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Episode1.18: The Stable Boy

masqthephlsphr is a bit busy this weekend, so I'll be kicking off our regularly-scheduled discussion of Ep. 1.18. "The Stable Boy." And I do think there's a lot to say about this one!

To start off with, I know I'm not the first person to say this, and it's certainly not the only reason why OUaT is worth watching, but for me, possibly the single most compelling thing about this series is how it handles its bad guys. Over and over, it shows us evil people who do horrible things, then reveals to us how they got that way, showing us that their feelings and motivations and actions are understandable, if not justifiable. (And the show, gratifyingly, never does seem to confuse those two things.) Admittedly, it doesn't always manage this. It drops the ball pretty badly, I think, with Owen and, especially, Tamara. And then there's the interesting case of Peter Pan, where the more we understand his motivations and the human flaws and feelings behind them, the less sympathetic he becomes, although he still remains a great villain. I could probably write a whole post about that, but it wouldn't have a lot to do with "The Stable Boy," so that may be a subject for another time.

Anyway. When this show does bad guys and their strangely sympathetic backstories well, it does them very well, and we've got a lot of that under development here.

First, of course, Regina. Unlike Rumple, who starts getting his sympathetic backstory in episode 8, Regina's comes to light much more gradually. Except for a few references to her having some kind of lost love, this is the first we see of the forces and decisions that shaped her into who she is, and it is, of course, merely one step on a very long path. (Although I think that's something that's more obvious in retrospect than I found it on first viewing, when I was thinking that this was supposed to be the full explanation for why she was so evil, and wasn't buying it as sufficient.)

Young Regina is interesting, because she does seem so very different: innocent and loving and full of hope. But I think even here, we're already seeing signs of the person she will become, signs of how much life with her mother has warped her. I think the scene where she tells Daniel off for interrupting is interesting on that score. No doubt she's simply behaving as her mother expects, and working to cover the true nature of her relationship with Daniel. But, man, that look of approval Cora gives her when she treats him as an inferior... I think Regina enjoyed that moment, despite herself, and that pretty well epitomizes her relationship with her mother right there. I do wonder, however, exactly what is going on in her mind when she gives Snow that speech about how Daniel was just an infatuation. Did she know Cora was listening in? Probably. Was that all for Cora's benefit, with this being an early example of Regina learning to lie and manipulate? Does she just want Cora to be proud of her again, now that she has nothing better to live for? Or is she trying to convince herself that mommy really is right, and power is better than love, anyway?

Speaking of Cora... Wow does the experience of watching this episode change after you've seen "The Miller's Daughter." On first viewing, she just seemed like an almost cartoony evil parent stereotype. Watching it now, though, so much about her makes sense: How she can be so heartless towards her own daughter. Why she is so ambitious, and why she really does believe that power instead of love is the path to a happy ending. Not to mention exactly what it was she sacrificed and why she can't stand the thought of her daughter not fulfilling her ambitions and making it all worth it. And, of course, there are all kinds of echoes of Cora's own story in Regina's here, what with both of them wanting to run off with someone else on the eve of their marriage to royalty. Cora really is trying to make her own choices all over again for her daughter, and that's much more obvious now than it was at the time.

And since we're talking about the villains, I ought to mention Rumple, if only because he gets a fantastic scene with Regina at the beginning. I always love watching those two maneuvering around each other, and he's in fine form here, pulling her strings like the expert he is, demonstrating the art of emotional manipulation on multiple levels, as he manipulates Regina through her desire to manipulate and hurt Snow. And I love watching Robert Carlyle in scenes like these, where little hints of Rumplestiltskin get to peek out from behind the Mr. Gold persona.

Of course, it's not all about the villains. My other main reaction to this episode is: Poor little Snow! The kid playing her is a terrific little actress (on top of her eerie resemblance to Ginnifer Goodwin), and, oh, man, her face, with all that sadness and hurt when she thinks Regina is betraying her father and doesn't understand why. Snow really does desperately want Regina to be her mother, doesn't she? And yet, when Regina explains things to her, she genuinely and absolutely does want Regina's happiness more than anything. (Which, of course, is also why, in her innocence, she later spills the secret.) Watching that scene between them, with both of them so sweet and serious, really does make me think that if things had gone differently they could have been incredibly close. It's all kind of heartbreaking, isn't it?

And, um, yeah, that's me rambling on more than long enough, as usual. Other thoughts? As I suddenly realize I've barely mentioned the present-day part of the story at all...

Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
selenak
Jan. 27th, 2014 05:32 am (UTC)
I.

Making the reason for Regina's hate against Snow something other than the fairy tale envy of beauty was probably one of the best ideas the show writers had. (And we get an verbal allusion to the traditional fairy tale motive, when little Snow calles Regina, sincerely, "the fairest of them all".) As was to start of their relationship with little Snow White - who really was cast brilliantly, I don't know how they found a kid looking that much like Ginnifer Godwin without being related to her - not with stepmother issues, as opposed to most other Snow White cinema and tv variations, but with the girl Regina becoming Snow's heroine.

This time around, it occured to me that Regina doesn't know Snow didn't simply go to Cora and spill her secret but that Cora probed her and prodded her first, not that I think it would make much difference to Regina at that point. She needs someone to blame and to punish for Daniel, and I think in addition to her life long need for her mother's love and approval making it impossible for her to take that vengeance impulse out on Cora, it's also that yes, you're right, Regina is already formed by her mother, enough that the impulse to take out her misery on someone weaker, not stronger, comes automatically.



Snow really does desperately want Regina to be her mother, doesn't she?

Yes, and here, too, I think later revelations add something, because when Cora says "the King talked to me about your mother; losing her must have been unbearable", she doesn't evoke simply the loss of a mother in Snow but the guilt of not having saved Eva via the life taking candle. So my speculation is that Snow after being saved probably went to her father immediately with "this wonderful girl saved my life; please marry her!" both because she wants Regina to be her mother and because she feels it's her fault her father lost her mother. (Something Leopold makes worse with his constant references to his dead wife.) But she does want Regina to be happy most of all, and watching that scene now, I am also poignantly reminded of the scene between them in "The Evil Queen" when Snow expresses her hope that the girl who saved her will come back one day and Regina for the first time starts to respond positively instead of negatively to Snow White (until her village massacre comes to haunt her). Which settled something for me "The Stable Boy" left me wondering but not sure about, i.e. whether pre Daniel revelation Regina did care for little Snow. I don't think she saw her as a potential daughter (and not just because she doesn't want to marry Leopold), but she does take to the child as to an unexpected little sister, and it's chronologically the first but not the last time we see Regina has a knack for bonding with children, perhaps because she's emotionally a child herself in many ways (until Neverland where she grows up).

selenak
Jan. 27th, 2014 05:32 am (UTC)
II.

Cora really is trying to make her own choices all over again for her daughter, and that's much more obvious now than it was at the time.

Yes, and to let Regina go with Daniel would invalidate her own original choice and make it pointless. Incindentally, we still don't know how Henry Sr. got from fifth-in-line-to-the-throne to (admittedly wealthy) landowner honored if royalty pays a visit, but my money is still on Rumple having done something to prevent Cora's husband ever reaching the throne in order to avenge himself on her. Or: considering they very occasionally use Greek myths as well, I do wonder whether or not they might have something of Medea and Jason in mind here - whether young Cora did something like Medea with the daughters of King Pelias in order to speed her husband's ascendancy to the throne along and it backfired and got them exiled (since they seem to be in Leopold's kingdom, not in the one where Cora's father-in-law used to rule).

Speaking of Henry Sr.: every one of the few times he shows up, it's striking again that he's the illustration of "means well, does nothing about it". Re: his daughter, he does love Regina to bits, but he's not willing to stand up to Cora for her or do something like take Regina and leave (which would have been the smartest thing, considering Cora's powers admittedly might have made the standing up part lethal). So it's no wonder that Regina loves him but that her mother is the parent whose approval she seeks and who shapes her most.


I remember being intrigued but unable to fathom Mr. Gold's motives in the episode. Now, of course, all is clear. :) Another present day observation: "I am not a liar" says August in the episode where he for the first time obviously suffers from turning-into-wood cramps. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Daniel knows that Cora was "a Miller's daughter" - does he know because Regina told him or because it's common knowledge? If the later, I wonder why the next generation makes such a big deal about Cinderella proving it's possible for a commoner to marry a prince...
astrogirl2
Jan. 27th, 2014 06:11 am (UTC)
Yes, and to let Regina go with Daniel would invalidate her own original choice and make it pointless.

Exactly. You can see why she could not possibly accept that.

but my money is still on Rumple having done something to prevent Cora's husband ever reaching the throne in order to avenge himself on her.

I think that's extremely likely. He might have figured it would help him get his clutches into Regina eventually, too. And surely a thwarted Cora makes for a much more easily corrupted Regina, as she'd come to him already unhappy and a bit pre-warped...

More Rumple & Cora backstory is one of the top items on my OUaT Wishlist. Although how likely we are to get any, I don't know.

I remember being intrigued but unable to fathom Mr. Gold's motives in the episode. Now, of course, all is clear. :)

Ha! I remember spending so much of my first watch of the first season staring at Gold going, "What the hell is his game?! And why does he keep acting like he wants the curse broken when it was his idea in the first place?" I was soooo confused. But it was intriguing. And I really was (and am) amazed and impressed by how completely it all made sense once we learned a few key facts.

"I am not a liar" says August in the episode where he for the first time obviously suffers from turning-into-wood cramps. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Indeed! I also briefly wondered whether his comments about "writer's block" were some sort of sly pun. But probably not. :)

does he know because Regina told him or because it's common knowledge?

I'd suspect the latter. I'd imagine that kind of thing gets around. Maybe people regard Cinderella's case as different, given that she was actually making a love match, not being taken on as an economic asset.
selenak
Jan. 27th, 2014 11:36 am (UTC)
More Rumple & Cora backstory is one of the top items on my OUaT Wishlist. Although how likely we are to get any, I don't know.

Not if Rumple is Truly Dead, that's for sure, but then, I'm doubtful he is. Among other backstory things I want: Rumple holding baby Regina, which he claims he did in 2.03. (perhaps on the occasion when he ruined Cora's chances to become Queen herself via Henry?); also, a magical duel, because there is that delightful scene in s2 when Rumple claims he's got nothing to worry even if Cora comes through the portal, he was always the superior between the two of them, and Regina sweetly says "That's not what I've heard". (Extra embarassment point: she says it in Belle's hearing.) Now considering Regina didn't hear about Rumple from Cora herself (which I don't think she did: in one flashback, she has to ask her father "was she always like this?" and HE says "...and then she met this man who taught her etc."), and I doubt either Cora or Rumple told anyone the exact way Cora outwitted him re: Regina, this means Rumple must have suffered at least one more defeat or at least a magical stalmate situation with Cora that Regina could have heard about via general gossip.
astrogirl2
Jan. 27th, 2014 07:19 pm (UTC)
Not if Rumple is Truly Dead, that's for sure,

Well, there's always the flashbacks, although flashbacks involving two dead people are probably highly unlikely. But, yes, I don't think he's Truly Dead for Good. And, yes, I really, really, want to see that incident when he got to hold Regina. Given that I wouldn't think Cora would want him anywhere near the kid, there must be an interesting story there. And, yes, it seems to me clear that there's more Cora-and-Rumple-as-enemies history there we haven't seen, and... WANT!
masqthephlsphr
Jan. 27th, 2014 07:34 pm (UTC)
Yes, but is he really Mostly Dead, or was that whole thing a fake-out?

Guess this is what happens when you're a spoiler-phobe. Fooey.
astrogirl2
Jan. 27th, 2014 07:36 pm (UTC)
I don't know, I'm a spoiler-phobe, too! But I'm betting he is Mostly Dead, or in some other bizarre magical state or place or... Actually, I have no freaking idea. But I guess we'll find out. :)
masqthephlsphr
Jan. 27th, 2014 07:37 pm (UTC)
Where's Miracle Max when you need him?
astrogirl2
Jan. 27th, 2014 07:42 pm (UTC)
Oh, man, now I want to see the Princess Bride characters show up so bad... :)
masqthephlsphr
Jan. 27th, 2014 09:30 pm (UTC)
I know, right?

As you wish!
astrogirl2
Jan. 27th, 2014 05:57 am (UTC)
Making the reason for Regina's hate against Snow something other than the fairy tale envy of beauty was probably one of the best ideas the show writers had.

It really was, and very much goes along with the way the show has given its female characters much deeper concerns and motivations than how pretty they are and how they can snag a prince. :) I do wonder whether that was not something they planned out from the beginning, though, given that Snow does have a line, very early on, about Regina wanting to kill her for being prettier than her.

she doesn't evoke simply the loss of a mother in Snow but the guilt of not having saved Eva via the life taking candle.

Oh, god, yes. I hadn't even though about that, for some reason, but it's yet another way in which "The Miller's Daughter" really casts everything here in a new light. (In this case, the light of an EVIL DEATH CANDLE. :)) The full extent of Cora's machinations, too, are something only clear in retrospect.

I am also poignantly reminded of the scene between them in "The Evil Queen" when Snow expresses her hope that the girl who saved her will come back one day

Indeed, there's a lot of poignancy in how wrong that relationship went, and in how little it truly had to go that way. (I'm trying to imagine now, what it might have been like if the two of them had bonded, instead. They both certainly could have used a friend.)

we see Regina has a knack for bonding with children, perhaps because she's emotionally a child herself in many ways (until Neverland where she grows up).

That's a good point. (And, oh, how beautifully ironic is that last bit? :))

selenak
Jan. 27th, 2014 11:41 am (UTC)
I do wonder whether that was not something they planned out from the beginning, though

Oh, I don't think they already knew when shooting the pilot, because of that line. Aren't pilots shot sometimes with months or even a year distance from the actual first season, depending on whether the network greenlights the project? Once ABC gave them the go-ahead, though, I think they plotted it out, because "The Thing You Love Most" contains already a remark hinting at Regina's lost love, and "Snow Falls", the third ep, has Charming ask Snow what the Queen has against her, Snow replies "she blames me for ruining her life", Charming says "And did you?" and Snow ways, looking guilty, "yes". So I'd say they hadn't worked out the backstory for the pilot but did work it out afterwards.
astrogirl2
Jan. 27th, 2014 07:21 pm (UTC)
Yeah, they do seem to have figured the general outlines early on, if not quite right at the beginning. In general, the first season hangs together with remarkable consistency. But I guess that particular detail relatively late in the process. I can't help wondering what else they had planned out before the pilot, and what they made up afterward.
masqthephlsphr
Jan. 27th, 2014 04:44 pm (UTC)
What a difference two seasons makes. I didn't care for this episode much the first time out because, as you say, it seemed an insufficient explanation for how Regina is. And you don't realize how little back story you're actually getting compared to what you will get.

I still don't feel satisfied in Regina lumping all the blame for losing Daniel on Snow, even after all this time, but I get that I am not in any position to understand the psychology of emotional child abuse and how that can twist someone's emotional landscape like it does Regina's.

I have to admit I am not overly fond of the actress who plays child!Snow. I think she overacts a bit. But her behavior (child Snow's) is also a lot more understandable after seeing The Queen is Dead. I don't think I've watched this episode (the Stable Boy) since I first watched that episode.
astrogirl2
Jan. 27th, 2014 07:28 pm (UTC)
The psychology of her blaming it all on Snow is weird, because it's so obviously irrational, and you'd think that, somewhere in her mind, she really ought to know that. But I think it does perhaps make an odd kind of sense, that she can't help wanting to deflect the blame off of Cora. That fits, I think, both with her amazing ability to also psychologically deflect blame off herself, and with the weird dynamics between her and Cora in S2. So whatever else Regina's bizarre psychological landscape might be, I think it's consistent, at least.
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