Where the first episode set up the mechanics of the series by introducing the major characters and explaining the basic premise of the plot, this episode sets up the themes that will run throughout the series: sacrifice (everything comes with a price), hope, the power of love, and the principle that "Evil isn't born, it's made." These themes are timeless and have been repeated in literature from before the Epic of Gilgamesh to Star Wars and beyond. The fun consists in the writers' presenting a new hero and employing new storytelling devices to allow us to follow the adventure that illuminates these eternal truths.
Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinthe is thoroughly known.-Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
Obviously, the title of this episode primarily refers to Regina's decision to sacrifice her father to her need for revenge. But secondary interpretations of that title abound. Regina's decision to sacrifice her father is not unilateral; she chooses to sacrifice the thing she loves most, her father, for revenge and he chooses to sacrifice himself for the thing he loves most: her. He seems more concerned about the effect his death will have on her than about his own life as he tries to convince her that she can be happy without enacting the curse. In any event, he is willing to defer to her wishes when he says, "...but the choice is yours." We may have seen an earlier hint at the basis for this extraordinary degree of paternal devotion when, in a previous scene, he cautioned her about the dark forces she was trying to summon and Regina replied, "Oh, NOW you're trying to protect me?" We get a sense that he somehow failed to protect her in the past and he is trying to make up for that failure.
It seems everyone tries to warn Regina that by enacting the curse she will have to sacrifice not only her father, but a part of herself as well. When Regina announces her intention to use the Dark Curse, we see that both her father and the Magic Mirror are familiar with it and worried about the implications of using it. The writers continue the tradition of tying together many fairy tales and including references to the Disney versions when Regina visits Maleficent to regain the Dark Curse - Maleficent was the name of the Evil Witch in the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty, as their conversation reminds us. Several other important things seem to be present in this conversation; we learn that Regina lost a loved one and that neither Regina nor Maleficent created the Dark Curse, setting up the revelation in a later scene that it was in fact created by Rumplestiltskin.
In the discussion of the question Does Regina Really Love Henry? under Unanswered Questions Of Season 1, I suggest that Maleficent's suggestion to Regina "Have you considered a pet? They can be quite comforting." might be meant to symbolize that in Storybrooke, Regina can only love Henry as a pet, not as a full human being. We also see a difference between Regina and Maleficent when Maleficent's move to protect her pet unicorn allows Regina to trap her and Regina gloats "Love is weakness, Maleficent. I thought you knew that." Maleficent's warning that "All power comes with a price. Enacting it will... leave an emptiness inside you - a void you will never be able to fill" makes us wonder: if Regina is this bad now, what will she be like after enacting the curse?
Maleficent warns Regina that "all power comes with a price" and that "enacting it will take a terrible toll. It will leave an emptiness inside you - a void you will never be able to fill." This is reiterated when Rumple says "Great power requires great sacrifice." For the rest of the series, we will see the price Regina has to continue to pay. Near the end of the episode, in Storybrooke, Mr. Gold reminds Regina that there will be a price if she wants to rid herself of Emma when he says, "I'm only too happy to help. For a price, of course."
The title "The Thing You Love Most" is applied to other characters in this episode as well. We learn that Rumplestiltskin created the curse but we haven't yet learned his reason for providing it to the Evil Queen. Since enacting the curse requires you to sacrifice "the thing you love most", it's clear that Rumplestiltskin wasn't willing to make that sacrifice himself.
The title of this episode could also be applied to Emma as we see she is becoming willing to sacrifice more and more of her independence and stay in Storybrooke to help Henry, who is clearly becoming "the thing she loves most."
The device of showing the clock tick that we saw at the end of the previous episode suggests that time is no longer frozen by the curse and the rapid motion of the clock shows us a new day has dawned, both figuratively and literally. On this new morning, when Regina confronts Henry about the pages missing from his book, we see that she now knows that he believes her to be the Evil Queen. As discussed in the commentary for episode 1, Pilot, this suggests that she only just learned of Henry's belief, since she she seemed to have no knowledge of it until Emma mentioned it the day before. In this scene, and in the the later scene at school, Henry does not hesitate to insist to Regina that he believes her to be the Evil Queen and that he is determined to defeat her. Clearly, Henry believes Emma's presence in Storybrooke will defeat the plans of the Evil Queen.
When Regina goes to visit Emma and says "You have no idea what I'm capable of" it echoes Snow White's statement in the previous episode, "You have no idea of what she is capable" and we see the theme of this episode which will explore just what Regina is capable of, both in Fairy Tale Land (FTL) and in Storybrooke. We will later hear Emma use the same phrase about herself as the battle between the two women escalates.
The power of love is highlighted by the growing bond between Emma and Henry. When Henry tells Emma that he shares with her a fondness for cinnamon on his hot chocolate, we see yet another parallel being set up since Mary Margaret will later offer Emma hot chocolate with cinnamon, which is also Mary Margaret's preference. We see the first of several conversations between Henry and Emma in which each of them sees a different meaning, based upon whether or not they believe in the curse. When Henry says he is happy that Emma believes him and Emma counters "I never said I did", Henry smiles (for the first time in a long time, according to Mary Margaret) and asks "Why else would you be here?" we are reminded that he thinks she is staying to break the curse but we know she has chosen to stay because she is worried about him. The same theme gets reinforced even more strongly later in Archie's office. In that scene, after Regina has succeeded in her plan to make Henry upset with Emma by allowing him to overhear her statement that his belief in the curse is "crazy", Emma regains his trust by pretending that she was only trying to mislead Regina and a relieved Henry rushes to embrace her, saying "I knew you were here to help me". When Emma replies "That's right kid, I am" we know that statement is true to both of them; Henry believes she is there to help him by breaking the curse while Emma believes she is there to help him learn the difference between fantasy and reality. In the words of Citizen G'kar in Babylon 5, "If the symmetry were any more perfect, I think one of us would break into tears."
We see another reminder of the power of love in Rumplestiltskin's reminder to the Evil Queen that "all curses can be broken" and the Dark Curse is no exception. Even this "curse to end all curses" can fall to love, in the form of Snow and Charming's unborn child. Regina misses her chance to try to find love when she chooses to pursue the curse after her father advises her, "Power is seductive, but so is love. You can have that again."
Just as in classical Greek tragedy, Regina's misfortunes are the result of her own choices. Her greatest fear is that Emma will take Henry from her but it is her own actions that drive Emma to become ever more protective of Henry. In the pilot, Emma was ready to leave Storybrooke before Regina's threats convinced her to stay for a week. In this episode Regina even asks Emma, "Am I right in guessing your resolve to stay is only growing?" but she is so determined to eliminate the threat she sees in Emma that she doesn't realize that every round of the duel between them only serves to strengthen Emma's concern that Regina is hurting Henry. The way Regina's manouvers help to create the very threat she fears reminds me of Barbara Tuchman's description of how the great powers of Europe stumbled into World War I in The Guns of August.
This episode gives us our first real hints of what motivates the Evil Queen and suggests that we may see that she is an example of the oft-repeated phrase "Evil isn't born. It's made." The fact that Regina is shown to be a three dimensional character who has reasons for her evil choices makes her much more interesting than she would be if she were just a convenient prop sent over from the studio's Department of Evil. One if the best pieces of understated acting that I have seen is the look on Lana Parilla's face when Emma says to Regina, "You have no soul. How in the hell did you get like this?" When Regina rejects her father's advice to forego enacting the curse, her plaintive confession, "What Snow did to me... What she took from me... It's eating me alive, Daddy." shows us her anger is fueled by grief over some terrible loss for which she blames Snow White. Lana Parilla's delivery of the line is so powerful that one can actually see the humanity in the Evil Queen at that moment and perhaps even feel sorry for her. We get another hint of this loss when Maleficent counsels her against using the Dark Curse with the words "Even its unholy power can not bring your loved one back from the dead." The death of a loved one has unleashed emotions that lead characters down a dark path in many works of drama, from Achilles' in The Iliad to John Wayne in The Searchers. Regina may come to wish she had heeded the words of the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca The Younger, who observed "Excessive anger leads to insanity." (It's an amusing coincidence that Seneca's famous satire on the apotheosis of the emperor Claudius was titled "Apocolocyntosis", which is Latin for "Pumpkinification" and we expect to see fairy tale references to pumpkins, such as in Cinderella.)
We see the technique of employing names with symbolic equivalents in both Storybrooke and FTL, estabished in the first episode, will continue when Giancarlo Esposito, who played the Magic Mirror in FTL, makes his first appearance in our world as Sidney Glass, editor of the Storybrooke Daily Mirror. It is a nice touch that in FTL, the Evil Queen gets her information from the Magic Mirror and in Storybrooke, Regina gets her information from the Daily Mirror. The Evil Queen sacrificed her prized steed in FTL and we see that Regina's office is dominated by a statue of a horse above the fireplace. The office also contains an abundant supply of apples from Regina's tree. In the final scene, when Mr. Gold refuses to answer Regina's questions and he silences her objections by saying "Please", we are left wondering if this politeness is just another symbolic coincidence meant to remind us of Rumplestiltskin's deal with the Evil Queen in FTL or if we have actually seen a conversation between Rumplestiltskin and the Evil Queen in Storybrooke.
Regina says she has a Honeycrisp apple tree but all the apples we see are Red Delicious apples.
Rumplestiltskin: "You know what you love. Now go kill it!"
|Fairy Tale Name||Storybrooke Name||Notes on Names|
|Henry The Elder||- none -||Henry is derived from "Henricus", meaning "ruler of the homeland". Henricus Cornelius Agrippa wrote influential works on magic in the 16th century.|
|Snow White||Mary Margaret Blanchard||Blanchard is derived from the French "blanc", meaning "white".|
|Evil Queen||Regina Mills||"Regina" is Latin for "Queen".The woman who promised her child to Rumplestiltskin was a miller's daughter.|
|- none -||Henry Mills||Henry is derived from "Henricus", meaning "ruler of the homeland". Henricus Cornelius Agrippa wrote influential works on magic in the 16th century.|
|Maleficent||?||Maleficent was the evil fairy godmother in Sleeping Beauty. The adjective "maleficent" means "doing evil".|
|Emma||Emma Swan||The Ugly Duckling who became a swan?|
|Rumplestiltskin||Mr. Gold||Rumplestiltskin spun straw into gold.|
|Jiminy Cricket||Archie Hopper||Crickets hop. Both Archie and Jiminy serve as a conscience and advisor.|
|Magic Mirror||Sidney Glass||Mirrors are usually made from glass|
|Red Riding Hood||Ruby||Rubies are red.|