Even though I kind of always had a love/hate relationship with ONCE UPON A TIME (mostly love, I promise!), one thing that this show has always done right has been character development. Almost seven seasons in, the show has its faults, but this has always been one of its very important strengths and, after all this time, they are still delivering brilliantly in my book.
Last night’s “Where Blue Birds Fly” was an amazing example on how you have a character go full circle and find redemption. When I saw the promo last week and realized it was a Zelena episode, I thought it was just going to be a filler until the big musical everyone has been talking about. But I stand corrected. Following the trend of the past three episodes, they delivered another very strong hour about a character that has been mostly in the backburner this season, had a bit of humor and family time with Snow White playing Motherzilla of the bride and even managed to move the plot along.
If that’s not an episode that hits all the right marks and passes with flying colors, I don’t know what is.
During the flashbacks we saw that Zelena always chose magic over anything else, thinking it made her powerful and feared, and that that was all she needed out of life. It turns out she was once friends with the guy who would become the Tin Man and she ended up being the reason he became one, ultimately. The heart he needed in order to be a normal mal again needed to be powered with magic and Zelena was not willing to part with hers, even to save an old friend’s life. Major kudos to the bonus of finding our how the Cowardly Lion came to be, though. That was such a special touch and left me smiling like an idiot afterwards.
Back in Storybrooke, the Black Fairy tries to recruit Zelena and, in order to do so, shows up in her house and takes baby Robin in her arms. Now, you don’t mess with mama bear Zelena, and she refuses the evil fairy’s offer and decides then and there that she will take on the villain all by herself, because she is way more powerful than both Regina and Emma. Of course her plan backfires and she and Regina – who went to the dwaves’ mines after her crazy sister – end up trapped and fall straight into what had been the Black Fairy’s plan all along. She needed Zelena to use her magic to turn all the fairy crystals in the mine black, so that she would be able to use it as a powerful weapon against the Savior.
And Zelena, in her deluded mind that she just had to be better than everyone else, plays right into her hand, giving her the ultimate power. Regina is obviously furious with her and tells her she should just take the black crystal, pack her bags and go back to Oz, because she just made everything worse for everyone here. We could actually see Zelena’s heart breaking in that moment and how Regina’s harsh words cut her deep.
But here is where this show excels in character development – Zelena goes back home with Robin and she is determined to just leave this godforsaken town once and for all, but somewhere along the way, she realizes she has the tool to fix everything, if only she could let go of her pride and her magic. So she does exactly that and, to everyone’s surprise, saves the day.
So now that we got a powerless Zelena in Storybrooke, what does that mean for the character? I sure as hell hope it doesn’t mean she’s expendable now, especially with contracts still up in the air and major changes planned for season 7. As much as she has been neglected this year, I still find Rebecca Mader’s Zelena completely delightful and I don’t want her going anywhere any time soon.
Elsewhere in Storybrooke, we had Snow going full on Motherzilla of the bride. She even interrupted a much needed – and anticipated – sexy times scene for Hook and Emma in a delightful parallel to that early OUAT moment when Emma walked in on her parents. And was that just me, or was that scene the longest Captain Swan love scene in the history of this show? My shipper heart was screaming in joy and I admit I had heart eyes the entire time I was watching them. Haven’t you heard, my babies are getting married!
So Snow interrupts sexy times and recruits everyone to go check out wedding venues. Even though they are on the verge of the Final Battle, she thinks a wedding is exactly what they need to decompress and have fun and take their minds off of impending doom – at least for a little while. No one wants to do it and David is so not in the mood to do this, when they need to be thinking about a way to help his daughter defeat the Black Fairy in the Final Battle. It takes most of the episode and a lot of hilarious scenes, but Emma and David finally make her see that having a wedding now isn’t going to change anything, and that they shouldn’t rush into anything just because they might die soon.
This episode was just so solid and very reminiscent of old school ONCE UPON A TIME, that it was a joy to watch. After a mostly just okay first half of the season, they have really found their footing again and are doing an amazing job.
ONCE UPON A TIME returns next Sunday, April 30, at 8/7C on ABC.