How do you solve a problem like Regina?
Don't get me wrong: Lana Parrilla certainly brings her A-game to Once week after week, and layered anti-heroes are certainly more interesting than one-dimensional, purely eeeevil villains. Plus, anyone who presumably has an entire closet filled with tiny hats will always be capable (and worthy) of our attention. But even though Once's writers have tried to cast Regina in a more sympathetic light this season, it has been and continues to be mighty difficult to empathize with a character who takes several leaps backwards every time she takes a single, halting step toward redemption -- no matter how much of a witch her mother was.
And learning more about Regina's past crimes tonight really hasn't it any easier to want the best for her. The queen's homicidal bent has never been a secret -- but come on, the woman killed an entire village just because none of its inhabitants would give up Snow White? She'd willingly let everyone in Storybrooke die so that she and Henry could be alone together forever? (This for Henry, of all people!) And all the while, she apparently remains convinced that she's the real hero of this story, that she deserves other people's devotion, that she's just misunderstood?
I get that Regina is deluding herself -- but honestly, the queen's inability to understand why the people of Fairy Land or the people of Storybrooke don't like her doesn't really make her a pitiable figure, or a tragic one. It just makes her seem... kinda dim. And that breathtaking obtuseness is just another factor making Regina difficult to root for.
At least this show features one charismatic rogue whose charms we can all agree upon: Hook, who has no trouble leering even when he's being held captive by two menacing plot devices. Greg/Owen -- for simplicity's sake, perhaps we should just call him Growen? -- and Tamara tell the pirate that he failed to kill Rumpelstiltskin, then offer him a deal. They'll give him the magic-sucking ability he'll need in order to take the Dark One out for good, as long as Hook helps Growen locate his long-lost father. Hook agrees, perhaps because he too wants to speed along Tamara and Growen's exit from Storybrooke.
Meanwhile, Regina is doing some plotting of her own. After learning that Snow and Charming plan to lock her up in Rumpel's cell once they return to the Enchanted Forest, she decides to activate the curse's fail-safe -- a trigger that will eliminate Storybrooke altogether, making it as though the curse was never cast at all. (Hmm, why does this sound familiar?) Before putting the plan into action, she confesses the whole thing to Henry, telling him that they'll hitch a ride through a magic bean portal just before judgment day. Her son is rightfully horrified, telling his mom that heroes usually don't go around slaughtering everybody. Unless "everybody" is a bunch of Frost Giants, I guess. No matter; after a quick memory charm, Henry can't recall the exchange, and Regina's safe to set things into motion.
NEXT: Regina Mills and the Wig of Doom