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Once Upon a Time S03E13: "Witch Hunt"

The way you can tell how much I loved this episode is that at the end I was just like:

And people only make that face when they're seriously head over heels in love. Or else poetry is just letters and the moon an inadequate streetlight!

"Witch Hunt" was essentially a showcase for Lana Parrilla’s acting range and as such could be nothing less than stellar. To quote The Game: “How you paint pictures you deserve Grammys and Oscars,” and Parrilla has been putting in 40 hours per week of Oscar-worthy performances since this show began out in the cold, cold woods and in front of green screens. OUAT is always at its best when its wildly talented cast gets to just talk with each other and emote about things that aren’t merely props from a RenFaire, and they did that so much this episode! And on top of that, OUAT winkingly subverted its own tropes,featured both the reappearance of Ruby AND Rumplestiltskin, and gave us some of the show’s best special effects of its entire run. Dang bros! When this show is good, it is very very good. And when it is bad it’s hilarious.

Regina showcased her fierce mothering skills by turning a flying monkey into a stuffed animal before it could snatch little Roland Hood, and then by patiently explaining her plan to retake the castle to Charming and Snow like it was arithmetic and they were five-year-olds. Apparently slow and monosyllabic are the way to go with those two beautiful chumps. Once Regina set aside the sass and got thoroughly explanatory, she was able to make the Charmings comprehend and agree to her plan to disable the shield. Regina also hilariously was like, “I do not need ANY of you to go retake this castle, let’s be real, remember Neverland? Yeah, you guys just sit here and wait for me to fix everything like you’ve been doing, I am too depressed to pretend you’re helpful when Emma’s not around.”

And in Storybrooke, Snow was presenting herself to Henry with a surprisingly sassy fake backstory: She introduced herself as Emma’s former cellmate!

And then Regina gasped, shot to her feet, her coffee cup falling from her hands because there, like some beautiful dream, was EMMA Henry back in Storybrooke! Emma did not lose a minute hurrying Regina to a cozy back hallway for an abrupt reunion.

Regina was like, “Henry looked right through me... but you clearly remember me because you are staring at me with the intensity of a thousand suns, whoa.” and Emma was like, “Stop being gorgeous and give me some answers: Is this curse just a way to get me back, or have my parents just been sniffing glue?” and Regina was like, “Believe you me, I remember nothing and if I was in charge of this curse we’d be in the mayoral mansion right now wearing matching pajamas and making Henry some pancakes.” And then the two cooked up a daring little plan that played on the fact everyone in Storybrooke knows that if Regina gets all angry and flares up then Emma will go chasing her around town and during that time no one should disturb them. 

But first we had an interlude with the Merrie Men, who had knocked over a Patagonia. In Little John’s efforts to kill a turkey he'd crossed the town line and gotten snatched up in an Evil Flying Monkey’s paws. And Hook was like “LOL Emma that’s your boyfriend! You almost married a monkey!” and Prince Charming acted REALLY UPSET that Emma, a 30-year-old woman who has known him for a grand total of three months and who he had planned to never see again, had been considering marriage. Spare me your fatherly indignation, guy—although maybe he was just taken aback at the bestiality? IDK.

But forsooth: In ye year-olde fairy-tale flashbacks, Regina was lifting a giant boulder with her mind! Robin Hood stepped out from a tree and was suitably impressed, and insisted that despite her obvious powers he was tagging along as the dead weight for this mission—like it or not, missy! 

During an extremely treacherous trek through the shadowy soundstage castle’s tunnels where a single wrong step could mean being squashed by a giant garlic press for people, Robin Hood decided there was no time like the present for an expository speech about his deceased wife. Regina was extremely interested, and fellow viewers, I feel I should point out that a death trap is no place for a pity party. And then when they got to a crypt he was like, “Is this Hogwarts?” and Regina was like, “No it’s a crypt” and Robin Hood was like, “Don’t take this the wrong way but you have a mother’s touch,” and she revealed to Robin Hood that she had lost her son forever but probably not the way he thought #itscomplicated #doyouevenknowaboutotherdimensionsbro.

But their crammed-in bonding sesh was brought to a halt when Regina realized someone had broken her blood magick barrier!

First of all, blood magick: That's a pretty intense term getting thrown around like so much confetti. Second: Later Zelena would claim that she and Regina were sisters and thus she could break Regina’s blood magick, but we also saw a monkey retrieve some of Regina’s blood for her last episode, so... probably she’s completely lying about being half-sisters. Hopefully she’s lying. Hopefully it's OUAT playing on its flogged-to-death trope of Long Lost Relatives to fool us with an actual, well-thought-out twist. Hopefully Cora did not have a frenzied, passionate affair with like, Old King Cole—or actually hopefully she DID because I’d love to see Rose MacGowan back. (Maybe she’s Dorothy? Can I guess that Dorothy is the Wicked Witch’s mom? That’s sort of how this thing works, right? We could call her Cora-thy? Who wants to bet me a donut?)

The dramatic irony would become almost unbearable later, when Snow, reading a baby manual from 1923, was approached by Zelena in plain-face at Granny’s Diner and Snow chirped “Huh, you’re new!” and Zelena threw a lot of “Wow you’re a princess, you’re amazing, I love royalty, I had a commemorative plate of you and Charming” at her and Snow didn’t question for a moment that a new person was suddenly loafing about in Storybrooke. Um... there should've been a Color Guard’s worth of red flags waving in Snow’s brain that there was someone new in town. Come on, princess: NO ONE COULD ENTER OR LEAVE THIS BROKE-DOWN BURG BEFORE, YET SOMEHOW SOMEONE NEW POPPED UP FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 29 YEARS JUST AS A NEW BIG BAD APPEARED ON THE HORIZON, COULD YOU MAYBE QUESTION THAT?! I know Snow White’s naive stupidity is the spackle holding this plot together but geez girl.

Also Grumpy shouted all of his lines with almost no inflection. Was it a bit? Is this just him now? Acting choices.

Regina had a series of very expository scenes with Robin Hood where he was pleading with her not to take the Sleeping Curse and to believe in second chances, but they were totally emotionally outgunned by the scenes they were cut against, scenes with Emma and Regina meeting up in Regina’s office to begin their secret relationship. That’s not even me being cheeky! That’s the news, plainly put: Emma and Regina are secretly working together to figure out who cast the curse, and they are deceiving the town (LOL they are fooling no one) into thinking they hate each other while secretly being partners.

Even if you don’t root for these two as a romantic pairing, they are indisputably the acting heavyweights on the show; their characters are the most developed, and so the scenes they share are necessarily more layered and meaningful. And if you do see them as romantic partners then you know this show can play upon our emotions like Liberace on a baby grand. Emma told Regina that her superpower doesn’t always work but she always knows when Regina is lying. And Regina was like, “Even though you know I can’t live without Henry (a.k.a. I am going to need a full commitment from you i.e. marriage)” and Emma just gave her a moony smile and was like, “There you go telling the truth again” and THEN THIS...

Granted: You might interpret this whole scene as merely being a friendly moment between two platonic gal pals... you know, if you had never met or heard of gay women because you are in an “eternal middle” via cryogenic chamber (hi Walt!). Personally I think it’s one of the most romantic moments I’ve ever seen in primetime. Gorgeous! Keep ‘em coming. 

Another gorgeous moment: the FX on Little John turning into a monkey were seriously well done. The hospital lighting and mundane setting made everything even more impressive. Fairy-tale weirdness in real-world settings: YES. This is why we watch this show! FX team, you did it. And it was wildly entertaining that during this scene, about six people got backhanded by a monkey tail. Don't see that every week.

Back across town, when Regina failed to reproduce the memory potion, Emma decided to “smoke out” the “perp” with a “con” which was all an elaborate ruse to spend her first night in town back with Regina drinking coffee and talking about their son as they “staked out” the Mayoral Manse. This was another exemplary moment of our characters—who spend 80 percent of the season jumping through portholes and yelling at green screens and acting disproportionately confused—to slow down and actually ACT. To have a conversation about a third character who means something to them and who means something to us. 

Of course the person breaking into the Mayoral mansion was Zelena and she green-smoked her way out of the room despite Regina’s blood-magick bond and then Regina was like, “But that’s umpossible!” and then we were back in the Enchanted Forest flashback ville watching Regina effortlessly take down the shield before the sun come up, preparing herself for a long sleep until Henry would kiss her awake. OUAT made a point of having her say it wasn't killing herself, but this is the second time the writers have suggested that Regina has suicidal tendencies. Considering she's also the most powerful character on the show, it's hard not to see a thinly veiled, series-long message that no matter what a woman achieves, she'll never be TRULY happy until she has kids. HMMMMM. Look: Maternal love is beautiful and makes the world go round! But also: Self esteem and simply loving life makes you better at anything, including being a parent or an astronaut or Sandra Bullock, the three of which have plenty of overlap. Anyway. Guys it's 3am as I'm writing this; I can hear the birds singing.

Then Zelena showed up and threw shade at Regina and threatened her with death and Regina was just acting so goddamn hard. She was like, “LOL sure. Whatevs.” Even the revelation they were sisters didn’t really faze her. (After Peter Pan being Rumple's dad, who can be shocked anymore?) But by the time Zelena left, Regina had something to live for: a fight!

Just a thought here: Our new, improved, emotionally grown Regina who's learned to love and sacrifice soooo many many times over the last few seasons... would that Regina be SO eager to kill the last remaining member of her family? After her experience raising Henry and her transformational relationship with Emma, she's become more empathetic even to Arch Nemesis Snow White. Should she be THIS INTO killing a woman she barely knows and who, after all, she probably has a lot more in common with? They're both magical, powerful, proactive ladies with unfortunate labels who know a lot of the same people—even if the witch is coming at her with hostility, wouldn't she be just a little interested in learning more before killing her? 

AND ANOTHER THING. It’s a testament to Parrilla’s ability that she could sell the line “Bring it, Greenie.” BUT IT WAS JUST BARELY SOLD. It was one step away from “Step up, Kermit.” Camp mustn't know it's camp, OUAT! Must I send you the essay?

And then in Storybrooke, Emma brought Regina to meet with Henry, even though he doesn’t remember Regina, and she is the mayor and really since when do mayors want to meet children who are good at English, but it was an incredibly acted scene and afterward, Emma was like, “YOU OKAY?!?!?” and I was like, “Nooooooo where is my little terrier dog I need to give him some cuddles.” 

AND RUMPLE IS BACK! But he’s brought his horrible leprechaun voice with him, just thank goodness his hair is as yet uncrimped. Perhaps he and Zelena can dish about filming wearing greasepaint and how much that sucks while they move the camera to set up shots. Good times!

So overall: Remarkable, entertaining episode, and a master class in nuanced character work by Parrilla. Can OUAT keep the roll going next week? 


... What do you think Zelena’s backstory will be?

... Robin Hood and Regina: You feeling their chemistry?

... Emma and Regina: Define their relationship, please.

... Would you enjoy a stint as a flying monkey?

... How many memory erases can a brain take?

... Why is Rumple talking like a hysterical Dickensian street urchin?

... What did you think of "Witch Hunt"?

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 11/15/2015

Season 5 : Episode 9

Next Episode

AIRS ON 11/29/2015

Season 5 : Episode 10

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