Review: Once Upon a Time 5.16

Your enjoyment of this episode depended heavily on your feelings towards Zelena, so I wouldn’t be surprised if fans are a little divided on it. If you think she’s a complicated villain with a tragic backstory, then you probably liked it. If you find her to be over the top and irredeemable, then you probably didn’t. Going into this hour, I fell somewhere in the middle. I’ve always found her fun in small doses and enjoy her complicated history with Regina, but too much of her can be grating. In retrospect, as a fan of Regina, who I hated in the pilot and now call my favorite character, I really shouldn’t have been surprised that I left this hour not only sympathizing with Zelena, but downright rooting for her to get her happy ending.

The flashbacks definitely played a role in that, highlighting her life of isolation in Oz and how much she longed for companionship and family, even if she couldn’t admit it to herself. It was heartbreaking to see the moment she was abandoned by Cora, but it reminded me just how much that’s informed her choices, especially the one she made for her daughter later in the episode. It also explained why her relationship with Hades blossomed so quickly; he too felt slighted by his family, a connection I never thought of until it was brought up in this episode. I was surprised by how quickly I rooted for these two. Their similar backstories coupled with their Bonnie and Clyde-esque desire for vengeance made them a fun and unexpectedly sweet pair. The bicycle scene in particular showed that even mega villains are capable of falling in love, something that Zelena did her best to ignore, terrified as she was of being hurt again.

It was sad that past pain stopped Zelena from trusting Hades, especially because he seemed to have genuinely fallen in love with her, something that humanized him as much as it did her. That’s the magic of Once; one episode I’m cursing the man who hurt Killian, and a few later I’m rooting for him to work it out with the love of his life. I am questioning his intentions with Zelena in the Underworld, though. He told her he would make her pay, and Hades doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who forgives and forgets, even his potential true love.

That’s part of the reason why I’m glad that Zelena turned down his offer at the end of the episode, but I also just like the idea of her going after her daughter on her own. The power of a mother’s love is a prevalent theme on this show, from the hurt it can cause when it’s denied, as Cora denied Zelena, to the positive impact it has when it’s pure and strong and true, as Regina and Emma’s is for Henry.

Regina’s familial connection to Zelena, coupled with how much Henry changed her priorities, made her uniquely qualified to tell her sister about the impact a child can have, something that was best summed up when she declared “My enemies became my family, and when family needs help, you step up.” Zelena’s always been independent to a fault, something she showed both in the Underworld and in Oz, but Regina’s words helped her realize that that isn’t always the best play when your child is involved.

And so, Zelena joined the ranks of what I like to call Once’s badass moms club, putting aside her own desires for the safety and well-being of her child and finally putting her trust in that family that Regina spoke of, recognizing that they were the best thing for her baby. It was a selfless move that one might call a lovely first step towards redemption, if that is in fact where Zelena’s headed.

Elsewhere, Rumple and Belle finally reunited, and I have some conflicting thoughts about it. On the one hand, I have to admit that Rumple’s “you fell in love with the man and the beast” argument was fair. He never pretended to be Prince Charming, that’s for sure. But that’s also not an excuse for him to once again refuse to choose Belle over the dagger. It doesn’t matter who your husband is or what he’s done, you never want to feel like you’re second choice or equal choice with something else, and it’s not fair of him to ask her to settle for that. It highlights the biggest issue I have with Rumple and Belle’s relationship, which is that it’s never been one of equals. Belle is constantly the one making allowances and sacrifices because of Rumple’s addiction to power, and that’s not fair to her at all. I would have liked Belle to stand up for herself a little more in that scene, but I’m glad that she at least insisted on Rumple sorting out the contract before making any decisions about their relationship.

The hour also saw Charming and Snow fretting over how long they’ve been away from baby Neal, an apt, but painful, parallel to their regrets where Emma’s concerned. The moment they realized their words had reached Neal was very sweet, and I loved that Henry was the one to provide them that comfort.  

What are your thoughts on this episode and the Zelena developments? Let me know in the comments!


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