After a brief hiatus, Once Upon A Time resumed its fourth season by picking up where the last episode ended: the author ran from Emma while Snow and Charming chased their daughter and tried to explain why they’re suddenly the villains of the story. They mentioned they knew the author and he’d actually played a role in manipulating them into baby dragon napping. But Emma didn’t care. She just wanted to find the author before Gold did. At some point, Hook and Henry appeared out of nowhere to join the search.
Unfortunately for Team Sort of Hero, Gold tracked down the author in the woods first as he tried to use tree magic to make a pen. Gold explained that didn’t work in Storybrooke, but he just happened to have some magic ink. All he wanted in return was the author to write some happy endings for him. The author quickly agreed and Gold got him to safety. Then he confronted Regina in her vault and explained that he needed her help and all she had to do was call Robin.
At this point, “Heart of Gold” flashed back nine weeks to Robin, Marian and Roland leaving Storybrooke and eventually ending up in New York City. In addition to providing flashbacks to the first time Robin met Rumple in Shorewood Forest, the episode also managed to undo one of the greatest wrongs in Once’s history (at least in my book). Zelena is back with a vengeance and I could not be happier about it if I tried. While I’m usually the first one to complain when episodes get turned over to guest stars, I fully accept my hypocrite stance on this one because I loved every minute of it (and it’s not like these are brand new characters).
In New York City, a thief steals Marian’s purse and Robin chases him down on horseback (as one does). Then they head to Neal’s old apartment because Regina gave him the key (who’s been paying the rent?). Robin asks Marian if she remembers what she said their first days as outlaws and she avoids answering directly (first clue). That’s when Gold arrives because he had the same plan to crash at his son’s place. But Robin is not intimidated by him and tells him to leave. That’s when Gold clutches his heart and collapses. Gold wakes up in the hospital and explains that the doctors think he had a heart attack, but it’s more complicated than that. His dark deeds have poisoned his heart and now he’s dying without magic. Luckily, magical items brought from somewhere else can help him so he wants Robin to steal some elixir from Walsh’s abandoned furniture store (again, who’s paying the rent and the employees for that matter?).
Like any good Once episode, the flashback parallels the present. Back in Shorewood Forest (many years ago), Robin stopped being a thief and switched to owning a tavern after he and Marian were married. But the Sheriff of Nottingham still hated him and demanded money for taxes. Robin didn’t have it so Rumplestiltskin popped up to offer him a deal: just go to Oz and steal the Elixir of Wounded Hearts from the Wicked Witch. So Robin heads to Oz and his entrance saves Will from a guard. The two thieves bond and Robin steals the guard’s uniform to head to the Emerald City. He manages to get the elixir, but Zelena arrives in full Wicked Witch mode and wants to know why Rumple’s stealing from her. Robin manages to get away.
But then he does something very un-Robin like: he lies to Will and pretends he didn’t get the elixir because he doesn’t want to share. Will understands and worries about how Robin’s going to survive Rumple. That’s when Will mentions that he had a sister that died when she fell into a frozen lake (and this is sadly the most backstory we’ve gotten on the character in 18 episodes and something those of us who watched Wonderland already knew). The two men hug goodbye (bromance mode initiated) and when Will goes to sit down, he finds the elixir in his pocket. And that is how Robin of Locksley realized stealing to help yourself made you a thief, but stealing to help others made you a hero. So he officially changed his name to Robin Hood and became an outlaw who steals from the rich and gives to the poor.
He offered Marian a chance to leave since being an outlaw was not the kind of life designed for a family, but she was all in and loved him enough to take the risk. She did worry that Rumple would kill him when he found him, but Robin had a plan for that. He’d also stolen something from Oz, a six-leaf clover that allowed the wearer to use a glamour spell to make him unrecognizable. I have to tip my hat to the writers on that one because it was a very clever way to account for the fact that Robin Hood looked very different the first time we saw him on the show in season two (then played by Tom Ellis).
Back in present day New York, Marian is not happy about Robin stealing and thinks he should just let Rumple die. Robin points out that’s not the Marian he knows (second clue). Robin gives Gold the elixir in exchange for letting them keep Neal’s apartment and never bothering them again. But the elixir doesn’t work and that’s when Marian arrives. She switched the vials and Gold wants to know why because he’s never done anything to her and she tells him that’s not exactly true. That’s when she pulls out the six-leaf clover necklace from Oz and reveals that to a horrified Rumple that she’s really Zelena!
If you read my reviews regularly, you probably know how much I loved Zelena and how devastated I was when Rumple killed her last season (not to mention all the bitterness over him getting away with it). So seeing Zelena reappear and explain to Rumple how her life force escaped before her body burst and she went through the portal with Hook and Emma, realized they were going to bring Marian back with them and saw the opportunity to make her move made my whole day. I’m not kidding when I say I would have accepted any explanation as the truth if it meant she came back (dream sequence, her nonchalantly showing up again, anything), but the writers were pretty careful and clever with this one. Zelena bided her time throughout the Captain Swan adventure (extra props for flashing back to one of my favorite episodes) and when they left Marian alone to help Snow and Charming with the trolls, Zelena killed Marian and used the clover to take her place (because Final Destination rules apply. Marian was meant to die in the Enchanted Forest and she did).
Zelena taunts Rumple about Neal being dead and his failure to avenge his son. Rumple nearly dies again only to wake up with a breathing tube down his throat. Zelena wants to make a deal. She tried to get Robin to fall in love with her so that would really stick it to Regina, but that didn’t work so now she wants in on the villain plan to find the author and make him rewrite things for her too. She also wants Rumple to stop trying to kill her and will agree to give him the heart elixir to keep him alive long enough to get back to Storybrooke if he agrees to stop trying to kill her, which he does.
Robin tries to give Rumple some of Neal’s things, but he doesn’t want them because they’re just a reminder that he failed his son and he had to live a terrible life (glimpses like this remind me why I loved Rumple in the first place and how he’s not always the worst). He suggests that Robin go after his happy ending and hold onto it with everything he’s got. After some angst-y thinking time in the shower (thank you for the imagery, show), Robin is faced with a choice once again after “Marian” finds Regina’s contact information in his phone. She says he can go back to Storybrooke and Regina if he wants. Again, Robin asks her if she remembers what she said to him when they became outlaws and she tells him she does, but wants to hear him say it (Oh, Zelena). Robin confirms that he’s where he wants to be and she’s his happy ending. They kiss as the reflection in the mirror shows Zelena’s smug face (and I am here for it).
Finally, we got back to the vault and Regina’s calling Robin. Marian answers, but she quickly makes it known she’s not Marian, she’s Zelena. She cheerfully fills her sister in on the fact that she’s the one with Robin doing all the wifely stuff. Regina is rightfully horrified and Zelena explains that she has a meatloaf in the oven so she needs to go, but she figures she’ll be seeing her soon. Regina turns on Rumple for knowing and he makes it clear that he needs her help luring Emma to the dark side and if she refuses, he’ll have Zelena kill Robin. Regina doesn’t want Emma to be destroyed the way she was (let’s pause to once again applaud her character growth), but when Rumple asks if that’s her final answer, she’s clearly torn and that’s how we leave things this week.
As I said, I loved this episode. We got to see Rumple’s very human side here and there, even if he did revert back to villain mode the second he stepped out of his hospital room. I really enjoyed the backstory they gave Robin as to how he became a thief and even though I am Team Outlaw Queen all the way, I liked Marian and Robin’s love story a lot in the flashbacks. She was ride or die with him and seeing that come full circle in New York was bittersweet because 1) I knew it was Zelena he was making those promises to and 2) I’m Team Regina so I’m glad it’s not really Marian.
Rebecca Mader never disappoints. I love her campy take on Zelena and the way she pushes her to the edges of sanity, but still manages to add enough layers that the character isn’t a caricature. I really hope the writers don’t repeat their mistake and kill her again. Obviously she’s a villain and isn’t supposed to win (I guess), but that doesn’t mean she can’t stick around even after Team Hero saves the day. Just think of all the possibilities that lie in Regina and Zelena’s relationship. Not to mention how much fun it is to watch Zelena taunt Rumple (her knocking on his chest might be my favorite one ever). And can we please make Sean Maguire a regular for season five? It’s long past time, show. I want to keep him forever.
Next week, the spotlight shifts to another fabulous villain: Cruella de Vil.