Well, Once Upon a Time unveiled Zelena's backstory this week, and shockingly it was all about her double dose of parental abandonment. Basically every character on this show has complicated issues with their parents, but all the “good” folks have parents who ultimately wanted them. All the “bad” characters have parents who ultimately rejected them. I don’t know if this is some kind of endlessly repetitive thesis statement on therapy and the criminal justice system or just lazy writing, but I really wish someone would make a supercut of all the OUAT scenes in which long-haired, peasant-garbed extras loudly and abruptly disown their children.
Zelena was a super magical baby, which weirded out her peasant dad so much that he disowned her one morning after she gave him a nice shave, then told her to make his breakfast—and she was like, “Me and my magic are outta here, I’m going to the Wizard of Oz!” and bless Rebecca Mader’s heart, she said that line with a straight face.
The Wizard equipped her with the Silver Slippers and off she went to creepy-crawl Regina’s royal apartments.
Meanwhile, Emma, the Charmings and an extremely haute couture Regina were having a potluck wake for Neal at Granny’s, because the Charmings’ apartment has the square footage of a cocktail napkin and using the church’s fellowship hall means inviting the Blue Fairy, so no thanks. Like a vulture diving for a freshly killed skunk, Hook was diving nose-first into Emma’s business. He wanted to tell Henry about Bae, about boys, about boats, and also he wanted to secretly smell Emma's hair. She made this snappy little joke about “What are you going to teach him about, eyeliner and leather?”and Hook got completely quiet. His reaction was the kind of serious usually reserved for explaining to youngsters Why the Goldfish is Upside-Down, and it made the comment seem waaaay more mean and the moment was so weirdly, delightfully awkward.
Across the extremely small diner, Tinker Bell was frantically micro-managing Regina's business, all like, “Have you noticed the lion tattoo? That is my guar-ON-tee that you and that dude are soul mates. What are you waiting for, huh? Go date that guy! Mmm, hmm, look at alllll that man meat. Why don’t you go get it, Regina?! Why don’t you go get that sweet, sweet man candy, Regina?! Is it because of Emma?! Is it because you guys are secretly in a relaish?! THEN SAY IT TO MY FACE, REGINA! WHY DON’T YOU SAY IT TO MY FACE!?” and bursting into full-body sobs.
...but then BANG, Granny’s door had flown open and Zelena was waltzing in wearing a full-on witch costume/what she wears everyday and announcing herself as the Baddest Witch Who Ever Bewitched Y’all, Bitches because she’d given up waiting for the Charmings to come find her. She knew if she waited on them, her plan for small-town domination could take another four seasons and she did not have the patience.
I honestly think even with everything that went down last episode, Mary-Margs was still confused about who the witch was, and as for Zelena, I know she has Rumple’s dagger so she’s invincible, but her theatrical twilight showdown challenge was about as menacing and organic to the plot as a Gilbert & Sullivan musical number. Still, Regina was admirably game, that old bloodlust swirling up in her eyes, promising she’d be there with the her flashiest color accents on. Zelena hurried away to think of some more one-liners and retorts that involved the word “wicked," and Emma was like, “So is this one of those times where all we have to do is touch and everything turns out okay?” and Regina was like, “Prolly, but lemme take a swing at it on my own first because we’ve got six episodes left.”
So Regina went around to dig through Cora’s old love letters and we learned more about Zelena’s backstory, which involved getting Silver Slippers from the Wizard so she could transcend realms (where are those now? How soon ’til Emma gets her hands on ‘em?) and getting a big Teacher’s Pet crush on Rumplestiltskin even though he was at the crisis point of his body-glitter phase. It was probably psychological transference: Who can resist a man who takes you out to the woods for a little blindfolded rage-therapy...
...and then makes a pissing contest out of who has the saddest “abandoned widdle boy” memory? I also very much doubt the kindly weaving women who made him all those meat pies appreciate being referred to exclusively as “spinsters.” It’s Franny and Elspeth, okay?!?!? They're people THEY HAD NAMES.
Emma knew that Regina wanted to do things “on her own" but decided she was going to help whether Regina liked it or not by dangling Belle in front of Rumple to get him away from Zelena, because no one saw the episode that explained how powerful the Dark One’s Dagger is, I guess. It’s a remote control for his brain guys! Although the repeating Rumpbelle relationship dynamic has never been so starkly illustrated as Belle bravely rushing into a cellar to help Rumple, and his first reaction being “GET OUT OF HERE!” Oh Belle. I got an ISBN for you to check out, girl it’s 9781416909538 a.k.a. He’s Just Not That Into You. Prepare to RELATE, lady.
Regina meanwhile had learned that a letter written by Rumple that she had always cherished, that of course we'd never heard of before this episode, had not been describing her when it praised Cora’s firstborn as “powerful,” “stunning,” and “capable of making a meat pie the size of a birthday cake.” No, all that praise was for Zelena, and Regina was feeling super insecure, which meant it was time for Robin Hood to step out from behind his hidey-tree and get in her head.
Meanwhile, Hook took Henry out on a sloop and tried to show him how a sextant worked, because men channel important bonding moments through gadgetry. Killian didn’t do the mental math on Henry not remembering everything, and kept doing confusing stuff like mentioning when Bae was a boy and DRESSING IN FULL PIRATE GARB. Of all the issues I have with OUAT, I think the thing that ultimately puzzles me the most is why the producers refuse to let Colin just put on some cords and a sweater. Every time I look at his costume I get itchy. I just hope they have multiples so he hasn’t actually been wearing the same leather frock coat for two years. There must be union rules against that.
Later he approached Emma about how much Bae was in her boy (lol) and she was like, “This is not a doorway conversation”—which, good point. But if you happen to ship Captain Swan, I can see why this might've felt like Hook slipping into daddy mode, and I actually agreed with his statement that she’s only delaying the inevitable in not telling Henry the truth about what’s going on in Storybrooke. The way baddies waltz around shouting exposition in this town, the truth or a fireball or both are going to hit the kid sooner or later.
At the Main Street showdown, all 15 of Storybrooke's residents turned up, and Emma almost challenged Zelena to a fistfight because she was getting so worried about Regina, but when Zelena turned on Emma, Regina showed up wearing statement gloves,. She whopped Zelena in the face and Zelena threw Regina into a car, then Itchy & Scratchy-style sent her into the clock tower.
You’d think at some point Regina would be like, “Hey, guess what, our mom was super abusive and married me to a weird old man and killed everyone I loved basically. Do you want to actually hear her about her for five minutes? Isn’t it cool that we both have always wanted to find our family and now we have family and maybe we can spend like five minutes talking?”
But obviously, bad characters only value family or act with any kind of naturalism when it’s convenient to the plot that they do so, so instead we got a lot of lady-on-lady punches, and then Zelena revealed that her whole big plan was to gather Regina’s heart, Rumple’s brain, and Charming’s courage and cast ANOTHER curse, because a season finale is coming, and I don’t know if OUAT is legally allowed to have a finale without a curtain of billowy CGI smoke sweeping across the landscape. We learned that Zelena would've killed Regina if she could've, and that Rumple had chosen Regina to cast the curse because he was the thing Zelena loved most. Zelena stuck her arm into Regina’s chest and rooted around like she was trying to find the flag in the last 30 seconds on a Family Double Dare obstacle course, but of course Regina had removed it before Zelena showed up.
“Something you would know if our mother hadn’t ABANDONED YOU” said Regina, a legitimately epic diss.
Here poor Zelena thought she could throw around a lot of “wicked” wordplay and be hard, but the downside of endlessly spouting your tragic backstory like it’s a set of credentials is that then everyone knows your weak points, and can twist their verbal knives in you until no number of pointy hats will ever make you feel cool again.
Zelena flew off at the moon and Emma ran up the stairs screaming to Regina, “ARE YOU ALRIGHT ARE YOU ALRIGHT?" but Charming got to Regina first and helped her up, whispering “Conceal don’t feel!” which is something he writes in the fog of the bathroom mirror every morning before putting on his “happy face” and barreling through the day. Regina explained that Zelena needed Regina's heart to cast another curse, and everybody onscreen did the saddest face, like, “Our lives are one hellish smoke curse loop!” But their sad faces were not nearly as sad as those of us viewers. ANOTHER CURSE, HUH!?
There’s an element of redundancy going on—the repetition of the abandoning parents, the long-lost relations, the mysterious cloud of smoke—that’s going to swiftly move OUAT from “enjoyably ludicrous” to “come on guys, it’s fantasy. There’s no rules. Surprise us maybe? Maybe she wants to cast a time warp, at least? Do we have to do the ‘big wall of smoke’ thing again?” I mean, the idea of a reset to the past is actually quite intriguing—especially as a means to redeem Regina/keep her from going full-on evil... unless that reset prevents Regina’s birth, what show would that even be? Oh, we know what show that would be:
1987–1988! Good times.
Anyway, Regina staggered off to the woods to retrieve her heart from Robin, who had carefully hidden it under a pile of loose dirt.
Hopefully Regina had some Windex wipes to get the spider eggs and squirrel scat off. And then she asked him to keep it for her during this whole “Zelena crisis” because A) it will shut Tinker Bell up and B) Emma is the first person Zelena would suspect if she’d lived in Storybrooke for more than 24 hours. No really, this was such an incredibly non-Regina thing to do. She has a giant secret crypt full of heart drawers, but she thinks this guy—who has no magic, who is only a pretty good shot, and who has a toddler around him all the time (toddlers = literally sticky fingers)—this guy is going to keep Zelena away from Regina's heart? Man, he better.
... Too many curses?
... Too many parental abandonments?
... Should Belle change her Facebook status from “It’s Complicated” to “Single”?
... Do you think Hook has multiple Pirate Fancy Dress costumes, or just the one?
... If Henry doesn’t do something to save Regina, will part of you never be whole?
... Shouldn’t Emma and Regina basically just hold hands and beam Zelena outta there? Based on precedent, wouldn’t that solve everything?