fan. A big one. I love Snow, and Charming, Emma and Hook. I ship Captain Swan so hard I’m like the first mate on the actual ship (Would that be the Jolly Roger? I’ve always wondered). I like fairy tales, and heroes, and I’m a sucker for true love and happily ever afters.  And yes, despite all those things, I happen to also love Regina Mills.

Contradiction? Not really.

What I love is good characters. And by good I don’t necessarily mean heroes. I mean well-constructed, interesting characters. Characters with depth, with history. Characters that grow, change, have setbacks, and don’t always make the right choices, but persevere. Characters that resemble actual human beings. And, okay, I also love characters with a hell of a lot of cheek.

I just described Regina then and there.

Now, I’m not going to stand here and say that the writing for Regina has been consistent, or that she hasn’t done some truly horrible things, because she has. At times, it seemed like the writers had no intention of redeeming her, and yet later, it was almost like, in order to do so, they were willing to ignore some pretty dark stuff. So, yes Regina is not a perfect character. Not a role model. Not exactly someone to root for.

But, boy, is she fun.

In fact, Evil Queen Regina is quite possibly, twice as funny as regular Regina, but the everyday version of her still retains about 75% of the sass. And, really, that’s like 60% more than anyone else on the show sans Hook. Maybe it takes an evil villain with a redemption arc to make us laugh in Once Upon a Time, and if that’s the case, then give me more, please!

Unless you’re going to try the redemption thing on Rumplestiltskin, and then, please, don’t. Regina has done some pretty awful things, but, even so, she’s earned her chance to mess up this redemption arc. Rumple? He hasn’t earned anything. Not yet, at least.

But, back to Regina. We know there’s a reason to everything she did. Not an excuse, a reason. It doesn’t mean we need to brush aside the Evil Queen phase of her life, but it means that we know why it happened. We can empathize with the choices that led her there. We’ve all made some really sucky decisions in the name of love. We’ve all lost our minds with pain. If we’d had magic, maybe we would have become villains ourselves.

We don’t exist in a fairy tale world, however, and so we aren’t held to the same standards of conduct.

Regina isn’t a good person, or, at the very least, she wasn’t one for the longest time in her life. She tried to be Snow’s friend, and yet, when a ten-year old girl couldn’t keep a secret, she held a grudge that, ultimately, led to Emma’s misery and twenty eight years of loneliness for Snow, Charming, and most of the other fairy tale characters. She also killed her father, basically took advantage of Graham for God knows how long, kept Belle as a prisoner just to have a bargaining chip over Rumple and neglected Henry to the point that he had to find refuge in a book.

Talk about needing perspective.

What Regina has never been good at, is placing the blame where it belongs. Cora was to blame for what happened with Daniel, not Snow. In fact, Cora is to blame for most of what happens to Regina. Yet, proving that introspection is not her forte, Regina “forgives” her mother much more quickly than she does Snow, tries to blame Emma for her problems with Henry, and, later on, lashes out at everyone when she doesn’t get what she feels she deserves.

But, this is part of the charm of Regina. She most certainly isn’t perfect. And, that’s a good thing. Fairy tales normally are. Even on a nuanced show like Once Upon a Time, some characters can be the embodiment of every good thing. (Just like some villains can be very one-dimensional).

And, hey, we all like our heroes, but, if we had our way, we’d like it more if those heroes were people we could relate to.

The Evil Queen is not a person we can relate to, no. But maybe, just maybe Regina Mills is.

Maybe the Regina that really, truly wanted to find the love of her life but was too scared to walk into that tavern is someone we can understand. Maybe the Regina who desperately wanted a baby, who loved that baby more than anything else in the world, and yet, never knew how to show that, is someone we can recognize. And perhaps, the Regina who lashed out when she felt wronged by Emma, by the fates, by the author, is someone we never ever want to become, but still empathize with.

There are many sides to Regina Mills. There’s the Evil Queen, there’s the Regina that shows up with Henry, and sometimes, even with Roland. There’s the in love Regina that we briefly saw with Daniel and now get to enjoy with Robin. And then, there’s the Regina who doesn’t really know how to be friends with Emma, or even with Snow, but is still sort of trying. There are a thousand Regina’s, each with its own quirks. Which means three’s a little something for everyone.

I’m not saying that you have to love her to enjoy the show. Of course not! You can hate her if you so desire. But what we most certainly can’t is imagine a show without her.

Once Upon A Time airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.

Lawyer. Dreamer. Geek. Eternal optimist. Fangirl since the dawn of time. Hates the color yellow, olives and cigarettes. Has a recurring nightmare where she’s forced to choose between sports and books. Falls in love with fictional characters.