Title Witch Hunt
Two-Sentence Summary In Storybrooke, Emma and Regina team up to try to figure out who is behind the new curse, while Hook, Charming, and Robin Hood learn that Storybrooke residents are being turned into flying monkeys. In flashbacks to the previous year in the Enchanted Forest, Regina and Robin journey back to Regina’s castle, where she discovers that its new tenant—the Wicked Witch of the West (aka Zelena)—is more familiar with her than she could have imagined.
Emma: The Wicked Witch of the West? Seriously, she’s real, too?
Hook: Says the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming.
My Thoughts It seems Once Upon a Time is going back to its roots. Last week’s “New York City Serenade” wasn’t shy about directly paralleling the show’s pilot in several obvious ways. But it was the tone of this week’s “Witch Hunt” that really reminded me of Season One. This episode featured mysteries, dramatic irony, strong emotions, sly humor, some long-lost (but beloved) cast members, and one heck of a last-minute twist—all of my favorite things from this show’s early days wrapped up in one incredibly well-acted package. And to top it off, it was wonderfully self-aware in the way that this show is when it’s at its best. Putting all of these elements together, it should come as no surprise that this was a Jane Espenson episode. She’s always been one of my favorite Once Upon a Time writers, and her strengths were on full display once again in “Witch Hunt.”
One of the best things about Espenson’s writing is her sense of humor, and this episode had me laughing more than any episode of this show has in quite some time. From Grumpy/Leroy wondering which witch they were dealing with (because houses and water are two very different methods of murder) to Hook and his faux sympathy for Charming and Snow being near harvest time but not remembering the planting (in reference to Snow’s pregnancy), this episode had some great one-liners. And any episode that allows Emma to react to the fairytale situations around her in a very real way is a winner in my book because Jennifer Morrison never fails to make me laugh in those moments. The only thing better than Emma’s exasperation over the Wicked Witch was Hook’s equally exasperated response. He’s right; she is the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming—you’d think she’d be used to this by now. But that’s the great thing about Emma; she always manages to feel like a real person caught up in this crazy world. Kudos to Morrison for never letting us forget that “fairytale mode” is not Emma’s default mental state.
I also love when Once Upon a Time isn’t afraid to have a little fun at its own expense. In this episode, I especially enjoyed the little nod to Grumpy constantly being used as a town crier. The edit from Regina saying she knew exactly who to use to get the word out quickly to Grumpy running into Granny’s was fantastic. Another example was Charming’s sarcastic shock that Regina actually didn’t do anything to upset the Wicked Witch. If Josh Dallas is the master of delivering what could be the cheesiest lines with disarming sincerity, he’s also the master of deadpan delivery of fairytale-based humor.
One of my favorite comedic moments of the episode was Hook bringing up that Emma was going to marry a flying monkey in front of Charming. I thought it was perfect that Charming was more concerned about Emma getting married than he was about her nearly marrying a flying monkey. But leave it to Hook to remind Charming where his priorities should be with just the right amount of sass. Dallas and Colin O’Donoghue have developed a great rapport and nice sense of comedic chemistry together. Their gift for “bromantic” banter has made them one of the show’s most entertaining dynamics.
After a midseason premiere that was heavily focused on Hook and Emma, their dynamic took a backseat in “Witch Hunt,” which felt right. Hook needs something to do besides pine for Emma—because we all know she’s going to be pretty busy until this curse is broken. In this episode, we saw him work just fine without her as part of Charming and Robin’s team. Having both Hook and Regina serve as trusted parts of the Storybrooke inner circle was a nice way to show the ways both of these characters are changing for the better. These are two people who used to be defined by their inability to play nice with others, and now they’re valued members of this little detective team. I can’t wait to see more of this Hook/Regina/Charming/Emma group as the season progresses because every combination of these characters is capable of producing great moments.
The reason this little core group of Storybrooke sleuths is so good together is because Morrison, Dallas, O’Donoghue, and Lana Parrilla are capable of producing nuanced chemistry with basically anyone. Like “New York City Serenade,” “Witch Hunt” made great use of this cast’s outstanding chemistry by working with many different dynamics in both Storybrooke and the Enchanted Forest.
In the Enchanted Forest, we saw the beginnings of three relationships that will undoubtedly become very important to Regina, even though in the current Storybrooke timeline she doesn’t remember any of them. The first of these relationships was instinctual—a mother wanting to protect a little boy. I’d been waiting for Regina to meet little Roland even more than I’d been waiting for her to meet Robin Hood. I loved that Regina was able to put aside her own grief for a moment to both save Roland and to make him smile. When Robin later told her that she had the touch of a mother, I think he was referring to the gentle way she gave him the stuffed monkey even more than her actual act of saving the boy. I was happy to see that Robin is getting a multifaceted portrait of Regina from the start. Yes, she’s beautiful, powerful, proud, and dangerous. But she’s also warm and longs to be able to love and be loved, and in order for me to believe in the relationship between Regina and Robin, I need to see him learn about all these sides of her personality. So it was nice to see this episode begin with Robin getting a glimpse of the loving mother behind the Evil Queen façade.
Robin and Regina’s journey in this episode traveled familiar territory for this show, but it wasn’t without its own unique spirit. When you look at love on Once Upon a Time, it often develops on a journey to face a dangerous foe—Snow and Charming going to the Troll Bridge; Emma and Hook climbing the beanstalk to face the giant. And now we saw Regina and Robin first learning to relate to one another and open up to each other as they journeyed together to Regina’s castle and the witch awaiting them there.
My favorite moment Regina and Robin shared was a small one—when Regina said, “Who knew a thief had honor?” and Robin replied, “Who knew an evil queen had a soft spot for children?” Regina is not someone who is used to being pleasantly surprised by the people around her, but one look at Parrilla’s little smile showed that this man had done the impossible; he managed to exceed her expectations, just like her act of saving Roland did for him. There were some fun moments of banter between them (and some gorgeously cinematic shots of them in the light of Robin’s torch), but I found myself pleasantly surprised by the way this episode favored displaying their gradual emotional connection instead of any kind of mutual attraction.
I liked that Robin isn’t a pushover; he’ll threaten to shoot Regina with an arrow if he thinks she’s up to her old tricks. Robin is a man with his own moral code, and Sean Maguire made me feel that Robin views himself as responsible for keeping Regina safe—even from herself. I did think some of the “second chance” dialogue was a little heavy-handed, but this show isn’t known for its subtlety. Robin sees in Regina a mirror image of himself after he lost his wife, but Regina’s right as well; Robin had Roland, and as of right now, Regina has no one else to love and be loved by without Henry. But as we all know, Robin will be that person for her eventually. Robin lost his romantic love but found new hope in loving his son, while Regina lost her son but will find new hope in opening her heart to Robin. If this episode is any indication, that won’t happen for a while, but it’s going to be fun to watch it slowly develop.
Regina’s quest to numb her grief with a sleeping curse was stopped by Zelena, who took “Chekov’s cursed hairpin” from her (because we all know that sleeping curse is getting used before the season is over; it’s just a matter of who the victim will be) before quickly revealing her motives for taking over Regina’s castle—and her clothes. That line about taking the dress in at the hips was such a low blow and so wonderfully indicative of Zelena’s warped sense of sibling rivalry.
Who else saw the big Zelena reveal coming from the moment Regina said that the crypt was sealed by blood magic? Of course the twist was predictable, but I really liked that it happened so early into this half of the season. I enjoyed the fact that the writers seem to understand that we now assume every villain is related to at least one character, so they aren’t making us wait for a big surprise that isn’t a surprise at this point. The only surprise we have left is who Zelena’s father is, and that’s a fun one of speculate about.
Parrilla and Rebecca Mader worked very well together. I liked that Regina pointed out to Zelena that being raised by Cora and manipulated by Rumplestiltskin weren’t exactly things to envy. But Zelena is (quite literally) green with envy (although the missed little bit of pale skin over Mader’s lip kept distracting me). I loved that these two formidable females are going to be squaring off for the rest of this season. And the confrontation certainly brought Regina back to life. It made me laugh when Robin thought she’d decided to keep going out of hope or love when she was actually motivated by finding a new person to destroy. Robin may not know what he’s getting himself into, but we certainly do. And I think I speak for many when I say that I’m excited to see Regina with a new enemy because it’s so much fun to watch Parrilla unleash Regina’s Evil Queen side.
While Regina’s Evil Queen side was on full display at the end of her Enchanted Forest storyline in this episode, her Storybrooke plot softened her edges in a way that made me feel for her more than perhaps ever before.
In Storybrooke, everyone (including surprise special guest Red!) was trying to make Henry feel at home without acting too familiar with him, which provided for a very strong balance between humor and emotion. The moment when Snow and Charming saw their grandson for the first time in a year, I was struck by the conflicting sense of joy and loss on both Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin’s faces. And I laughed out loud at Snow saying she was in jail for “banditry.” It was such a fun little detail, and Goodwin’s delivery was absolutely perfect. But the joy in that moment was cut short by Regina’s reaction to seeing Henry. Parrilla is excellent in Regina’s big moments, but I’m most impressed with her when Regina has to control her emotions. Watching her silently grieve for the son who doesn’t remember her was heartbreaking.
Regina is lost without Henry, and the only other person who can relate to that is Emma. There was such a beautiful sense of understanding and warmth between them in this episode, and the most beautiful part of it all was how unforced it was. Morrison and Parrilla have always had strong antagonistic chemistry, but it’s been a joy to discover over the last couple of seasons that their chemistry in softer moments is also strong. These two actresses are so adept at letting silence and stillness speak for them, and they can covey so much empathy and genuine acceptance in a way that feels organic to both of these guarded characters.
What began as two women fighting over Henry has grown into a relationship in which they bond over their shared love for their son. Loving Henry gave both of these lost, broken women a purpose, and they now see that as a uniting factor rather than a divisive one. I loved the scene in Emma’s car where they talked about how Henry would define a hero as someone who comes back; it reminded me of when they coined the term “Operation Henry” together in Neverland. And when Regina asked if Henry was happy in his life in New York, you could feel not only her incredibly complex mixture of hope and grief but also Emma’s understanding of it.
Emma could have kept Henry from Regina, but that’s not who Emma is. Emma Swan knows what it’s like to be kept from the people you love, and she won’t make Regina suffer that pain. Even though Henry may not know who she is, Regina can still have a relationship with him, and Emma wants that for her—and for Henry. When Emma introduced Regina and Henry, my heart stopped; that’s how good Parrilla was in that moment. The physical details she added to that scene were inspired. My heart broke when she went to hug Henry but he stuck out his hand instead. But the most emotional moment of all was when she took off her glove to shake his hand, because that said so many things about Regina wanting to feel this moment after we’ve watched her spend two episodes in the Enchanted Forest trying so desperately not to feel.
“Witch Hunt” ended with a twist that reminded me of the reveal of Belle in the insane asylum in Season One’s “Skin Deep.” I had an inkling as to what was coming as soon as Zelena opened that door, but not even I was prepared for what kind of condition Rumplestiltskin was going to be in. Robert Carlyle is frighteningly good at playing unhinged, but what chilled me even more than his insanity was his moment of lucidity, when he warned Zelena that she shouldn’t have brought him to Storybrooke.
The ending of this episode—and the episode as a whole—raised so many interesting questions: Is Rumplestitlskin really as crazy as he appears, and, if so, what caused that to happen? How did he become Zelena’s prisoner? What happened to Neal? Who sent Hook the message to get Emma, and what is he holding back about his year in the Enchanted Forest? What does Zelena want with Snow and Charming’s new baby? And can we please get appearances from Ruby and Whale more often?
It’s so much fun to have so many questions to mull over in the days between episodes. But the real fun of these first two episodes since Once Upon a Time returned from hiatus has come from watching these characters come to new places of understanding with one another. The emotional beats between the plot points and big questions have been hit really well so far. And these emotional beats have generated some wonderful performances, including Parrilla’s strong work in this episode.
I’m not usually one to wish away weeks (and weekends), but is it next Sunday yet?