This is a companion piece to my previous post on the Essential Emma Swan. As Emma is on a journey of discovery, Regina’s story in about redemption. While complicated, Emma is clearly and completely a hero. Regina is an anti-hero stuck in a world history that prefers, or even requires, the players to be either heroes or villains, not both or neither. This duality made it difficult to choose only 10 episodes for Regina (you’ll see I cheated a bit) but here are the character beats I chose.
1.2 The Thing You Love the Most
Regina is introduced as the main antagonist and remains in her role as a villain through most of the first two seasons. That is not to say she is not sympathetic, even as early as this second episode wherein we learn how far she is willing to go to get her way. Her actions are deplorable, but it’s clear she has reasons. They may be misguided or outright crazy, but they exist. Regina isn’t evil for the sake of evil.
1.18 The Stable Boy
In this late first season episode we meet Regina before she was Queen or Evil and learn what is at the heart of her hatred for Snow White. Regina was party to a tragic love story but I feel meeting her power-hungry and manipulative mother is much more revelatory. (Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of The Stable Boy and I much prefer the second season follow-up 2.5 The Doctor)
2.2 We Are Both
This is a terribly clever episode. In the present it marks the beginning of Regina’s journey toward redemption and in the past, the beginning of her turn to the Dark Side. It also serves as crib notes for the conceit of the entire series: the characters are both the fairy tale archetype they were born to be and the people they became when they were stripped of that.
2.10 The Cricket Game
Regina had made many poor choices which have led to her rightful comeuppance, but her greatest tragedy is when she makes good choices and still ends up losing ground. This episode is painful. (For a complete picture watch the episode immediately preceding 2.9 The Queen of Hearts)
2.17 Welcome to Storybrooke
It’s delightful and ultimately horrible to watch Regina deal with the immediate repercussions of the Curse. At first thrilled but soon bored, she realizes she doesn’t have a clue what her “happy ending” actually looks like. Meanwhile in the present she has a confrontation with Snow White that while contentious, serves as the beginning of the recovery of their relationship.
3.3 Quite a Common Fairy
We get a lot of great story in this episode. We meet Tinker Bell and learn that she was Regina’s first real friend, and so, one of the first she disappointed. We’re introduced to Regina’s main (living, canon) love interest. And in the confrontation between Regina and Tink in the present we get a beautiful follow up to Welcome to Storybrooke‘s scene between Regina and Snow White. It becomes clear that Regina has gained a self-awareness she was lacking and that will allow her to be redeemed.
3.9 Save Henry
Regina saves Henry three times in this episode, but more importantly we watch their introduction. Regina’s relationship with and to Henry has always been the most “good” and “pure” part of her character and it shines here.
3.19 A Curious Thing
This episode mirrors the first season in order to show us just how far Regina has come. She casts the Curse a second time, but now in collusion with Snow and Charming rather than in opposition to them. And then she breaks the curse, by kissing Henry’s forehead in an exact parallel to Emma, the savior and hero of Storybrooke. For closure watch 3.20 Kansas. This second half of the third season serves as an easy way to crown Regina a hero: set her up against a stronger villain. It’s a gimmick, but it works because we’ve spent the last two years watching Regina try to get there.