‘Once Upon A Time’ Review: A Face from the Past Returns In ‘Heart of Gold’
Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 4 Episode 18 – Heart of Gold:
This was one of the weirdest Once Upon A Time episodes in recent memory. Flashbacks within flashbacks, and a story that diverges from the overarching narrative we’ve been following for this entire half season all contribute to making “Heart of Gold” feel like it’s from a different show entirely.
And yet, it still works. Well, kind of. If the episode has one failing, it’s that it brought me to the realization that for as much as I like Sean Maguire, I don’t really care about Robin Hood outside the context of his relationship with Regina (Lana Parrilla). So much of the episode was focused on telling us what he was up to in the weeks since he left Storybrooke, and while it did eventually lead the major reveal of the episode, it was a bit of a slog getting there. We basically learn that Robin was a tavern owner whose business was threatened over taxes he owed to the Sheriff of Nottingham (Wil Traval). In stealing a elixir for Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle), and meeting Will Scarlet (Michael Socha) in the process, Robin developed a belief that thievery can have an honor system. He becomes the Robin Hood of legend, and Marian (Christie Laing) vows to join him through thick and thin. It’s a nice enough story, but it’s filtered through another flashback to Robin’s time in New York City with Marion and their son, focusing on how he must once again steal the elixir he failed to steal from Zelena (Rebecca Mader) in Emerald City. It’s an elixir that can cure Gold of his deteriorating heart condition, and save his life in the process, and if all of these developments seem a bit on the sudden side, well…it’s about to get a whole lot more crazy.
Yes, the big reveal of the episode is that Zelena is alive, and while I’m absolutely stoked to have Mader back on the show, I feel like the show is making up rules as the situation demands. Basically, we learn that Zelena’s spirit escaped her body right before it shattered, and it zipped into the time portal with Emma (Jennifer Morrison) from when she went back in time with Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) last season. While there, Zelena took advantage of an opportunity: she stole Marian’s body by killing her, and took the woman’s appearance for herself. When Emma and Hook brought “Marian” back to Storybrooke, Zelena continued to play the role, stealing away Regina’s happy ending in the process. This is a decent explanation for Zelena’s return, I guess, but the only reason it works at all is because Rebecca Mader does such a great job luxuriating in the villainy of explaining it to Gold, who is trapped in a hospital bed following a severe heart attack. Turns out, Zelena switched the elixir vials, so the potion Gold took isn’t the one Robin stole. It has no effect, so Gold is essentially on borrowed time. Unless, of course, he’s able to track down the Author and give Zelena her happy ending.
So Zelena pretty much wants the same thing Gold wants, but goes about getting it in a more circuitous way, blackmailing him into doing something he probably would have done anyway (well, if not for the fact that he wouldn’t exactly want to willingly work with the woman who killed his son). On the one hand, while I liked that the story gives a sense of purpose to Gold’s overall scheme, explaining his aggressive turn towards villainy while also illustrating what his farther-reaching plan is in Storybrooke, it all feels so far out of left field. Maybe you could see the groundwork for the Zelena reveal in past episodes, but this is all so sudden that it almost comes across as a cheat. It also somewhat marginalizes the Queens of Darkness as villains, since they’re not really the ones in control anymore than Gold is. My issue isn’t that Zelena is back, but rather how poorly it was handled. I like having Rebecca Mader around, and think she’ll make a terrific villain for the final four episodes of the season, but her return could have been better set up throughout Season 4. And yet, I didn’t actually hate this episode.
For example, I liked the brief interaction between Gold and The Author (Patrick Fischler), who is frustrated to learn that none of the trees in Storybrooke are enchanted, meaning he can’t carve himself a magic pen with any of them. However, he does offer the Author an enchanted pen, provided he can write a couple of new happy endings. Naturally, the Author is furious to have to work with Gold again, calling him the biggest pain in the ass he’s ever had to write about, but their partnership does the job of moving the story forward, providing a sense of momentum for the narrative that isn’t really evident anywhere else in the episode, since so much of it is focused on showing us how we got to where we are. The ending helps provide a similar sense of momentum, as Gold dials Robin’s number and hands Regina the telephone, revealing to her that Zelena has been Marian this whole time, and that she’s been shacking up with the love of Regina’s life. Regina is livid, but not quite as livid as she is when Gold presents her with an ultimatum: either she help him turn Emma towards darkness, or he’ll make a phone call, and Zelena will kill Robin on the spot. It’s telling that Regina holds out as long as she does, vowing never to help Gold turn Emma towards evil. But she loves Robin far more than she likes Emma, if she can even be said to like Emma at all, and so — in a wonderful, wordless acting moment from Parrilla — Regina’s expression changes from one of sad rage to grim determination. Her mind has been made up. Whether she wants to or not, she’ll be helping Gold.
Ultimately, those closing moments are what left the biggest impression for me. “Heart of Gold” is far from an ideal episode, but it’s salvaged by substantive moments here and there, such as Gold explaining to Robin why he should grab onto happiness and never let go, or Emma tearing into her parents for causing the loss of Maleficent’s child. Both feel like honest moments in a sea of artifice, and I appreciated that, even while I found myself disagreeing with how the sudden twists and turns were unveiled. Once Upon A Time is in the closing throes of its fourth season, and while there’s an occasional unevenness here, this has still been a pretty damn good season for the show. So it’s going to take a lot more than one subpar episode to put me down on the show.