I would do anything to save you, no matter how crazy. So, Lucy, if that means there’s some other world where I really am your dad, then I believe it, Lucy. I believe.Henry
Starring Lana Parrilla, Colin O’Donoghue, Andrew J. West, Dania Ramirez, Gabrielle Anwar, Alison Fernandez, Mekia Cox, and Robert Carlyle
Episode 10: The Eighth Witch
Say what you like about Once Upon a Time (not that you needed my permission, of course), but they know how to do finales. This episode practically gave me whiplash in the way that it yanks the audience around from one plot point and baffling twist to the next, barely pausing for breath in between. It’s clear that the soft reboot has really given the show runners the opportunity to pull out all of the stops and greater avenues for their storytelling, and that is out in force throughout this mid season closer.
It stands in marked contrast to the previous episode, which pretty much exclusively focussed upon the revelation that Victoria Belfrey was, in fact, Rapunzel. This sort of episode, in which we delve deeper into a character and give them a multitude of additional aspects are definitely the more emotional, weightier instalments. It’s almost the opposite here. Large moments spin by without any chance to fully process all that’s going on, which is a brilliant way to set up the next stage of the season, but would be an exhausting pace to have to maintain any further.
To recap, this episode brutally assaulted the audience with revelation after revelation, from Lucy’s birth, to the reveal of the new Big Bad, the Coven of the Eight, who look genuinely horrifying, then the fact that Alice and Zelena’s adult daughter Robin are in love, Hook surrendered an object that would have kept him and Alice together to prevent Ella and Lucy from being separated in the cursed realm, and it transpires that Regina herself cast the Dark Curse, not Drizella, or Gothel, or Lady Tremaine, so that she could save Henry, who had been poisoned by magic, and whose only chance at survival is to be sent to a Land Without Magic. That’s not even mentioning the events in the present, where Regina wakes up Zelena to gain her help, Henry tries and fails to awaken Lucy using True Love’s Kiss, and Ivy finds herself betrayed by Gothel, who siphons her magic into Anastasia, so that she can use Anastasia’s magic to reform the Coven of the Eight in Hyperion Heights – and she throws Ivy into a well for good measure.
As you can see, with the number of plot revelations, it’s somewhat of a miracle that this episode managed to fit anything else in. It easily could have been peppered throughout another few instalments, but it gives the audience plenty of reason to tune back in when it returns after the winter break, which, I suppose, is the intention.
Up until this point, the flashbacks have been remarkably linear and easy to follow, with the exception of a few remaining holes in Alice’s and Gothel’s stories. However, this climactic instalment surges the action forwards, firstly to Lucy’s birth and then eight years further on when the curse descends upon the New Enchanted Forest.
For the most part, as well as building to a dramatic climax, this time jump allows for more questions and reasons to tune back in after the Christmas break. With lots of gaps now left to fill in, the main sufferer of this time skip is Henry and Ella, and their relationship. Up until this point, the pair have been tepidly flirting and have successfully had one kiss and held hands. Now, suddenly, they have a baby. There are bound to be a lot of confused children watching this episode.
Don’t worry, kids, you can’t make a baby by kissing and holding hands.
For a pairing that isn’t terribly well received already, skipping these major plot points and pressing fast forward on the whole affair really robs them of the opportunity to have these key moments. In this episode, they just get lost in the mix, and even when they have their “moments”, we never see them behaving as a married couple. Henry announces Lucy’s birth without Ella present, and they spend the vast majority of the episode separated from each other. It’s meant to be something that the audience have to root for throughout the season, but it just still isn’t clicking, and I think a lot of that is to do with the fact that they think Andrew J. West can just carry it through without them having to actually deepen Ella or Jacinda in any meaningful way other than occasionally getting her to smile.
That’s probably where the negatives end, however, and links more into the general failings of the first half of the season. A more promising romantic entanglement to root for was revealed during this episode, being that of Robin and Alice. No, not Robin Hood, but rather Zelena’s grown up daughter Robin, played by Tiera Skovbye. There’s a little bit of awkward dialogue in which we casually have to dismiss the fact that she’s aged 24 years since being the rigid unmoving sack that lay in Zelena’s arms for the better part of Season 6. Oh yes, and Zelena’s back, but putting all of those random happenings to one side for just one moment, it is hinted throughout the episode both on Alice’s side with Hook and Robin’s concern at the impending curse, that each has a secret love, but it’s only revealed right before the curse hits that the pair are in love with each other.
As they promise that they will always know each other, it’s the kind of romantic speech that we’re used to as an audience, and the kind that instantly makes you support their connection, even though it comes out of left field (and countless viewers will probably complain about LGBTQ+ relationships being shoved down their throats. I’m not even going to dignify that school of thought with a response). Already, this seems like a relationship that will prove to be incredibly heartening and have a massive fandom backing to it, and it’s infinitely more interesting than Henry and Ella, not least because Alice’s presence has been consistently engaging since her introduction. I am eager to discover how the relationship began and how the connection between the characters continues in cursed Hyperion Heights in the second half of the season.
Pacing-wise, finally giving us knowledge of the particulars of the curse help us to understand the jeopardy of the situation that we now face in Hyperion Heights. In the previous episode, Lucy lost consciousness after she lost her belief in order to bring Anastasia back to life. Zelena and Regina know that there isn’t a way to wake Lucy up without breaking the curse, but up until this point the audience haven’t known why breaking the curse is such a big deal, or why Ivy continually refers to it as a curse that can’t be broken. Finally, we receive an answer, and it’s a decent enough one to necessitate the curse continuing for longer, as Henry was poisoned by the Coven of the Eight and, should magic return to Hyperion Heights, he will die. Zelena and Regina certainly have a lot of work to do before they can think about breaking that curse.
There were also nice moments peppered throughout the episode that we had previously seen in the Season 6 finale, where Henry and Lucy are running from an advancing force. It’s nice to see this incorporated so seamlessly, and not just a plot inconsistency or something that had been forgotten about. There were also some lovely moments selling the relationship between Lucy and Henry as father and daughter, as Henry prepared for the curse, and was ready to throw himself into the Land Without Magic with Lucy so that they could later save everybody else. It was a nice circular link to the original curse, even though it ultimately didn’t work.
Speaking of the threat that Henry and Lucy were fleeing from, the Coven of the Eight seem a genuinely credible threat. For some reason the vast majority of them prefer to remain anonymous, presumably because the show runners have yet to decide their actual identities and need the Christmas break to go away and have a planning session. The way that they are edited to disappear and reappear in the blink of an eye, and the camera work in those moments looks like something straight out of a horror film, and immediately enhances the creepiness factor of the foe. It also gives us a clue to what the rest of the season will look like, as Gothel vows to Anastasia that they will reform the coven in the present. Presumably the rest of the season will be Gothel gathering magical allies, though to what end this is, I do not know.
Another massively tragic moment in this episode is Gothel’s betrayal of Ivy. It whizzes by in an already busy and packed episode, but Ivy, made to believe that she is finally gaining an upper hand on her perfect sister, whose shadow she has existed in for all of her life, is tricked into giving away her own magic, and then tossed into a well by Gothel, whom she trusted. It’s no secret that Ivy’s relationship with Gothel had an awful lot to do with her damaged relationship with her own mother, and her feelings of worthlessness compared to her sister, who was always put on a pedestal. To have her other mother figure betray her in favour of the same sister is beyond damaging, and though Ivy isn’t entirely a sympathetic character at this point, it’s definitely rife with dramatic potential moving forwards.
On the topic of Anastasia, this episode provides intrigue by revealing that she, in a world without magic, still possesses her’s, and it is incredibly strong. Given that Gothel has betrayed Ivy, so the Dark Curse was never really Drizella’s idea in the first place, but rather came from Gothel, the audience is still none the wiser as to why the Curse needed to happen in the first place. Originally we thought that Victoria needed it to bring Anastasia back to life, then we discovered it was Drizella’s attempt at revenge, but now it appears to be Gothel’s game all along, but what our heroes are fighting against is anybody’s guess.
A smaller moment that is probably worth mentioning is Henry’s attempt to resuscitate Lucy using True Love’s Kiss. While it does not work, it does show that Henry is becoming more open in his ability to belief, and is certainly growing closer to his daughter. Even though his connection to Jacinda seems tenuous at best, the chemistry that he shares with his daughter is incredibly believable. Perhaps the writers are hoping that dynamic alone will make the audience root for Lucy’s parents to get together. Presumably, if the curse can’t be lifted without Henry dying, and Lucy cannot be brought back without the curse breaking, Lucy may be in the hospital for quite some time. It’s not a prospect that seems very palatable. As irritating as Lucy can sometimes be, the only thing more irritating is Jacinda trying to muster up emotion at her bedside. No thank you.
Finally, time for the star of the episode: Zelena. Yes, that’s right: Rebecca Mader is back. Thank heavens. It’s crazy how much it boosts the episode just by having a familiar face and, unlike the others from Storybrooke who have cropped up in previous episodes, it appears that she is sticking around. Her dynamic with Regina is on top form already, and it’s a wonderful draw moving forwards to have her as a part of the action as a veteran cast member. Zelena has always been one of the stronger members of the cast, and though she is often just there for comic relief, if there’s one thing that this new season needs it’s a gentle ribbing from the Wicked Witch of the West. Self awareness is often a good thing. Plus, the history of her and Regina’s relationship, plus the drama inherent in her relationship with her daughter, is bound to be entertaining moving forwards.
The mid season finale wasn’t exactly without its small inconsistencies, though one always has to suspend a certain amount of disbelief when watching shows like Once Upon a Time. Sometimes shows just don’t stand up to logic, even their own internal one. However, we know from experience that our heroes are able to alter curses, such as when Zelena made sure that everybody had their memory wiped when Snow returned everyone to Storybrooke back in Season 3. So, with this in mind, why did nobody think to make any sort of alteration to this curse so that some of them may have retained their memories? It seems a strange thing for a witch to be unable to do, especially Regina, since she was the one who ultimately cast the curse anyway.
Additionally, Drizella clearly has a flair for the dramatic, as it probably would have been a good idea to cast a curse as a surprise, instead of giving our protagonists a good eight year warning window for them to prepare. I mean, I know they literally did nothing to prepare, like, for example, leaving the New Enchanted Forest and returning to Storybrooke? That would have been a pretty easy way to avoid a curse, and since Alice seems to have beans for portals lying around everywhere, it probably would have made sense to use one so that everybody could dodge it? There’s no magical cure for stupid, unfortunately.
So, that mid season finale dropped pretty much a season’s worth of plot revelations and leaves everything up in the air for when it returns for its final run of episodes. That’s right, Season 7 is Once Upon a Time’s final outing (he says, knowing exactly that this is the case – and has known this is the case for a considerable amount of time, but waited until it was contemporarily announced before mentioning it, because it’s important to bear context in mind when analysing a TV show, you know?).
The first part of the season has definitely had great highs but also some awkward fumbles, which is inherent in any show reinventing itself. Some of the new dynamics and characters really work. Alice and Ivy, in particular are really captivating, even if they’re not part of the main cast. Colin O’Donoghue and Lana Parrilla continue to perform really well, and Andrew J. West is very charming and earnest as an adult Henry. The writers have clearly reflected from previous seasons concerning their pacing and are making sure that pretty much every episode gives the audience a reason to tune in for the next week, but there have been some fumbles with lost opportunities and trips in momentum.
Personally, I think that they wasted too much time to reveal Victoria’s tragic backstory, which made her a two-dimensional villain for far too long, even though we discovered that Ivy was the actual foe in the early episodes. I also think that there was far more potential for confrontation between mother and daughter, and there’s far too much animosity within their relationship, when it comes from a place of betrayal for the pair of them. Reincorporating characters like Zelena is a savvy move, as Zelena is a relatively rootless character in Storybrooke, and it would make sense that she, like Regina, would involve herself in the New Enchanted Forest. What’s more, the show will really shine with Rebecca Mader’s presence once more, I think.
Hopefully, as the show moves towards its series finale, the show runners continue to reflect upon what is and what isn’t working about the show and make the necessary tweaks to fully engage the audience. The most guilty element of this is just not laying enough foundations in Henry and Ella’s relationship. It may be too late to salvage this, but it would be nice if they tried, as West cannot possibly be expected to carry it on his own. Still, with the promise of Robin and Alice’s epic romance yet to come, perhaps there is some redeeming this story’s arc after all.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. Seasons 1 – 4 are now available on Disney+ in the UK. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.