Once Upon a Time season 7 offers up a heartbreaking Regina-centric hour that highlights an important change for the character.
Over six seasons of Once Upon a Time, Regina always seemed to get the short end of the stick. Daniel dies, Cora’s horrible, Rumpel channels her magic for evil, Robin dies, her sister is a lunatic, and she struggles to overcome her past.
Lana Parilla carries Regina’s struggles with grace and conviction. Every heartbreak, let down, and new family member reveal gives her the chance to steal the show.
And season 7 is no different. In the sixth episode of the season, “Wake Up Call,” Parilla delivers what might be her greatest performance to date. Leading up to the episode’s final reveal, we watch as Regina meets Drizella in the alternate Enchanted Forest.
Who invites their mother to another realm with the hope that she will tag along on all your ass-kicking dates? Henry Mills, that’s who. In an attempt to keep flashbacks, a staple Once narrative device, Regina and Hook both need to be present in Henry’s adventure.
While this could get really old, really fast, Once Upon a Time leans into the oddity and shows Regina struggling as the third wheel in Henry’s budding romance. She soon finds a purpose as she stumbles upon a young woman bogged down by frustration and disappointment.
Regina sees Drizella as a protégé, someone whom she can guide and mentor as she discovers her powers. Regina attempts to sway the young woman away from the path she took many years ago. She is not this girl’s mother, nor does she try to act that way. Instead, Regina recognizes the signs a young woman taking umbrage with her parent. If she can channel that aggression productively, maybe she can set Drizella on a different path.
However, her good intentions backfire and Drizella not only turns her heart black the first chance she gets, but drags everyone around her into her plot for vengeance. History repeats itself before Regina’s eyes.
If Regina’s season 6 arc asks, “Can Regina ever separate herself from her past?” then season 7 answers definitively, “No.” And that is not a bad thing. We watch Regina live and learn and grow from her days as the Evil Queen. This struggle has done a great deal to inform her character.
We know how it informs her identity in the present. For six seasons, we’ve watched her grapple with this. She fights, she cries, but she never gives up, thanks in large part to the people around her. But there is one part of her identity that we do not get to unpack enough – being a mother.
Regina as mother, not Evil Queen
Season 7 is not moving us away from the conflict, but throwing us back into it head first. When Emma showed up many moons ago, Regina felt threatened, as if her days with Henry were numbered.
Henry struggled as well. Emma, a person who had no business being a mother, suddenly took this wide-eyed boy into her life and chose to lean into belief. But by opening the door for Emma, Henry inadvertently set his mother on her path to redemption. The Evil Queen overshadowed the woman who choose Henry, who raised him, who loved him.
In the Enchated Forest flashbacks, Regina tells Henry, “Whatever else I’m supposed to do with my life, I’m your mother first. ‘Cause without that, I just don’t know how to be.” Through all the curses and lost loves, Regina always had Henry. He believed in her when no one else did and always saw the good.
Naturally, this new role (Roni) seems to be a victory for our beloved heroine. She struggles, sure, but doesn’t go down easy. We see the Regina inside of her, but little did we know just how close to the surface her old persona lurked. She is the mother figure the town flocks to, their therapist, their sounding board, and provides a place of refuge.
As we watch Roni and Henry grow closer, Drizella recognizes that it’s time to break up this family reunion. This means goodbye Roni and hello, Regina. With her memories restored, Regina now handles the hardest task of all – confronting Henry not as a mother, but as an outsider who must destroy his happiness in order to save his life.
Regina and Emma’s relationship stood in the way of addressing her relationship with Henry. It was all about getting the two moms to co-parent and accept one another as influences in their son’s life. But now that Emma is off raising another child, it’s back to Regina and Henry, the duo that did just fine for a decade before Henry began to realize what was going on.
Season 7 is about Henry’s story. His mother is a huge part of that tale. The most unexplored component of Regina’s character is her identity as a mother. The show is finally taking steps towards unpacking this relationship by refocusing where the conflict in Regina’s life stems from. It is no longer about being the Evil Queen, but about being a mother.
This revelation makes Operation Heartbreak take on a whole new meaning.
What do you think of Regina’s story arc in ‘Once Upon a Time’ season 7?
Once Upon a Time season 7, episode 7 “Eloise Gardener,” and episode 8 “Pretty in Blue,” air Sunday, November 19 at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.