There is definitely something fun about watching villains relish their success (at least when it is in fiction). Perhaps it is because we know that either a) they will get their comeuppance eventually or b) they will only be able to enjoy their win for a short time because things will get worse for them, even if they don’t fully get a comeuppance. Perhaps even a bit of both!
Both Rumplestiltskin and the Evil Queen are in full villain mode in these episodes, albeit in different ways. Rumplestiltskin is still trying to bide his time to get Belle back and uses soft threats against her son to try to get her to cooperate. Since the character of Rumplestiltskin is well-known for stealing babies, he is eschewing any attempt to be good in order to simply get what he wants. He is a master manipulator and simply assumes that he will be able to manipulate his new son as well.
The Evil Queen, meanwhile, is providing him with a ready-made wench to manipulate, namely herself. She sees herself as having outgrown her need for a teacher and thinks that he will leave her alone, which he does initially but changes his mind toward the end of these two episodes. While the Queen is living out her long-time fantasy in an affair with Rumplestiltskin (which revolts her heroic counterpart), Rumplestiltskin is simply using her for fun. We will see how much they actually care about each other.
The short synopsis of Heartless is that the Queen wins the battle and seemingly the war. Snow White and Prince Charming surrender to her, convinced over the course of the episode that they have had a good run of true love. (Who is going to look after their infant son gets left unaddressed – were they thinking Emma would take him?) Instead of outright killing them, the Queen puts them under a mutual Sleeping Curse, so that only one of them can be awake at the same time. Emma and Regina, the latter especially, get to simply watch. Regina tries her best to help, but one can tell she is starting to get discouraged against herself.
I’ll Be Your Mirror is a much more positive story, despite the Charmings still being cursed with no end in sight currently. With them mostly out of the picture, Emma and Regina take on the Evil Queen – but the Queen figures out their trick and turns the tables on them. Trapping them in a world of mirrors, the Queen then tries to take on Regina’s persona and get her hands on Henry.
This is where the hopelessness and despair set in. Regina is convinced that she will be trapped forever. Just as she underestimates her evil counterpart’s intuition and skills, she underestimates herself. The Charmings are starting to lose their positivity about their situation, and in their despair, they fail to notice anything unusual about “Regina”. The only one who is suspicious is Hook and he is quickly knocked out by the Evil Queen.
But thankfully, Henry is a very perceptive teenager. While he initially believes the Evil Queen, she cockily admonishes him about his posture and he quickly realises who she really is. He may be very nervous about the school dance and worried that Violet doesn’t like him anymore, but his first loyalty is to his family. Yes, this is not typical teenage behaviour, but I think this series has well-established that Henry is not a typical teenager, and there are indeed many young people who buck the trend and pay more attention to their families than their friends. The Evil Queen fails to realise this.
In the end, Henry not only saves his mothers, but he refuses to follow the Queen’s orders and kill anyone to do so. He stands up for his beliefs and his family, and reminds the Queen that she has none of that. (Which only leads to her deciding that she wants her own…hmm…what does she want from Rumplestiltskin?) While the Charmings are still cursed, Henry has his mothers again and he has a lovely date with Violet. Violet isn’t a typical teenager either, after all. Emma and Regina get to be proud and grateful mothers.
Hope is restored, for now.