TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.18

OUAT 618


Title Where Bluebirds Fly

Two-Sentence Summary Zelena’s confrontation with the Black Fairy leaves her with a choice: go back to Oz and live alone with just her daughter or give up her magic to help the only family she has. Meanwhile, Emma and Killian’s impending nuptials has her parents in full wedding-planning mode, until Charming is reminded of what Emma must face.

Favorite Lines
Emma: We were just making some pancakes.
Snow: Pancakes. Right. Maybe I should come back after you’ve made pancakes.
Killian: Don’t worry. I’ve lost my appetite. I have to go and have a quick and bracing shower.

My Thoughts Once Upon a Time is at its best when its plot works to serve its characters—not the other way around. As the buildup to the climactic “Final Battle” has begun, I was initially worried that this major plot point would dominate the show, but in a surprising turn of events, it seems the opposite is true. The last two episodes have been filled with lovely character-driven moments, and “When Bluebirds Fly” was perhaps the least plot-driven episode of this entire season. Nothing really moved forward as far as the Final Battle is concerned (It actually ended with things back at Square One for the Black Fairy.), but various characters—especially Zelena—took huge strides forward in their development. And that is a far more engaging and entertaining way for me to spend an hour on a Sunday night than watching a series of plot twists and turns that offers little to no time for characters to do anything other than offer up expository monologues or create new and unnecessary conflicts.

Every conflict in this episode came from a place that felt true to who these characters are and have always been. Nothing felt contrived or forced; everything felt earned and thematically resonant—tying back into the ideas of love and sacrifice, true happiness, and what makes a place a home.

For all of these characters, home is the place where you feel you belong—it’s where you’re loved. Home truly is where the heart is on this show. And for a long time, Zelena felt she belonged in Oz. But this episode’s flashbacks reminded us that she didn’t feel she belonged in Oz because she was loved there; she felt she belonged there because she was powerful there. Zelena’s entire arc has been about letting go of her need to define herself by how good she is at magic, which is a much more relatable story than it would seem at first glance. Haven’t we all defined ourselves by the things we feel we’re best at? Haven’t we all worried about who we would be if we suddenly didn’t have that talent anymore? Maybe it’s just my inner Slytherin coming through, but I related to Zelena much more than I was expecting to in this episode. When you spend your whole life wanting to be the best at something, how easy would it be to give that talent up for someone else? I know I’d struggle with doing the right thing if it meant losing the talent I’d always prided myself on having.

Zelena has become one of the most complex characters on this show. (Remember when I thought she was just a one-note, over-the-top villain back in Season 3B?) She wants so badly to be wanted, to feel important, which is a very believable byproduct of being abandoned the way she was as a child. And for her, magic was the key to making her mark on the world. If she could prove that she was the strongest, most powerful witch, then she would be able to feel she was worth something. Because otherwise, she was just a lost little girl whose mother left her behind because she wasn’t worth the trouble.

When Zelena was younger, magic was a way for her to help people. I loved the early flashbacks because young Zelena has a kind of unguarded vulnerability and kindness that shines through her. However, time and hard truth and the bitterness that accompanies both turned that sweet young girl into the Wicked Witch. Magic was no longer a tool for her to use to help people; it was a weapon she used to make herself feel powerful. However, when faced with her old friend Stanum (It was nice to see Alex Désert this that role after loving him on Boy Meets World while I was growing up.), Zelena had to also face the fact that using her magic the way she had been didn’t make her as happy as she claimed to be; no amount of power or talent could fill the hole in her heart—only love could do that.

But love requires sacrifice, and Zelena wasn’t ready to do that in the past. I thought it showed progress that she was even willing to help Stanum, but when she realized helping him involved giving up her magic, it became clear that she would rather doom him to a life as the Tin Man and doom herself to an equally heartless, cold, and lonely life than sacrifice the one thing she thought made her special. However, as Stanum said, Zelena wasn’t special because of her magic; she was special because she used it when she was younger to help others. That’s a common theme on this show: With so many magical characters, what matters isn’t having powers, it’s what you use those powers to do. You’re not defined by your talents or the gifts you were born with; you’re defined by the choices you make to use those gifts to spread light or darkness—hope or harm—in the world around you.

In the present, that was still a lesson Zelena needed to learn. When faced with the Black Fairy’s threat to her daughter, Zelena sprang into action, using this as the chance to prove herself as he most powerful magical force in any realm. She didn’t care if she was putting herself and others in danger by taking on the Black Fairy without backup and without proper planning; what mattered to her was finding the validation that she felt could only come from asserting her magical dominance once and for all.

However, if this season (and really any season) of Once Upon a Time has taught us anything, it’s that nothing good ever comes from trying to do too much on your own; that’s a way to reveal your weaknesses instead of a way to show strength. Zelena learned that the hard way. By fighting with Regina instead of working with her, Zelena left them both vulnerable to the Black Fairy. And Zelena might have gotten a moment of satisfaction upon being told she was stronger than her sister, but none of that mattered once the Black Fairy took her magic to darken the fairy crystals she needed to begin the Final Battle.

I liked the reveal that Zelena’s magic was the only one that could be harnessed for the crystals because of its instability. As the Black Fairy so perfectly pointed out (Have I mentioned lately that I love Jaime Murrary in this role?), she doesn’t feel she has to prove herself to anyone. She has complete confidence in herself. However, Zelena’s desperation to prove herself and her insatiable need to be the best turned out to not just be a problem for her, but also a problem for everyone in Storybrooke.

While I felt Regina may have been a little harsh with Zelena upon learning what happened, sisters aren’t always rational when confronting each other. And that harsh attitude was needed for Zelena’s choice to feel believable: Should she go back to Oz—where she has her daughter and her power and no hope of much else—or should she stay in Storybrooke—where she might not have her magic anymore but she has a chance to be part of something bigger than herself? In the moment, she can’t be sure she even has her sister’s love, but she has the hope that she could earn it—not by proving herself with her magic, but by sacrificing that magic for the place that’s become her home.

I teared up a little bit when Zelena told Regina that—though they may have their issues—Regina is all she’s got. Rebecca Mader is always glorious, but—just as Zelena proved she was special in her softer moments—Mader herself truly stands out when she gets to bring a gentleness to her character, helping us believe that all Zelena has ever wanted is to feel like she belongs somewhere. She belongs in Storybrooke not because it’s where she feels the potential for power is the greatest, but because it’s where she feels the potential for love is the greatest. That’s what makes a place a home.

And Zelena was ready to sacrifice the very thing she once defined herself by to save that home. In the past, she couldn’t give up her magic to save her friend, but she made a different choice this time. She gave up what she thought made her powerful for what she knows now is actually far more empowering—home, love, and family. It wasn’t an easy choice for her to make—I love that she said she felt weak after giving up her magic because that’s believable. But as Regina told her, she was actually stronger than ever. It takes incredible strength to sacrifice the one thing you defined yourself by your whole life, but Zelena has always been more than her magic.

I loved the image of Regina and Emma supporting Zelena as she gave up her magic. All three women have gone on powerful journeys of self-definition—from orphans and Evil Queens and Wicked Witches to heroes and mothers and women who don’t have to prove themselves worthy of love and respect anymore. They have all let go of the need to hide behind walls designed to keep others out and keep themselves from getting hurt, and in sacrificing that false sense of power, they have all become stronger.

Zelena chose love over power in the end, and that’s the most heroic choice any of these characters can make. She chose to believe that she could be happier with her family than with her magic, and that choice—the choice to believe you are enough as you are—is where true power comes from. It’s what Emma and Regina learned and what Rumplestiltskin still has yet to accept, and it made me so happy to see Zelena join her fellow female heroes in trusting that she can be happy and feel fulfilled because of who she is independent of her magic.

Self-definition has always been a part of this show because it’s always been a part of Emma’s story, and this episode allowed us to see Emma adding another piece to her identity: happy, loving fiancée. I’m not sure it’s possible for me to love a Once Upon a Time plot more than I loved the B-plot in this episode. “Snow White and Prince Charming plan their daughter’s wedding to Captain Hook” is the kind of fairytale fun this show was made to deliver. It felt like it had been ages since these characters were allowed to participate in something vaguely resembling normal life, and this clash between fairytale characters and everyday domestic squabbles was the reason Once Upon a Time was so delightful in its early stages. It was a lovely reminder that these characters are so richly developed and highly entertaining—and this cast is so attuned to each other and adept at playing romance, comedy, and drama—that they can carry an entire side plot of wedding preparations without making it boring. In fact, it was the most enjoyable I’ve found the show in a long time.

This side plot started with a bang (pun totally intended). All I’ve been asking for since last season was to see Emma and Killian actually enjoy some quiet alone time in their house, and their first scene of this episode delivered on that front—and then some. All I could think about during that kitchen scene was Killian’s promise in Season Three that the fun was going to begin. It may have taken three more seasons, but it seems like the fun has finally started for Killian and Emma, and fun looks good on them. There’s something completely captivating about watching two people in love just enjoy being in love, and that’s what this episode finally gave us. After separations and Dark Ones and death and secrets, it was lovely to see Killian and Emma have a moment to be happy together, and Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue sold that happiness in such a real way that it seemed like I could feel it glowing through my television screen (and my phone screen…and my computer screen…and I’ve just watched that scene a lot over the last 24 hours, okay?).

In a season that’s been so tightly focused on Emma being the Savior, it was nice to have a moment where all Emma needed to be was herself. With Killian, she isn’t special because she has magic or was destined to bring back happy endings; she’s special because she’s Emma—a woman who smells better than any pancakes, who makes him smile at just the sight of her cooking in her robe, and who kisses him just because she’s happy. She’s always been enough for him exactly as she is, and I loved seeing that contentment extend throughout that scene—her happiness may surprise her sometimes, but she’s not pushing it away anymore. Instead, she’s letting everything—even the pancakes—go to enjoy the happiness and love she’s found. (Did any of my fellow Alias fans see shades of “We can reheat” in Emma’s “To hell with the pancakes,” or was that just me?)

That scene was a fantastic showcase for Morrison and O’Donoghue’s chemistry, which is so special because it’s never faded over time, which happens often on shows that run this long. It was a happy little domestic moment, but it was also steamier than I was expecting since we don’t often get to see the show imply much in the way of romance these days. Emma and Killian were clearly ready to celebrate their reunion and engagement once right there in the kitchen, but since this show isn’t on FX or HBO, the next best thing happened: Snow interrupted them in a perfect nod to Emma walking in on her parents back in Season Two.

The entire scene that followed was comedic gold—with “pancakes” joining “tacos” in the Once Upon a Time Food Euphemism Hall of Fame. Ginnifer Goodwin is so good at comedy, and I wish they would let her do stuff like this more often. But the real star of that scene was O’Donoghue, who played Killian’s inability to hide his frustration (on multiple levels) perfectly. I laughed harder than I have watching this show in ages when he told Emma that he needed to take a bracing shower. That kind of over-the-heads-of-the-kids humor was something I actually thought we’d get a lot more of on this show, but that just makes me appreciate the rare instances it happens even more.

Snow’s reason for interrupting her daughter’s morning pancakes set up their story for the rest of the episode; she wanted to help Emma plan her wedding because she missed out on so many other milestones in her life. I loved seeing Snow get so excited, even though I do agree with Killian that a Jolly Roger wedding is probably more appropriate for the two of them. But for as romantic as an elopement would be, I think Emma does deserve the big wedding surrounded by all the people who love her—mainly because I think it’s something young Emma dreamed about but never believed she’d have.

And I believe Emma and Killian shouldn’t put their wedding on hold because of the Final Battle. Snow is right in that regard; weddings give people hope, and I think Emma’s wedding would be a sign of hope for her, too. I found it very believable that Charming was so anti-wedding because he’s afraid for his daughter (His desire to always put Emma first since the moment she was born is one of my favorite Charming character traits.), but Emma’s whole journey this season has been about learning to live her life and choose happiness even when the future is uncertain. Marrying Killian would be the ultimate way for her to choose to believe in her future and to choose happiness in the present.

The Final Battle may be stalled for now, but it’s still coming. However, if this episode taught us anything, it’s that there’s no time like the present to choose love and hope over fear. Selfless love is the greatest strength anyone can possess, and what better way to show that than with a wedding?

Extra Thoughts
• Did anyone else find the “Black Fairy’s darkest secret” twist a little annoying? I liked having a character who I could just root against without having a tragic backstory brought in, and there’s just not enough time left this season to make whatever is revealed resonate. It also makes me angry with Blue for keeping this information from people who might have benefitted from knowing it. (Maybe she’s still as shady as we thought.)
• It looked for a moment as if Charming recognized one of the symbols Henry had been drawing, but I guess that was supposed to be more of a generic worried look since it wasn’t brought up afterward.
• One of my favorite running gags on the show will always be Charming bringing up Whale and Snowing saying “We were cursed!” in the same tone as “We were on a break!” in Friends.
• It seemed to me like more of a deal should have been made of the fact that Henry was trying to change Emma’s story. Isn’t that a big no-no for an Author?
• Killian’s face when Charming talked about Emma’s wedding needing to be a royal affair was adorable because it seemed like he was just then remembering that he’s marrying a princess. O’Donoghue stole every scene he was in during the hour.
• I really loved the design of the Fairy Crystal Cave.
• Here’s hoping Emma and Killian can make some pancakes without being interrupted on their honeymoon!


16 thoughts on “TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.18

  1. Fabulous review Katie!! I will be back later because I have A LOT of feelings about this one, but I wanted to say bravo for being able to pay so much attention to Zelena’s story in this episode when there were other very *distracting* things going on. I loved your character analysis!

  2. I loved tbe extra-long review, Katie! This episode really deserved a little more introspection. I always love the moments on this show when we get some meaningful character development. We got to see Zelena’s growth through the course of the A plot and we saw Emma and Killian experiencing the fruits of their character growth in the B plot.

    I agree with you comoletely about the Charming family wedding planning. It’s such a treat to see the characters getting to enjoy themselves by doing something mundane for once. Those moments seem rare, but the characters deserve them. They fight so hard for the right to live their lives, and I not only love seeing them come through in their unique challenges, I equally love seeing them get to live out those lives. I think the wedding should go on! It not only gives the townspeople hope, but it also shows that Emma CAN finally see a happy future for herself. You can’t always postpone things until the “perfect time,” and I don’t think they should. Charming wantng to give his daughter the perfect wedding is so sweet to see! He has so many hopes and fears for her. This is one of his ways to put Emma first, and it’s so heartwarming! I love to see Charming and Snow being the parents they always wanted to be.

    I may add more later, but I just had to put my two cents in. Lovely job, lady!

  3. Fab review, sweets. This was a lot of fun.

    I loved this Zelena story-line. I love explorations of identity, and this one really does hit home. What makes us who we are? What makes us special? (Plus, there’s the whole issue of the need to identify that something special about ourselves . . .) For Zelena, it was magic. Of course, from her perspective — it was that she was the best — from Stanum’s it was her willingness to use her magic to help. Unfortunately, Zelena couldn’t see that and just doubled down on how being the best made her special and if people could just see that . . . Abandonment can make you do crazy things to protect yourself. This really was a tremendous sacrifice for her. She gave up what she thought made her special. She gave up a critical part of her identity. She gave up her power. And she did all of that not knowing what kind of reception she’d get from the others. That would be tough.

    I so loved the search for the perfect venue. I love watching Snow and Charming work as a team, but I also watching them bicker. Killian’s and Emma’s reactions were glorious. I loved the small smiles and knowing looks. (Ok, so if the wedding isn’t on the Jolly Roger, I vote for the honeymoon to be — take it out to sea and AWAY from everyone, so there can be uninterrupted pancakes.) It’s such fun to see the whole family doing “normal” stuff. (I loved that Henry came along, too.) I have to admit, I’m on Charming’s side on this one. While a wedding gives everyone hope, it is Emma’s wedding. It should be about when it’s right for her — not just the town. (Plus, I figure just prepping for the wedding gives them all hope . . .) She doesn’t necessarily need to delay, but she shouldn’t time it just for everyone else.

    Random thoughts:

    — Is there a pancake scene support group? We don’t have a problem, right?

    — Yes, I groaned at the Black Fairy secret. *headdesk*

    — I hadn’t thought about the Alias reheat. I was too busy thinking Haven pancakes . . . well, that’s what I was thinking when my brain started working again.

    — I also thought Charming recognized the symbol. Maybe it will come up again.

    — Right with you on the whole “We were cursed!” (Maybe they can get Anders for the wedding episode. I would LOVE to see Charming looking daggers at him during the reception.)

    Like everyone else, I’m sure I’ll have more later.

  4. The pancakes scene. That scene was perfection. It was like an oasis in this season’s desert. I wouldn’t change one second of it. I don’t think I have enjoyed a moment on this show this thoroughly since Emma seduced past Hook in the 3B finale. This scene managed to be cute, joyous, super romantic, sexy as hell, AND funny. When that script tease came out none of us even dared to dream that this would be the context. I am still having a hard time accepting that this perfection actually exists on screen. It was both written and acted flawlessly. I love that you brought up the chemistry between JMo and Colin and how its still going strong 5 seasons after their initial meeting. Not only was that scene smoking hot, the way they carry that physical attachment through the rest of the episode was perfection. I cant even pick a favorite moment. Its all my favorite. Although the in-unison Yes!/No! when Snow asked if she was interrupting was classic. I love how Colin played Killian’s reaction as highly annoyed rather than embarrassed. There was no ear scratching here, just tight lipped eye rolling.

    I thought the conflict here between Snow and David was a nice continuation from last week. We have Queen Snow who looks at how the wedding is going to benefit the entire town (kingdom) and dad David who just wants what is best for his little girl. Both of them are coming from a good place. Although it will be interesting to see how they go from “lets wait” to the wedding we know is coming in less than two weeks.

    I had mix feeling about the flashbacks. I always feel like flashbacks for Killian and Zelena are some of the less interesting ones for me because their pasts usually don’t intersect with the other cast members much if at all. But the flashback was needed to give the storyline in the present the weight it needed. And I was really glad they were able to bring in the lion and tin man into the Oz world since they hadn’t touched on it yet. It was a nice Oz hole to fill if that was our last trip there.

    I had a much harder time with Regina this episode. Regina has done so much nasty stuff its really hard for me not to get annoyed when she criticizes other people including Zelena. But I like that you mentioned that sisters are often pretty tough on each other (I can agree from experience). Couple that with that fact that Zelena and Regina don’t quite have the same self awareness that Killian has, its probably good for them to call each other out when they are doing the wrong thing even if it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I have to give credit to Bex, who is soo good in this role. This is not an easy character to root for, but she is phenomenal at showing Zelena’s vulnerability, and its hard not to have sympathy for her.

    Other items:

    -Add me to the list of people that never wants to here the words “darkest secret” again. This makes me miss Cruella. She was just evil and owned it.

    -Speaking of beating a dead horse, has there ever been an adjective used as exclusively and frequently as ‘wicked’ is used to describe Zelena? I kinda never want to hear the word wicked ever again. I have wicked PTSD. I think it was only said twice during this ep which was a low for them but still two times too many.

    -I definitely said “ooooo pretty” outloud when they found all the crystals in the cave. Have the dwarfs really been sitting on all those crystals this whole time? Are they on strike? Perhaps they are trying to negotiate a no tree-transfiguration clause into their union contacts?

    -Zelena made an off handed comment about Walsh in the flashback and it makes me kinda sad nobody has made a dig at Emma’s almost engagement to a flying monkey in awhile.

    -With Zelena giving up her magic this ep, I wonder if anyone else in the town is going to have to give up their magic before the final battle hits. I am also wondering how this season is going to end for Regina. Is her story done? It just seems like for such a major character I would expect to see some bigger things for her in these last few episodes, even if she did dominate the story earlier in the season.

    -Emma girl, you have magic, there has to be a way to protect the house from unwanted visitors so you can have pancakes with your pirate in whatever room you damn please. “I have to look up a spell for that!” is the new “I need to get my own place”.

    • I was annoyed with Regina as well. Not the best way to handle Zelena, but as both you and Katie pointed out, this is pretty accurate in terms of sisters. Regina has shown growth, but she’s still got room for more.

      There’s also a difference between being annoyed with a character (as I was with Regina this episode) because the character is doing stupid — but in-character stupid — things and being annoyed with the writing because the character is doing out-of-character stupid things. It’s nice to be annoyed because of in-character stupid.

      I did find it rather amusing that given how much Zelena seems to own “wicked” her magic was unstable because she really had little self-acceptance. But yeah, enough already. I think if you come to the pancake support group it will help with the wicked PTSD. Just focus on the pancakes. 🙂

  5. Wonderful review, and marvelous comments… and the only way I will join pancakesaholanonymous is if we sit around talking about our OTP making pancakes! LOL For me, as I have been in the “yes, they are two mature, normal,(well, normal as you can be in Storybrooke) healthy adults I have felt that Emma and Killian have ‘made tacos, had coffee, enjoyed pancakes'” subset of the CS ship, it was gratifying to see FINALLY another allusion to that aspect of their relationship. (Item#1- the opening scene of S6 when the airship interrupted them). I agree that Colin O’Donoghue stole every scene he was in (PIRATE!) He is such fun to watch, but truly the chemistry he has with Jen is the reason he has such freedom to be the lovable rogue/dashing rapscallion he portrays! Jennifer Morrison has outdone herself in bringing Emma’s walls to a crashing heap and showing us that she is glorying in just being “happy”. I was so afraid that Zelena wouldn’t get her redemption, but wow, it was so well done, I actually teared up for her! So, yay for us CS Shipper/Pancakers and boo for BlackFairy’s darkest secret… which I will go out on a limb here and say is simply that she ships CS…. maybe, and who cares anyway? As for the honeymoon, definitely sail away on the Jolley Roger, that way should the season end there at least we will have the image of glorious pancakes sailing into the sunset.

  6. Wow, another week almost passed me by before I got here! Real Life is getting in the way of my fangirl life.
    So, something happened after the pancakes? Looking at my Tumblr this week I almost forgot that there was anything else in the episode at all. I obviously follow a lot of CS pancakers. I was one of many analyzing ever frame of that scene, enjoying all the looks on all the faces, but most especially Colin’s acting choices. His frustration was delightfully amusing. The parallel with the “tacos” scene was great. I know the hook’s (lack of) attachment creates all kinds of issues that prevent us from enjoying Killian sans-long sleeve shirts, but they gave us a lovely scene within those limits. I’m not complaining.
    I have never been a Zelena fan, and if I wear the word “wicked” one more time I might kill someone, but at this rate I might actually like her by the end of the season. I wonder if she and Regina are going to end up being each other’s happy endings, healing the wounds of their mother’s corruption, if the show is wrapping up the way I feel it’s wrapping up.
    I concur on all the other points – the author issues, the recognizing of symbols, the darkest secret, the still possibly shady Blue Fairy, the question of what the dwarves have been doing when they should have been mining all those crystals…?
    And “we were cursed!” is just perfect.

      • I should have started a ‘wicked’ jar and paid myself $1 for every occurrence. It could have been my guilt-free OUAT memorabilia fund!

        I never thought about the hook causing issues with the ability for us to see Killian’s forearms (or even them in bed?), but that makes sense…I guess I can forgive them…but only because they gave us the pancake scene. At this point I kinda forget that he has the hook sometimes. I honestly was wondering the other day why he would be wearing his wedding ring on his right hand (uh, duh).

        • When I finally gave in and joined the Once fandom I encountered discussion about the hook’s attachment (I was curious about how (relatively) consistently fanfic described the bindings and such considering there is nothing at all in canon). I think the showrunners or actors talked at some point about the limitations that Colin holding the hook placed on costuming and so I resigned myself many moons ago to never seeing him wearing anything less than a long sleeved shirt. I think it played a huge role in how they designed his modern-day look.
          I always thought a bed scene unlikely because his keeping one arm under the sheets might be a little too risque for the Disney folks 😉 But I can live with sexy pancakes.

  7. Pingback: TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.19 | Nerdy Girl Notes

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