Well, what do you know – Once Upon A Time is gearing up for the Final Battle as much as its characters are, and with two more episodes till the two-hour Season (not series, you hear me? Season) finale, the show is clicking on more cylinders than we were inclined to think it could at this point in time.
Not because they show can’t be great – it can. It was last week. It’s just that it can also get lost on tangents, make characters say and do things that actively hurt the journey they’re on, and sometimes, even neglect to advance story-lines for so long that we forget what those story-lines are.
“Where Bluebirds Fly,” however, isn’t one of those episodes that makes us roll our eyes so far back that they might as well get stuck. In fact – for a Zelena centric hour (the weakest character of the ensemble by far), it was a surprisingly emotional, funny, interesting episode that managed to keep the public invested even during flashbacks, and now just because Rebecca Mader is a hell of an actress.
So, let’s go into Zelena’s long overdue redemption, domestic Captain Swan, Mother and Fatherzilla and, of course …that final secret.
WICKED ALWAYS WINS
Funny how this line comes back, because this line perfectly encapsulates Zelena, or at least, what Zelena wanted to do, to be. Her whole life her one goal was to be a winner, to be better, to prove Cora wrong for abandoning her. She didn’t do this for herself, she didn’t even do it to it to earn her mother’s love, she did it because she was just and she didn’t know what else to do.
What’s a lost girl to do when she realizes she’s not enough? Pretend she doesn’t care, of course.
In a way, Zelena’s story is Emma’s story with a twist. Both were abandoned. Emma made up walls around her heart to protect herself; Zelena used her magic as a shield. Thing is, after a while, the shield became so effective that she became convinced that the shield was a part of her – and not just a small part, but an integral part. Just like Emma struggled with the notion of who she was without the Savior, Zelena struggled with the idea of who she was without magic.
And the answer, in her mind was this: No one.
Zelena has never been a favorite character of mine, despite my tremendous love for Bex Mader because the show has always done a bad job of painting her as anything more than a one-dimensional character. Sure, we’ve been privy to her struggles, but when faced with an option of doing good or evil, Zelena has, time and time again, chosen to do the thing that benefits her, no matter who she’s hurt. And that’s not even going into how she forced Robin – forced, yes, there was no consent, he didn’t know it was her – to have sex with her in order to get pregnant, all to get back at Regina.
Even that, though, the writing has treated as less than what it was. She’s not the first character the writers have been made to be forgiven for something that was basically unforgivable, not because of the fact that they repented, no, but because they’ve ignored that there was ever a mistake in the first place.
Couple that with the fact that Zelena’s whole purpose in the show seems to be argue with Regina and make the wrong choices, and there was very little to like.
This episode attempts to fix those writing mistakes, and though, of course, it only scratches the surface of the problems the character has had, it’s a step in the right direction because, for the first time, it focuses on one issue that it identifies as the cause for Zelena’s whole history of making the wrong choice.
She’s afraid. Afraid that she’s not enough. Afraid that people won’t love her if they see the real her. Afraid that she’s made too many mistakes for a happy ending.
And yet – this time, she makes a different choice. She chooses to not just want things to get better, but to actively do something to make them so. She chooses to stop asking Regina to trust her and just give her reasons to do so. She chooses to be proactive. She chooses to sacrifice the one thing that she thought made her special in the hopes that she’s wrong, people – her sister, in particular, will still see her as worthy even without her magic.
“How do you feel?” Regina asks she gives up her magic. “Weak,” Zelena responds. “But you’ve never looked stronger,” Regina replies, and she’s right. Zelena has never looked stronger. She’s never looked more like a hero, either.
Ah, good writing. Please be here to stay.
The problem with Regina and Zelena, a problem both Lana Parrilla and Rebecca Mader play to perfection, is that they’re both scared to death to trust the other. They want to and it’s clear they care for each other, but they’ve been burned so many times that opening up is hard. They also, in a way that’s so sisterly that there really is no other way to describe it, trigger each other in the worst ways.
Regina’s attitude always pushes Zelena away. Does that mean Zelena’s choices are Regina’s responsibility? No. But it might have been easier to make the right choices had Zelena ever felt like she had any kind of support system.
That being said, it’s hard to blame Regina for not trusting Zelena. Even after what happened to Hades, we have to remember that Zelena is to blame for all of that business with Robin, and, in Regina’s mind, partly for Robin’s death as well. Forgiveness, even for Once Upon A Time standards, is a lot to ask.
And yet – at the end of this episode – it feels like the sisters might be ready to embark on a new journey, one of acceptance, one of trust. They might need some time, but they’re finally walking together in the same direction.
THIS. This is what I’ve been asking for all along, this is what Once Upon A Time could have (should have) given Captain Swan at least a season ago. And I’m not just talking about the happiness, though the way Emma was completely incapable of not touching Hook was both very relatable and completely real, but the quiet moments of them just doing ordinary things.
They’re living together, after all. It’s been fifteen episodes and we’ve seen them inside their house alone so few times that I can count them with one hand. This is meant to be a common thing, an ordinary thing – a couple making breakfast together (well, technically, Emma cooked, but I get the sense Killian is way more capable in that regard), and yet we’ve gotten so few of these couple’s quiet moments together that we sorta feel like we’ve been cheated out of the happy and just been presented with the angst.
And I get it, this is TV. No one would watch 40 minutes of an ordinary day, says conventional wisdom. But this is 2017 and I just want to call bullshit on that. I’d watch and entire episode of Captain Swan making breakfast, going out with Henry, meeting Snow and David for lunch, having family dinner at Regina’s.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.
So thank you, Once Upon A Time, for finally getting with the program. If (when) we get a Season 7, can you promise us much more of this?
Parents want the best for their children. That’s a nearly universal truth. Snow wants Emma to get married not just because she’s been dreaming about her baby getting married since long before she wants to admit, but because she sees Emma’s happiness and she wants to bottle that feeling, to give Emma the same chances she had, not to be a princess, not to rule a Kingdom, but to marry the love of her life, to celebrate the fact that, even in a world billed as the one without happy endings, Emma found hers.
David, always the more pragmatic of the two, wants all of that, but wants it when life is quiet, when they can enjoy it, when the wedding is just about that – the wedding. He wants to walk his baby down that aisle and not feel like he has to get out his sword to make sure they get through the ceremony. He wants Emma’s life to be happy, yes, but he also wants it to be quiet, peaceful.
He wants those quiet moments for Emma.
And, in a way, all of this is understandable, but it’s also about …well, them. David and Snow’s concerns are deeply personal. They have Emma’s best interest at heart, yes, but Emma won’t get married when and where they say – Emma will get married when it’s right for her and Hook. Her mom and dad don’t get the make the decisions. They already had their wedding.
They do, however, get a say. Parents always get a say, even if kids end up not listening to them.
“We love each other,” Emma tells her parents about her and Hook (and the conviction with which she says it…how far you’ve come, Emma), but she’s saying more than that, she’s saying we’ve got this. We’re going to do it when/where/how we want to. And it’s going to be beautiful and perfect and meaningful either way, because we love each other. And that’s really all that matters.
CAN A POC GET A HAPPY ENDING AROUND HERE?
No, seriously, can one? I want to believe that the show doesn’t intend to send the message that fairy tales are for white, straight people, but …it’s been six seasons and other than that beautiful Ruby Slippers episode (where are they? Are they coming back? Are they invited to the wedding?), we’ve gotten very little in the way of actual, lasting representation on this show.
And, of course, Once Upon A Time is not close to the only show failing on that regard, but it is a show about hope and happy endings, and it would be good to send the message that that hope and those happy endings are open to everyone.
I love you, Once Upon A Time, I do. But you have to do better. We all have to do better.
THINGS THAT DO NOT MAKE SENSE, A LIST
- Isn’t Zelena like really, really powerful? Can’t she at least place a protection spell over Robin so every villain that comes into town doesn’t try to steal her?
- How is Gideon stronger than Regina?
- So, no follow up to the whole Gideon is resisting the Black Fairy thing? Nothing? Not even a resist me and I will kill your mother or something? Seriously, nothing?
- Belle might be a good babysitter, but why are you leaving your kid at Rumple’s, Zelena? Does that seem like a good idea? This is Rumple we’re talking about, and you’re not his favorite person.
OTHER THINGS TO NOTE
- Emma made enough pancakes to feed a small army – or two people ravenous after a night of …well, is pancakes the new euphemism?
- KEYS ARE FOR EMERGENCIES, SNOW. EMERGENCIES.
- Call first.
- Save the environment.
- Because you totally made Hook go take a second, cold, shower.
- Although, fine, I will admit excited Snow is kind of adorable.
- And Snow/Emma bonding should be a thing that happens every episode.
- Charming family bonding, actually. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.
- When has leaving Zelena alone to cool off EVER worked?
- Dude, no one likes Blue.
- Henry, no offense buddy, but you’re the most useless author ever.
- Grandpa Charming gives me FEELS.
- I’ve had fights like the one Regina/Zelena had with my sister.
- Right down to the hitting each other harder than we intended.
- “We were cursed!” is the new “We were on a break”
- You can’t just show me the back of a girl who looks like Ruby, Once Upon A Time. That’s cruel. GIVE ME RUBY.
- So many episodes were lost with Snow and Charming on that stupid sleeping curse. These two work best together.
- And, no, I haven’t re-discovered that I ship them hard just now, but it’s easier to full on ship when they’re in front of me.
- “And if she wanted to get married in our bathroom, it would be perfect.” – Snow gets it. It’s not about the place, it’s about the person you’re marrying.
- “If this is about Hook that ship has sailed and there’s a pirate on it, deal with it.” Are you talking to the fandom, Snow? I feel like you are.
- “You’re all I’ve got, Regina.” Gave me FEELS, okay?
- I mean, I’d totally go to Rumple, but I would never totally trust Rumple, if you know what I mean.
- Gideon totally looks like he’s on the Black Fairy’s side. NOT.
NEXT, ON ONCE UPON A TIME
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.