Once Upon a Time: “Where Bluebirds Fly” Review


By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

Like many of the episodes in Once Upon a Time season six, “Where Bluebirds Fly” was a wonderful mix of both light and dark moments. But what was truly wonderful was that the plot was simple and serviced the characters with flashbacks that were not necessarily crucial to the story, but engaging and illuminating nonetheless, with present-day character moments that were powerful and an absolute dream, some of which are my favorite lines and scenes ever. Moreover, we once again see a title that is not only an allusion and character appropriate, but so apropos to what the characters were going through. “Where Bluebirds Fly” is an allusion to a line from the song “Over the Rainbow,” which is about finding a place where troubles melt away, where you feel accepted, and where you feel like home. It’s that longing to find that place that encapsulates so much of what we see in this episode. And when you find people that feel like home, there’s no place like it.

What I enjoyed about the flashbacks for Zelena was that they further illuminated the depth of her character in lovely and sometimes metaphorical ways, informing the present day beautifully. When we see Zelena as a child, again we are reminded that she was a sweet girl who wanted to use her magic for good, and was abused and bullied and made to feel like a freak. It was that combined with the envy of her sister that led to her wicked ways, providing a thoughtful commentary to the consequences of bullying. Her actions are not excused, but we can see how being mistreated contributed to the person she became. One of the few friends she had was a kind woodcutter named Stanum who seeks Zelena out years later after having been cursed and starting to turn completely to tin. He’s hoping the girl he met as a child is still in there and will use her magic to help get him the Crimson Heart, which he believes will cure him. What’s interesting and engaging about these scenes is that we see a real representation of empathy and friendship. There’s no fear on Stanum’s part, or real judgment. He seems to understand what she won’t admit: that she’s afraid, that she’s lonely, and that if she had a true friend, the person he knew would come through again. It’s interesting he’s seeking a heart because in truth, it’s Zelena’s heart that needs saving as it is filled with jealousy and vengeance. It’s not surprising that she would refuse to give up the magic the Crimson Heart was draining from her to save Stanum. And storytelling-wise, this was merely a way of showcasing her present-day journey. And it was a moving one indeed.

After the Black Fairy confronts Zelena and threatens her and baby Robin, she is determined to take care of that “noir colored nit” and by herself, despite Regina’s objections. Acting reckless and with the need to prove herself to be more powerful and the best, we get into her psyche even more and see that so much of this stems from the trauma from her past and the current struggles with both herself and her sister Regina. If she can take care of the Black Fairy by herself, that would prove that she is not someone to be forgotten or mistreated, that she is strong, but also that she doesn’t need anyone or their help. It was actually truly sad to see Zelena trying to do a good thing and take down the Black Fairy but have her insecurities manipulated – that her unstable magic turned the cave of light fairy crystals dark and become exactly what the Black Fairy wanted. And that it all stems from Zelena’s need to prove herself worthy. It felt like the real villain of the scene had won, but it led to a very powerful moment.

When it comes to the two sisters, it hurt Zelena deeply that Regina blamed her for Robin’s death and that hurt was certainly warranted. Zelena sacrificed the man she loved to save her sister’s life and instead of blaming the real culprit, Hades, and choosing to heal their broken hearts together, Regina took it out on her sister. The thing is, no matter who may come into your life that could be someone you care for – a friend, a family member, or a romantic partner – it’s up to you to choose to open your heart to them. Although Regina and Zelena still have far to go in their relationship, the sibling rivalry may never fully go away, and though they may never be Elizabeth and Jane Bennett close, they’ve made meaningful strides especially in this episode. They may have fought but they have also become very protective of each other. Despite Regina wanting Zelena to return to Oz so she wouldn’t cause any more trouble, Zelena decided to stay. It’s a poignant parallel to when Dorothy’s Aunt Em tells her to find a place where she won’t be any trouble and sings about that place over the rainbow. And it’s this parallel that makes the rest of Zelena’s journey in the episode not only moving, but also truly profound for her character.

If the moment where Zelena’s magic was used against her was sad, the one where she summons a cyclone to return to Oz had an unexpected air of heartbreak. Beautifully symbolic, with a melancholy musical score, Zelena stands alone with her baby girl, surrounded by a vast empty landscape. She looks small compared to her surroundings, the space and snow symbolic of her isolation but willingness to do the right thing. It’s the kind of scene Once Upon a Time does so well. A gorgeous landscape, a haunting score, and the talent of a fine actor like Rebecca Mader who conveys everything she’s feeling completely in her eyes – loneliness, heartache, and resignation. It’s what makes the return to her sister even more meaningful, bringing forth once again that parallel to the place where bluebirds fly. She was prepared to return over the rainbow to Oz, but the truth is, not only would she be of more use in Storybrooke, but it’s there that she’s truly found at home because that’s where her sister is. Importantly, it had to be her choice. She had to choose not only to take that step and admit her recklessness, but also to choose to make the ultimate sacrifice that she wasn’t willing to do in the past. Her magic still tethered to the fairy crystals, she uses the Crimson Heart to destroy her magic and return them to their original state, thwarting the Black Fairy’s plan. What’s important is that the sacrifice doesn’t automatically mean she’s suddenly pure, perfect, or happy. She feels weak when her magic is gone and will no doubt have to learn a sense of self-worth. But she took a profound step because she was willing to make that sacrifice. And when Regina hugs her, tells her how proud she is, and that she’s never look stronger, I was moved to tears. It’s a revealing and lovely truth about what makes a hero. Your physical strength or magic is not the measure of a hero – the true measure is the strength of your heart. So when you open your heart to love, that’s when your own sense of happiness and home can come true and no longer be simply a place you long for. And it’s that acknowledgment and display of love, happiness, and home already found that this episode’s other beautiful moments came from.

Ever since Emma and Killian began dating, and most especially since they moved in together, there were certain kinds of moments I hoped to see for the couple, and in “Where Bluebirds Fly,” we were treated to an amazing moment that was everything I dreamed of, and one I freely admit have already watched more times than I can count. I adore the emotional and fantastical moments, but sometimes it’s the simplest ones that feel the most magical. Early morning in their home, newly engaged Emma and Killian are simply radiating bliss. Clearly after a night (and possibly early morning) of amorous activities, Emma is clad in only a robe, hair still uncombed, and making pancakes. Killian smiles and nuzzles behind her, sans jacket, vest unzipped, which is the most comfortable and undressed we’ve ever seen for him, and he tells her that she, not the breakfast, smells delicious. Cue a lovely and simple acknowledgment of a state of happiness that still surprises them both and passionate kisses where the pancakes are forgotten. Beyond that palpable chemistry of the two actors who have come to embody their characters with such authenticity where these scene partners have such a natural rapport, what I loved about this meaningful moment was that it was executed with such beautiful simplicity. Moreover, it was a perfect representation of everything they are as a couple – sweet, sexy, flirtatious, deep, and passionate, with acknowledgment that what they’ve found together is a happiness they longed for, but still sometimes can’t quite believe they found. In the home they share together, they are able to express their love freely and happily with no walls or secrets holding them back, ready for that next in life. This is what blissfully happily looks like and it is beautiful to see Emma and Killian finally able to enjoy each other in this honeymoon phase, even before the official one arrives. And even with the embarrassed arrival of Snow White, this moment was sheer perfection – sweet and smile-inducing, where the interruption is only frustrating for Killian who clearly wanted more time with his fiancée. But for the audience, there were only smiles.

I had dreams of sweet domestic scenes for Emma and Killian, but also high hopes for scenes for the Charming Family when it came to plan Emma’s wedding, and “Where Bluebirds Fly” did not disappoint. These were the kind of character moments I absolutely love that we don’t always get when plot overtakes the show. I was beyond happy with these scenes, which were both funny and emotionally poignant at their heart. Snow had missed so much with Emma and with their relationship not seen as much lately, it was so wonderful to witness Snow’s happiness and enthusiasm for the upcoming nuptials, from the wedding planning book that can rival Monica Geller’s, to the ability to see the potential in all the venues they look at. It was an amusing contrast to David, who was unimpressed with everywhere, deeming them not good enough, especially Granny’s because it was where Snow and Whale had their first date. To bring in another Friends reference, “We were cursed” is the new “We were on a break.” It was also wonderful to see Emma and Killian still so affectionate and happy, clearly amused and confused by the Charmings and their disagreements. Sweet and funny as these moments were (the kind of light, happy family moments I hoped to see because these characters so deserve it), the truth of the matter was truly emotional and heartfelt. Snow fears not being there for her daughter, wanting to reach for that happiness while they can, while David’s trepidation stems from not wanting Emma to experience what he and Snow did. He wants more for his daughter – a real wedding day with only thoughts of wonderful years ahead, not the fear of death or villains. This discovery is oh so moving and what leads them to decide to marry when the time is right, not out of fear, letting hope be stronger than those worries. Emma and Killian love each other and no matter where or when they marry, what will matter will be their vows to love and cherish each other and remain by each other’s side, surrounded by family and loved ones.

The remaining aspects of “Where Bluebirds Fly” were lovely, striking, intriguing, and delightful. Seeing Belle once again sweetly and lovingly take care of a baby both made me smile and my heart ache. She is a mother without a child and I hope desperately that somehow Gideon magically returns to his proper age because Belle deserves to raise her son. I also liked seeing Belle and Rumple in one of their best places in years. The love never went away, but the trust and softness had. But with a common goal of saving their son, they seem to be mending and I would much rather see a more hopeful Belle and Rumple. The Black Fairy’s powers and motivations are quite murky but intriguing. Why is she completely impervious to Zelena’s magic and yet she’s not all-powerful, needing others to begin her plans for the final battle? The way Zelena’s magic didn’t faze the Black Fairy reminded me of Mr. Hyde, who couldn’t be hurt by the magic of Emma and Regina. Is the Black Fairy a split persona? Most likely not, but we have to wonder what her darkest secret is and what is her history with Tiger Lily and the Blue Fairy. It’s also interesting to see the strangeness and limitations of Henry’s author powers, unable to change things even if he wanted to. I wonder if David peering at the symbols Henry wrote were fear and contemplation, or recognition of what some may mean. And for what will forever become known as the “sexy pancakes scene,” it was surprisingly poignant, and most assuredly smile-inducing to think about the parallel presented. In season three’s “New York City Serenade,” Emma turned down a proposal for various reasons, but initially because she was scared. And the next morning she makes breakfast, memories restored, content but still weary, telling Henry she didn’t feel like pancakes. Now Emma is newly engaged to the man who is home to her, no longer scared and happily making pancakes in their home. I think she wants “pancakes” now. In fact, I think she’ll want them every day, and every night, for the rest of her life. They just need to make sure to double lock their door.

Favorite Moments: “Where Bluebirds Fly” had some many wonderful moments that will most assuredly become all time favorites, most especially Emma and Killian’s morning making “pancakes” as it encompassed everything that they are: sweet and sexy and filled with love that makes them truly happy – a happiness they never thought they’ find. The Charming Family wedding planning moments were so funny and heartfelt and everything I dreamed of seeing, while Zelena sacrificing her magic was such a touching and meaningful moment for her character.

Favorite Lines:
Emma: I’m just…happy. It still surprises me sometimes.
Killian: Aye, love. Me, too.
Emma: To hell with the pancakes.

David: When I walk Emma down the aisle, the only thing she should be thinking about is wonderful years ahead…with everything she’s been through, the least we can do is give her a real wedding day.

Emma: I know we’re all technically royalty or whatever. But unless you want to do a destination wedding at your castle in the Enchanted Forest, or like Excalibur in Vegas, I don’t think we’re going to find what you’re looking for.
David: That’s not a bad idea.
Emma: Vegas?
David. No the Enchanted Forest, our castle. How many beans would it take to get everyone back there?

Killian: Something smells delicious.
Emma: It’s just from a box.
Killian: I’m not talking about the pancakes.

Regina: How do you feel?
Zelena: Weak.
Regina: But you’ve never looked stronger.

Snow: If this is about Hook, that ship has sailed and there’s a pirate on it.

Zelena: The only reason I didn’t blast that noir-colored nit out of existence is because of Robin.

Stanum: Magic isn’t what made you special. Your willingness to use it for good is.

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