Now, this doesn’t speak to the fact that Zelena actually is a hugely talented sorceress, seemingly from birth, and one might wonder how that might have happened, given that under my theory, Cora hadn’t begun practicing magic yet at that point. And my guesses would be that either (a) it’s simple irony that Cora had the means to attain the power she always wanted right in front of her but gave it up because she couldn’t see it, (b) it’s a sign that, although magic in the Onceverse can be taught, the greatest magic-users might have a genetic predisposition to it, as well, one that Cora wasn’t aware she herself had, or (c) baby Zelena’s powers didn’t manifest until the couple found her in Oz. It’s even possible that it’s all three.
As far as the third, it would make perfect sense, as a baby gifted enough in magic to telekinetically lift and move a falling branch would have likely demonstrated some of these talents to her mother before being abandoned, which might have dissuaded Cora from doing so in the first place (unless she did witness some of these abilities and at that point had no context for them and was frightened by them). It’s very possible that the baby’s abilities manifested due to the trauma she went through, which could be both psychological and magical in nature–a combination of being abandoned and/or being sucked up by the magical tornado. It’s even possible that she unintentionally caused the tornado herself–that the trauma of being left alone in the woods was enough to awaken dormant magic within her and spark a storm powerful enough to suck her to another dimension. It’s also possible that this unexplained storm somehow infused magic within her or activated what otherwise would have been dormant. A third possibility is that her first magical action was saving that woman’s life, in the way that a surge of adrenaline can give a mother the ability to lift a car off of her child. Or again, it’s some combination of these. (Speaking of, I love how baby Clark Kent that teaser scene is.)
I’d also expect that Rumple isn’t Zelena’s dad because, although in later secretly becoming her mentor, he is acting in a paternal role of sorts–albeit an incredibly twisted one, given how he treats her–she also seems, from their first scene, to have decidedly non-filial feelings for him. There is a sexual, flirtatious vibe that I don’t think they would go for on this show between a father and daughter. It isn’t Game of Thrones, after all, and while I do think they would go as far as metaphorical incest–to wit, Zelena falling for a father figure, which is underlined by the earlier scene in which she shaved his face, just as she did for the father who raised her–I don’t think ABC or Disney would approve of literal incestuous feelings.
And as it turns out, Zelena comes to feel a similar level of betrayal from Rumple as she did at how her own father treated her. Now, granted, Rumple choosing Regina over her isn’t actually as bad as what her dad did, but one can see how, from her skewed perspective, it would be a straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back sort of action that would lead to just as strong a desire for revenge on him and his actual child, Baelfire. What’s so well done about it is that it’s all rooted in Once mythology. It makes complete sense that Zelena, as she is presented here, would have had no options for the “thing you love the most” sacrifice other than Rumple, who up to that point seemed to be the only living person to show her kindness and to help develop her innate powers (which makes his betrayal hurt all the more), just as it makes complete sense that Rumple wouldn’t be willing to die in order for the Dark Curse to be enacted. After all, the whole point is to reunite himself with Bae–the exact thing which Zelena later delights in having denied him of, in the modern day.
It’s also typically Rumple that, even upon it becoming apparent that Zelena won’t be a suitable replacement for Regina, he continues to train her and lead her on, dangling that potential carrot, because Rumple always has schemes within schemes within schemes and is not one to burn bridges. He likely either foresaw other potential opportunities with her or wanted to keep such a powerful witch under his thumb for as long as possible. And the irony is that, in so doing, Rumple actually once again proves to be his own worst enemy. Had he treated her honestly and with kindness, she might have very well allowed him to use her slippers to get to the Land Without Magic, thus completely removing the need for the Dark Curse. As with Cora, what he wanted was right there in front of him and he didn’t realize it due to his own narrow-minded focus and ambition.
Which leads her to return to the Emerald City and finally learn the truth–that the Wizard of Oz is a fraud, with a simple man behind the curtain creating the illusion of supreme magic and power. I love that in Once‘s version of The Wizard of Oz story, it isn’t Dorothy but the woman who will become the Wicked Witch who initially comes to the Wizard of Oz to find her home/family, and that she also comes to uncover him, as well. Due to the presentation of his powers, I was initially wondering whether this spin on the Wizard would be magical after all, but I was glad to see that they instead chose to honor the spirit of the original story and made him a fraud, albeit a fraud who has managed to collect a number of magical items over the years in order to further the illusion that he is innately magical himself. In fact, even his initial demand for payment from Zelena in the form of an object of the Dark One’s mirrors his demand that Dorothy bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.
And just as exciting as Once sticking to the Wizard’s humbug nature, we have the revelation of just who the man behind the curtain is , and lo and behold…it’s Walsh, Emma’s paramour-turned-flying-monkey! Which suddenly makes absolutely everything about that plot even better in retrospect (and I already liked it a whole lot). Firstly, of course, we now have the reveal that Emma didn’t only spend around a year dating a flying monkey but the freaking Wizard of Oz, which is absolutely terrific on every level. I’m also glad that they’re using Christopher Gorham more than it initially seemed they might. And then there’s this new, fresh twist on the Oz story, which is that as soon as the Witch learns the Wizard’s true identity, she turns him into a minion of hers, at once punishing him for not being fully honest with her whilst also increasing her own power in Oz, not to mention now gaining all of his knowledge and magical objects, including a magical glass floor that looks a great deal like the witch’s infamous crystal ball.