What do wicked and evil witches have in common? The fervent desire to be loved, apparently. For all of Rebecca Mader’s scenery chewing as Zelena, the Wicked Witch, you’ve got to give her credit for imbuing her witch with not a little sympathy; her m.o. is to get the life she thinks has been stolen from her by Regina, a life in which she has parents, a family, and a special magic tutor in Rumplestiltskin.
Regina was also looking for affection after her upbringing: After a childhood spent with the critical Cora as her mother and losing her love Daniel the stableboy, she craved affection so much she actually adopted Henry. Now that she has cobbled her oddly connected family together with the Charmings, she feels ready to meet her “true love,” Robin, head on.
Cora, however, as we see in this episode and “The Miller’s Daughter,” chose the power of the throne over her love for Rumplestiltskin. By Once Upon A Time standards, this makes her more evil than most, as she buries her own heart so that it won’t get in her way. Rumple, who chose magic when faced with the choice between power (magic) and love (his son), wound up regretting it and never stopped trying to alter it.
But Cora wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way of vaulting past her status of being a miller’s daughter, not even being duped by a non-prince; she doesn’t actually even give up her baby, but dumps it in the middle of a field somewhere. In an instance in which the show’s incessant repetitions of its own catchphrases actually means something, Cora tells baby Zelena that “I’m giving you up to give me my best chance,” which makes her the opposite parent of Snow and Charming and also Emma, who gave up their offspring for the kids’ best chances, however unfortunately some of those might have turned out.
“Bleeding Through” also attempts to trace back the blame for what made these witches witches. Snow points out to Regina that she was a bit of a brat to her new stepmother. Zelena apparently blames Eva, Snow’s mother, for her own horrific fate (although how she could have learned this whole backstory from Oz is a bit of a puzzler), as Eva blew the whistle on Cora’s pregnancy, halting her engagement to Leopold. (Undaunted, Cora hurled her own daughter at the now-King Leopold years later. Ew.) Emma states that she thought that their family constituted the good guys, but if there is one thing that OUAT is doing well, it is blurring the line between hero and villain. Look at how much we’re rooting for Regina now, after she was pretty much the Big Bad of the first season. We all have both good and bad in us: Snow is a murderer, after all. But the whole key to Zelena’s revenge scheme can be seen after her tussle with Rumple, after he tries to seduce her to get the Dark One’s dagger (Robert Carlyle walking away from her in that black suit; who among us would not be similarly devastated?). Zelena’s face crumples and it’s an easy moral to a really convoluted story: She just wants someone to love her.
Unfortunately, right now she is finding time travel as the only way to go about doing that (even though it is against the laws of magic!). In another nice hook, the three ingredients needed for time travel are courage (Zelena has Charming’s), a heart (she now has Regina’s), and brains (she has taken over Rumple’s). Charming, of all people (the show should realize by now that when Charming stumbles onto a theory, it’s bound to be suspect) figures out that the baby is the key, so they’re safe right now because they have time. But with Snow looking as if her water is about to break at any second, it honestly doesn’t look like that much time.
While “Bleeding Through” does offer some reasoning behind Cora and Zelena’s actions, the way it depicts it is rather clunky. The Ghost Cora invading Snow’s body is a completely over-the-top way to get to the truth, with some shoddy reasoning (Snow theorizes that Cora “sensed my presence and found a way to bleed through into our world”) following a pretty lame séance. Zelena still tries hard to win Rumple over with the meat pies in a scene marred by some shaky camera work, but both players should have known better. And in her plucky way, Snow is convinced, against all possible logic, that “Zelena isn’t going to win, not with all of us united against her,” and her pert little pep talk about Regina and her heart leads the Evil Queen straight to Robin. Yes, the “true love” trope is annoying, and Regina also seems to be reacting to taunts by Zelena that she’s wasting her life by not living it to the fullest, but it also seems like about damn time for her to grab some happiness with both hands.
- I like the green apple/red apple symmetry between the two sisters. Also: “Envy’s just another word for ambition.” “Well… that’s just not true.”
- Possible plot holes when comparing this episode to “The Miller’s Daughter”: So when Princess Eva trips Cora in the earlier episode, does she remember her from before when she tried to marry Leopold? Wouldn’t Leopold also remember Cora from before? And Rumple wants Cora’s first-born child after he shows her how to turn straw into gold, but she already has a first-born child (Zelena).
- Proof of Robert Carlyle’s greatness: Watch how he portrays a puppeted Rumple who still has to do his master’s evil bidding even as he, like Regina, now struggles with his good side.
- Belle defending Mr. Gold’s shop: “What do I have here? Self-respect.”
- Hook is not hiding his despondence over last episode’s curse very well, and his clumsiness that stops the séance seems suspicious.
- Snow is literally always ready for some sort of chat.
- Baby Zelena was one of the best actors ever seen on the show, as she conjures her own green tornado made up of her dismay at being abandoned.
- I don’t know if we’ve ever heard Emma giggle before, and I don’t know if we ever really need to hear it again.
- Regina to Snow: “You officially have a less-damaging relationship with my mother than I do… and you killed her.”