Two-Sentence Summary When Regina enlists Cora to help stop Zelena and Hades’ blossoming romance, a major secret is revealed about a lost moment in the sisters’ shared past. Meanwhile, Charming finally comes face-to-face with James, and Rumplestiltskin reunites with a member of his family as he attempts to protect his child.
Favorite Line “You’re stronger than I ever was, and that’s a strength you got from the people you love—not from me.” (Cora, to Regina)
My Thoughts “Sisters” was a very focused hour of Once Upon a Time. It only had an A-story and a B-story, and both of them dealt with the same theme: the relationship between siblings. This was an episode that knew what it wanted to do (add important depth to the relationships between all three Mills women) and what it wanted to say (Love is strength, and only in accepting that can a person truly grow.), and that storytelling confidence from writers David H. Goodman and Brigitte Hales came through in every scene.
This episode’s main storyline (featuring Regina, Zelena, and Cora) was so strong that it could have stood on its own, and the depth and care it was given made the James/Charming showdown feel a little rushed in comparison. However, what that storyline lacked in depth, it made up for in intensity, and that’s all because of Josh Dallas’s performance. What could have been a silly gimmick actually felt tense. When Charming and James faced off, it felt like I was watching two distinct people who just happened to look alike, and that made the stakes feel higher than they would have felt in the hands of a lesser actor.
Dallas always seems to have fun playing James, but what struck me about his performance this time was how genuinely threatening James felt. When he pointed the gun at Robin, I was actually scared. James suddenly became a character to take very seriously rather than just a character playing out what could have been a stereotypical soap opera plot. So when his fight with his brother ended with him in the River of Lost Souls, it actually felt like it mattered because of the threat he posed. Emma was right—some people just can’t move on, and James was one of them. He was so consumed with jealousy that he never stopped to think about the fact that both he and Charming were hurt by what happened to them as babies. Instead of being able to move toward a place of understanding like Regina and Zelena are reaching, he sank deeper into his own darkness, stuck in his ways. So he now remains eternally stuck in that river, and Charming is left trying to process what he had to do.
However, unlike Belle and Rumplestiltskin (who also sent people into that river), Charming has a group of people who can help him as he deals with the repercussions of that fight. I loved seeing Emma lean on her father’s shoulder at the end, offering him comfort with that small gesture of support. And it seemed fitting that the person Charming ran into battle with was Killian, the man who’s become more like family to him than his own brother. This episode reminded us that families can help each other when no one else can, and Charming has a strong support system in his family, which surely factored into the monumental difference between him and his brother.
While the sibling rivalry between Charming and James played a part in this episode, it was a small part compared to the episode’s main event, which was a tale of two other siblings who were separated for most of their lives: Regina and Zelena. Once Upon a Time is at its strongest when it focuses on the complex female characters who have driven the story since the pilot, and “Sisters” was another amazing showcase for the variety of women and relationships between women that populate this world.
It’s also worth noting that Cora, Regina, and Zelena are all mothers now, along with Emma, Snow, and Belle (who’s at least a mother-to-be). I’ve always admired this show for treating mothers as fully-realized women on their own in addition to exploring their relationships with their children, which continued in this episode. In a television climate where female characters are being killed at an alarming rate and female performers are still treated as second-class citizens far too often, it’s nice to have a show—especially a show watched by young people—where female characters aren’t just a part of a man’s story; they’re the heroes (and sometimes the villains) of their own stories, and those stories are given the focus and care they deserve.
The most surprising story being told with focus and care this season is Zelena’s story. I never expected her to be anything more than an antagonist and source of excellently snarky lines. And while she’s still often the latter (I loved her line to Rumplestiltskin about Belle preferring a sleeping curse to being with him.), she’s become so much more than just a character I love to hate. She’s become a character I genuinely believe in. I want the best for her now, which is a testament to the skillful handling of her character during this arc. I can’t imagine this season being anywhere near as good as it’s been without her.
“Sisters” opened with a strong focus on Zelena’s relationship with Hades, which made me nervous because I was ready for that storyline to take a backseat for a little while after getting so much attention lately. However, this episode revealed some important things on that front: Hades is ready to put aside his plans to move to Storybrooke and rule over it with Zelena, but he still needs True Love’s Kiss in order to do that. There’s a part of me that continued to doubt the sincerity of Hades’ desire to abandon all his plans for Zelena, but this episode cemented my belief that he really does love her. I’ll admit to smiling as I watched him prepare the dinner table for her; there’s something so strangely adorable about the Lord of the Underworld dancing around a room because he’s excited for a date.
I also have no doubt that Zelena really does love Hades. But my fear is that her love for him is like Belle’s for Rumplestiltskin: She believes she can change him, which we know doesn’t work. Hades’ promise to make chaos with Zelena seemed to go against the woman Zelena is becoming, which makes for an interesting wrinkle in their budding romance. They might love each other, but love might not be enough to overcome what seem to be increasingly different values and ideas of happiness. But with this show, I’ve learned to never write off the power of love, so I’m still keeping an open mind about how this relationship could progress before the end of this arc.
Zelena’s relationship with Hades turned out to be far less important in this episode than her relationship with her sister and her mother. The development of Regina and Zelena’s relationship has been one of the most pleasant surprises to come out of this arc, and I was so happy to see it continue in this episode. Rebecca Mader and Lana Parrilla have become very natural scene partners, and this was a great showcase for the two of them. They play their scenes together with such delicious complexity. It’s no longer just animosity fueling their interactions; they bring real sincerity and honesty to the table each time they play opposite each other, and that emotional honesty allowed their development in this episode to feel earned and believable.
Adding Cora into the Regina/Zelena mix added the incomparable Barbara Hershey to the dynamic duo of Mader and Parrilla. It also allowed both of Cora’s daughters to deal with their unfinished business with their mother, and it allowed Cora to deal with her own unfinished business. Stories like this one are what this Underworld arc is all about, and I was so happy that these pieces of unfinished business were given the focus they deserve.
Cora hurt both of her daughters, and this episode showed in an unflinching way how deeply she hurt them when they were still young. I thought the flashbacks were handled brilliantly, and they featured another pair of great casting choices. Isabella Blake-Thomas’s eyes look so similar to Mader’s that it was uncanny, and the depth of sadness that could be seen in those eyes perfectly fit Zelena’s lonely history. And Ava Acres said many of her lines with exactly the same inflection as Parrilla. I wanted to hug both girls, and that’s exactly what I should have felt while watching their story unfold.
It killed me to see Cora use Zelena and her magic to heal Regina (which was a nice symbol of the idea of family healing each other in a way no one else can) without ever planning to let the girls know who they really were to each other. But that was nothing compared to the pain I felt when the girls finally discovered the truth of their relationship, only to be torn from each other as soon as they learned they were sisters. Cora’s lack of a heart was never more evident than in the moment she told Regina that she needed to rely only on herself and that Zelena would only stand in the way of her moving up in society. Hearing the girls scream as they were separated physically hurt me, and it showed just how cold Cora was that she remained unaffected by it and kept it a secret for decades after she erased their memories.
The damage Cora inflicted on those little girls continued into their adult relationship. And—with her heart finally back in her chest—Cora finally realized she needed to do everything she could to fix what she’d broken. For as great an episode as this was for Regina and Zelena, it was an even greater episode for Cora. I especially liked that she admitted to Zelena that abandoning her was a choice she made to better her own life, because true forgiveness can only come—and true growth can only happen—if we’re honest with others and ourselves about the things we’ve done. I didn’t realize how much I needed to see this moment between mother and daughter until it happened.
However, my favorite moment of Cora’s came when she addressed Regina. In telling Regina that she was stronger than her because Regina allowed herself to love, Cora showed that she finally got it. She finally understood that love isn’t weakness; it’s strength. And Regina’s ability to love—which Cora always tried to destroy—is actually her greatest power. That moment of acceptance and encouragement between mother and daughter got to the very heart of what this show is all about in such an honest, unforced way. And Parrilla’s performance was an important part of that scene’s emotional resonance. She made Regina look so young, small, and vulnerable, and I wanted to hug her then as much as I wanted to hug her younger self in the flashbacks.
By admitting to Regina that love can be a source of strength, Cora showed Zelena that it’s not too late to grow into a better version of yourself by letting love into your heart. The way Mader showed Zelena’s fear that it’s too late for her to be her best self was heartbreaking, and I continue to be amazed by the depth of her work in this arc. But Cora did what good mothers do; she encouraged her daughter not to give up on herself. She told Zelena in words and showed her in actions that it’s never too late to do the right thing.
Cora’s unfinished business was righting the wrong she committed when her girls were young by bringing them back together instead of tearing them apart. That was shown in a poignant way through the shot of the three of them holding hands. And when Cora did that, she knew it was time to move on. I know I should just expect for every scene that takes place on the bridge to eternity to make me cry, but I was still surprised by how intense my emotional reaction was to Cora’s farewell to both of her daughters. Parrilla’s heartbreaking reaction to Cora finally giving Regina a proper goodbye made me sob, but what wrecked me the most was Cora telling Zelena they barely got to say hello. It was such a simple line, but sometimes the simplest lines are the most powerful.
Cora was finally able to accept the fate that awaited her because she knew she’d done whatever she could to help her daughters be happy, and that was finally enough for her. I loved the little beat where she wiped her tears and steeled herself for what was about to happen to her; it was a great detail from Hershey.
This time, Cora helped the love between sisters grow instead of destroying it, and she helped spread hope instead of despair. That’s what allowed her to move on to a better place instead of a worse one. And in moving into the light, Cora exemplified the idea that it’s never too late to become your best self and find your true happy ending by opening your heart to love. Hope took root in the Underworld once again, and I loved that it came from the most unlikely places: Cora’s love for her daughters and their love for each other.
Regina and Zelena’s hug was such a powerful moment. It took years for them to get to that place, and it felt like the start of something beautiful instead of the end of their story. Parrilla and Mader put so much emotion into that moment that was impossible not to believe that these two sisters might grow to have a love as true as the one they started to develop when they were children. (It was interesting to note that young Regina promised Zelena that she would find her, which is something True Loves often say to each other on this show.)
But before Zelena and Regina’s relationship can grow any more, Regina is going to need to find her sister. It seems Regina wasn’t the only character to reach out to a parent for help in this episode. When Rumplestiltskin showed up with Pan, I was both excited to see Robbie Kay again and terrified of what that meant for Zelena. All I want now is for Regina to find her sister and for Hades to reluctantly team up with the heroes to help save the woman he loves from Rumplestiltskin and Pan.
• Where was Henry for most of this episode?
• Does anyone else get sad every time we see Emma push down her instincts when her superpower goes into overdrive for reasons she doesn’t understand? I just wanted to tell her that she was right about something being off with her dad (or uncle)!
• Who else was making the same disgusted face as Emma when James and Cruella were having their little moment? Also, who else loved Emma’s stone-cold reaction to Cruella’s slap?
• Where do all these anti-magic cuffs come from both in Storybrooke and in the Underworld? And how did James get one?
• Did anyone else’s heart break a little at the sight of Emma looking at a photo of her parents, clearly missing her mom?
• Will Milah ever get freed from the River of Lost Souls? Will anyone at least find out what happened to her?
• When will Rumplestiltskin realize that his way of doing things never works?
Great review as always Katie!
This was a very straightforward episode, which I enjoy, but that sometime leaves less to talk about! You did a great job hitting on the major points of this episode, and I really enjoyed seeing the three Mills women together.
I am not a mother, so I have never really related to the show in that way, but I do have a sister, and the favorite parts for me was definitely the revelation that Zelena and Regina had met and bonded as kids. Sometimes the flash backs tend to add in history for the characters that doesnt seem to “fit” with what we know, but this one fit perfectly for me. From Regina’s clear loneliness inside the castle to Zelena feeling ashamed and having to hide her magic…when the two girls were together you could tell that it was like the missing part of them had been found. I loved them playing with their “fireballs” in the castle. And it made Cora’s separating them and wiping their memories all the more cruel, and it made that moment when they were given back their memories all the more powerful and believable.
I love that you brought up that Cora admitted she gave Zelena up to give herself her best chance. Such a perfect contrast to the actions of Snow and Emma, and even most recently Zelena. I think it would be easy to argue that Cora in no way “deserved” to move on after all the horrible things she had done, but like you said, this was pretty much the ultimate “its never too late” moment. In the end, she did what was right, and thats what mattered in this story. I wont go too far into religious theory here, but most forms of Christianity offer salvation to all, no matter ones past actions. Concepts of “law” and “justice” are not really things that apply in the realms of fairytales, and I think its pretty clear after 5 seasons the same goes for this show, and I gave up holding the show to legal standards a long time ago. Anyway, this is just a long way to say that I was ok with it, but I can also understand it being hard to swallow.
For as complex and satisfying as the Regina/Zelena/Cora story was, the James/David confrontation fell flat. I feel like they built it up over multiple episodes and then didnt do anything interesting with it. I thought we would at least get a few more fun interactions of James pretending to be David. I really wanted to see what James made of David’s friendship with Killian. That said, Josh Dallas did a great job playing both of them. James scared the crap out of me. Josh Dallas just seems like the nicest guy ever, but he completely sold James as being intense and terrifying.
-I guess we know how Robin has been getting supplies out in the forest: they have been hiking them out to him. Which obviously is a pretty crappy plan when you can be followed. Like they were. Why cant Emma or Regina teleport out to him?
-Zelena’s comment about Belle’s judgement improving killed me. Somebody had to say it!
-I loved the parallel of Zelena and Regina playing “fireball” as kids compared to them bringing out the real fireballs in the present, and even more when Cora snuffed them out!
-Cruella really doesnt seem that offended that Emma killed her, and Emma doesnt seem tore up about it either. Was this supposed to be a bigger thing?
-Where was Henry this episode? Obviously not writing the story of James knocking out David and impersonating him. That would have been too helpful.
-Did Cora even mentioned Snow this entire time? Cora’s pissed off ghost was featured in a pretty dramatic fashion in 3B only to be completely ignored during this entire arc.
-This season was kinda hyped as all of our character’s pasts coming back to haunt them, but if anything the “redemption” arcs have just been a tool for helping the main characters work through current emotional barriers rather than atone for past misdeeds. Its slightly frustrating, but as I mentioned before, it seems consistent with the show’s overall approach that while our past may shape who we are, we cant change what we have already done, we can only choose how we act in the present.
-I adore Cruella’s disdain for the forest almost as much as I adore her love of gin. Perhaps someone should explain to her that without juniper forests there would be no gin?
Such great points about the younger Zelena and Regina and how they interacted with each other. I loved the fireballs and the dress up . . .and the anguish when they were separated. They were just so happy . . . and Cora blotted that completely out.
Speaking of sisters . . . I’m with you my soul sister on so many of these points. I loved Zelena’s comment about Belle’s judgment. I’m also having all kinds of fun imagining Cruella in the forest searching for berries to make her own gin.
I’ll be honest—sometimes I like episodes that give me less to unpack as a writer because I don’t feel like I have to reach to connect disparate storylines to one theme. Part of the reason I loved this one so much was because I knew it was going to lend itself really well to my style of analysis, so thanks to the writers for making my life easier. 😉
Like you, I can definitely see why some people might be upset that Cora got to move on despite all the terrible things she’s done. But I think your comparison to Christianity was an apt one. I don’t think I ever tried to apply real-world concepts of justice, punishment, and law to this show because I knew that would leave me feeling nothing but grumpy. Every character would be in jail at this point for murder (except Henry), so what matters to me is that they acknowledge the things they’ve done wrong and try to be better than who they were, which is exactly what Cora did in that moment.
And I can totally understand your frustration with the fact that this arc hasn’t been about characters confronting the dark parts of their pasts as much as was advertised before it aired. This arc definitely isn’t what I thought it would be, but I actually am enjoying it a lot more than I was expecting to. And I think a lot of that is coming from the fact that an arc about atonement would have felt a lot heavier than the one we current have (which is still pretty heavy), and I’m not sure I would have liked that after how heavy and depressing 5A was. I really like the idea that what matters in the end isn’t who you were but who you choose to be now, and I think that fits so well with what happened with Killian at the end of 5A, which has created a nice thematic bridge between the two arcs.
For example, I’m actually really happy that Snow killing Cora wasn’t brought up again because that arc actually made me almost quit watching the show. Thank God for Killian turning his ship around at the end of Season Two, because that was really the only thing that kept me watching. If people want to see what it looks like when NGN gets negative, check out my reviews for the second half of season two. 😉
Lovely job on this. I know I start off with that a lot, but the fact that you continue to do this week after week is amazing.
I must admit that I do love when this show examines family. I especially love how willing the core characters are to embrace those who aren’t technically related or only tangentially connected to them. Regina is where she is now partly because of the willingness of the Charmings and Emma to make Regina family. They loved her like family, and they held her accountable like family. I love looking at how we make people family, how we create family
However, there’s the flip side — those who actually are family. The difficult family members and how we relate to them. I love that we’re now looking at that. The sibling relationships in this episode are challenging. In both pairs, jealousy has eaten away at the soul of one sibling. There was a time when I would have applied Emma’s line about the inability of some to move on to Zelena. Time after time we’ve seen her turn down opportunities to change. Yet, look at her now. I’ve been amazed at how the writers (and Mader) have been able to make Zelena’s change believable. We see her struggling to accept that someone (Hades and/or Regina) can actually care about her. We see Regina struggling to communicate that love to her sister. (I almost wrote that Regina struggles to love Zelena. I don’t think she struggles with caring about her. I think she’s struggling with getting it across to a woman who believes no one ever can or will love her.) Sometimes family is difficult to love. But you love them anyway.
“Despite everything, he was my brother.” *sniffle*
We also see James’ anger with a brother he believes stole his glory. But let’s face it, James doesn’t make a good Charming. And a “preach, sister” on the feeling of menace Dallas gave to James. Jimmy had a chance to run off with Cruella; he chose revenge instead. Some people can’t move on.
Love is sacrifice. Oh, how I adore this theme. Cora has always been Cora. Her dreams for Regina are her dreams — not Regina’s dreams. She ditches her other daughter — repeatedly — to advance her own agenda. She may say she’s doing something for her daughter’s, but there’s always a little something for Cora tucked away. Finally, FINALLY, we see Cora make a sacrifice. When she gives her daughters back their memories, she has nothing to gain. NOTHING. There’s pretty much no way this can help her personally. In fact, there’s a good chance both her daughters will hate her. She does it because her daughters need it. And yes, another “preach, sister” on the acting of all the ladies involved. (As for the casting of younger actors, I’m semi-convinced they have a time machine and actually go back to get younger versions of the actors . . .)
Hades: I just don’t know. He seems sincere . . . but I just have a hard time trusting him. I think he has a hidden agenda. I think there’s something else he gains with Zelena that he’s not telling us. I just don’t know. I do think that’s deliberate. I don’t think I’m supposed to know. I just want to shake Hades, yelling, “TELL ME WHAT’S GOING ON! WHAT DO YOU REALLY WANT?!?” I’m sure somewhere OUAT writers are rubbing their hands with super-villain glee at my frustration.
Oh, and Rumple and Pan working together. This can’t be good.
— Poor Emma just looks tired.
— Why is everything in the woods with you people? I love Cruella.
— I’m not going to question the fact that they can pick up baby supplies in the Underworld. This is me, suspending.
— Oi with the forgetting spells. (No one minds if I Gilmore Girls a little, right?) I’m trying to decide if we need a forgetting spells PSA or an ethics class for trolls and practitioners of magic about messing with people’s memories. I also imagine a “flying division” (such as the one from the Monty Python argument clinic sketch) that comes in and interrupts anyone trying to enact a forgetting potion/spell/whatever.
— How awesome was it that the younger girls’ makeup was put on badly — especially the lipstick — when they were playing dress up?
— Yes, I think it’s incredibly sweet that Killian asked Robin about baby pistachio after the fight.
— I really hope we get folks out of the river. If not, we are collectively sufficiently clever to fan-fic it.
Thank you so much, friend!
I want to start with your comments about Hades, because they’re spot-on. I can’t shake the feeling that he’s still up to something. But I actually think that’s exactly how we’re supposed to feel about him. Some things on the show leave me much more frustrated than I believe the writers want me to feel (Rumbelle), but I think in this case, we’re supposed to feel like we’re still not getting the whole story with Hades. So I will continue to reserve my judgment.
Also, it’s my turn to say “Preach, sister” to your paragraph about Cora and selfless, sacrificial love. If there’s one thing this show has taught us time and again, it’s that true love means being willing to sacrifice what you want for the person you love needs. It means giving up what’s comfortable and easy for you to do the right thing for the person you love. And, like you said, Cora FINALLY did that with her girls. She gave them back their memories because it was what they needed. It was the first time she acted with her daughters’ best interests at heart and not her own, and I loved it more than words can say.
Finally, one big HELL YES to the fact that Emma looks exhausted. It’s such a nice piece of physical character continuity (which JMo is always so good at) given that I’m sure she’s still not really sleeping and hasn’t really slept since before she became the Dark One. All I want in this season’s finale or at the start of Season Six is a shot of Emma finally getting some much-needed sleep (preferably with a certain pirate by her side).
Based on the promo for the next episode and the revelation and cuteness of this episode, I feel like Once engaged in a bait and switch. The show made us think that Hades would be the main villain of 5B when in reality he was a god who wanted to be a man again and the real villain is actually a combination of Pan/Rumple, which Give Me!
The very focused plot of this episode helped hammer home the overarching themes of this season – love, family, hope and redemption. I loved the focus on misplaced anger in David and James’s story in contrast with the misplaced responsibility in the Cora, Regina and Zelena arc. God the fight between the brothers was some of the best work Josh Dalles has done this season. I really loved the acting this episode.
Regina had such genuine care and concern for her sister but at the same time with her mother’s influence, I felt she reverted back to her old villainous actions of taking away others people’s choice and of course Zelena was able to tell that something is up. I loved watching Zelena and Hades affirm that they do truly want a future together but like you I worry that Hades will mess up the beautiful redemption arc Zelena is moving towards. The show is often about how being good, about how choosing hope is a choice that one most make over and over again and with her daughter, Zelena is inspired to make that choice.
I loved the flashbacks, seeing Regina and Zelena both desperately want a family makes me understand why being a mother leads to both of them seeking to be better people and Cora was utterly cruel in ripping that away from both of them. I loved that Cora’s unfinished business was fixing what she had broken.
I was very glad to see Robin again and as much as I love Emma supporting her family, I cannot wait for her to once again take charge of her own destiny next episode.
Captain Charming FTW
Just Killian interacting with people was great this episode, I loved how sassy he was with Cora, how he came to fight with Charming, how he asked Robin if the baby was ok, how he touched Emma so gently.
I echo your question of where was Henry.
Cruella is always hilarious, I love her
Hades is cute, I was not expecting the lord of the death to be such a dork!
As always, I love reading your thoughts and analysis.
Thank you—and thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!
I really liked what you said about Cora’s influence causing Regina to revert back to a less heroic version of herself. She was willing to take the easy way out and use magic to get what she wanted, and even though what she wanted was what she thought was best for her sister, we know that’s not the heroic way. So I was happy to see Zelena call her out for it and for them to both emerge from this episode stronger as individuals and as a pair of sisters than they were before.
And as for who will be the true villain of this arc, I’m trying to piece all of that out myself. I still think Hades has more up his sleeve than what we’ve seen so far, but I definitely wouldn’t mind if Rumple continues to be the “Big Bad” and Hades turns out to be more of a minor villain, which actually seems to happen in most arcs on this show. There’s also still the matter of Cruella to deal with, who I think is going to be more determined than ever to hurt the heroes after what happened to “Jimmy.”
I love the comment about Hades being a dork! That’s perfect! I also like the idea that he may now be aligning with the heroes in order to rescue the woman he loves. For me it is easy to see him choosing to be a better person as his 2 main goals currently seem to be 1) make Zelena happy and 2) be free of the Underworld. His “evil” side seems to be becoming more of a necessity of his circumstances, rather than a lifestyle choice. That being said, I would also like to see a little more of his cunning side come out in order to knock “The Worst Family” down a peg or two. Maybe transferring the curse of the Underworld to them?
I am getting increasingly frustrated with the speed with which certain story elements are brushed over. Especially ones with several episodes of hinting and build up. Like Emma and Killian’s reunion in the Underworld and the meeting of the Twins in this episode. I really hope they are planning a huge directors cut release when they can be free of the confines of 40 minute episodes! Maybe it’s time to campaign for mid-week episodes! Who’s in?
Randoms: Did anyone see Killian take off Emma’s cuff so she could attempt to help David with magic?
How many more seasons can Peter Pan be in? The “boy who never grew up” is looking decidedly more mature already ;0)
After recent Captain Charming bonding, it would have been neat to have had Killian pick up on David “not being himself”.
A scene with Captain Swan waking up together after a great night of “sleep” is a must!
A good episode for people who love the family love themes! I never expected to see Cora redeemed. In fact, I spent most of the episode mis-trusting her, which I probably was supposed to. But in the end she came through. Not exactly atoning for all the terrible things she’s done over the years, but at least making up for a couple of the worst things she did. I was happy to hear her admit to Zelena that, no, she wasn’t acting in Z’s best interests, she gave her up for selfish reasons. And acknowledging how far Regina has come because of the family she has chosen to surround herself with ❤
I wonder if there was more James impersonating David fun that wouldn't fit into the episode. That storyline felt a little shortchanged in the end, but yes, Cruella has grown on me. I was gleefully disgusted at her moment with James, loved her snark, and yes, that look Emma gave her after the punch was perfect. James was wonderfully horrible. I would have liked to see more of him. I was genuinely frightened when he threatened Robin too.
Hades and Zelena seem good together and then bad and then I don't even know. I cringed when Regina said something about Zelena being able to change Hades. I would like to see Hades choose a different path but I don't know if/how that's going to happen.
I was kind of thrilled to see Pan back. He looked good in a coat! He was probably the most threatening, unbeatable villain in the show, rivaling Mr Gold himself, but somehow actually out-creeping/out-eviling his boy.
Maybe Henry was hanging out with the Blind Witch? Talking cooking?
There are so many characters in the River of Lost Souls now that I feel that we really have to be able to get them out before the season ends. Although maybe only Milah really needs to get rescued.
So many story-lines and actors, so little time!
I cringed, too. “I can change him!” is just dangerous, dangerous, dangerous — especially if the person doesn’t have the desire to change. Hades seems perfectly happy with his plan to leave everyone in the Underworld and take over Storybrook with Zelena . . . assuming that really is his plan.
I never cease to be amazed at Robbie Kay’s Pan — and to have Pan and Rumple on the same side (in suits)? That’s just plain scary — in a good, I-can’t-wait-to-see-this way. I will gladly take scenes with just the two of them talking about their plans.
Yep, Henry at the diner . . . bending the Blind Witch’s ear as he knocks back the hot chocolate.
I love what you said about Pan, because it’s so true! While Rumple is “THE WORST!” his father is actually way creepier and more menacing. When Rumple showed up I was worried about Zelena, but Pan appearing made me terrified. I think it’s because we’ve seen Rumple show the ability to do the right thing (when he sacrificed himself), but we’ve never seen that from Pan. He and Cruella are definitely the two darkest villains with the least humanity on this show, but Cruella’s menace is tempered by her fantastic sense of humor.
I also agree with you about Charming and James. I feel like they probably would have done more if episodes were more than 43-ish minutes long. Like you said, so many storylines, so little time!
And you weren’t the only one who cringed when the idea of “changing” Hades came up. I really would like to see Hades choose a better path for himself, but that has to be his choice. Zelena can’t force him to change, as we’ve seen over and over (and over) again with Belle and Rumple.
I’ve been so MIA this season, but this was an episode I could not let pass by.
I loved your characterization of the James/David B story. It really served to me as a wonderful counterpoint to the power of the families we create as opposed the families we are born to. The fight in the Underworld is made up of so many disparate parts. But this unlikely family of David, Killian, Emma, Robin and Regina has formed to navigate their way out of the underworld and ensure not only Killian survives, but that ultimately, hope survives. I think that supported the A story of Cora, Regina and Zelena so very well.
What I appreciated about this was the idea that sisters aren’t actually born, they are made. They are made through need, loneliness, shared history, understanding, acceptance, trust and a whole host of pieces that knit people together. The flashbacks were critical to understanding the core of these two young girls and that their struggles, both innately and from leaning into evil was based on the actions of someone literally operating without a heart. Your emotions, your love is what drives you as a parent and it is what provides the foundation for failing at parenting when you know you are doing the best that you can. That the episode took a moment to harken back to Regina’s use of a forgetting spell when she became a parent to Henry is critical. It’s critical because the moment we stop allowing ourselves to feel, especially to feel pain, we lose the ability to parent. We lose the ability to not only love, but to know joy. It’s why when Regina and Zelena fear the worst for Cora’s fate, she’s at peace. Because an after life of hell for her sins doesn’t measure up to the redemptive healing that comes from not only bringing these sisters back to their truth, but in acknowledging her own and the actions she took in the process. The consequences, should hell have been her fate, were now simply due to her desire for power. Regret isn’t a third rail if you are able to find redemption, truth and learn. That’s ultimately the power of Cora’s reuniting of these sisters.
I was so deeply struck by their being torn apart. It reminded me of that moment in The Color Purple when Celie is separated from her sister. The ties that bind us remain and transcend. The families we form come to us when we realize we don’t have to be alone. We can find strength in love and that vulnerability isn’t weakness, it’s a pathway to real power. I feel like that was the door that was opened for Zelena and the affirmation for Regina. The her choosing love was now her greatest power and not only the love of those who now surround her in her journey to be a hero. But ultimately in the forgiveness and love she held onto for Cora, regardless of the mistakes and manipulations. Because when you believe in that power, it heals. It heals the wounds, it heals our relationships, and it heals our souls. It lays the foundation for forgiveness that gives way to hope.
As a parent, your failures and fears can be paralyzing. They create decisions we can often come to regret. There isn’t a single parent on OUAT that hasn’t faced that dilemma. It’s why Emma’s comfort to her father is key. She isn’t comforting him as a supportive daughter, but as a mother who has walked that path. Her killing Cruella, harkens back to David’s moment with James. The regret is overwhelming. But regret doesn’t have to lead to shame. That’s what Cora’s redemption meant to me and Emma’s actions. When we harness and learn from it, we can cast a light and a space to stand in truth. Her truth and the truth of where her regrets have led opened the room to allow her daughters to begin to heal.
Out of all the episodes of OUAT in this arc so far, this is the one I was most hoping to read your take on because of its wonderful focus on motherhood. Your perspective on this show is always so valuable to me because you come at it from a different place in life that allows you to connect with the show’s most central themes in a totally different way than I do. And I appreciate your ability to articulate what those themes mean to you in a way that allows them to resonate with me on a new level after you’ve talked about them.
I loved what you wrote about your heart driving you as a parent because that feels so true to the entire ethos of this show. And what’s so important is to act without fear, because so many of the mistakes we’ve seen parents make on this show have come because they acted out of fear, and Cora taking her own heart out (and later separating the sisters) were no different. So to see Cora accept whatever fate awaited her without fear was so powerful. And to see Zelena finally let go of her fear and hug her sister and go to Hades was also powerful.
I was struck by how perfect your statement was that sisterhood—and family in general—isn’t born, it’s made. It’s chosen. And Zelena and Regina are now choosing to try to be the sisters they chose to be when they were little girls. It’s such a nice little reflection of the way Regina’s support system is full of family who’s chosen her and who she’s chosen over the years. The group of heroes in the Underworld are a family not because of blood but because they’ve chosen to fight for each other’s happiness and to support each other in hard times. That’s what family is all about.
E X C E L L E N T, my dear. I can’t say enough good things or rather much because you’ve perfectly analyzed everything! I loved every single part of this review and I’m drowning in feels all over again. Most of all the Cora/Regina/Zelena stuff. It’s gonna take a while for me to get over how incredible this episode was and you’ve done such a gorgeous job illuminating why. The storyline was so strong, it could’ve stood on its own perfectly. And that’s not something that always works but this is something we apparently didn’t know how badly we needed.
I loved what you said about that moment where Regina looked like a kid. She really did. We’re always children to our parents. And no matter how old we get, moments of real vulnerability bring out that side of us effortlessly. It’s 14 (Peggy the cat wrote this so I figured I’ll just leave it hahah). Anyway, that paragraph once again gave me chills as the scene in the episode did.
I also love that you once again pointed out the fact that you want to trust Hades because the same thing is happening to me. It was so nice to see how giddy he was and I wonder how things will change now that he’ll team up with the heroes to get Zelena back. And I have a feeling that just as he’ll start to see the true, good side, something terrible will happen to him. However, here’s to hoping I’m wrong.
Yes x a million on what you said about Emma. If this were a different episode focusing more on James/Charming instead of rushing it a bit, I think maybe we would’ve gotten the chance to see Emma questioning it more. And also that scene with her clearly missing her mom broke me. It’s so ridiculously sweet how attached she’s gotten and with Emma, every time she’s with her parents, it’s like that kid who always wanted a family comes back.
Thanks, love! Knowing how much you loved this episode and reading your brilliant review of it, the fact that you liked what I had to say here means so much to me. You’re so right about needing a while to get over how great this episode was. I think part of that comes from the fact that my expectations for it weren’t sky-high. I love when this show can still surprise me with how intensely it can make me feel, and this was definitely an example of that.
This episode was so good, seeing Bex and Lana together on screen, magic seriously happens with these two. The moment both of them started crying because Cora helped them remember that they genuinely cared about each other as sisters once, that was the moment I started crying too.
For Brigitte’s first episode, she nailed it! I don’t have a sister, I only have my older brother whom I’m occasionally very annoyed with, so I can’t really relate to what it’s like to have a sister. But I definitely know what it feels like to be annoyed in general with a sibling.
I really enjoy Zelena. She brings an energy to Once, similar to what the show became when Colin came onto the show back in season two. Bex’s presence adds much-needed sass. Her comment to Rumple that Belle would much rather be in a sleeping curse than be with him, I’ve been thinking the same thing myself.
I love the way Zelena and Regina’s relationship was handled in this episode. Both of these women were hurt and abused by Cora. We know the kind of abuse Cora put Regina through, but Zelena didn’t have it any easier either. As much as Zelena hated Regina in the beginning, she was blaming the wrong person for all the pain in life. (Much like how Regina blamed Snow for the loss od Daniel).
I like how Cora finally owned up to her mistakes where her daughters were concerned, and she finally learned that love is not weakness, it’s strength. Cora’s unfinished business was with both of her daughters, reuniting them and helping them make peace with each other. I thought that was a beautiful touch, and if this is the last time we see Barbara Hershey on Once, it’s the perfect last performance for her. I believed her that she felt sincere regret over separating her daughters the way that she did and wanted to genuinely atone for that, by helping them remember their bond.