There are two sides to every tale and in ABC’s modern fairy tale Once Upon A Time that applies to its characters as well. In fact, much of season 1 was devoted to drawing a clear line of demarcation between the inhabitants of the fairy tale world and their cursed selves in Storybrooke. Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) is courageous where David has the spine of a wet noodle; Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) is brash compared to the meek and mild Mary-Margaret. Yes, certain aspects of true character shine through, but by and large the Storybrooke natives pale in comparison to who they once were.
So it is an interesting move on the part of the writers to transition into season 2 by weaving both the fairy tale and the real world sides of each character into a hybrid. Equally intriguing is the notion that the characters now have the choice to remain in Storybrooke and live with both sets of memories, or they can leave the city limits and permanently forget who they were in the other realm.
“We Are Both” touches on a few of the characters but is mostly concerned with how this paradigm shift affects David and Regina (Lana Parrilla). It also bestows a name on the realm from whence they all came: The Enchanted Forest. This is where Snow and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) have been sent, thus David is desperate to get there. His part of the episode is literally spent running from one corner of Storybrooke to another, trying to track down a portal back to the Forest.
His first stop is the pawn shop. Normally viewers should be wary about deals struck with Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) but this one seems to be mutually beneficial, with David promising to leave Gold alone as long as Gold agrees to the same. Of course magic always come with a price, and in this case while David is busy chasing down the Mad Hatter (Sebastian Stan) he neglects the needs of his people, as well as his grandson.
Fortunately for Henry (Jaren S. Gilmore), Regina is grappling with her new identity just like everybody else. Returning to its format of last year, the show delves into the Enchanted Forest’s past to bring further depth to the characters. Last season, “The Stable Boy” revealed that Regina did not begin life as an evil queen, but rather as a gentle girl with a controlling mother.
In “We Are Both” it is further explained that her mother Cora (Barbara Hershey) has trapped Regina inside of the kingdom so that she cannot escape her impending marriage to Snow’s father. Random flashes of anger overtake the young Regina; flashes she desperately wishes to banish but cannot. This desperation – not unlike David’s in Storybrooke – lands her directly in the path of Mr. Gold’s fairy tale alter-ego, Rumpelstiltskin.
As always, Rumple offers magic, though with Regina he seems more than eager not only to pass along magical objects, but the secrets to controlling the magic as well. Left with a magic mirror and a spell book, Regina must decide what to do, and in the end, mother dearest pushes her one step too far. Trapped, Regina pushes back, plunging her mother into the magic mirror and through the portal. This is her first taste of magic and she doesn’t just like it, she loves it – but fear that she will become like her mother holds her back from wanting to fully embrace that side of herself.
Clearly she gets over that fear somehow, because in present-day Storybrooke, Regina is obsessed with regaining her magical powers. Throughout the episode she is convinced that by regaining her magic she will restore her power over the people and win Henry back to her side and indeed it seems as if she’s bound and determined to force her love upon him. But then the tide shifts ever so slightly.
Perhaps it’s the sight of her son struggling against the bonds of the trees as she’d done so long ago. Perhaps it’s Gold’s quip that she finally reminds him of her mother. Or the simple fact that Henry clearly doesn’t want anything to do with her. Either way, something cues Regina in to the fact that if she doesn’t change strategies soon, she’ll lose the game in the long run.
And so it is that by the time David has come to grips with his responsibilities and scrounges up a sword to come charging to Henry’s rescue, Regina is ready to let him go. In an act of true selflessness she relinquishes her control over Henry without a fight; taking one step back toward the woman she was in her youth. One step away from her mother. With the end reveal that Cora is alive and well in the Enchanted Forest and has now met up with Storybrooke’s mother-daughter pair, it’s safe to say there are still plenty more of these family tales to be told.
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.