It Still Stings: Regina’s So-Called Happily Ever After on Once Upon a Time

TV Features Once Upon a Time
It Still Stings: Regina’s So-Called Happily Ever After on Once Upon a Time

Editor’s Note: TV moves on, but we haven’t. In our feature series It Still Stings, we relive emotional TV moments that we just can’t get over. You know the ones, where months, years, or even decades later, it still provokes a reaction? We’re here for you. We rant because we love. Or, once loved. And obviously, when discussing finales in particular, there will be spoilers:

After seven long seasons, ABC’s Once Upon a Time pulled together a rather unceremonious ending following an abrupt and sudden cancellation. The writers successfully managed to scrape together a series finale, but that’s because, luckily, many aspects of the final happily ever after were already in place, considering the seventh season was a “reboot” of sorts. Meaning, we left Storybrooke and many of our beloved characters to jump several years into the future as adult Henry (Andrew J. West) and his mother Regina Mills (Lana Parrilla) had fallen to another curse—like the one Regina placed on those in the Enchanted Forest—with characters from another book into the fairytale multiverse.

However, there is one character whose so-called “happily ever after” completely fell flat. After wrapping up the story in Seattle, the series finale sees the fairytale multiverse merged with Storybrooke through another curse. While it would make sense that Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming (Josh Dallas) are to lead this new land, it’s actually former villainess Regina who is elected the new leader, finally accepted by everyone after spending years trying to shed her former status as the Evil Queen and the chill it sent down the backs of those around her. This new position was also paired with a shiny new moniker: The Good Queen.

It’s quite possible that this was always the plan for Regina. To the writers, this was probably the ultimate happy ending for the character. It’s a second chance, as Regina herself says in the finale. Personally, however, this is a sloppy and rather thoughtless end for a character we had watched overcome so much and put in an enormous amount of work to better herself. All Regina ever wanted was true happiness; giving Regina this title and power goes directly against everything we had learned about the character in previous seasons.

Regina never wholeheartedly wanted to be the Queen of the Enchanted Forest (or anywhere, for that matter). As we see throughout Regina’s flashbacks of her life in the Enchanted Forest, her abusive mother Cora (Barbara Hershey) manipulated and schemed for years to force this life upon her. She was willing to sacrifice Regina’s happiness for power, which is exactly what she did. She killed Regina’s true love Daniel (Noah Bean) to put Regina back “on track” to be the most powerful person in all the land because, of course, Regina wouldn’t have a husband for too long before grabbing all of the power. This ultimately led to Regina’s utter and misplaced hatred of Snow White, as it was a distraction from her pain. To get revenge, Regina began to embrace her role as Queen and gained more and more power to attempt to fill the void inside of her where love used to live. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t work.) So, how can this be considered her happily ever after?

Regina wanted love, not power or status. She used those things to protect herself and her heart, countless times, but in the end, they did not matter to her. After losing Daniel, the series later teased a second chance at love for Regina—the type that Snow and Charming or Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) shared. Guest star Tinkerbell (Rose McIver) pointed a young Regina, shortly after Daniel’s death, to a mysterious man. We later learned this man is Robin Hood (Sean Maguire), but at the time, Regina was too afraid to open her heart, running away and focusing her efforts on how to cruelly wield her power and get revenge on Snow. Years later in Storybrooke, after curses and the beginnings of redemption for Regina, she finally embraced a romance with Robin, and happiness was within her grasp. She threw everything she had into that relationship, right up until he died. Yet, even still, it was clear all Regina wanted was true love. She tried to find it with Robin Hood from the alternate universe, but it didn’t work. She tried to separate herself from the darkness inside of her, which is personified as the Evil Queen, but that didn’t work either.

The series never stopped focusing on Regina finding true love, though. Perhaps it wasn’t the primary focus of the seventh season, as there were much more important things going on and Regina wasn’t herself for most of it, but that was Regina’s priority after her son Henry. Yes, Henry might have been one version of true love for Regina, and she did find a family with the Charmings after they worked through their issues, but the ultimate happily-ever-after for fairytale characters is finding their special someone. Regina knew it, as did everyone else. So, after years of watching Regina put in the hard work to better herself and find love, becoming the Good Queen is not truly happily ever after if you are, for all intents and purposes, alone. This is exactly what Regina becomes, as everyone around her, including Henry, has their own lives, loves, and children by the end of the show. Even with a multiverse of characters, she couldn’t get another chance?

At the same time, does Regina really deserve to be named the Good Queen? As much as I love the character, it doesn’t quite feel appropriate. Even after the work she put in to redeem herself, Regina caused an extreme amount of harm to the people in the Enchanted Forest. It doesn’t feel like she could ever redeem herself enough to wield such power again. Throughout the series, she consistently struggled whenever power was placed in her hands. Because of her history and her mother’s rotten influence, the allure was too strong for Regina most of the time. (This isn’t necessarily a criticism of the character, but merely an understandable attribute considering what she had endured and how power eventually became an addiction, of sorts, for her.) Would the people of the Enchanted Forest realistically come around to trust Regina enough to elect her as their new Queen after all of the death and destruction she was responsible for? Not likely. No part of Regina’s story ever warranted her becoming a leader again.

All in all, this ending does absolutely not do justice to Regina Mills. She genuinely tried to become a better and more understanding person, like the girl she once was. She worked to prove herself a hero and was able to do so with the strength and support she received from Henry, Emma, and Snow. Part of what made her relationship with Robin so special was that he never held her past against her, but instead saw the goodness radiating within, encouraging her to always be the best version of herself. True romantic love would have been the proper end for this story, especially as this was the focus of Regina’s arc for nearly half of the series. The sentiment is there, but it still stings many years later that Regina didn’t get the ending she deserved.

Jay Snow is a freelance writer. He has published many places on the internet. For more of his thoughts on television and to see his other work (or to simply watch him gush again and again over his love for the original Charmed) follow him @snowyjay.

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