Regina Retrospective: At the End of OUAT
(pre-reboot/retool ouat anyway)
People who read my criticisms of OUAT probably think I hate Regina Mills. I don’t, not really, beyond some moments of venting. I post in the anti-regina tags sure, but that’s because in our hyper polarized fandom any analysis that isn’t glowing praise, any hint of criticism needs to stay in the anti tags. Main tags are for gush, anti tags are for any level of criticism, measured or firebrand. Thing is, looking at how things started I do honestly feel Regina could easily have been the richest character on this show.
And she wasn’t.
Due to a combination of rushing her redemption, refusing to allow her character to grow, an over-reliance on the Evil Queen aspect of her character, and outright whitewashing her crimes Regina ended up an utter waste of character potential.
Season 2 set her up so, so well. We got reasons for why she is the way she is, she actually sought therapy, there were bigger bads to face allowing her a chance at heroics, she acknowledged her wrongdoings and tried to make up for them. Even her backslide could be forgiven as we know she was scared of Cora.
But things started to go wrong after Cora died. Even ignoring the disservice it did to both Snow and Regina’s storylines (Snow angsts over killing someone who was going to kill them all while Regina snaps back to blaming Snow for Daniel’s death instead of ever putting the blame where it belonged, on Cora) we then got the stupid “kill magic” plot which a) once again showed how awful Regina was back when she was evil and b) ended up hinging on a superweapon that Regina herself made. Regina’s big redemption moment in the season finale is essentially cleaning up her own damn mess.
Imagine, if you will, that Greg and Tamara aren’t here causing issues. That instead Greg really was some random guy who drove into SB and the town doesn’t know what to do about it. Tamara is just Neal’s fiance, nothing more. Cora faked her death and tries to use Neal to get to Rumple or does something else to stay in the big bad position for the whole season. Instead of saying “well, Snow killed my abusive mom and my son still doesn’t want me to have custody of him, I’ll just kill everyone” Regina instead finds the strength to oppose Cora herself, to confront her abuser, the woman who killed her true love.
Now does that sound cool or what?
(Now we can’t be too hard on the end of s2, there were some hasty rewrites due to everyone’s favorite pirate’s actor getting injured, but notice the lack of Hook in the plot I just described? It could have been done. Hell Neal could have swung by the hospital to see Hook and they could have dealt with their relationship and history outside of how they relate as Emma’s love interests. And we still could have had Neverland be next.)
Ah, Neverland. More wasted potential for Regina. We already know she hates Emma, writers, having her be a bitch to Emma Swan is nothing new and just makes her look bad. Regina frees herself from a trap by declaring she has no regrets which, um, yeah, not good for someone who is technically on a redemption arc. We do confront and have her fix one of her misdeeds (Ariel) but also have her confronted by Tinkerbelle who rightfully calls her out. Such wasted potential for a friendship there by Tink just kinda vanishing.
The pattern after this is essentially Regina acts like a terrible person (usually in the vein of whining, being ungrateful, being ill-tempered, or taking very cruel actions the other heroes would never get away with but for her are excused) except in isolated moments when we’re supposed to feel sorry for her. She repeatedly wangsts about how she’s good now and thus should get what she wants while a) not really being all that good and b) being good just to get what you want isn’t being good. Add in constant flashbacks to her Evil Queen days of her doing awful things and you’ve really got to wonder what were the writers thinking? he never really progresses beyond that point. She might look like she’s going to but don’t worry, a backslide will put her right back where she was.
And I’ll admit, I have no idea what the writers thought they were doing in doing that. There is such a disconnect towards how everyone acts around Regina and what Regina has actually done that I have to imagine that several sombodies doing the writing thought something had gone down to fully redeem this woman in all ways and that she was a changed character…while they kept adding to her crimes and having her act like a terrible person. It feels like there are whole chunks of the show missing where Regina atoned for all her evil offscreen or something…which still does not explain her bad attitude and meanness to people who have done her no wrong.
And then we got to the ULTIMATE insult plot that was her season six storyline. In some bizarre acknowledgement that Regina still has a lot of the EQ in her (without acknowledgement that maybe she should start trying to make up for all the shit she did) the show literally splits off the EQ from Regina…while still having Regina act like Regina. Officially the potion splits off the part of yourself you don’t want people to know about so…Regina doesn’t want people to know she’s still evil…? Yeah, never addressed. And instead of finally learning to accept her history as an evil despot who ruined lives that she can start trying to make up for at any time there is a whole town of people you have hurt right there Regina sends her other self off to…live a happy life with an AU Robin? Huh? Split!EQ was practically a cartoon character at times I don’t expect he rto be capable of a full relationship…so yea you just sicced your worst aspects on the dream world. Assuming she’s not executed by AU!Henry.
So Regina got the magical retcon 4B denied her after all, she gets to be seen as totally separate from the bad part of herself (it should be noted again that Regina’ behavior does not change, nothing had in fact really been “removed” from her and she is not acting “good” without the EQ bit) and…yeah her arc’s over with that. That is the last bit of character development Regina really gets this season. We end on the weirdest version of redemption ever “just split off the part f you that did bad things and now you don’t have to feel guilty and no one will treat you like the bad guy anymore (not that very many people were treating her like one anymore anyway).
Something constantly reiterated in seasons 3 and 4 was “villains don’t get happy endings.” The show for some reason never took this to the conclusion of “but if you work hard to redeem yourself you are no longer a villain and thus can have a happy ending” which would have been the best route for Regina. Regina got her first happy ending with the curse, and when that was broken she seemed to associate “happy ending” with “get whatever it is I want right now” (Henry, Robin, a child to raise with Robin, and so on) and anything roadblocking that even slightly, even in a way that could be overcome with work, was treated as the whole universe being against her because villains are some nebulous group that just gets denied happy endings as the way of the world (instead of, say, as consequences for their actions).
Well Regina got her happy ending and if you ask me, she was still a villain at the end of it all just one who managed to get in enough with the good guys somehow to where they and everyone else utterly ignored it. At most she mellowed a bit. This is a woman who a season ago was threatening to murder another woman’s true love out of sheer jealously and got no pushback for it.
It reminds me of how Rich Burlew described the character development that Token Evil Teammate Belkar Bitterleaf underwent in The Order of the Stick thru the fifth arc: that of a sociopath progressing to a higher functioning sociopath who can at least work well with others to get what they want (Belkar even faked in-universe character development to stay relevant!). Regina is similar: she did not change; she simply learned how to play along enough to count as a member of the good guys. And apparently that was all the narrative dared ask from her.