Once Upon a Time: Sisters Review

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By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

After a few weeks where the story was stalled, confusing, or less than engaging, this week’s Once Upon a Time was back in full form with an episode that was compelling, moving and often in unexpected ways, and about those very complicated relationships we all can relate to. This episode is entitled “Sisters” but could also simply be called “Siblings” as that complex issue of sibling rivalry was explored as well as ever-relatable forms of love between children and their parents, and those we form romantic connections with. And not only in this arc, but the entire series, we have been presented with themes of forgiveness and redemption and whether we can move on, evolve for the better, find peace with ourselves, be inspired by others, and even inspire others ourselves. When it all comes down to it, the common thread is choice. We simply may need a little push or reminder of who we truly are, who we want to be, and what really matters. For our heroes, the task at hand is to get Zelena away from Hades as the Lord of the Underworld has just asked his wicked love to “make chaos with [him],” taking her on a romantic date, asking her to choose to venture with him into the real world while leaving everyone else behind. It’s “us or them,” he claims. Regina goes to her sister and the two argue about what is the right choice. There were two rather interesting things about the situation. Ever since we first saw the love connection between Zelena and Hades, his intentions were in question. Are his feelings sincere or does he have ulterior motives? In this episode, it seems he does indeed love her and will not betray her. If the song he puts on the jukebox that he happily dances to while waiting for Zelena is a clue, it appears she is what he wants above all else. He was alone; his demeanor was for no one’s benefit reflecting a genuineness. Perhaps, as the song “I Don’t Want to Set the World On Fire” says, maybe he has “lost all ambition for worldly acclaim” and just wants to “start a flame in [her] heart.” Of course the situation is far from pure, as everyone else would be sacrificed in the process. But what was interesting was that in line with Zelena seeming to want to be a better person, she doesn’t want that to be the case. She thinks she can change him – that like her sister who found love through redemption, she can do something similar with Hades. Though I still doubt if Hades can really be trusted despite the genuineness of his feelings, for Zelena, it seems the reconciliation that appears to be on the horizon between her and Regina is something she actually wants. Who would’ve thought that was possible? These relationships in question were the starting point of the main journey of the episode framed by feelings and issues that run very deep. It’s lovely when characters relay universal truths in certain situations and they continue to be relevant to the story. Killian once said, “Oh, the things we do for our children,” and that “Wounds made when we are younger tend to linger.” We often find parallels in these stories that are unexpected, especially in ways that are moving. And such was the case with “Sisters,” where not only do these lines come into play, but also showcase parallels between characters as well. Not only do we see the classic case of sibling rivalry where one sibling is jealous of what the other has (Zelena jealous of Regina, James jealous of David, and Hades jealous of Zeus), but also that this envy stems from a desire for love and feelings of abandonment, something we’ve seen with other characters as well. Emma and Killian, for example, were both abandoned and still possess a great desire for love and family, something that was hidden behind high walls of protection. Family issues and walls are no stranger to the relationship between sisters Regina and Zelena and their mother Cora.

In order to help Zelena, Regina seeks her mother’s help, who says that the only way is to erase Hades from Zelena’s memory. Thanks to the enchantment on Killian’s hook, our pirate hero helps Cora escape in a brief but wonderful reunion between the two former allies. I loved the look on her face when she saw him and that she called him a “fairy godmother.” I could not help but smile and it was a welcome moment of levity before the heavy drama that was to come. Cora and Regina gather some water from the River of Lethe, also known as the River of Forgetfulness, and plan to get Zelena to drink it. But as we discover, this was not the first time this water was connected to these magical sisters. In a flashback, we see Regina as a child, longing for a playmate. When she uses her mother’s wand and accidentally hurts herself, her only hope is the magic of someone besides her mother to heal her. Cue a visit to Zelena from Cora who is suffering the pangs of loneliness as well, her father ready to beat her for using magic and Cora offering her the chance to use her power for good. Zelena accepts and is able to heal Regina very easily; it just came to her by instinct. And the scenes that follow for the young girls were so moving, especially when you consider their current relationship. The two became fast friends, playing dress-up and laughing, absolutely thrilled when Zelena opened Cora’s blood-sealed magic box because it would mean they are related. The girls are overjoyed when Cora tells them they’re sisters but devastated when a heartless Cora tears them apart, believing it will only get in the way of her plans for Regina. It was heartbreaking to see the two girls who were so open and loving being torn apart and moving to hear Regina use that steadfast line of love beyond borders, “I will find you.” But what was remarkable about these flashbacks was that they provided both a window and catalyst for forgiveness and redemption for the Mills family, providing the episode’s most tear-inducing and beautifully acted moments. When Zelena finally comes face-to-face with her mother, we see how strongly she is trying to keep those protective walls up with moments of nearly letting go before composing herself. It’s a brilliant piece of acting by Rebecca Mader as we see years of heartbreak and longing bubbling to the surface and ready to spill out, which finally does when Cora admits that she was only thinking of herself and regrets giving her up. But Zelena’s anger returns, thinking her mother and sister are simply looking out for themselves. It was rather amusing to see the two sisters ready to face off against each other, their mother in between them and realizing she must tell them the truth. It’s as if she caught a glimpse of what life might have been like with them as sparring teenagers except with far more dire circumstances. But when Cora restores their memories, the two women are brought to tears with a remembrance of the special bond they shared – a bond that can still be repaired with understanding and contrition. Despite all the horrors they have done to others and to each other, they are still family. And love of family is something we all long for, no matter how much they may have hurt us. Sometimes we simply want to move past all that pain and embrace each other. And that was the beauty of these scenes. Regina and Zelena were already on a path of reconciliation that needed the extra little push towards the light. That is what makes these flashbacks so meaningful. They not only allow the sisters to remember what they once shared but it allowed them, and the audience, to remember who they once were and still want to be – people who are open and caring, unimpressed by wealth or status, and filled with a great capacity to love. Heartbreak and envy led them down dark paths, making bad choices and leading to horrific conflict between them. But as Once Upon a Time shows us, that doesn’t mean that must always be their fate. Zelena wonders if it’s too late for her, but her mother assures her it is not. She was wrong in believing that love is weakness and as Glinda once told Zelena, she simply has to choose to be good. Our choices define us, especially ones made after we have made mistakes. For Cora, the moment she says goodbye to her daughters was incredibly moving, and unexpectedly so. I never thought three women who were all considered evil villains at one point during the series could have a scene so touching. And yet they did, and I could not help but cry when Cora says goodbye to Regina, says she never even got to say hello to Zelena, and then was able to move on to the light after being willing to face the fires of Hell. It was a beautiful demonstration of the power of choice. Cora did what she was meant to do in bringing her daughters back together as they only should’ve been. She did what a mother should do – put her children about herself. And seeing Regina, although the younger sister, be the strong older sister type, comforting Zelena moved me very much. As the two hug for the first time, we bear witness that reconciliation, no matter how improbable, can occur if you open your heart and choose a path of light and understanding. The Mills sisters have finally found a peace with each other made even more exquisite by the fact that it happens after their mother was granted eternal peace of her own.

What’s important to remember is that no matter how much we may long for reconciliation, sometimes people cannot move on. Such was the case for David and his brother James who, after coming face-to-face for the first time, tazes his brother, locks him in jail, and then pretends to be him so that he and Cruella can kidnap Robin’s baby and condemn him and Emma into the River of Lost Souls. First of all, let me say that seeing Josh Dallas play both of these parts was a real treat as the two brothers could not be more different. David is pure and heroic while James is vengeful and vile and Dallas plays the differences between them with precision and panache. Luckily for Emma and Robin, David and Killian come to the rescue just in time and the two brothers face off in fisticuffs. David tries to get through to his brother but no matter what he says he cannot, as James says he stole his glory and that his unfinished business is killing him. In the final blow, David must fend him off and James falls into the River. Emma tries to comfort her father, telling him he only defended himself, but he cannot help but feel the loss. David knew his brother’s reputation and yet when he learned of his existence, I can only imagine him longing that he was still alive, and that they could have grown up alongside each other as brothers, friends, and comrades. David had hoped that in death, they could find peace with each other but sadly it was not meant to be, reflecting that sad but relatable truth. Our hopes for others can only come true by their own design. No one can choose their path for them. James chose to seek vengeance against his brother and paid the price for it. Perhaps, like the others, he will not be lost forever. But for now, James’s choice lead to damnation and a heartbroken David. That is why his relationship with Killian means so much, as they are two men, both with brothers who were lost, both very different from each other who began their relationship with animosity and distrust. And yet they have, though reluctantly at first, formed a real friendship built on slowly but surely working together and a respect and trust that grew from compassion and understanding. David has found a brother in Killian he was never able to find with James and that is so meaningful.

With only a few episodes left, the tension and stakes are high for our heroes. What will happen with Zelena? At episode’s end, we see Rumple, with help from his father Pan, kidnap the witch because, as he tells a sleeping Belle, he can’t use light magic to get what he wants. Though it seems it’s more along the lines of won’t use it. The choice is his. Zelena went to Hades with hope of redeeming him. Whether that is possible remains to be seen and where our heroes go from here is sure to be exciting. When Emma ran to Killian and the two held onto each other as her father faced off with his family, we were reminded of what truly matters. They reached out and clung to each other, ready to face whatever dangers lie ahead. That is what all our heroes were reminded of in “Sisters.” If we choose to reach out to those we love with understanding, it may not always have a happy ending but it will always have the hope of one. And hope is a powerful thing – just like love, just like family. We must never lose hope even in the darkest of times because even if things don’t turn out the way we expect, we can take comfort in that we chose light over the darkness.

Favorite Moments: Seeing the reconciliation between the women of the Mills family was more moving than I ever expected, made more profound by fine acting and beautiful moments where we see how love and forgiveness can help tear down the walls we build around ourselves. This is a common theme explored on the show and is punctuated here with lovely results. And of course, sometimes it’s the little things and moments that are to be admired. In this episode, I loved seeing Regina and Zelena hug in the present, and play dress up in the past, their makeup overdone and messy as children often do. I laughed at seeing Cruella drive up and make another classic entrance, smiled at Killian rescuing Cora, Josh Dallas playing the twin brothers with perfection, and Emma and Killian cling to each other out of love and protection.

Favorite Lines:
Cora: I thought that love – any kind of love – was weakness. I was a fool.


Cruella: Why is everything in the woods with you people?


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