In the immortal words of Rihanna, "How 'bout a round of applause?" for "I'll Be Your Mirror", arguably the best episode of Once Upon A Time since Season 6 began. The show opened up by zeroing in on something small and personal and kept the drama personal, grounding its b-story in the relatable tween romance of Henry (Jared S. Gilmore). Its opening in particular was specific and captivating, with a cinematic split screen montage of Charming (Josh Dallas) and Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) dealing with the day to day of their shared sleeping curse.
Oh man, this really actually gave me feels, the two leaving flowers and videos and notes for each other and Charming doing the bulk of the chores. These two may have been boring baby-snatching scolds for the last couple seasons but this reminded me how electric their chemistry can be when one of them is asleep and/or they're pining for each other. I honestly could have watched about three more hours of this montage. Or just, you know, several episodes of people dealing with living in a modern society in small, specific, relatable ways, which this show does really well but not really often.
Also Emma (Jennifer Morrison) finally confessed her undying love to Regina (Lana Parilla) when Regina offered to kill herself to get rid of the Evil Queen and Emma was like, "No Gina, I could die this season (lol) and the only thing that keeps me going is the thought Henry would have you to raise him instead of his grandparents who are, let's face, it a mess."
Obviously the real love story and heart of the series is Emma and Regina going from enemies to interdependent co-parents, and it's always great when the series takes a moment to examine that, this time through the lens of Henry worrying Violet was no longer in to him and would stand him up at the Middle School Fall Formal.
Also, MIDDLE SCHOOL? I guess Henry has missed a lot of classes but ladies, get it together. I almost agree with the Evil Queen for chastising Emma and Regina for failing as his moms.
The Evil Queen had pulled the old switcheroo with a magic mirror and used it to send Emma and Regina off into a land of literally a hundred green screens while she gave Henry some REAL parenting.
Of course, being the Evil Queen, this soon ramped up into her trying to get him to take the life of an innocent man who had morphed into a dragon. I have to say, this whole run of the Evil Queen trying to corrupt Henry so he would have more empathy for her was interesting and subtle and heartbreaking. As everyone keeps telling her again and again, nobody cares about the Evil Queen, nobody loves her, and yet she clearly loves Henry. She is his mom, she apparently carries memories and affection for him that are unique to her. Given the series' inconsistent portrayal of Darkness -- it is conveniently a literal, physical manifestation of evil or a metaphor for making selfish choices, as the plot demands -- we're left to wonder if the Evil Queen, like Regina, could be easily fixed with a little empathy.
Yeah, it's weird to come off of the "Dark Swan" arc, where Emma reiterated again and again that becoming the Dark One hadn't changed her and she was still the same person inside and she was making moral, autonomous decisions, and then to be told the Evil Queen is pure evil.
And then clearly, at the end of the episode, she was struggling with Rumple's (Robert Carlyle) assignment to go kill her biological sister, Zelena. I don't think the show is trying to say anything nuanced with this, not intentionally. Rather, the ambiguity of the show comes from reaching for the most convenient definition of self-determination in any episode, and Parrilla's incredibly ability to portray a transparent ambivalence that she can't seem to turn off.
Be pure evil, Lana! Corrupt Henry!
No seriously. You're just a villain, look evil.
The acting sometimes elevates the material to a point where it's unclear what's supposed to be going on, and hey, that's compelling in its own way.
Also, I know I praised the beginning of the episode for showing the small, personal ways modern people would deal with a fairy tale problem but never in my wildest dreams did I ever want to see Beauty and the Beast's painful acrimonious divorce.
Yikes, just yikes.
-Is Lily the Dragon's daughter?
-How exactly did Henry free... eh, who cares.
-Would it be possible to reform the Evil Queen into a Nice Version of Herself and then pass her and Regina off as twins?
-Do middle schoolers in 2016 watch John Hughes movies? Do they also read MAD magazine, drink Orange Juliuses at the mall, and play Atari?
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.