Title Heart of Gold
Two-Sentence Summary As flashbacks to Sherwood Forest reveal the origin of Robin Hood and the strength of his relationship with Marian in the past, he faces a difficult choice in the present between what his heart wants and what his sense of honor demands. Unbeknownst to him, though, Marian isn’t who she says she is; she’s actually Zelena in disguise, and she makes a deal with Rumplestiltskin to save his ailing heart in return for a happy ending of her own.
Favorite Line “You are quite possibly the biggest pain in the ass I have ever had the displeasure of writing about.” (The Author, to Rumplestiltskin)
My Thoughts Sometimes episodes deviate from the norm and fail. Sometimes they’re a breath of fresh air. “Heart of Gold” was an example of the latter, mainly because of the strength of the actors involved, its thematic connection to the overall arc of this half-season of Once Upon a Time, and one crazy twist. This episode could have felt boring or unnecessary; instead, it captivated me from start to finish.
Maybe my love for “Heart Gold” comes from the fact that I’ve loved all versions of the Robin Hood story since I was a little girl. There’s just something about an outlaw with a kind heart and a deep sense of honor that never fails to draw me in (which also explains my love for Killian Jones). And Sean Maguire brings the perfect balance of dashing fairytale spirit and real, grounded moral conflict to this character, whose deep sense of honor might turn out to be his undoing.
The Sherwood Forest flashbacks in this episode did a stellar job of giving depth to Robin and Marian’s relationship, which was absolutely necessary given Robin’s choices in the New York City portion of the storyline. For as much as I’ve loved Robin Hood since childhood, I’ve loved Marian even more, so I was thrilled to see Christie Laing capture both Marian’s kindness and her strong spirit in those flashbacks. Whether she was telling Robin she could speak for herself or supporting him in his new life as Robin Hood, this was the Marian I spent hours pretending to be when I was little. I thought Maguire and Laing had a lovely, easy chemistry in those flashbacks that allowed the audience to see what Robin was trying to recapture with Marian in New York.
The flashbacks also set up the idea of Robin being the kind of man who chooses to help people in need, sometimes at the expense of his own happiness. I loved his interactions with Will—not just because the world needs more Will Scarlet (Even in this episode I was left wanting more.) but because it showed just how big Robin’s heart is. When Will discovered the bottle after Robin had gone, I was surprised by how emotional I became. Robin is an incredibly selfless character, which in many ways makes him the perfect match for Regina. She spent much of her life devoted to her own selfish goal of vengeance, so I think loving a man like Robin helped her become more selfless. In the flashbacks, Robin sacrificed his own safety and happiness to help someone who was vulnerable. That same kind of sacrifice was put in front of Regina at the end of the episode, and I really believe she’ll make the choice Robin would want her to make (but more on that later!).
Not only did the flashbacks finally give Robin Hood a solid backstory (and cleverly explain the use of a different actor as Robin in Season Two), they helped every choice Robin made in New York feel true who he is as a character. I loved all of the fun nods to the show’s past in New York—from the use of Neal’s apartment to Walsh’s furniture store (appropriately named “Wizard of Oak” and containing at least one hidden Mickey). I’m a sucker for moments that show the writers are really trying in terms of continuity, so this episode was all kinds of fun for me. And all of the fish-out-of-water stuff served a larger purpose; it reminded the audience that Robin believes Marian has absolutely no knowledge of how to live in the Land Without Magic. To leave Marian and return to Regina would mean leaving the family he believes needs him in this new world, and we know from the flashbacks that Robin’s code is about giving up his own desires in order to help those he feels are in need.
While it’s honorable for Robin to want to make things right with Marian and be the man he thinks she needs, it’s not necessarily the right choice. It broke my heart to see him so devastated thinking about Regina. (Although I’ll take the heartbreak if it means more angst-driven shower scenes because I am not above admitting that an attractive actor is attractive—and Maguire is a handsome man.) It also made me question whether or not the “honorable” thing is always the “right” thing to do. I can admire Robin’s desire to honor his vows while still thinking it would be better for everyone if he stopped caring so much about being honorable and instead cared more about being truthful to himself and his wife about what he really wants.
Robin is in an impossible situation and has been for a long time. But he did make the choice to stay with Marian, and I think every single viewer will have their own opinion on that choice. I’m more interested in the thematic ties between Robin’s story and the others we’ve seen this half-season than moralizing about his story. This episode specifically dealt with the idea that people or situations beyond your control can put you on a certain path, but you are the one who chooses to stay on that path or walk away from it. You can choose to hold onto things that keep you (and often those around you) from being truly happy, or you can choose another way. For Robin, he was thrown into a mess when Emma brought Marian back, but he ultimately chose to stay with her out of a sense of duty that he is still holding onto, even when he knows this isn’t where his heart wants to be.
That same theme of choosing to stay on the path you were placed on was evident from the episode’s first scene with Emma and her parents. Snow and Charming may have been manipulated into visiting the Apprentice, and he may have been manipulated into telling them to sacrifice the soul of Maleficent’s child. However, they chose to follow through with that plan, they chose to lie to Emma about it, and they chose even before all of that happened to hold onto their fear of Emma’s potential darkness instead of believing in her equal potential for goodness. And Emma has every right to still be upset about it. (It’s only been a few hours since she found out, after all.) I thought Jennifer Morrison was incredible in using her very limited screen time to show just how devastated Emma was by what her parents did, specifically their choice to take away her agency and that of another innocent soul, too. And now that Emma feels she’s been put on a certain path, she’s going to need to believe she can choose what do about it. And that starts with choosing to eventually let go of her anger, no matter how understandable it may be.
(Side note: I find it interesting that my two favorite dramas—Once Upon a Time and The Americans—are both currently dealing with the fallout of daughters discovering their parents have been keeping huge secrets from them.)
I’ve loved that this half-season of Once Upon a Time has been about characters looking for an Author to change their story, while every single episode has emphasized the fact that our choices are actually what determine our ability to be happy. Most of those choices involve letting go of who we were in the past. And there’s no better example of someone unable to let go than Zelena. Her inability to move beyond her envy has defined her for most of her life, and it continued in this episode from the moment she made her triumphant return.
Is there anything better than a plot twist that leaves you clapping on your couch? That’s exactly what happened with the Marian/Zelena twist in this episode. Watching it all come together when she entered Rumplestiltskin’s hospital room was nothing short of pure entertainment at its finest. There were times during Season 3B that Rebecca Mader’s scenery-chewing started to be a little much for me, but this was the perfect way to use her. Zelena is better in smaller doses than as the main villain. It allows Mader’s gleefully evil style to feel fun instead of overwhelming. And it was so fun to watch her work her magic in this episode. Sometimes you can just feel how much an actor loves the part they’re playing, and that’s exactly what I felt watching Mader as she leaned over Robert Carlyle in that hospital bed. You can tell she loves her job, and that kind of enjoyment and enthusiasm is infectious, especially after being away from the character for so long.
Zelena is straight-up crazy, and that has always worked so well against the cold, calculated evil of Rumplestiltskin. She’s one of the few people he seems genuinely afraid of—not just because she killed his son but because he can’t read her like he can read almost everyone else. And I thought it was such a smart choice to have her be the one he ultimately needs to rely on in order to live, especially given the fact that he “killed” her in Season Three.
I always thought Zelena’s death was anticlimactic for a character as dramatic as she was, so it was fitting that the real story was as over-the-top insane as she is. But for as crazy as the story was, I liked that it actually fit in with the show’s plot almost perfectly. It made sense and didn’t cause too many plot holes for the sake of shock value. (My only thought along those lines was about her interactions with Ingrid’s magic: Was it really worth not exposing her true identity to have her life be put in jeopardy so many times at Ingrid’s hands? And one other minor quibble: What did Robin think Marian was doing in the hospital room for so long?) Zelena’s return also showed once again that sometimes the choices we make because we feel they’re the right thing to do (such as Emma choosing to save Marian and bring her back despite knowing it would cause problems) can have dangerous consequences. All magic comes with a price, and so do all choices.
Zelena also made a choice—to once again want more than what she has. Zelena and Rumplestiltskin are such great foils for one another because their personalities are so different, but their motivations are generally the same: They always want more. Zelena wants her own happy ending instead of just taking away her sister’s, and she knows how to get it: by forcing Rumplestiltskin into a deal because she has the elixir that can save his life.
It seems Rumplestiltskin wasn’t just all talk when he said he didn’t have much time to get the Author to give villains happy endings. His desperation is that of a dying man whose darkness and bad choices have finally caught up with him. He’s paying the physical price for his darkness, and I think that’s a cool twist: Darkness doesn’t just destroy your heart metaphorically; it destroys it physically. And from what I gathered in this episode, he isn’t really trying to get a happy ending for himself anymore; he’s trying to get the Author to give villains happiness so Zelena will uphold her end of the deal. And that’s all because he doesn’t believe he’d know what to do with a happy ending if he got one.
The scene between Robin and Rumplestiltskin outside the hospital was wonderful, and it was all because Carlyle brings such humanity to Rumplestiltskin. It was interesting to see him differentiate between Neal and Bae, admitting that Neal was a reminder of the fact that he had happiness with Bae and let go of it because he always wanted more. That’s his greatest flaw: being unable to let go of his addiction to power and choose to step off the path becoming the Dark One put him on. We saw in Season One’s “Skin Deep” that if he really wanted to let go and let love in, True Love’s Kiss could have broken his curse at any point. But he never made the choice to allow love to be enough. And it was devastating to see this character have such self-awareness but remain hopeless. He knows he’s a monster, and he chooses to stay a monster because he has no faith in himself to be better. Hopeless is the root of all evil on Once Upon a Time, and no character is more hopeless than Rumplestiltskin.
What’s always been fascinating about Rumplestiltskin is the way he can be so sincere one moment and so manipulative in the next breath. It disgusted me to think that he knowingly left Robin and little Roland with an unstable, lethal villain like Zelena. But he knew he could use that for leverage later, which he’s now doing with Regina.
Lana Parrilla was heartbreaking during Regina’s phone conversation with Zelena. But for as much as it hurt to watch her discover Robin is in danger, it filled me with such pride to see her refuse to let Rumplestiltskin use that to break her. Rumplestiltskin wants Regina to help him manipulate Emma the way he once manipulated her, but he underestimated Regina’s growth once again.
While Regina didn’t make a clear decision at the end of the episode, she wasn’t immediately willing to destroy Emma’s heart to get her happy ending. That moment of standing up for Emma was about Regina reclaiming the goodness she lost when she let herself follow Rumplestiltskin down the path to darkness. While Rumplestiltskin manipulated her, Regina’s choices and her decision to hold onto her anger kept her on that dark path. And only Regina could choose a new path by letting go of her selfish anger. That moment—of Regina recognizing the monster Rumplestiltskin helped her become and choosing to be better than that monster—was such an important moment in Regina’s journey toward becoming a better person. It was Regina selflessly choosing someone else over her own happiness because she knew it was the right thing to do. It was Regina knowing what darkness did to her and not wanting that fate for Emma. And it was Regina standing up to a man who manipulated her for his own gain and refusing to let him do the same to another woman. While it was a moment about Emma and Regina’s friendship (which I love seeing develop in these important ways—give me all the female friendships!), it was more about Regina’s sense of self. It was about Regina acknowledging that she doesn’t want to hurt people anymore, even if it can get her what he wants. And Parrilla played that powerful moment with the intensity it deserved. I know that she could turn around and choose to help Rumplestiltskin next week, but I’m feeling hopeful that she’s going to make the selfless choice instead.
For a show filled with magical solutions to problems and Authors that can control actions, Once Upon a Time has always been a show about choice and self-definition. We might not always choose the paths we end up on, but we choose what to do once we get on those paths. And I’m so excited to see what choices are made and what new paths are taken by all of these characters as the rest of Season Four plays out.