‘Once Upon A Time’ S3 Ep 18 recap: Who let the ghost out?

Zelena has out to crush some hearts. (Photo credit: Disney/ABC Press/Jack Rowand)

I’m not going to lie, Oncers. Sunday’s “Bleeding Through” was a strange episode. Banshee Cora downloads her memories into Mary Margaret, Rumple tries seducing his way out of Zelena’s wicked clutches, Regina finally follows her heart, and Hook distressingly carries the weight of the world on his leather-clad shoulders. Meanwhile, Fairy Tale Land flashbacks reveal quite the conundrum for young Cora. Unfortunately, the way her story wraps up doesn’t make much sense given the scope of everything we’ve come to know about Regina and Snow’s family history over the past three years.

Fairy Tale Land past: “Someone once told me to act like what you plan to be so I try to act a little better than I am.”

Young Cora (Rose McGowan) works at a tavern, hoping to one day meet her Prince Charming. She gets duped by “Prince” Jonathan, a “royal” who is just passing through town and serendipitously falls for Cora. He plays the scene out like it is love at first sight. Cora immediately accepts his marriage proposal and gets herself promptly knocked up with a royal blooded baby. Cut to a few weeks later when Prince Jonathan is no-show for their planned rendezvous.

Cora tracks down her baby daddy and is disappointed to learn that he is simply the King’s gardener. Jonathan and Cora call each other out on playing games: he conned her into bed with the promise of a rich married life and she was eager to seal such a sweet deal by getting pregnant. The only difference is that Cora carries the obvious baggage of their encounter. If she wants to be a royal, she needs to snatch up a husband before she’s too far into her pregnancy. As fate would have it, Cora gets a second chance when she bumps into Prince Leopold (Eric Lange, who is perfectly cast in this role).

During their stroll through the woods, Cora bewitches Prince Leopold with her fire building skills and determination to advance her station in life. As they candidly confide in each other, Prince Leopold admits he will be meeting Princess Eva later that evening. Their marriage has been arranged since their infancy, like most royals. Cora believes that it should be within the prince’s power to choose to marry for love. Even before her magic lessons with Rumple, Cora sure knew how to cast a spell on men. Anyway, fast forward a bit and we see that Cora has become Prince Leopold’s fiancée. Cora is about to get everything she ever dreamed of, so naturally someone pops up to throw a wrench in her plans.

Jonathan threatens to expose the truth about Cora. He confronts her and demands to receive riches from the palace so that he can run off and start over with a wealthy life in a different land. Since Cora has so much to lose, she agrees to the pay him. They plan to meet up again that evening. As Jonathan walks away, we discover that Princess Eva heard the whole story.

Later that night, Prince Leopold catches Cora in the palace and confronts her about Princess Eva’s charges. Cora denies it, saying that Eva is a scorned woman making false claims. So Eva tells Leopold to check Cora’s pockets for the loot. Cora is caught red handed and all of her dreams come crashing down.

About nine months later Cora has a baby girl. As she leaves her baby stranded in the woods, Cora argues that this is the best thing for them both. Cora runs off and a green tornado whisks the baby away.

Although it is nice to get more of Cora’s backstory, everything doesn’t quite add up. I know things get a little twisted on ‘Once,’ but Regina essentially married her mother’s former fiancé. Did Cora cast a spell on Leopold and erase his memory of their past? How else would King Leopold ever agree to marrying Regina and tolerating Cora’s presence?

Logic aside, I just don’t like the way all of this played out. There are still some holes, which I hope will be filled in before the season ends. The one thing I know for sure is all of the children are suffering the consequences of their parents’ wrongdoings. Which brings us to the craziness that goes down in present day Storybrooke.

Storybrooke: “Emma: I thought our family was the good guys. Regina: Life is too messy for it to ever be that simple.”

Zelena deviously saunters into Regina’s home and throws the gauntlet down. After criticizing the Evil Queen’s taste in red apples, Zelena says she has sent Rumple to retrieve Regina’s heart as they speak and she will be unstoppable by the day’s end.

In an unsettling scene, Rumple threatens to kill Robin Hood’s son if he doesn’t hand over Regina’s heart. Once again, brilliant work from Robert Carlyle, he perfectly captures Rumple’s anguish. No matter how badly he doesn’t want to do this terrible thing, he is still under Zelena’s control. Rumple will painfully hurt people regardless of his true desires. Robin has no choice but to give him the heart and moments later Regina rushes to the woods.

Regina is relieved to learn that Robin and his Merry Men are still in one piece. Robin apologizes for letting her down, but she completely understands. She would have done the same thing if anyone threatened Henry. Now that Zelena has her heart, Regina needs to understand why the Wicked Witch is collecting these specific attributes. She visits Belle, the town’s research guru, for help.

When Regina walks into Gold’s Shop, Belle unleashes thirty years of pent-up, justified aggression. Let’s face it, the others watched Regina’s transformation in Neverland, Belle needs a little time to adjust and work out her own beefs with the Evil Queen, so this scene is great to finally see. Once they are on the same page, Belle agrees to scour through the books to see what kind of spell uses all the ingredients Zelena has been collecting and it would help to know exactly why Zelena specifically needs Regina’s heart. While Belle starts researching, Regina takes the double-ended candle Snow used to kill Cora and assembles the gang to help her get some answers.

Regina gathers Mary Margaret (because she needs her mother’s killer), David, Hook and Emma around a table for a séance. They need to conjure Cora’s spirit and learn why she abandoned Zelena to begin with in order to figure out how they can defeat her. The portal to the other side opens, but Cora doesn’t answer her daughter’s call. The group splits up and MM hangs back with Regina to help clean up and have some girl talk.

Regina isn’t in the mood for a “heart-to-heart,” which Snow points out is technically impossible for someone without a heart. (‘OUAT’ has mastered the cutesy word-play this season. Yes it may be corny, but we have to admit that it is fun to watch.) Basically, Regina’s feelings are hurt. Cora sucked as a mother in life and now she continues breaking her daughter’s heart in death. Mary Margaret tries consoling Regina and she apologizes for killing Cora. Given the circumstances and their history, Regina can understand why even Snow White stooped to murder. Maybe that’s why Regina is so quick to defend her gal-pal when an assumedly vengeful Banshee Cora comes roaring towards Mary Margaret.

It is equally unsettling and sweet to see Regina fearlessly protect MM and unborn Baby Charming from Cora’s creepy straw spinning spirit. After some attempted ghost-busting around the house, Cora’s spirit jumps into Mary Margaret’s meat-suit and downloads her memories into Snow’s consciousness. Unfortunately, Regina’s magic pulls Cora out before Snow gets details on the confusing aftermath like how she manipulated Leopold into becoming her son-in-law. Elsewhere in Storybrooke, Belle finds the other answer they’ve been searching for.

Emma has fun showing Hook how much her magic skills are improving. She teleports a cup of hot cocoa, but when she displaces his hook in “bad form” the pirate gets peeved. Hook has been a buzzkill all day, so he apologizes to Emma for being rude. Before she has a chance to pry into his attitude adjustment, Belle runs in with news of Zelena’s master plan. The trio heads back to Regina’s and everybody shares the new info they’ve all learned.

As Mary Margaret composes herself post Cora possession, Belle explains that brains, courage and a resilient heart are all key ingredients used in time travel spells. MM then chimes in with why Zelena wants to go back in time. Princess Eva ruined Cora’s nearly perfect life. In Zelena’s mind, her abandonment is all Eva’s fault. If Princess Eva didn’t reveal Cora’s secret, then Zelena would’ve been raised in the palace and tutored by Rumple. If Zelena kills Eva or prevents her marriage to Leopold in any way, then Snow White, Emma, Henry and even Regina may never be born.

Hook tries to look on the bright side and finds relief in the fact that time travel spells have never succeeded, but then Charming realizes that they’ve been missing a key ingredient. Somehow, Baby Charming plays a major part in making the time travel spell work. David gives the gang hope, since they still have time to stop Zelena from taking their newborn and completing her spell. Luckily, the Charmings & Co. aren’t the only ones fighting to gain an upper hand over Zelena.

The moment we saw the spoilery photo of Rumple and Zelena’s kiss, we knew that something just wasn’t right. Either Zelena was abusing her control over Rumple to fulfill a whole other set of her twisted personal desires or Rumple is up to his old deceptive tricks. When Zelena gets Rumple all dolled-up for a special dinner, he uses the Wicked Witch’s insecurities against her.

Zelena has prepared Rumple’s favorite form of comfort food as she reveals the reason why she has collected Charming’s courage, Regina’s resilient heart and Rumple’s brain. She intendeds to be the first person to travel back in time and alter the past. Zelena tries getting Rumple on board by saying he could reunite with Baelfire and rewrite their history. Rumple initially doubts her capability to achieve such a feat, but then he softens his demeanor and tries a new approach.

After dinner Rumple apologizes to Zelena for choosing Regina over her years ago and insists on making amends for his wrongdoings. As things get heated Zelena soon realizes that he’s just trying to get the Dark One’s dagger out of her boot. She points the dagger at Rumple and says he ruined any chance of seeing Bae again. Rumple tells Zelena that the only way he can honor Bae’s sacrifice is by killing her. With that promise thrown in her face, Zelena commands Rumple to return to his cage. As he walks away, Zelena tears up because she is all alone on this quest for vengeance and rebirth.

Props to Rebecca Mader on her performance. The Wicked Witch is a cruel, nasty, heartless villain, but Mader always shows us that Zelena is full of so much pain. Perhaps Storybrooke’s heroes can save this misguided soul before it is too late.

As the episode winds down, Regina and Mary Margaret actually have a little heart-to-heart. Cora conjured up a new set of mommy issues for poor Regina when she chose to communicate with her murderer instead of her daughter. Snow is also troubled by her mother’s well concealed dark side. Eva is not the woman she knew as a child. But all of that is in the past and there is no need to be haunted by it anymore. Nonetheless, Regina laments the horrors that lie ahead of them. She fears they won’t be able to stop Zelena, so Snow sets her straight.

Zelena will not win. Especially now that everyone is working together to defeat her. MM urges Regina to follow her resilient heart. She has overcome so much darkness in her life and has come a very long way. One day her heart will find happiness. As Regina weeps in despair, Snow sweetly sets her straight. Regina feels things deeply even without her heart because she feels with her whole soul, so MM tells her not to let anything hold her back. With that little boost, we finally see Regina follow her heart and open herself up to True Love.

The rather grim and unsettling episode closes on a happy note. Regina bravely marches out to the woods and Robin Hood rises to greet her with an apology for giving up her heart. In the middle of his plea for forgiveness, Regina pulls him close and plants a passionate kiss on his lips. Robin kisses her back. Outlaw Queen is on! Let’s hope their romance fairs better than Captain Swan and RumBelle.

What did you think of “Bleeding Through”? Did it leave you feeling a little confused about Cora and Regina’s history with Leopold? Were you thrilled to see Outlaw Queen’s first kiss? Are you excited to meet Glinda the Good Witch in “A Curious Thing”? Do you think Hook will kiss Emma or will he tell her the truth about his dilemma?

‘Once Upon A Time’s’ “A Curious Thing” airs Sunday, April 27 at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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