Mirrors have always been closely associated with Regina, even before her debut as a character in Once through her Disney counterpart. But just because she's now apart from that part of herself doesn't mean that the mirrors are any less symbolic. That said I won't be talking much of her relationship with the magic mirror (aka Sidney) as my goal here is to address the symbolism of the mirrors.
Mirrors as Symbolism
The mirror thing started pretty early with Regina.
Back in season 1 Regina was probaby the character most seen in front of the mirror. And quite a number of times she would be holding the book. I've always seen this as the writers' way of saying that she could see herself for who she truly was--that she was one of the few in Storybrooke who knew of her Enchanted Forest self.
I'd also like to call her constant portrayal in the mirror as a symbol of vanity.
Heaven knows I love season 1 Regina, but the woman was definitely vain. I mean the very first thing she did when she woke up after her curse was cast was check her haircut lol. She seemed to have this overbearing need to look her sharpest. And to some degree I think she was fixated with it on the surface. I think a big part of this is that she really didn't have much else going for her at the time. She wasn't particularly likable to the people around her at the time so she put a lot of time into her apperance to make up for what many thought was an off putting personality. And naturally for this, we'd see her in the mirror a lot.
Another thing I've noticed that started in season 1 is that when she's angry or frustrated it's always the mirror that breaks.
In season 1 after her advances on David fail she throws her drink at the mirror and breaks it. In season 4 after Robin leaves her for Marian she shatters the mirror in the background. And then picks up one of the shards and smiles into it.
I attribute this to a certian kind of self-loathing. Espically in season 1. In the third image up I can imagine that she was angry with herself. Angry that she couldn't seem to keep her plans from falling apart. And in the above two images she's angry with herself for not being able to keep Robin.
Typically in shows the breaking of a mirror is used to symbolize a character's frustration with him or herself. I do believe that this was something that happened in season 6, episode 8. This episode as a whole was all about mirrors, but I'll get to that in a bit. There was one particular scene that stood out to me;
On the surface level Regina shut the curtains over her mirror in order to keep her Evil Queen counter part from spying on her. But I also think that there is another layer.
I feel like Regina is still very angry at herself/doesn’t see her self-worth. I mean this whole season she’s been very vocal about wanting to sacrifice herself. I’m not saying that she’s suicidal, I am however saying that I think she harbors so much guilt that she is beginning to see it as the only way to fix things and prevent further damage. And I think that she thinks that she kind of deserves it. Which is why I’m so glad Emma has been there telling Regina that she doesn’t have to hurt herself to save everyone else. So where does the mirror come in?
In the above scene I don’t think she was just staring at the Queen like that. I think that there was a part of Regina that was looking at even the good half of herself with that kind of sadness/anger.And then she kind of just aggressively covers the mirror. Her expression alone as she stares at herself makes me think that she feels overpowering guilt and a degree of unhappiness towards herself. As mentioned above, for me the breaking or covering of a mirror in a TV show has always been symbolic of a character expressing anger/dislike of him/herself. Similar to kicking one’s shadow or swatting away a self-reflection in the water.
As I've mentioned a few articles ago I feel like Regina harbors a lot of negative self-views.
However I don't think that that's the only thing the mirrors symbolize. I think that one more thing the mirrors symbolize for Regina is clarity. She's often seen with/by mirrors when she's making a discovery about herself or when she thinks about things. Many times when she hid herself away in her vault we see her looking into a mirror.
In this image she had just lost Henry and the trust of the people she had fought to earn forgiveness from due in part to her mother. This is the first we see of her after she poofs herself into hiding. In hiding she had a lot of time to think. About herself, about the situation, and about the changes in her life. And she did it in front of a mirror. An object that helps you see yourself for who you are, that helps you see other things for what they are.
Similarly in seasn 4 she retreats to her vault for some alone time. Where she once again stands before the mirror. I think mirrors help her think.
There is one more scene wherein I think mirrors helped us see into Regina's character. This scene takes place in the Enchanted Forest.
It is during An Apple As Red As Blood, when Regina is sitting alone in the palace garden. In this scene Regina talked of an apple tree as a symbol of herself; but it wasn't the only one present. In this scene Sidney presents her with a gift. That gift was a mirror of all things, so she could "see herself the way he (Sidney) saw her, as the fairest in the land."
Yet again, the mirror is presented to her as a means to see herself in a different way. Or to see herself more clearly.
Mirrors as a Plot Device
Another thing that the mirrors seemed to do were act as plot devices. In the episode Shattered Sight they literally were used for carity; a distorted kind of clarity. In this episode due to a shard of mirror put in her eye she (as well as all of the other characters) could only see the worst parts of themselves and others.
And in the most recent episode Regina and Emma get trapped in a world of mirrors. The initial plan was for the pair to trap the Evil Queen in that world. But what ended up taking place was the duo being transported there.
So now Regina is literally surrounded by mirrors and is forced to see herself. And she seemed far more snappy than usual. The crazy thing is that it is in this episode where she makes a pretty huge confession. She states that she is afraid to raise Henry alone and realizes that she could have been an awful mother. Naturally she came to this discovery by watching her Evil Queen self interact with Henry through the mirror.
Regina admitting that she is afraid to raise Henry alone is a far cry from the woman who constantly stated, "he is my
son" back in season 1. In other words this was another moment of clarity for her.
These are just a few examples of Regina's experiences with mirrors. And I have a feeling that more are to come in this new season.