Thursday , November 30 2023
Glinda provides the key to defeating Zelena on this week's "Once Upon a Time."

TV Review: ‘Once Upon a Time’ – ‘A Curious Thing’

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?Glinda Once Upon a Time

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.

Random observations:

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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About Barbara Barnett

A Jewish mother and (young 🙃) grandmother, Barbara Barnett is an author and professional Hazzan (Cantor). A member of the Conservative Movement's Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Renewal movement's clergy association OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement. In her other life, she is a critically acclaimed fantasy/science fiction author as well as the author of a non-fiction exploration of the TV series House, M.D. and contributor to the book Spiritual Pregnancy. She Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (

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  1. This was a great episode! For one thing (and as I posted elsewhere), I could never explain why I only liked Snow and Charming about half as much as I liked Rumple and Regina. Well, now I kind of know why my heart wasn’t fully into them. Still, this was an excellent Snow and Charming episode. The spellcasting scene was memorable, especially with Regina marvelling, on the side, about the sacrifice that true love enables Snow and Charming to make. Very well done.

    The second sacrifice, with Neal foregoing his own life, for Emma and Henry. If only Emma and Henry knew what a truly great man Neal really was. He wasn’t rich. He made mistakes. But he was capable of great love. In spite of the things that happened to him. It was a serious mistake to kill Bae off.

    The third sacrifice, with Hook risking his life for Emma (and for Henry) shows that Hook too is on a redemptive path. I like the scene at the docks, when Henry asks Hook if “Smee, as in Peter Pan” and Hook says that it’s a common name among seafarers. Colin is a nice addition to the cast and I am appreciating him more and more. And the flying monkeys!

    The scene with Rumple and Belle was breathtaking and heartbreaking. Robert Carlyle should win the Emmy for best actor on a television series. His work is phenomenal. The portrayal of love between Rumple and Belle needs more airtime. That cage scene is a great example of what true love is all about. You can hear, in Belle’s gentleness, the deep love that she has for Rumple. And how that love, even when occluded within Rumple, still finds a way to shine through. A masterful performance.

    I like Regina and Robin. Lana Parilla was great in this episode. I loved the way the Evil Queen broke the curse when she professed her great love for Henry. Symmetrical to Emma breaking the curse at the end of season one. And to see Robin, Regina and Henry walk off, with Henry asking if he’s “THE Robin Hood?” – priceless.

    As an aside, it’s interesting that they cast Greg Mendell’s real life ex-wife (well, Ethan Embry’s ex) as Glynda, the good witch (Sunny Mabrey). Cast the ex husband as the confused villain and the ex wife as being banished into the hinterlands? Hey, OUAT overlords, what are you trying to say?

    Rebecca Mader owns the role of the Wicked Witch. She has done a great job with this character. Her interactions with Rumple really shows that she loves the imp. In her own way, of course.

    Overall, one of my favorite OUAT episodes. This season is arguably the best of the series. The acting has been superb (especially from Carlyle and Robbie Kay). So memo to ABC. Can you please campaign for Robert Carlyle and Lana Parilla (and Robbie Kay) to be nominated for the Emmys? I mean, if Lady Mary can get nominated, why not the British subject who is truly a great actor?

    And one more non sequeter. The series Cosmos is something that every person should be watching. We are woefully out of touch with science in this country. Neil de Grasse Tyson is a wonderful host. Thank you, Seth MacFarlane, for convincing Fox to air this in prime time. While sometimes uneven, this is a show that kids, especially, need to watch. I remember the line earlier in the series, again, that asked. “What does it say about us that we know the names of serial killers but we don’t know the name Jan Oort?” Good stuff.

    • Agree with you as always WML! Also agree about Cosmos. The original series is what stoked my interest in astronomy, and all things science–and inspired me to be a science major as an undergrad. And in another life (and in my novel ;)) I suppose I am an astronomer of a sort.

  2. A very action packed eppy this one, lots going on and I’m glad a few questions that were going through the season were answered..

    Rollercoaster ride from the 1st minute to the last…

    Loved the mixture of comedy and drama in this eppy, the sass going on was great lol and Snow’s line about shoes, very well side Snow 😉

    Loved the Belle scenes as always, from her being at the Council’s table to helping the team with Rumple. Poor Rumple :(, still in a cage in FTL as well as SB, the madness once again overpowering him… Such a beautiful Rumbelle scene..broke my heart when Belle and Rumple reached for each other’s hand and Rumple said ‘light’….once again brilliant work from Robert and Emilie there..

    I do like the Outlaw Queen scenes, I’m still waiting for the angst to hit them lol. So glad that Henry is back! :D, and great to see Regina’s kiss to Henry breaking the curse, nice parallel there from the 1st season..

    Cool to see Glinda, and I must admit I’m not 100% sure that Emma will be the one who will defeat Zelana, could be totally wrong of course lol, but I just have this feeling….

    Snow casting the curse, never saw that one coming!, and I really liked Snow/Emma scene in SB..we haven’t had any for a few eppy’s and it was a really good emotional scene..

    Loved the end scene with Rumple knowing that the pain of what he is going through, then Bae re-appearing!!, great to see Bae again…

    All in all, great scenes, action packed and I can’t wait for next week! and yes Zelana needs to die now 😉

  3. I thought the episode was okay, I didn’t think it was as good as some of the previous episodes only because parts of the episode seemed a little rushed and there were some details that bothered me a bit (e.g. killing the flying monkeys that were once people, lol). It’s kind of funny, I seem to be favoring the episodes that focus more on character interactions (like Bleeding Through and Quiet Minds) than on the action oriented episodes, but that doesn’t mean “A Curious Thing” didn’t have some great moments.

    First of all, I loved the reversal of how the Storybrooke/amnesia curse was lifted (getting Henry to believe by giving him the OUAT book and having Regina kiss Henry). I loved how everyone worked together, although I was a little disappointed that Belle wasn’t in the Storybrooke scenes, but then again she’s a thinker not a fighter (at least not in the physical sense). Speaking of Belle, I loved the Rumbelle scene. Seeing that Belle was the only person able to reach Rumple through his haze of madness was truly heartbreaking and endearing to watch (kudos to Robert Carlyle he is extremely talented). I am also loving Outlaw Queen both in the Enchanted Forest and in Storybrooke; she was back to being her somewhat bratty self (probably because she chose to emotionally close herself off because she misses Henry), but Robin Hood was not putting up with it. In a nutshell, when Regina sasses Robin sasses right back; their Storybrooke scenes were also very sweet (they even spent the night 😉 at Granny’s B & B).

    My main criticism of the episode (besides killing the flying monkeys, lol) was the heart splitting scene; don’t misunderstand Lana, Ginny, and Josh did a good job in that scene, but for some reason I felt that scene was a bit of a cheat, only because it cheapened Charming’s sacrifice (not to mention Snow put her unborn baby at risk), and the main theme of Season 3b seems to be “sacrifice”. I was not expecting Snow to cast the dark curse, that was an interesting twist, but I also thought it was a selfish move on her part because she inconvenienced everyone in the realm (or at least her kingdom). I shouldn’t be quick to judge, however, because the characters on OUAT are known to do selfish acts for the sake of family (like Neal bringing his father back from the dead to reunite with Emma and Henry), but I think the Dark Curse should have been a “last resort” after Snow, Charming, and Regina have exhausted all other options. I know Regina kept saying that there is no longer a way to get to the Land Without Magic from the Enchanted Forest, but there must have been other paths to take. I also felt that the episode was a bit rushed, it probably would have been better to spread out the details and the goals amongst the last few episodes. In addition, I felt that the Enchanted Forest (past year) scenes could have been fleshed out a little more.

    Overall, the episode was okay. I’m absolutely enjoying Season 3 as a whole 🙂

    Random observation: I also loved the scene where Neal broke away from his father’s body (that’s a little awkward to write) to send directions to Hook on how to find Emma. In the end, Neal was truly a hero 🙂

    • Neal’s life has been challenging and yet he never loses the capacity to love, forgive, and ultimately sacrifice himself for the people he cares about. the OUAT overlords should have kept him and really flesh out his story. And where is Wendy and her brothers? Should they not have been at his funeral (was Tink in attendance)? The writers did fans a great disservice when they killed off this noble character. Is it surprising to people that the lowest rated OUAT episode this year was the Hook centric Jolly Roger? While the overlords of the show like pretty faces, there’s something to be said about a guy that reflects the human struggle. Neal and his father are the epitome of the conflict that makes us human. Sorry, OUAT overlords, I am STILL VERY SERIOUSLY DISPLEASED!