It's only two episodes in, but I'm really digging Once Upon a Time.
In “Everything you Ever Loved”, the battle of wills between Emma and Regina continues. Just as interestingly, we see in flashbacks how Regina came into possession of, and prepared, the evil spell she cast.
One of the most notable scenes was the most awesome woman-against-woman magical battles I've ever seen. When Regina goes to steal the curse from her friend Maleficent, another evil sorceress, the two fling each other around in a fashion that would make Gandalf and Saruman proud. (It's worth mentioning that here too, Maleficent is the witch from the Sleeping Beauty story.) It's both jarring and poignant when, after such a violent confrontation, Regina says, “I can't kill you. You're my only friend.”
That fight is far from the only badass moment in this episode. In one scene, Emma cuts a huge branch off of Regina's prized apple tree, to prove her determination to stay in town. (How do you like them apples?) Between the “soft violence” in things like Gossip Girl and the passivity in things like Twilight , it's rare these days to see a female character do something so tangible and territorial...at last without involving a gun. (Not that Emma doesn't know how to use those, as we saw in the pilot.)
To make a long short: in our world, Regina manages to get Emma locked up again, this time by framing her for stealing records from Henry's therapist. The therapist, Jiminy Cricket, may be conscience personified, but Regina still has him under her thumb. Ms. Blanchard (who, you will remember, is Snow White) bails her out. This happens after Henry shows her pages torn from the back of Regina's storybook, which explain the events of the curse and Emma's birth, and they form an alliance. (In one of his few believably kid-like moments, Henry dubs their plan to break the curse “Operation Cobra”. It's perfect, you see, because it has nothing to do with fairy tales!) Regina tricks Emma into seemingly disavowing Henry's beliefs where he can hear her, but by the end of the episode, they had smoothed things over.
Back in the land of fairy tales, we see Regina steal the curse from Maleficent and then gather the ingredients—and helpers—that she needs. The recipe for the spell includes locks of hair from “those with the darkest souls”, so you can imagine the motley crew she assembles. In spite of also including the heart of Regina's prized childhood pony, the spell fizzles. She makes a bargain with Rumpelstiltskin, who explains that the spell must include the heart of the thing she loves most. Soon after, we learn that the kindly old man in Regina's retinue, who seemed like a servant, is actually her father. She murders him, just moments after he warns her that some power is too dark to mess with. This turn of events both raises the moral stakes of the story and gives Lana Parrilla a chance to add lots of nuance to her character.
There are other things worth noting about this episode. The visuals of the flashbacks? Are still awful. These scenes may be filmed for 3D viewing, but they look cartooney and terrible, even though those parts of the story are enjoyable. Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) is entertaining as the magic mirror. The show is also trying to drum up some kind of flirtatiousness between Emma and Sheriff Graham, but so far, they don't work together quite as well as Snow White and Charming.
The two memorable themes in this episode are the idea that the hero never believes that they are the hero at first, and that power has a price. Once Upon a Time has gotten me interested enough that I look forward to seeing what happens next.