Past meets present in this week’s Once Upon a Time episode, “A Curious Thing.” The episode Enchanted Forest storyline picks up from the time when Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) sacrifices his sanity (and his freedom) to save his son Baelfire (Michael Raymond James). The present day Storybrooke narrative finds our heroes still trying to figure out how to break the latest curse and remember why they are back in Storybrooke and not in the Enchanted Forest where they last recall being. Why have they not remembered how and why they have been propelled back into the real world?
Finally, we learn that it had not been Zelena to send our heroes back to Storybrooke; they’ve sent themselves. And why? For it is in our world that the key to defeating Zelena lies–in the “light,” pure magic of Emma’s power. But the path to arriving there is cluttered with obstacles. First, Snow, et al, must remember why they’re in Storybrooke and what they must do to defeat Zelena.
The key had been in finding the Good Witch of the South Glinda, who exists on the other side of a portal–a door–that seems to go nowhere. They learn this clue in Rumple’s Dark Castle, where is held prisoner, caged, mad, spinning at his wheel and speaking in rhymes that are simultaneously insane and melancholy. He wishes for death, for only then will the two voices inside him finally stop. Yet, Belle can reach inside his heart, and past the madness. He seems to recognize her–enough that he can speak past his chanting and explain where they might find the Glinda. “There is a door, step inside. If you are pure of heart, then she won’t hide,” he chants in a low sing-song voice. “Wicked can’t get through.”
It is heartbreaking to see this broken Rumplestiltskin now Zelena’s prisoner in his own castle, the madness of two voices (his and Neal’s) slowly eating away at him. But heartening to see Rumple (and Neal) break through to reveal the best of each of them at different times in the episode.
They find Glinda who tells them that they need light magic, but only of the product of the purest love–Emma. Unfortunately, Emma hadn’t come with them to the Enchanted Forest. The only way to defeat the Wicked Witch is to destroy her magic, which she keeps in her emerald pendant. But to go back to Storybrooke and find Emma, they must recast the Dark Curse. Snow must enact the Dark Curse. But in order to do it, she must sacrifice the heart of the thing she loves best, and that would be Charming. But how?
Of course Charming ready to do what’s right and sacrifice himself. But Snow has another way, and she shares her own heart to replace David’s crushed heart, so they both might live. So this is why Zelena wants Emma’s magic gone. Because her magic is the only one that will work to defeat her. “Only the purveyor of the greatest light magic” can work. And if they destroy the emerald pendant, Zelena will be defeated.
But Zelena knows all, and before they can implement the Dark Curse, the Wicked Witch appears and casts a forgetting spell. Yes, they will to Storybrooke, but they will have no idea why–or how–they have come back. And they will have no recollection of Zelena–or her plans. Which brings us back to the beginning of the season. But how will she remember? There is a potion for everything, of course. And she takes it, giving a second vial to her prisoner Rumple, telling him take it or not, his brain belongs to her. Does he want to forget Baelfire and all the pain he has suffered? Or is it better forget?
Deciding to take the potion “for vengeance,” so he can defeat Zelena–somehow, he is stopped as the Neal part of him forces its way through. And it is Neal who sends the potion to Hook, along with instructions about where to find Emma.
Back in Storybrooke, the team must break the forgetting curse so they can remember what they must do to defeat Zelena. The key lies in Henry; he must believe, first and foremost. And that is something about Emma is completely ambivalent. She wants nothing more than to take Henry back to New York and the life they’ve led (presumably without Flying Monkey Walsh)–a happy ending to their Storybrooke tale. And finally, he does: a combination of seeing the unbelievable (flying monkeys, a fire-throwing mayor, a sword wielding sheriff!), and holding in his hands the magical storybook he’d originally used to convince Emma that storybook characters are actually real.
But before Emma has a chance to break the forgetting curse, Zelena pops in and takes Henry. But Zelena doesn’t realize the force with which she is grappling. And in her fury (remember, magic is the nexus between passionate emotion and the hope of happiness), Emma breaks Zelena’s hold on Henry. And then Regina’s kiss breaks through the curse, and everyone remembers how they can defeat Zelena. How about that teamwork?
So much happens in “A Curious Thing,” I have to wonder if it might have been better spread out amongst the past couple of episodes. Everything from breaking the forgetting curse to the key to defeating Zelena are all revealed here. It’s a great episode, don’t get me wrong. I loved it, but it seemed a bit rushed, and it’s only because I have felt that the last two episodes dragged a bit in furthering the plot, that I can’t help but wonder if the huge information dump might have been more effective over the three episodes, instead of crammed into one.
The theme for this half-season seems to be “sacrifice” for the greater good, for family. There is a selflessness to the actions of all the characters for the greater good of saving their community. Regina, Rumple, Neal, Emma, Snow, Charming all have sacrificed to eliminate the evil that is Zelena–or to save the life of someone else. Emma has spent much of the time pining for a return home–to New York and her less complicated life with Henry. But is New York and that life really, truly home? Or is it the family in Storybrooke: messy, complicated, and full of pain–and sacrifice that characterizes “real” home, with all its (as it were) warts.
Loved the banter between Robin and Regina. I’m really enjoying this story. Will Regina finally get her happy ending?
How is it possible for Robert Carlyle to break my heart any further? His portrayal of Rumple, imprisoned and spinning, chanting in rhyme is simply heartbreaking. “Rumple, bumple isn’t hear; Rumple Bumple is gone, my dear” — so very sad. The moment between him and Belle is beautifully done, and you can see Belle reaching beyond the madness and into his soul. And his incantation that he would be better off dead.
Was it not great to see Michael Raymond James make a brief comeback and save the day? Yay, Neal!
I loved the moment of the book and Henry–neat reversal of season one, when Henry is trying to get Emma to believe!
Next week–a moment of reckoning for Zelena with the appearance of Dorothy Gayle! Maybe she has a bucket of water at her disposal?
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC. Join me tonight (Monday, April 28) at 9:00 p.m. ET for a roundtable discussion of this week’s Once Upon a Time (and other genre shows) on Let’s Talk TV Live.
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