Can you please do a meta of who Regina is at her core?
In some ways this is an easy question to answer. Kitsis tells us during the DVD commentary on 1.18 that this is the most evolved Regina there is, and that her entire character arc is to find her way back to this place. The heroic, selfless, and hopeful young woman who would risk her life for a stranger.
She was also a woman born with incredible destiny and magical power. So much raw power within her that when Rumple met her he shivered at the potential within her. This is the Dark One, a man who is probably the most knowledgeable connoisseur of magical power ever, and those who want to dismiss her really must face reality of this moment. Before training. Before Rumple. The magic was inherent to her.
But what was the nature of that magic. We are shown her struggling with her lessons under Rumple. The alternate reading from the “Regina is weak and was just a brilliant student” is that learning dark magic was fundamentally going against her nature. We know from Glinda, a character set up as the leading expert on magic in Oz, that only someone with the most powerful light magic could defeat Zelena. Magic much more powerful than Glinda herself possessed.
Regina’s difficulty learning magic from Rumple was not because she was less powerful than other magical characters. It was because she was going against the very nature of her magic. She was never meant to be a villain. The Evil Queen was not her destiny. Regina the Good was and her path was twisted.
It leads us back to a fundamental truth of the series.
Once the darkness was created and nurtured Regina lost sight of who she was. Ironically emphasized by her repeated insistence that she did know who she was. Every time people saw beyond the mask, Marian and Archie, both people presented as excellent judges of character looked at Regina and saw a woman who was lost.
And her own reactionary insistence that she knew who she was was the surest sign that they were right. When Regina is backed into a corner her instinct is always defiance. It is always to fight and refuse to be defined. The nature of her bluster allows us to see that the truth is the opposite of what she says. Regina during the Evil Queen period didn’t know who she was. And Regina really doesn’t love having to fight all the time.
Young Regina was a woman who despite as we know, already having a difficult life, believes in the power of love to change the world. This statement, that true love is the most powerful magic of all is even more powerful when you realize that Regina even at this point in her life is incredibly familiar with magic. She has seen raw power from her mother’s finger tips hurt and kill even before Daniel. She has learned to fear magic…. yet power to her doesn’t come from the ability to hurt but the ability to create happiness.
Regina would spend the rest of her life trying to find happiness, often misguidedly, but that search for happiness has defined her life. As has her respect for love. When she has lost herself it has come when she’s lost hope for love but not because she lost belief in it’s power.
Love might be weakness or strength at different points in her life but it is always the key to a person. The most important trait.
As cynical as she might seem, and as beaten down by her life, there is an incredible resiliency to Regina. The holder of the most resilient heart. And that shows not just in her ability to love deeply and passionately but also in the persistence of her belief in the power of the things her culture told her were more powerful than darkness: love and hope.
This moment on the rooftop may speak to a kind of heart breaking history of unfulfilled wishes…
… but conversely it also speaks about a woman who even after all those “useless” wishes continued to believe in their power. The amazing thing is not that her wishes weren’t answered. It was that she has kept making them.
Snow White may be the character we most associate with hope, but Regina is the character who most manifests a deep belief in it even though no one would fault her for giving up.
For Regina that search for happiness has always come strongly intertwined with family. Unfortunately for Regina she kept looking for that love and support from a woman who was never capable of giving it to her. When she was investing all of her desire for family in her mother she was always going to come back hurt and wounded.
But when she invested her heart with Henry all the damage Cora did slowly began to be undone. Henry taught Regina what true love and family could feel like and as soon as that happened she was determined to show that faith and give that strength Henry gave her to others.
Be it constantly reminding Emma in her darkest hour of who she was….
Or helping her longest enemy and oldest friend remember who she was.
To having faith in Zelena beyond all reason and offering her a hand out of the darkness that she had once been lost in herself.
And it goes beyond her immediate family. Because Regina, despite the fact that perhaps she never wanted power is a natural leader. Not because she is a queen but because she has a deep innate need to serve. Comments about infrastruture and beaucracy may be funny, and we can joke about a woman who loves doing paperwork even as her world is collapsing, but fundamentally all of these come down to a deep need to protect and to lead. Much more so than most of the other hcaracters who also hold leadership positions.
Both Snow and Charming lead in a way that speaks of a naive belief that people follow you because of a title. They are the prince and the princess and if they look the part the rest will follow. When Regina talks about leadership it actually comes from a place built on some of the fundamental values of how a leader has to think.
That leadership and heroism are different things. And that you can’t simply expect people to follow you for title or power or heroics, but because people have to trust that you will make the decisions that will serve them not just some idea of being a good or heroic individual.
But all of this also comes back to your original question. What is Regina at her core. Is it the nature of the woman before her life. Or is it who she is after the pain, and darkness, and love and loss.
I would say the striving to be better is her most fundamental trait now. One that recognizes that no she isn’t a hero for one act, or two, or ten. That heroism is something that happens in a moment. To be a hero you have to continuously work.
You have to self examine why you are doing these things. Is good done for your own gain (even if that gain is redemption) really good. Is heroism done for glory heroism?
And as utterly heart breaking as her current mindset is, it’s also an incredible statement about her fundamental goodness.
She doesn’t do good for glory. She doesn’t do good expecting reward. She doesn’t see doing good as it’s own reward. In fact it’s just the opposite. She sees doing good as being inherently painful but she does it anyway. This is intertwined in her belief about being a good leader. Sometimes you have to decide who is going to lose for the greater good.
Regina has made the choice that she will lose so that others can be happy.
And that is more remarkable, more special, more noble than any act of heroism she could possibly perform.