Title Bleeding Through
Two-Sentence Summary After Zelena uses Rumplestiltskin to take Regina’s heart from Robin Hood (by threatening his son), she just needs Snow and Charming’s baby to have all the ingredients necessary to create a time-travel spell. A visit from Cora’s ghostly presence reveals Zelena’s ultimate goal: Kill Snow White’s mother because of her role in Cora’s decision to abandon Zelena.
Favorite Line “If she wants to kill you, she’s gonna have to go through me.” (Regina, to Snow)
My Thoughts “Bleeding Through” was more than the sum of its plot points (which were okay but not all that compelling). It was an episode that took the theme of this half of Season Three—moving on from your past and choosing happiness in the present—and used it to facilitate character growth that I’ve been waiting for since the first season of this show. If Once Upon a Time episodes were titled like Friends episodes, this one would have been called “The One with All the Character Development.” And by focusing so strongly on character development that needed to happen, “Bleeding Through” became one of my favorite episodes of this second half of Once Upon a Time’s third season.
I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Jane Espenson’s name listed as a co-writer for this episode. Espenson has a real gift for the consistent characterization, subtle (somewhat dark) humor, and surprisingly poignant moments that made “Bleeding Through” such a success.
From the start, it was clear that Regina’s growth was going to be a huge factor in this episode. Her showdown with Zelena was fun (the apples were a nice touch of humor), and I really like the fact that Lana Parrilla’s more composed and controlled style seems to rein in Rebecca Mader’s campier tendencies in their scenes together. Also, Regina’s new sense of self-awareness nicely highlights Zelena’s delusional tendencies. Even if I still don’t really care about Zelena herself, I enjoy her as a foil for Regina.
This episode did a great job of showing us rather than simply telling us how much Regina has grown. I was floored in the best possible way when Regina’s first reaction to her heart being taken was one of empathy and concern for others instead of concern for her own wellbeing. Robin’s remorse felt heartbreakingly sincere, but I loved that Regina didn’t labor over the apology and instead made him feel understood and comforted, even as she was dealing with the ramifications of Zelena having her heart. I have always loved the idea of these two characters bonding over their love for their children—because loving Henry is such a driving force in the person Regina has become, and loving Roland is one of the few defining character motivations we know about Robin so far. Robin’s face when Regina told him nothing—not even her own heart—was worth the loss of child spoke of a man seeing Regina in a new way, a more complete way. There was a selflessness to Regina in that moment of valuing Roland’s safety above her own heart that may have surprised Robin but didn’t surprise me at all. It was a huge moment of growth, but it came from a believable place.
“Nothing’s worth the loss of a child” was a quote this episode kept coming back to in different ways. (And it’s actually a quote that can be used to reflect on so many decisions and dynamics throughout the entire course of this show, but I digress.) Rumplestiltskin was a man who has suffered the loss of a child twice—once because of his own cowardice and obsession with power and once because his son sacrificed himself for his family. Zelena preyed on Rumplestiltskin’s broken heart by forcing him to threaten the life of a little boy as a way of getting to his father. It was a demonic mind game in the same vein as Peter Pan’s were back in the first half of this season. I thought Robert Carlyle did a brilliant job of showing Rumplestiltskin’s disgust with himself and helplessness in that scene. It’s not easy to walk the line between human and monster convincingly, but Carlyle does it so impressively week after week.
Zelena once again tried to prey on Rumplestiltskin’s love for his son when she told him about her time travel plans. She only knows the Rumplestiltskin of the past, but this isn’t the same man. This is a man forever changed by his son’s sacrifice. To go back in time would be to negate all that Bae died for. His loss has to be worth something. His sacrifice has to have meaning. Rumplestiltskin rejecting Zelena’s plan to reunite with his son demanded huge amounts of character growth, and it was a beautiful thing to watch. In fact, it was so beautiful that it made me forget about the disgusting seduction scene that happened right before. I know Rumplestiltskin was doing a masterful job of using Zelena to get to the dagger (which unfortunately didn’t happen), but that didn’t make that moment any easier to watch. And, nope, I still don’t feel any sympathy for Zelena—not even after the shot of her looking heartbroken at the idea of Rumplestiltskin rejecting her again. You can try to make me feel for her all you want, but I have way more fun watching the show when I choose to just see her as a straight-up villain, much like I did with Pan.
Another character I still have no real sympathy for is Cora. The flashbacks were an interesting look at her past, but I can’t say I really felt that what happened to her justified what she ultimately did. But I’m not sure I was supposed to feel that way. Overreaction appears to be a Mills family trait, and Princess Eva telling Cora’s secret may not have been “good form” (as Captain Hook would say)—but it certainly wasn’t worth killing her. However, it created a parallel to Snow telling Regina’s secret and Regina’s disproportionate reaction, and I think the whole point of Cora and Eva’s story was to show both Snow and Regina that they’re not their mothers; they don’t have to follow that path anymore.
I’ve said it before, but it felt clearer than ever in this episode: Zelena is so much more like Cora than Regina ever was. I think Rose McGowan did another good job of not only channeling Barbara Hershey’s version of Cora into her performance but also keeping us guessing about Cora’s true emotional investment in anything beyond her own desire for a better life than the one she was born into. (Now who does that sound like?) In the end, Cora gave up her child not because she was forced to but because she wanted to give herself her best chance. Twisting one of the show’s signature quotes to reflect just how blind and selfish Cora’s ambition made her was a stroke of genius. While Regina might believe that nothing justifies losing a child, her mother certainly didn’t think that way. Power was worth more to her than her own child, but I think we all knew that from seeing the life Regina lived under her thumb. (Anyone else think the fact that Cora killed Daniel so Regina could marry her ex-fiancé was super creepy?)
Ultimately, I think the biggest difference between Cora and Regina was that Cora was still—even in death—trying to gain power over a situation in any way she could, while Regina was never motivated by a lust for power. By invading Snow’s body instead of Regina’s, Cora preyed on Snow’s intense guilt complex to make Eva appear worse than she really was. Snow’s guilt complex has been a part of her character from the beginning. It’s why she told Charming back in “Snow Falls” that she ruined Regina’s life when she was just a little girl who told a secret. It’s why her relationship with Emma is so complicated. And it’s why she still thinks about what she did to Cora every day. Snow puts a lot of pressure on herself to be as pure as her namesake, and she always held her mother up as an example of the kind of purity of heart she wanted to possess. But Cora, serving as unreliable narrator, chose to show Snow rather than Regina her version of the past because she knew Snow would feel guilt over her mother’s actions in the same way she feels guilt over her own.
(Before I go on, I have to ask: How did Zelena find out about Eva and Cora? Did the Wizard show her all of this?)
Cora could never let go of what Eva did to her in the past, so she killed her. Zelena couldn’t let go of the abandonment she suffered, so she’s choosing to go back in the past and kill Eva to eliminate Regina’s existence. (It’s interesting to note that Eva ends up dead in both of these women’s plans to rectify perceived wrongs.) But this episode also showed Rumplestiltskin letting go of his past motivations (reuniting with his son) in order to be a better man in the present. And it featured the show’s central trio of women—Emma, Snow, and Regina—choosing to accept happiness in the present instead of focusing on the pain of the past or fear of the future.
Emma’s story was far from the focus of this episode, and for some viewers it might have been seen simply as reinforcement of Hook’s angst after last week’s reveal of the curse placed on his kiss by Zelena. But when looked at more closely, this was such an important episode for Emma Swan. Emma’s decision in “The Jolly Roger” to stop living in the past has made her happier, and that happiness is directed towards Hook throughout this episode, which is an interesting reversal of Hook spending so much of this season hoping to move on from his past with Emma.
I was really happy that Hook chose to stay by Emma’s side instead of pulling away from her after Zelena’s curse. Emma has had enough people abandon her, and I was worried Hook was going to become one of those people. Instead, he stuck by her. We were even given that lovely little detail of Hook going to put his hand on the small of Emma’s back before pulling at away. It was a brief moment, but it spoke to an important part of Hook’s character: His first instinct is to literally have her back, to reach out to her. And although he pulled away because his affection is literally cursed, that intimacy and support is something Emma has come to rely on. It’s part of what has helped her accept and progress at her magic. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she’s shown having fun with magic when she’s using it in front of him. He’s shown her he encourages all of her—even the parts of herself she was scared to embrace before. One of those parts is her magical side, but another important part he’s helped her embrace is her playful side, her happy side.
Emma and Hook’s scene at Granny’s was a moment I’ve always wanted for her character: a moment of happiness with someone else but also happiness with her true self. Her enthusiastic “Boom!” was the cutest thing in an episode that featured Roland Hood, which is no small accomplishment. Emma gave him hot cocoa with cinnamon (the Charming family drink of choice) because sharing a drink has always been his way of reaching out to her. Emma’s laughter when she took his hook was so bright, and it reminded me that this woman doesn’t often have many reasons to laugh. But she finally seems to feel ready to laugh with him, to be happy with him (which is why it’s so sad that he can’t find that same happiness with her after Zelena’s curse). That’s why his apology after getting short with her was so important. Emma needed to know that he wasn’t being short just to hurt her, and I was happy that she wasn’t backing down from the new level of intimacy between them just because he wasn’t acting like himself. She wasn’t going to put her walls back up because he was acting strangely; she was actively choosing to be open with him in the hopes of getting him to be open with her. (I wonder what would have happened had Belle not interrupted them.) In one scene, we were given the kind of beautiful character development I’ve been hoping for as an Emma Swan fan for a long time.
Speaking of character development I’ve been waiting to see for a long time, Regina and Snow’s dynamic was forever changed for the better in “Bleeding Through.” It was hugely important that Regina apologized to Belle, but in order for her to really begin to move on from her past, she needed to come to a new place of understanding with Snow. By admitting that the death of both of their mothers was far more complicated than either woman thought, Regina was forgiving Snow in her own way, which allowed Snow to finally begin to move past her crippling guilt. In doing so, Snow was able to be her best self again—quietly strong, warm, and hopeful without being cloying. And she was funny, too: That great line about Dr. Whale complimenting her placenta was delivered perfectly by Ginnifer Goodwin.
Regina and Snow will never have a perfect relationship; there’s too much water under the bridge for that. But the quiet sense of understanding that passed between them in their final scene together was beautiful. Regina protected Snow with a ferocity neither Snow nor the audience expected, and that seemed to have a profound impact on both women. They were once two girls who wanted nothing more than to be each other’s family, and that sense of shared past was present in every moment of that last scene. Parrilla and Goodwin have such a deep, layered kind of chemistry, and it was used to its fullest power in this scene. Neither woman wanted to be burdened by their pasts anymore, and that means putting away the animosity that has defined their lives for decades. I never thought I’d hear Regina say if she’d known more about their pasts, she wouldn’t have spent so much time trying to kill Snow. That kind of self-awareness has come to define Regina this season, and I am loving every second we get to watch it develop.
It’s a scary thing to choose to move on from a painful past, but it’s also liberating. And that’s what Snow’s final advice to Regina was all about. Snow wanted Regina to trust herself—her best self—and to accept that she can choose happiness (which reminded me in a lovely way of their scene in “New York City Serenade”). Regina seemed so hopeless in that moment, and Parrilla made Regina’s pain and fear feel so achingly real. But Snow is a woman defined by hope, and she gave that same hope to Regina, who accepted it without rolling her eyes or making a sarcastic remark (a big step for her). If Snow can move on from her past and take Regina’s hand, then Regina can do the same and accept the hope Snow is giving her.
Snow is right: Even without her heart, Regina can still feel deeply, which is something we’ve never seen before in this universe. At first I worried about it being a plot inconsistency, but I think there’s something to be said for Snow’s comment about Regina feeling things from her soul. I’m not sure exactly what the distinction between a heart and soul is on this show, but it seems to be linked to the fact that Robin has been referred to as a “soul mate” rather than a “true love” for Regina on more than one occasion.
Emma claimed her happiness in this episode by embracing her magic and her sense of comfort with Hook. Snow claimed her happiness by moving on from the baggage of years spent fighting Regina and the guilt she experienced over Cora’s death. And Regina claimed her happiness by walking into the woods and planting one hell of a kiss on her soul mate. Like Emma with Hook, Regina literally grabbed a moment of happiness by the collar and held on tight. Robin doesn’t seem to care who she was in the past; he cares about the woman she is right now, and that’s important for Regina as she moves on from who she once was. He also sees her heart as a thing worth fighting for, which is something she never experienced in her past with a mother like Cora. It was another in the series of this show’s fantastic fairytale kisses (I especially loved the little intimate gesture of him pushing her hair back), and I was left feeling nothing but joy for another Once Upon a Time lady choosing to be happy and, in doing so, continuing to develop into a character I am proud to call one of my favorites.