ABC’s Once Upon a Time continues on its merry and more than occasionally unintentionally disturbing path this week, complete with Moments of Unexpected Grossness and a Still More Unexpected Star Trek joke.
Full warning: once again I will mostly be focusing on the Oz related stuff.
Spoilers abound below!
Previously on Once Upon a Time, everyone lost their memories (again) and Emma got hers back thanks to a Suspiciously Convenient Potion. Captain Killian Hook did some Sexy Pirating and gave some negative feedback about the processed meat choices available in New York City jails before leading Emma and Henry away from the awesomeness that is New York City and back to a set that is much, much cheaper to film in, called “Maine.” Also, Snow White is all pregnant not for plot reasons but because the actress playing her, Ginnifer Goodwin, is hitting the stage where unkind strangers will come up and ask “Are you having a baby or an elephant?”
Also also, several people have contacted me to agree that NO WAY DID EMMA HAVE SEX WITH A FLYING MONKEY why do you THINK he was so eager to marry her that was the only way to get her into bed so good, we’re all on the same page about this monkey business. Ahem.
Also also also, I realized why I hated but hated seeing feathers on the wings of this particular flying monkey, even after various people kindly pointed out to be that, in fact, the flying monkeys had always had feathers all the way back to the Denslow days and in the illustrations of flying monkeys that appeared in episode three of this show. (Thank you, ABC publicity staff for that last one.) As author Ryk E. Spoor (himself an Oz expert) noted to me, wings with feathers are usually associated with good creatures; wings with fur usually associated with bad or demonic creatures. In the original Baum book and in the 1939 MGM movie, the Flying Monkeys definitely fit the “good” category: they were enslaved by the Wicked Witch, even if they certainly LOOKED evil on my little television set when I first encountered them. In the show, however, it’s not at all clear that the Flying Monkeys are enslaved. They seem, well, EVIL. So bring on the bat wings!
With that out of the way, onto the most important and disturbing moment of THIS episode: Little John (of Robin Hood and his Merry Men) turned into a Flying Monkey?
Let me repeat that: LITTLE JOHN TURNED INTO A FLYING MONKEY?
Show, I think it’s time for us to have a talk.
See, sometimes, when a Daddy Flying Monkey and a Mommy Flying Monkey love each other Very Very Much, they make Little Baby Flying Monkeys, in a very biological and not at all creepy way, and not, say, in a very lycanthropic and extremely way that leads them to swoop down on innocent turkey-shooting Merry Men, biting them and then having creepy arms burst out of them in what should be a sterile hospital environment. Even if this did lead to Dr. Frankenstein Whale’s testy explanation of his inability to explain anything: “I’m a doctor, not a vet.”
Which in turn gave me an image of Frankenstein staggering through the Enterprise yelling “KKHHHHHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAN!” which made me all happy again. But I digress.
(Though as long as I’m digressing: how did Little John know that the wild turkey was, you know, a wild turkey, given that wild turkeys are native to the American continent and… you know, this is not going to be a useful line of questioning. Let us move on.)
Anyway. Where were we? Oh, yes. The gestation and creation of Flying Monkeys. The 1939 and 2013 films sidestepped this issue entirely. The Baum book, which, remember, was mostly aimed at small children, also decided to ignore any specific answers to the question of “Where do baby Flying Monkeys come from?” but did specifically mention a grandfather Flying Monkey, strongly suggesting that at least in this, Flying Monkeys do the usual monkey business. Ahem. If you want to learn more about this, you can go and read the Story of the Flying Monkeys in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz which mentions one of the grandfathers of the Flying Monkeys and how happy and joyful they all were in the forest before getting enslaved and fails to mention any connection to werewolves.
This was all disturbing enough that it was almost enough to let me overlook the other disturbing bit of this episode: the oh so predictable realization that yes, Zelena, aka the Wicked Witch of the West, also just happens to be Regina’s older sister.
Sigh. For two reasons.
One, must everyone on this show be related? Ok, I suppose that’s slightly unfair—Red, Aurora, Philip, Mulan, Archie, Ariel and Eric haven’t yet joined the family tree. But of the main cast, pretty much everyone is related through blood or marriage or passionate pirate hookups (I’m counting Hook and Rumple’s wife Milah in that category) or otherwise severely dysfunctional relationships.
Two, consider, for a moment, the original Wicked Witch. She had goals. Big goals: destroy the Good Witch who once ruled over the Winkie Kingdom, conquer the Winkies, enslave everyone, make everyone’s life completely miserable, terrorize people with Flying Monkeys, and plot against a wizard. If only she hadn’t been careless about her water bucket situation who knows what she might have accomplished.
This Wicked Witch? She just wants revenge because Mommy Didn’t Love her Best. It’s sad, and petty, not to mention that her evil sister doesn’t deserve it. Or at least, doesn’t deserve this. It’s equally sad and petty that the Wicked Witch of a children’s story has a more ambitious and grand motive.
(This is also ever so slightly borrowing from Maguire’s Wicked, but we’ll tiptoe past that for now.)
It’s a sad comedown.
Though I was intrigued by a few other hints in the story she told Regina—assuming any of it, of course, was true, which might be a bad assumption. But if it was, Zelena was neglected and harassed and traumatized in Oz because of her green skin, which made her look different; a couple of her comments about Regina’s jewelry suggest that she’s all too familiar with actual poverty.
Which of course is completely counter to the later depiction of a wealthy, prosperous Oz where green skin is, frankly, almost banal compared to all of the other strange and queer creatures meandering around Oz, and to the depiction of an Emerald City that happily welcomes those who look or seem strange and different.
Then again, Ozma, ruler of that utopian land, never took the throne until after Dorothy had defeated the Wicked Witch of the West—so it’s quite possible that Zelena comes from a time before Ozma, a time when Oz was still a fairyland, but not quite the perfect (or almost perfect) fairyland it could become.
Or, the whole speech was a shout out to me and my careful documenting of each and every one of Ozma’s myriad moments of Ozma Fail in previous posts on Tor.com. You decide.
One definite shout-out to the original books: Belle explaining that she had read about Oz in the book, a narrative device that Baum and later Oz authors happily used when bringing other young Americans over to Oz in order to save time. Pretty much all of the other Oz references in this episode, however, were to the 1939 film, not the books, including these classic moments, paraphrased:
Grumpy: The Wicked Witch of the West or the Wicked Witch of the East?
Regina: We care about this why?
Grumpy: Well, it depends if we need to drop a house on her or get a bucket of water.
Regina: I don’t care if it’s the Lollipop Guild.
I freely admit that I had a small moment of hope that Regina would be facing the Lollipop Guild, a showdown that would end quite, quite badly—for the Lollipop Guild. Indeed, the more I think about this, the harder I hope.
I loved these moments, along with a later moment when Regina is easily able to deduce who their current enemy is, thanks to a familiarity with the 1939 film, for another reason as well: it’s great when characters who should know something, like, say, information about a film that is regularly broadcasted each and every year, do know something—and use that knowledge to come to the correct conclusions.
In other bits of the show, the Wicked Witch of the East remained completely absent, but will no doubt show up as the love child of Maid Marian and the Incredible Hulk; various extras and guest stars were cruelly transformed into Winged Monkeys, only not on screen because the show’s special effects budget isn’t large enough to handle more than one Winged Monkey transformation per episode; Emma and Regina continued to torture vast expanses of Tumblr with their Deep Bonding; Zelena, claiming to be a midwife, showed up in Storybrooke sans the green skin, but with a huge emerald necklace that should have made some people—looking at you, Snow White—more suspicious; someone finally remembered to get the town’s opinion on Major Events, only Not Really since it turned out to be a con; Storybrooke lost still more windows, making me wonder just how these curses are explaining things to outside insurance companies; Captain Hook continued to say Sexy Piratey Things; Regina did not half-kill herself through sleeping potion sacrifice; and Robin Hood and Regina said Cute Things and I gotta tell you, that still feels All Wrong. But not wrong enough to keep me from tuning in for the next episode.
However, chances are excellent that I will not be able to watch and blog about next week’s episode in a timely manner, so see you all after a couple more episodes.
Mari Ness lives in central Florida. She may possibly be just a touch bit obsessed with Oz.