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.
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?
• 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!