Title It’s Not Easy Being Green
Two-Sentence Summary In Storyrbooke, Zelena’s connection to Regina is revealed, and the half-sisters face one another in a “wicked versus evil” showdown. The roots of Zelena’s envy are shown in flashbacks to her life in Oz, which she left behind when the Wizard helped her get to the Enchanted Forest to train with Rumplestiltskin.
Favorite Line “Didn’t anyone tell you? Black is my color.” (Regina)
My Thoughts Once Upon a Time is at its best when the heroes of the show are united against a compelling, charismatic villain. The second half of Season Two struggled because, let’s face it, Greg and Tamara were anything but compelling villains. The introduction of Robbie Kay’s deliciously devious take on Peter Pan injected some much-needed energy into the start of Season Three, and one of the most pleasant surprises of this half of the third season has been how fabulously fun Rebecca Mader’s Zelena has been.
It’s no secret that some of the show’s best moments feature its villains (or anti-heroes or whatever they would like to be known as) sharing scenes together, chewing the scenery in a way that is both perfectly campy and utterly captivating. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the combinations of Zelena and Rumplestiltskin and Zelena and Regina drove this episode. It’s always fun watching Lana Parrilla and Robert Carlyle have so much fun with their characters, and I can now say the same for Mader.
The Wicked Witch’s origin story wasn’t sympathetic enough to make me want happiness for her despite her wickedness, and I’m happy for that. I understood her, but I still think her envy is rooted in something more pathological than a sympathetic backstory can explain. And that’s okay. I don’t think we’re supposed to feel a lot of sympathy for Zelena. Yes, she had an alcoholic adoptive father and was abandoned by her real mother, but she seemed to live a life of love until her adoptive mother died. Whereas Regina lived with an abusive, literally heartless mother and a father who never seemed to defend her from Cora’s wrath. I know we have the benefit of knowing all the facts Zelena’s envy has blinded her from seeing, but I think Regina is the one who got the worse end of that deal.
What interested me the most about Zelena in this episode was how much more like Cora she was than Regina ever was, despite Regina being the one to grow up with their mother. Both Zelena and Cora grew up poor, and that gave both women a sense of envy and lust for a better life that Regina never had (which is a nice twist on the idea that the original Evil Queen in the Snow White story was driven by her envy of Snow White, and that was never the case on this show). Zelena had more control over her magic than Regina, and I think much of that difference can be attributed to the fact that Regina saw the evil in her mother’s magic and wanted no part of it for many years, while Zelena never had that exposure to dark magic being used to hurt her.
Another cool parallel to draw between Zelena and her mother is their relationship to Rumplestiltskin. Both women were attracted to his power and his ability to teach them how to wield their own power. Mader’s chemistry with Carlyle in the scene where he blindfolded her in the woods was just the right mixture of electric and unsettling—much like Rose McGowan’s was in Season Two’s “The Miller’s Daughter.” Regina, however, never showed any signs of being attracted to Rumplestiltskin. It’s what made her the ideal candidate to cast the Dark Curse, a task that became a one-sided competition for Zelena.
I had to laugh at the ridiculous levels of imagined sibling rivalry happening in Zelena’s head throughout this episode. From wearing Regina’s clothes again to actually wanting to cast the Dark Curse just to prove she was more worthy than Regina, Zelena’s delusion was as disturbing as it was entertaining. And what made it even worse was the way Rumplestiltskin preyed on it. He took two women and manipulated them in very specific ways to get him what he wanted, and I had to admit that I got a perverse kind of pleasure from Zelena’s revelation that her silver slippers (excellent book reference, Once Upon a Time writers!) could have taken him where he wanted to go without the Dark Curse.
While Zelena’s motivation for hating Regina seemed misplaced (kind of like Regina’s motivation for hating Snow—both women should place that blame on their mother), I now totally understand her desire to control Rumplestiltskin after feeling like she was under his spell while in the Enchanted Forest. Zelena and Regina’s showdown ultimately felt a little anticlimactic, but the real relationship at the heart of this episode was the one between Zelena and Rumplestiltskin. It’s what made every moment Carlyle was onscreen in this episode so heartbreaking. You could see how desperately he wanted to break free from her control, but there was a horrible sense of resignation there, too. It was especially evident in the reunion he had with Belle in his cage. Seeing Zelena’s attraction to Rumplestiltskin in the flashbacks made her voyeurism even creepier in hindsight, and it killed me to watch the manifestation of the idea that some curses are too strong for even true love to break.
Zelena’s emotional torturing of Rumplestiltskin was evident right from the beginning of the episode, with each shovelful of dirt hitting Neal’s casket acting like a blow to him (which was beautifully shot by director Mario Van Peebles). Hearing Rumplestiltskin say that all of the years he spent planning to get back to his son were worth it despite the short amount of time he spent with Neal was the most beautiful eulogy imaginable for the character. It nicely complimented the idea that Neal’s arc was about his father and his son, since his father was a prominent part of his funeral scene (even if he wasn’t technically there) and his son was the only one with a storyline really focused on mourning his loss (even if Henry doesn’t remember him).
Rumplestiltskin’s heart was with his son, even while his mind was controlled by Zelena. That was the central theme of this episode—characters choosing to give their hearts to someone (both literally and figuratively). Zelena gave Rumplestiltskin her heart right away, and we all saw how that choice turned out. However, Emma and Regina seem to have found more worthy and more sincere men to give their hearts to.
Emma’s heart is Henry; her love for her son was the only love true and strong enough to break the Dark Curse. So it’s no small thing that she trusted Hook to help Henry’s own heart heal after his father’s death. It’s one thing to trust Leroy to physically take care of Henry while she’s off searching for Zelena. It’s another thing entirely to trust Hook to help Henry deal with his father’s death in a way she can’t.
Emma and Hook’s scene at Granny’s diner was one of my favorite scenes in “It’s Not Easy Being Green” because it was another moment of character development beyond attraction and romance; it was a moment of two people confiding in each other and revealing new parts of themselves to each other in a way that felt natural—and with just the right amount of sexual tension to heighten the moment but not detract from it.
Hook telling Emma not to resort to vengeance was basically a neon sign flashing “character growth” over his head. It was another reminder that Hook didn’t give up his quest for vengeance because of Emma; he gave it up because it left him feeling empty. And he needed Emma to know that because he knows the darkness it can bring to a soul—a darkness he doesn’t want Emma to experience. But Emma is a woman of action, and right now she feels taking action against Zelena is the only way to help Henry. When she told Hook that she didn’t know another way to help her son, Jennifer Morrison put such helplessness into her voice that I was floored by how much Emma revealed to Hook in that brief moment. It takes a lot for anyone—especially someone who defines herself by her role as parent—to admit that she can’t help her child the way she wants to.
And Hook understands this because he understands her. His offer to tell Henry what Bae was like came from such a sincere place that it made me emotional. I loved that this wasn’t about Emma at all; this offer was about helping Bae’s little boy and finding his own way to honor and mourn Bae. Emma’s stunned reaction was as beautiful as it was heartbreaking. Morrison does such a great job of reminding us in subtle ways that Emma is still not used to people being sincerely kind to her; she’s not used to people—especially men—pleasantly surprising her. But that’s what Hook keeps doing. His gesture of helping her son—and his promise to protect him—mean more to Emma than any traditionally romantic gesture. Morrison painted a convincing picture of a woman truly touched by someone who continues to prove himself to be different than who she thought he was—and for the first time in her life, it’s for the better.
I was so happy that Hook and Henry’s scene on the beach didn’t turn into a “Do you like my mom?” conversation. This wasn’t the place for that. This was the place for two lost boys to mourn another lost boy. Colin O’Donoghue is really great with young actors; he was phenomenal with the actor who played young Bae, and he was excellent again with Jared Gilmore. When Hook explained to Henry that the young man and his father had things in common, I wanted to cry at the hopeful and grateful look on Gilmore’s face. You could see the lost boy in Henry reaching out to the one in Hook. O’Donoghue made it clear that this was the moment Hook decided that Henry deserved more than a life of false memories in New York; he deserves a chance to be with his family, and Hook began to hope that he could be a part of that family—not just because he cares for Emma but because he’s come to care for Henry, too.
The direction in the last scene between Hook and Emma at Granny’s was gorgeous and made the tension and developing intimacy between them so clear. Emma’s heartfelt words of gratitude were beautifully delivered by Morrison; you could feel her defenses starting to crumble and her affection starting to make itself clear. But Hook needed to tell her about her son; Henry was more important than anything else for him in that moment. So he told Emma the hard truth: She can’t expect to take Henry back to New York and pretend this never happened. It’s not fair to Henry, and it’s not fair to those in Storybrooke who love him. The fact that Hook felt he could be this honest with Emma speaks to the trust between them; not even her father would tell her that her “return to NYC” plan is misguided. And once again, Emma’s walls went back up. Hook hit a nerve, and he knew it. But he also knew it was something she needed to hear, even if she didn’t want to hear it.
The slow development and stops and starts between Hook and Emma in this episode were contrasted with the rapid-fire development between Regina and Robin Hood. At first, I thought things progressed a little too quickly from flirting and emotional honesty to literally giving your heart to someone, but then I remembered a huge difference between Emma and Regina: Regina is still a woman from the Enchanted Forest. Besides Belle and Rumplestiltskin, love happens quickly there. Even for a woman as afraid to love as Regina, there is a part of her that has always wanted it; she was once a romantic and a believer in true love. Her relationship with Robin is helping her find that part of herself again, and I’m enjoying watching it.
Regina finding Rumplestiltskin’s letter and understanding the truth about it was devastating. The doubt that sprang from it felt so real and believable—mainly because Parrilla made it feel that way. The fact that Regina willingly opened that part of herself to Robin was a huge step for her. She chose to let him read the letter, to share her vulnerabilities with someone and trust that he wouldn’t think less of her. And he didn’t. When he read the word “stunning” and looked at her as if he were telling her that himself, I got goose bumps.
I wish we could have seen more of that scene to get to the point where Regina gave him her heart for safekeeping, but Regina had a showdown to get to. I loved that her fear of losing was gone and in its place was the kind of sassy, snarky Regina that we all know and love. I could watch Parrilla and Mader sass each other for a whole hour and not get tired of it; the actual confrontation was far too short for my liking.
In the end, Regina survived because she trusted her heart to Robin; giving her heart to him wasn’t something that made her weak. It made her successful. Yes, it was almost laughably literal (but when has this show ever been known for subtlety?), and yes, I wish we knew more about Robin to feel more of an emotional impact for both sides. But I’m just happy Regina is finally making the choice to trust someone with her heart. She could have buried it in the woods alone, but she chose to trust that Robin would protect it. And she chose to have him keep it because he can’t steal what she gives him freely. That line has huge significance for their love story. True love on Once Upon a Time is about choosing to trust and choosing to be vulnerable, and Regina has grown into a woman who can make that choice instead of running from it.
I’m intrigued to see if there’s a difference between taking your heart out (or having it removed) and giving it to someone else for safekeeping. I’m also intrigued by the conclusion of the episode and what it said about Zelena’s endgame. The “green with envy” twist was predictable but fit the plot well enough, and I loved the Wizard reveal; I didn’t see Walsh coming at all. (Side note: How great were the Oz special effects in general? I’d say they were some of the show’s best.) The “time traveling” twist was another I didn’t see coming, and I’m a little worried about it, if I’m being honest. It could go really well or really poorly, and I’m hoping that it’s done in a way that makes sense (or never comes to fruition at all). No matter what, if we continue to get more of the dynamics explored in this episode (and more campy fun from Mader) it’s going to be an entertaining ride.