Once Upon a Time is a show about hope. It has focused on true love, happy endings, and an array of other fantasy based ideas from the beginning. Not all their ideas have been status quo though. For instance, one of my favorite repeated ideas is that "evil isn't born, it's made." The episode "Page 23" offered a lot in the way of self-actualization and self-help.
Let's face it. This episode was really about Regina and the resolution of her redemption story line, and it's one of my all time favorites. Lana Parrilla is an amazingly talented actress, but she truly brought to life the self-loathing, turmoil, and final acceptance that Regina undergoes. I was genuinely moved.
As much regret as Regina felt about so many things, I think there is a part of her that deeply regretted not going into the tavern when Tinkerbell showed her the man with the lion tattoo. So, I was very pleased to hear Regina be able to say she was glad she didn’t because then she would not have Henry, and the other people she loves in her life now. When the Evil Queen replies with the revelation that Tinkerbell was wrong about Page 23 being her happy ending, Regina was quick to correct her that it wasn't really about the happy ending as much as it was about the hope it provided.
As I said, it is a show, above all else, about hope.
Self-forgiveness and acceptance
We all knew that, in the end, Regina would have to accept her dark side. As soon as this season started or with the finale of the last season when she split herself into two, it was clear that the only resolution was going to be for her to have to somehow come back together. You can’t be a whole person with only half of your personality. We’ve seen this type of story many times before. You just can’t move forward in any way, because you’re just not whole. I pictured that somehow the two would merge back into one. I still have a hard time with the idea of there being two of her, but in a way it's cool that part of her gets to be with part of Robin.
Before we move on, let’s take a moment to discuss bullying. We can look at Regina when she was the Evil Queen, and see how she bullied the people in her kingdom. Why was she a bully? She was angry; she was hurt. She had no self-respect. How can you respect someone else if you don’t respect yourself? As much as she blamed Snow for Daniel's death, I'm sure she felt just as guilty. By this point, she definitely didn't love herself. How can you love someone else if you don’t love yourself? She wasn’t happy, and being evil didn’t make it better. It didn’t solve any problems. We knew that, her father especially knew that. He knew that the path she was headed down would leave her with a hole that could not be filled. At least of course until she met Henry. Even Henry wasn't enough, though. Regina had to learn how to forgive herself.
Accepting responsibility and seeking the forgiveness of others was only part of her redemption. She had to be willing to accept all of herself: the good, the bad, the evil, the heroic, the magic, the everyday, the mom, the daughter, the stepmother, the murderer, the savior (and I don't just mean pretending to be one in Camelot). Most importantly, she had to accept her own darkness as an integral part of her being, not just something in her past that she had to overcome.
Captain Swan segue
Of course, it’s hard to have an episode without our other leading lady having some action of her own! Plus, she's certainly had her fair share of needing to forgive and accept herself. This episode wasn't so good for her, though. Most of us had a sneaking suspension that Hook’s complicity in the murder of Charming’s father would disrupt his relationship with Emma, but I don’t think anyone saw it turning out exactly the way it did. She was accepting, forgiving of his past mistakes, but not that he wanted to keep things from her, not that he wasn’t willing to move forward as a changed man. Giving him back the engagement ring, she basically told him she’d be willing to take it when he was willing to share all of himself with her. He went through his usual ups and downs and when he decided to go home and try to make things right, Gideon showed up to stop him. Gideon wanted Hook out of the way. All of this happened for one simple reason. After all this time, Hook still hasn't truly learned to forgive himself.
One of the best parts of this episode is when Regina's father takes her to find Cupid's arrow, which will point to the person you love the most. Regina uses dark magic to change it so that it will point to the person she hates the most, with the intention of using it to find Snow White. As soon as she said that it would point to the person she hates the most I thought it would turn around and point to her. So, when it flew off I figured I was wrong. However, it flew to her castle and landed where she would have to look in the mirror, so it did end up pointing to her after all. Using this later in her battle with the Evil Queen made a great connection between the ideas of self-loathing and self-acceptance.
Regina has finally learned to love herself. It allowed her to show compassion for the Evil Queen, and confront her own grief and frustration with losing Robin and then not moving forward as she thinks she should have. We know she didn't fail a "cosmic test," but she did have to learn (or at least remember) that she is her own happy ending.
The focus of the show, other than hope, are the ideas of true love and redemption. After all, evil isn’t born, it’s made. Throughout life, there are certain situations in which you will find yourself and it’s your reaction and how you deal with them that determine whether you’re a "villain" or a "hero." Regina had many such opportunities.
I liked when Regina took her heart and the Evil Queen's heart and touched them together to try to even things out. In one hand she held her bright red heart with just a little black spot and in the other hand she held the Evil Queen’s black heart with just a little red spot in there, and put them together. They kind of mixed and blended so that they both became equally good and bad. When she returned the Evil Queen’s heart, that was basically the same resolution as merging the two parts of herself back together into one. That forced the Evil Queen to experience love again and I think it was very overwhelming. For Regina, loving again happened slowly over a very long period of time, but with the Evil Queen it was instantaneous. Regardless of how overwhelming it may have been, this allowed the Evil Queen to be redeemed.
Side note: What about the Evil Queen's heart?
In retrospect it seems very out of place that when Regina first separated herself she took the Evil Queen’s heart and crushed it, but wasn't hurt in the process. The Evil Queen just turned to dust and flew away, only to return later. In addition, it doesn't make sense that the Evil Queen would have a heart now if Regina crushed it in New York. Did the Evil Queen somehow have a pretend heart inside of her, and then pretend to break up into ash and fly away. If that's so, then why does she have her real heart during the fight? That’s an inconsistency that could use some justification, but probably all we’re going to get is “just suspend your disbelief for a little bit longer.” Do any of you have theories on this?
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Page 23 isn't the happy ending. Regina's happy ending is loving herself. This may be one of the most important lessons we can learn from Once Upon a Time. Happy endings are real, they're just not what we think of when we hear the term. It's not about finding the right person and having a perfect relationship for the rest of your life. It's about the struggle and gravity of self-actualization, and the empowering freedom of self-love.
For those of you who may be interested in psychoanalytic theory, my references to self-actualization are not intended to be limited to the achievement of one's potential, but inclusive of Carl Jung's theory of individuation. It lays out the process by which a person can become psychologically healthy, and one component of that is becoming aware of our own "shadow" (evil side), and accepting it. It's a theory you really should check out.