It’s a Zelena episode so it’s time for a flashback to remind us of some of Zelena’s founding motives and introduce us to the tin man
When Zelena was a shunned child – because she had magic – a boy called Stanum recognised she was a good person because she used her magic for good. Awwwww
Fastforward to when Zelena is an adult, all green, mean and in charge of Oz (and very very very bored) and Stanum catches up with her asking for her help. He’s cut down the wrong tree and another Wicked Witch, this one with Views about Sustainable Forest Management has cursed him to slowly turn into tin and he’d quite like her green-ness to come with him and get a magical heart to stop the whole thing
She is all “I totally don’t care” while obviously she does so they go on a little forest trek, fight off the Cowardly Lion (who isn’t all that cowardly) and find the magical heart – only to find it sucks magic. To cure the tin man, Zelena would have to give up her power, otherwise he’s going to be stuck in the forest and oxidise away (pedantic nitpick: rust specifically refers to the oxidisation of iron. Tin does not rust. I know, nitpick but it bothers me. Also pure tin can tarnish – but a few days exposure to rain isn’t going to do it; tin is even used to coat other metals to preserve them. And while we’re geeking “Stannum” is one of the latin words for tin, hence Sn on the period table).
My that made the review boring.
Anyway Zelena isn’t thrilled at the idea of giving up her magic. While he pokes her plan to go back in time and prove to her mother (Cora) she’s the most powerful and how Cora totally gave up the wrong daughter is a really really convoluted way to not be alone when she could just not be evil now and actually make friends- with him, for example
And I get what he’s saying, but can we peel this back? Not that Zelena could not be alone by not being evil, that’s true. But shallow. Zelena has been shunned for her magic. She isn’t alone for being EVIL, she was shunned long before she turned to the dark path. And while, yes, he could be her friend if she saves him that means giving up the very thing that had her shunned in the first place. I think there’s a really toxic message in the idea of “you’re a special person with this special trait that people unfairly hate you for” and then having her find friends by REMOVING that special trait. There’s parallels there, let’s be honest.
I’m also growing leery of Once Upon a Time’s use of POC characters – they tend to be in side-roles that don’t last more than a few episodes: perhaps more so in the last few seasons where there have been more, but those characters have less impact than, say, Sidney Glass and Henry senior: Stanum, Rapunzel, Jasmine, Aladdin, Lancelot, Mulan, Merlin – these characters appeared but not for long or for long term, meaningful roles.
In the present, Zelena is fully stuck in the mindset of having to prove she’s the best and most powerful. Which I ca see, when literally your whole life has revolved around gaining approval by being more powerful than everyone else, it’s hard to break that cycle.
But this means when the Black Fairy turns up, Zelena is determined to hunt her down and bring her down on her own – despite Regina’s constant, repeated warnings and cautions. Zelena is sure she’s stronger than Regina and, equally, stronger than the Black Fairy. Obviously this I going to be a mess because we already know that Rumple respects the Black Fairy’s strength and the Dark One is Up There with the power meter.
Regina and Zelena argue a lot, with Regina asking again and again why needing to be the most powerful is so important to her and can she please get with the program and work with the damn team. At the same time Zelena is sore because Regina still blames her for Robin’s death (which Zelena isn’t entirely blameless in) and Zelena doesn’t feel anyone respects her sacrifice when she gave up Hades, the love of her life.
Ok, from Zelena’s point of view, I get it. She did lose the love of her life. It was a horrendous personal loss to her. BUUUUT “I gave up the murdering monster who wanted to enslave/erase you all and had turned the underworld into a hell road” is a hard sell and makes it dubious in the extreme for her to try and play badly done to here because she is incapable of seeingthings outside of her own feelings. I think one of the reasons why Zelena keeps crashing is she wants to get on the same Redemption train as Regina (and, to a lesser extent, Killian), but she doesn’t want to put in the work. She wants to raise her flag, declare herself good, point out she’s totally dumped the evil boyfriend but is she putting in the work? Especially when you consider the hot coals and broken glass Regina crawled through? She continually mistakes "not being actively evil" with being good, and mistakes "not getting everything I want, even if it's wrong" with sacrifice.
In to the mines to hunt Black Fairy and Regina follows to try and save Zelena from her foolishness. Zelena won’t hear reason and confronts Black Fairy, the supreme queen Jaime Murray – and is promptly smacked down like a fly. Black Fairy is totally outclassing Zelena and not only defeats her, but harnesses her dark magic to super-evil a cave full of fairy crystals. These crystals are light magic so not compatible with Black Fairy’s mojo but Zelena’s dark magic happily converts it turning the whole massive cave of woo-woo into a great big dark magic nuclear bomb
Oopsie. And it has to be Zelena’s magic because she’s unstable – her desperate yearning for acceptance and validation completely destablises her: unlike Regina and Black Fairy who are pretty zen and loving themselves at the moment. She totally needs to take some wellness classes, maybe invest in some crystals or take up hipster yoga.
Black Fairy, being a villain, zaps Zelena and Regina to the surface rather than killing two of her greatest enemies because it’s Villain Logic, damn it. Bad can’t be sensible and cool, or good would never ever win. Especially when good looks like Mary Margaret.
Let’s drop in on the Charmings. Mary Margaret has decided to go full on wedding planning for Killian and Emma and everyone should join in even if Henry is still struggling with author-ness and everyone else is planning for the big dark battle. She drags them from location to location (and I agree with David – Granny’s Mary Margaret? Really? You want your daughter to get married in a diner?) while David generally disagrees. Yes, David is disagreeing with Mary Margaret until the pair of them finally have it out
David doesn’t think this is the time for a wedding what with everything else that is going on. Mary Margaret says it is – because everyone is worried and a wedding is a wonderful chance to display hope. In some ways this cements that Mary Margaret has always been meant to rule and she’s been trained in messaging to her subjects: while David is much more personal and thinks more about the chances are that the Black fairy is going to shit on Emma’s special day (as Regina did on theirs).
The flip side of that is that Mary Margaret’s “ruling” is great for token gestures and PR moves (looking good) and does little actually practical. As seen here again – she wants to give a gesture of hope when there are actual issues they could be getting on with
There’s also a different definition of hope – because Mary Margaret wants them to have the marriage quickly so they actually have the marriage in case they lose. Emma, more practically, points out if they lose it will be a super short marriage because they’ll all be dead (and really, it doesn’t matter if she’s an unwed corpse or a married corpse) and David points out REAL hope is assuming you will have a future to plan for, not doing everything today in case there won’t be a tomorrow. Ultimately, Emma and Killian side with David – war now, wedding later
The whole thing is a nice examination of what hope really means, the value of gestures and practicality vs the typical “wishing on a star” that has so often permeated Once Upon a Time. I like it and hope this is expanded more.
Back to Regina and Zelena and Regina tells Zelena to just go back to Oz already if she’s going to turn everything into a pissing match, doesn’t want to work with everyone else, intends to cause problems and then try to “fix” them by charging off on her own. With loose cannons like Zelena as allies, they don’t need enemies. Zelena is hurt, but Regina is done.
Regina tells the Charmings what Zelena has done and they try to plan their next move – and Zelena joins them. With the crystal heart of magic sucking. She doesn’t want to go back to Oz – literally everyone there hates her, there’s no-one for her there. The only place she has actual people who care for her is here – with Regina (again, her pursuit of power above all else is destroying her chance for the very companionship she craves so completely). She wants to actually help as part of the team
And with Regina and Emma’s support she uses the crystal. It drains her – and in the process all those dark magic crystals are now turned light again. The Black Fairy has been foiled
Afterwards Regina embraces her sister – validates her “you’ve never looked stronger” and praises her – and is super proud.
Ok, am I happy that Zelena has been completely depowered? No, I’d rather have her redeemed with her strength and not have to give everything up to join the light side. At the same time we have Regina as proof of someone who has done just that – and between her and Emma and several others, well, Once Upon a Time is many things but lacking in powerful women it certainly isn’t. Also I think that with Zelena’s overriding obsession being “I’ll show everyone who is the greatest power” then her willingly putting that aside is both a major sign of her character changing AND the redemptive moment that she has generally been lacking. This is a genuine getting with the program and joining team light side. And with a genuine actual gesture proving her redemption is more than just words and she is willing to get on side she is truly accepted into the group in a way she wasn’t before: and I like that absolution is tentative until concrete dedication to it is proven.
Now to a moral hot mess. Belle is totally on side with Rumple comatosing Blue Fairy (she’s not dead – but her magic has been stolen) because he did it for their boy and my gods Belle’s more compass has been hit with a hammer. They’re both super happy Gideon is enslaved because it means he can be redeemed and isn’t lost to them so they can all continue to be a trainwreck of bad decisions in his name.
Thankfully Zelena tells the gang where Blue is and they can restore her with newly light magic fairy crystals – which is important because she knows the Black Fairy’s big dark secret: why she gave up her son, Rumplestiltskin.