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Something is happening to the Wicked Witch on ABC’s Once Upon a Time. Zelena has started to take a bit of a turn in season 5 of the fairy tale series. It would have been unthinkable when she was first introduced that Zelena would be able ratchet back on her evil ways or the actress to tone down her over-the-top performance but both have happened.

Zelena appears to be making a concerted effort to become a better person for her baby daughter. The only complication is that the Lord of the Underworld Hades is in love with her and he’s about as evil as they come. Zelena is at a crossroads, torn between becoming a hero and staying a villain. The question lingers about which one she will choose as the audience decides which one she should choose.

Zelena Should Stay a Villain

There’s something comforting about the Disney-ified fairy tale world of Once Upon a Time. It’s a place where the heroes always win, the bad guys always lose and true love is the most powerful force in the world. There’s something refreshing about that in a pop culture that is almost obsessed with moral relativism and “living in the grey.” The line between hero and anti-hero has become a lot more blurred in recent years and heroes often have to compromise their values for certain goals. Once Upon a Time has played with this idea but more often than not the series is one where good triumphs over evil. 

The important part of that equation though is there has be evil for good to triumph over and defeat. Once Upon a Time has mined a lot of wonderful material for the idea of villains turning into heroes like Regina and Hook. Not even hero needs to be touched by the redemptive juices of goodness however. Zelena might have the worst life of any Once Upon a Time villain and in that way might be the most tragic but it’s not as if she was ever a “good” person. The deck has been stacked against Zelena her entire life but she has never shown any remorse for anything she has done in her life. She’s the personification of selfishness. Zelena’s skin turned green because she became so envious of others. The main reason she found herself attracted to Hades was because she believed she had found someone as wicked as her.

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Zelena’s evil and she always has been that way. There’s no need to make things more complicated. It’s true that when Zelena was first introduced, Rebecca Mader exhibited an insanely unquenchable hunger for scenery.  It was the hammiest of hammy performance but it was also fun. It’s become a slightly more subtle performance but it is still pretty ridiculous and that’s fine. Zelena loves doing evil things and it is fun to see the character be as wicked as possible. There’s unpredictability to Zelena’s wickedness that makes her unlike any other Once Upon a Time character. Rumple might do terrible things, at times he is even worse than Zelena, but Rumple tends to be at war with himself. Zelena has never really shown any type of remorse for her actions.

While it has been fascinating in season 5 to show Regina and Zelena actually building a sisterly bond, the two might work better as adversaries. There is something very compelling about Regina and Zelena being presented as mirror images of one another. If Zelena was to turn into a more heroic figure she basically becomes Regina with slightly different coloring. The story becomes the same for both characters. They would have both turned to redemption because of their love for their children. It would be boring and expected for Zelena to go the same path as Regina. 

Zelena Should Become a Hero

However just because the story might be expected doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary. Zelena clearly cares for her daughter and it has been established that Zelena’s dark magic does not mix with her baby. Zelena has been looking for acceptance and love her entire life and (right now) she has put almost all her eggs into the basket of her daughter giving that love. Even if it is a retread of Regina’s story, Zelena becoming a hero for her daughter is where the story looks to be heading and has been heading there for a while. It would be pretty anticlimactic for Zelena to decide that she doesn’t want, or need, her daughter. 

There’s also the fact that Regina is (arguably) Once Upon a Time‘s best character. Regina’s journey from villain to hero and has been one of the most extraordinary on the show. Lana Parrilla has done amazing work on the show but she really began to shine once she started playing Regina as a hero. Even if Zelena’s redemption arc would be an imitation of Regina there is worst things that Once Upon a Time can do than repeat their best storyline. 

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It is also unclear about what Zelena’s future would look like if she did stay a villain. There is growth for the character in becoming a hero and there is an element of stagnation in staying her current course. Any future of Zelena staying a villain would have to include Hades and that’s a whole other issue. Greg Germann has done an excellent job playing Hades but the character isn’t really sustainable. 

Hades is so evil, powerful and sly that it would be hard for Once Upon a Time to justify why the character would stick around or why the heroes would let him. Once Upon a Time has managed to make things work in a similar situation with Rumple but it would be pushing it to go the same route with Hades. Especially when Hades is more powerful and is being bolder than Rumple has ever been. There could however be a story where Hades sticks around or makes semi-regular appearances to try to win Zelena back and/or seduce her to the dark side. This though obviously requires Zelena to try become a hero and reject Hades and a life of villainy. 

But what do you think? 

Once Upon a Time season 5 airs Sundays at 8pm on ABC.

(Image courtesy of ABC)

April 19, 2016
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