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'Once Upon a Time': How 'The Thing You Love Most' determines the path you walk

Since when do I care about anyone’s happiness but my own? 
~Evil Queen, Once Upon a Time

In “The Thing You Love Most,” Once Upon a Time tantalizingly reveals a little more about how the Evil Queen became, well, evil—and reveals something about the natures of evil and love in the process. (Spoilers ahead!)

Among other things, in this episode we discover how the Evil Queen gets her hands on and enacts the curse that destroys the enchanted forest and all its happy endings, condemning all its inhabitants to live in our world with no memory of who they are. It turns out the curse was the Evil Queen’s to begin with, but she traded it Maleficent (the antagonist in Sleeping Beauty) for the Sleeping Curse (which then, of course, is foiled when Prince Charming kisses Snow White). When the Queen takes the curse back from Maleficent by force, Maleficent warns her that she is crossing a terrible line: “All power comes with a price. Enacting it will take a terrible toll. It will leave an emptiness inside you—a void you will never be able to fill.”

Indeed, the curse does come at an awful price—the life of the Queen’s father. In order to enact the curse, Rumpelstiltskin tells the Queen she must sacrifice “the heart of the thing you love most.” Her father tries to convince her that she can be happy again without the curse, but so desperate is the Evil Queen’s thirst for revenge against Snow White that even as her father embraces her, she stabs and kills him.

And we discover just how cavernous a void has been created by this act when we discover how Henry got his name: it is the name of her father.

Henry and Regina/ABC
In Storybrooke, the Evil Queen has no memory of who she really is—but as Regina Mills, she still carries that void inside her and it’s eating away at her even as she tries desperately to fill it. When we discover the origin of Henry’s name, we realize that Regina adopted and named Henry in an attempt to fill the void that came as a cost for killing the last thing she loved in pursuit of what she thought would make her happiest. She doesn't love Henry; Henry is a means to an end—an attempt to fill the emptiness inside her. What she claims as love is really selfishness, and Henry—along with all the other inhabitants of Storybrooke—is caught in the effects of that emptiness.

Emma and Henry/ABC
But someone is fighting for Henry. In spite of the shame and guilt she is confronted with when she is with him (she gave him up for adoption), Emma Swan wants what is best for Henry; she wants to protect him and make sure he is safe. While she’d rather leave Storybrooke and everything Henry confronts her with behind, she stays. Emma is putting Henry’s best interests above her own—acts of true love.

And here we get at something important about the power of love to thwart and defeat evil. At the root of evil is selfishness—the drive and thirst to satisfy one’s own desires no matter the cost to others. But on this path, the more one grasps at happiness, the faster it slips through one’s fingers. Like the Evil Queen, each act of sacrificing the needs and interests of others for our own only deepens the emptiness.

We can’t gain happiness by putting our desires above the needs of those around us because we aren’t made for selfishness; we are made for love. We were created in the image of Love itself. Above all else, we were made to love—God and each other.

But in this still-broken world we, like the Evil Queen, have an inherent bent and desire towards selfishness. So, like dark curses, love too requires a sacrifice. But where evil sacrifices others on the altar of selfishness, love asks that you sacrifice yourself.

We understand this best when we return to our own Story and to Jesus:
This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son to merely point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.
It was by the ultimate act of Love by Jesus that our own curse was lifted. Jesus is leading us back to the Garden, to the beginning, to the way it was always intended to be. Even now we can catch the scents of those wide open spaces, filling us with the power to live again in love and grace.

This kind of life, Jesus says, requires a sacrifice:
Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?
But unlike sacrifices of evil curses that leave a void within that can never be filled, this sacrifice fills whatever voids we carry—and then some. For when we live in the Love by which we are loved we discover it is a flood that spills out on to the world around us to right wrongs, restore and free others to live again as the people we were created to be.

It will be interesting to watch how the Queen’s curse is lifted in Storybrooke and the world of the enchanted forest folk set right and restored. In the meantime, I appreciate Once Upon a Time's exploration of evil, good and how the thing you love most determines which of those paths you walk. All of this is helping me understand our own Story better—and bringing God-talk into these open spaces.