In the aftermath of Neal’s shocking death, this week’s Once Upon a Time takes us not to the Wild Wild West, but, instead to the Wild Wicked West, where we find Regina’s evil queen facing off against Zelena’s Wicked Witch of the West in “It’s not Easy Being Green.” Zelean’s Ace in the hole is her beleaguered, grief-stricken slave Rumplestiltskin. (And if you haven’t yet read this week’s two-part character analysis of our Rumple, please do so now…or at least after you’ve read this week’s review!)
At last we discover what it is that Zelena wants (the something Rumple has been seeking his entire life, as she’d said): a second chance. But unlike Rumple’s failed second chance, that fled through his fingers like sand once Zelena became involved, the Wicked Witch isn’t seeking a moment of redemption or unification. She seeks to prove to Rumplestiltskin that she is the most powerful of his students; that it was she Rumple should have chosen to enact his curse.
We learn a lot about Zelena’s early life, and how, in a very significant way, she’s inherited the very worst of Cora’s traits. She is an envious, bitter woman, jealous of her sister. Yes, Regina has gotten more breaks, and Zelena had been scorned by her adopted family for her magic, suffering the isolation of being different. But even Rumple admonishes Zelena (as had the Wizard of Oz) for envying what she cannot have.
So. Zelena is Cora’s child, abandoned because she could not achieve for Cora her heart’s desire: to be a Royal. But who is Zelena’s father, and how has she come to possess magic? We learn, certainly, that Regina also had been born with an inherent gift of magic, as had apparently Cora. But, as Rumple warns, for magic to work demands strong emotion–anger; yet to control it, magic also requires holding onto a moment of happiness: a talisman against going too far or being too wild. For Rumple the anger comes from Malcolm’s abandonment; the sweet memory from his childhood: the smell of meat pies baking and being under the spare, but loving watch of the two spinster sisters who take him in when no one else cares.
Several threads from seasons past are touchstones in “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” We learn why the silver slippers are so important to Rumple. They are what he’d believed needed to travel to the “land without magic,” in which he might find Baelfire. We learn, too, that Rumple had carefully chosen who–and how–his curse would be implemented.
And we learn the identity at last of the Wizard. Who else was surprised it is Walsh, a simple non-magical Kansas man, who warns Zelena about envy (as does Rumple). Oz’s magic comes from collecting magical things, and his price for giving her the slippers is to bring him something from Rumple’s collection (I wonder what it might be?).
Of course the episode begins with the teary farewell to Neal as each friend or family member drops dirt onto his casket; it is the final thing one can do for another: assisting the burial in this way. It is a pure kindness, for this gift can never be paid back. How tragic is it that Rumple cannot attend his son’s funeral? As each shovel hits the casket, we see Rumple feeling it physically; something I’m certain Zelena arranged. She torments him with what she has stolen from him–that he will never get that second chance with Baelfire for which he has longed for centuries.
But like others in Once Upon a Time, Zelena is the victim of a terrible childhood: Rumple, Regina, Emma, Baelfire all are victims of parental neglect and/or abandonment. But that cannot excuse her for her green-throated envy and truly evil temperament after wheedling her way into Rumple’s castle, trying to prove to Cora (and Rumple) that she is the more powerful magical being.
The letter she leaves Regina is truly cruel, meant to shake her confidence and rattle her skills. But Regina is smarter and wise than she may have been a year earlier. And in a truly brilliant move, she removes from play the one thing Zelena craves from Regina, besides approval: her heart. She has stolen David’s courage, Rumple’s mind (which is now under her control), and now needs Regina’s heart to do create for herself a second chance to prove herself the most powerful sorcerer in all of Fairytale Land.
So, for the moment, Zelena is thwarted, but she still has control of Rumple’s dagger, and with it, control of him. He’s fighting it, and losing–battered and broken. Belle is able to get through to him, but it had been all of a plan–Zelena’s–to let her get into Rumple’s cell. He warns Belle that it is useless to try to rescue him, and she should run. But she is persistent and tentatively takes her hand, only to be interrupted by Zelena. “Run,” Rumple implores Belle, trying with his last ounce of will to chase her away. God only knows what Zelena will make Rumple do to Belle, and he knows it. Someone has to get that dagger, and soon!
So why is it really that Rumple chooses Regina over Zelena? Why had he not been able to foresee the silver slippers? Or perhaps he had known in some way and chooses Regina anyway. As he says to Zelena, he would choose Regina again, even if there were a second chance. I think when Rumple had been seeking a vessel for the curse, he needed someone with anger, yes, and bitterness (and Regina certainly had possessed enough of that towards Cora), but also a heart–and a hope of happiness. When he meets Regina, she yet has a sweet innocence about her; something Zelena lacks with her envy.
Regina and Robin; Emma, Henry, Hook
I really like the way the creators are crafting the relationship between Regina and Robin Hood, making them allies in a slowly developing friendship. I’m looking forward to where this is going. I also like the way they’re redeeming Hook, letting him bond with Henry, which will, of course melt Emma’s heart. (And by the way, I loved her cheeky remark about Hook’s leather and eyeliner thing!)
Next week, it appears that the story will turn back to Hook’s origin story as Zelena continues to move towards her goal. Once Upon a Time airs Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. on ABC,.
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