Once Upon A Time, Ep. 1.18, “Stable Boy”: Performance-heavy, light on magic

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Once Upon A Time, Season 1, Episode 18: “The Stable Boy”
Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Directed by Dean White
Airs Sundays at 8pm (ET) on ABC

Note: Contains Spoilers

Regina takes main stage this week in “Stable Boy,” her origin story that explores the Evil Queen before she earned that name. As a free-spirited equestrian, Regina finds it difficult to please her mother, Cora. When a young Snow White almost falls victim to a runaway horse, Regina saves her. Regina’s compassion and bravery captures the heart of Snow’s father, King Leopold, who immediately proposes marriage. Though Regina loves the stable boy, her mother intervenes to make sure that Regina will indeed marry the king.

In Storybrooke, we learn the motivation behind Gold’s assistance with Kathryn’s disappearance. Emma continues her investigation, this time with writer August Booth. Booth inspires her to approach the case from a different direction, leading her to find hard evidence linking Regina to the missing Kathryn.

The story this week is simple, but the real strong point is the multitude of impressive performances that carry it through its exciting cliffhanger. Robert Carlyle stands out as Gold in his few scenes, and Eion Bailey continues to build intrigue with his character August. Still, most of the praise belongs to the women.

Barbara Hershey guest stars this week as Cora, Regina’s mother. The role is very similar to her character in 2010’s “Black Swan,” where she plays another domineering mother to Natalie Portman. Hershey could easily carve out a cozy niche for herself as the crazed parent for the rest of her career. Here, she effortlessly draws attention with her commanding visage and cold demeanor. Character-wise, she is the perfect precursor to the manipulative Regina we know in Storybrooke. Looking forward to the second season, she could easily play another mysterious villain in Storybrooke, providing her character is still alive.

Lana Parrilla finally has a chance to play a different Regina. As expected, she’s not yet jaded or cynical when her story begins. However, Parrilla maintains a sliver of Regina’s trademark testy behavior. In the first moments of her origin story, the stable boy, Daniel, “interrupts” a conversation between Regina and Cora. Regina scolds him harshly. It’s great little moment that adds dimension to her character. Though it’s mainly for show (she’s hiding a romance between her and the boy), it comes from a real place. She’s recovering from her mother’s disapproval, and she takes it out on him. Clearly, Regina is not yet evil, but the potential lurks.

Parrilla’s finest moment comes at the turning point for her character. Through Snow’s naïveté, Regina loses what she loves most. When she realizes it was indirectly because of Snow, there is a brief moment where she becomes the Regina we know her to be. The moment is framed very overtly, but Parrilla’s subtle expression sells it with grace.

For the first time, we see Snow as a little girl. Bailee Madison assumes this role. There are moments where her performance feels a bit forced, but she handles it well for the most part. Madison probably studied Ginnifer Goodwin’s previous performances because it actually feels like watching a younger Snow White. Goodwin’s influence is especially apparent in Madison’s facial expressions after delivering key lines.

Aside from the strong performances, the special effects for “Stable Boy” prove that less is more. We get dollops of Cora’s magic in the beginning moments and near the end. Rather than support the scene, the effects decorate the tension with neat visuals. Particularly amusing is Lana Parrilla floating in the air. It’s slightly comical, but makes sure not to tread into absurdity. Coming from Barbara Hershey, though, there will always be a sinister feel to the magic.

Overall, this was a solid, well-acted episode. The only weak point is Emma’s revelation of Sidney’s betrayal of planting a bug in the Sheriff’s office. We know Emma’s not that stupid to fall repeatedly for Sidney’s deceptions, but apparently the writers haven’t figured that out. This doesn’t weigh down the episode too much, though. We quickly move along to the more legitimate shocker: Kathryn’s not dead. This cliffhanger at the end is the perfect way to cap off this episode and pick up some of the momentum lost in “Hat Trick.”

Don’t forget to leave your comments, criticisms and predictions in the section below.

Ryan Clagg

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