WARNING: This post may contain spoilers up to Season 3 Episode 13 of ABC’s Once Upon A Time
The world we live in is a crazy place. The world that the characters of Once Upon a Time live in is even crazier. They live in a world of extremes. A world where monsters, magic, and true love exist. Princes are heroes, and witches are villains. When things are presented to us in such extremes, it is easier to pick up on themes and patterns in the stories.
I love Once Upon A Time for many reasons. The strong female characters (leads, at that). The suspense of trying to figure out who each character is in the fantasy world. The mash up of all the fairy tales and interwoven relationships (Peter Pan is Rumplestiltskin’s what?!) Most of all I appreciate the positive messages it presents to viewers.
One of the themes that comes up repeatedly is that our actions define who we are. Typically we paint our fairy tale characters in black and white. Villains are bad, heroes are good. There can be no other way.
In Once Upon A Time, we see a different picture.
The heroes in their world have all faced moral dilemmas, and many have made the wrong choice. In one example, Snow White, the pillar of righteousness and hope cast a dark spell to save Rumplestiltskin. A decision that resulted in the death of someone else.
Villains in this world all have traumatic pasts that lead to their given obsessions or evils. There is a method to the madness, as it were. The Evil Queen had a cold, overbearing mother who killed her first love after Snow White had told her the nature of their relationship. The Queen blamed Snow and made a vow to make her life a living hell.
Even then, our damaged villains end up being assets (or even allies) to stop an even bigger evil. During the last season the biggest villains (Rumplestiltskin and The Evil Queen) have been putting aside their evil ways in order to help the group. They have built a (sometimes shaky) trust with our heroes and made themselves a part of a team that once hated them.
The lesson here is that hero and villain alike, they are all human. We are all human. We have our strengths and our weaknesses. Anyone can do a good deed or make a horrible mistake. This leads to another important issue that comes up in Once Upon A Time a lot.
Our perceptions of others are usually based on their actions. However, our perceptions can also influence their behavior and cause the exact opposite outcome from that which we desire.
Last night’s episode had me yelling at the T.V. screen. Regina (a.k.a. The Evil Queen) has been working with everyone else to make things right in their world for a long time. I had almost forgotten that she was a bad guy. When everyone was sent back to their world (the Enchanted Forest) she had to give up the one thing that mattered to her: her son. Snow White saw how hurt and lost Regina was. Because of that Snow encouraged Regina to go clear their path to the stolen castle on her own. Snow was trying to give Regina her confidence, strength, and purpose back. It was a touching gesture.
Fast forward a year. None of the characters can remember the past year, and they’re under a(nother) curse. Instantly, everyone is accusing Regina of casting the curse. Why? Because she’s the bad guy! Forget the fact that she saved all of their butts a few times over before the memories that were lost! The last thing they remember before waking up back in our world is that Regina sacrificed her life with her son in order to save everyone.
Yet somehow, she instantly becomes the only logical cause of their current problem.
It upset me enough that I felt that I needed to write a post about this. Originally when I had wanted to write a post about this show, I was going to talk about how actions speak louder than words. But after last night’s episode, I can’t. Regina’s actions apparently weren’t loud enough for the rest of the community. And after they accused her, she decided “Screw it! If you want me to be a bad guy, I’ll be a bad guy!” (Later on we find out that this in an act, but it’s still relevant.)
They pushed away a strong, knowledgeable, gutsy ally just to prove that she was bad. Their perceptions of her and their refusal to acknowledge the good that she had done caused her to flip out and do something to shock them. Which proved to them that they were right.
The point of all of this is, we as clinicians need to base our perceptions on what we experience of a person and take everything else with a grain of salt. I work with foster youth who have mental health files as thick as a dictionary. Most of what I read in those files doesn’t fit with the kid I meet and learn to love working with. We get the worst versions of the worst stories, and almost none of the good. People deserve the chance to show us their heroic side, regardless of the bad choices they may have made.
The same goes for anyone else we may encounter. People are human. They do good deeds. They make mistakes. Giving people a chance to show us their good side may surprise us in ways we can’t even imagine.