A fairyback shows what makes Zelena tick -- and how she got that verdant glow
Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

So much for those “Rumpelstiltskin is the Wizard of Oz” theories.

Once‘s version of the Man Behind the Curtain emerged for the first time tonight. When he did, we learned that the guy in question is none other than… Benjamin Linus. Just kidding! It’s Walsh, a.k.a. Christopher Gorham, a.k.a. the dude who would become Emma’s flying monkey beau. This week’s episode gave his truncated origin story — but more than that, it delved into Zelena’s past to shed a glowing green light on how she became such a cold-hearted witch in the first place. (Given how literal Once can be, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Zelena’s ticker is literally encased in a layer of ice.)

We begin when Zelena’s just a wee, blue-eyed baby, torn from the Enchanted Forest via cyclone and dumped unceremoniously in the merry old land of Oz. There, she almost literally falls right into the laps of a simple cockney woodcutter and his wife, like a less strapping Kal-El. The woman is instantly charmed by the babe’s Gerber-worthy face — as well as her magical knack for moving tree branches with her mind. What an advanced child; she’s already using telekinesis at a first-grade level!

The years between babyhood and aging into Rebecca Mader seem to be pretty good to Zelena, although her adoptive mother does die at some point between those two poles. When she’s grown, though, the woodcutter tells Zelena the truth about her parentage in pretty much the meanest way possible — between his raving and his determination to make Zelena believe she was born evil, he’s sort of the Ozian version of Margaret White.

And so Zelena decides to set off down the Yellow Brick Road in hopes that the guy at the end of it — the Wonderful Wizard, natch — can help her find her true family. She’s so determined to get his help that she’s barely fazed to learn that the wizard allows himself to be seen only in silhouette; the guy is literally shady. He can, however, show Zelena a window into her past, revealing that her mother — a magically-inclined social climber named Cora — abandoned her but kept Zelena’s half-sister Regina, who also has royal blood. The Wizard also tells Zelena that Regina’s getting magic lessons from the powerful sorcerer Rumpelstiltskin. Instantly, it’s clear which of the deadly sins has Zelena in its thrall. (Hint: It ain’t gluttony.)

The Wizard gifts Zelena a pair of magical silver shoes — sup, accuracy to source material? — and tells her to use them to find Rumpelstiltskin. All he asks in return is that Zelena bring back an item from Rump’s lair. (Maybe there’s a talking clock lying around…) Zelena whisks herself away to the Enchanted Forest, where she immediately tells Rumpel who she is and enlists him as her magical tutor. Side note: It seems pretty clear from the way they interact that Rump is not, in fact, Zelena’s father. So who is?

NEXT: Sister, sister

Zelena grows more and more powerful as their magical lessons continue. Rumpel teaches her how to channel her rage into magic, then use a happy memory to dial things back before her powers spin out of control. She excels, but there’s always something a bit unhinged about her success — probably because her entire goal is to prove that she’s better than the sister she’s never met. At this rate, Zelena’s established herself as the perfect vessel for the curse Rumpel has been planning for decades — a curse he’s designed to be cast by Cora’s daughter.

There’s just one problem: In order to actually set the curse in motion, the caster’s going to have to give up the thing she loves most. In Regina’s case, that’s Henry, her beloved father. But in Zelena’s case, it’s Rumpel himself — and the Dark One has no interest in getting sacrificed. So he starts to pull back from Zelena, driving her so mad with envy that her skin begins to turn the color of toxic ooze — and she attempts to assassinate Regina. Rumpel foils her plot — shape-shifting sure comes in handy — but the damage has already been done.

Wounded, the witch tells her former mentor that she could have taken him to the Land Without Magic by simply using her silver slippers, then swears vengeance on him. (Zelena, in my dreams, pointing to her shoes: “Say goodbye to THESE, Rumpel!”). Z then returns to the Emerald City so she can give the Wizard a piece of her mind. Of course, it’s not long before Zelena tears down the Wizard’s curtain and reveals him as Walsh, nothing more than a humbug from Kansas with magically thick eyebrows but no actual magic to speak of.

Zelena’s feeling too vindictive to simply allow Walsh to continue swindling the people of Oz. So she decides instead to transform the “Wizard” into a loyal servant, drawing her inspiration from a poster of a monkey that hangs in Walsh’s hiding spot. Good thing it didn’t happen to picture, like, a manatee. Zelena swears also to devote all her time to taking down Regina, whom she bizarrely blames for everything that’s gone wrong in her life. Just as she’s promising to find a magical way to prevent Regina’s birth, the green patch on her neck grows and grows until her entire body’s gone jade. Man, good luck trying to find foundation in the drug store now.

Meanwhile, in present-day Storybrooke, Once pays fitting tribute to the fallen Neal by devoting a long, wordless sequence to his somber funeral. It’s a nicely done scene that gives this death more weight than the ones that have preceded it — though the effect is ruined somewhat when Zelena swans into Granny’s, declaring that since her cover’s blown, she might as well fight Regina in the town square that night. What are you, Z — a witch, or a schoolyard bully?

NEXT: You gotta have heart

Zelena also chooses this moment to remind Regina (and the rest of us) that she and the Evil Queen share a mother. Present-day Regina, to her credit, is a lot more skeptical of this bombshell’s veracity than Recent Past Regina was. (Her best barb: “I think my mother would tell me if she had a lovechild with the Scarecrow.” Don’t give the writers any ideas, Regina.)

A snoop through Cora’s crypt, however, changes everything. There, Regina rediscovers a letter she’d seen many times in her youth. It’s a note Rumpelstiltskin wrote to Cora, praising the woman’s “firstborn” for her extraordinary magical abilities. All her life, Regina thought that she was the subject of the letter; the idea gave her comfort and solace. But as she informs a sympathetic Robin Hood, Regina knows now that she’s been mistaken — Rump was actually talking about Zelena all along. We’re totally building up to a gigantic Jacob vs. Man in Black blowout, aren’t we?

So Regina and Zelena are scheduled for pistols at dawn — er, magic at dusk — and the only being in Storybrooke who may be able to help the side of good is currently under Zelena’s thrall. Even Belle’s unconditional love isn’t enough to tear the Dark One away from the keeper of his dagger. (Believe me, she tried.) Everything comes to a head that evening, just as Zelena declared it would. The sisters meet in the center of town; every other main character is there to watch their brawl, because Storybrooke really is just a haven for overgrown elementary schoolers. There is much over-the-top quippery; you can tell these two are related because of how they both love snarling insults before lobbing spells.

But after all that buildup, the fight itself isn’t really much to be seen. Regina tries to toss a fireball but is thwarted by Zelena’s magic; Zelena throws Regina through the face of the clock tower, then tries to seal her victory by reaching into the queen’s chest. There’s just one problem. As Regina says with a satisfied smile, “My mother taught me one thing: Never bring your heart to a witch fight.” Whaddaya know, someone in Storybrooke finally showed some foresight! Zelena’s left fuming on her broomstick; Regina recovers her heart, then gives it to Robin for safekeeping. Aww yeah; her full transition to Merry Woman is only a matter of time.

NEXT: “The Wicked West” vs. actual geography


– As the Sisters Ena-Ina are locking horns, Hook is playing babysitter to Henry. (He offers to talk to the kid after Neal’s funeral. Emma’s response: “About what, leather conditioner and eyeliner?”) With every week, it’s becoming more and more clear that Jared Gilmore is very much not a lost boy; is it just me, or has the kid’s voice gone down by three octaves since season 3 began?

– This new, deep-voiced Henry is surprisingly uncurious when Hook lets slip that he knew Neal when Neal was a kid… even though Hook and Neal appear to be the same age.

– In the world of Once, the Emerald City appears to be fashioned out of Legos.

– And throughout the episode, Regina is wearing a furry collar that appears to be made out of Sully from Monsters Inc.

– Tinker Bell reemerges for just long enough to soulmate shame Regina for not jumping Robin Hood’s bones already. Remind me never to make friends with a fairy.

– “This isn’t the Wild West.” “No, dear — it’s the Wicked West.” What I wish had happened next: “But we’re currently standing in the continental U.S.’s easternmost state!” “Shut up, Archie!”

– Poor Doc and his Miata will never know a moment’s peace.

– Is being a dwarf in fact worse than being a Munchkin? Discuss!

– So Zelena currently has Charming’s courage and Rumpel’s brain, and is trying her best to get her hands on Regina’s heart. How might those magical ingredients help her cast a time-travel spell? And if she manages, should we expect to see an episode called Once Upon a Time: Days of Future Past?

– If you watch Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, you know that Michael Socha’s Knave of Hearts was one of the best (and only) reasons to keep tuning in. Word broke this week that Socha will soon join OUAT: Original Flavor as a series regular. We probably won’t see him out and about in Storybrooke until next year — but either way, how do you think he might shake up Once‘s dynamics? (He and Hook will either despise each other or be instant best buddies.)

– Next week: More Hook backstory, and the return of Ariel. Maybe she and a chorus of sea creatures can convince Hook to move things along with Emma through a chorus of “Kiss the Girl.”

Episode Recaps

Once Upon a Time

Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.

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