Secret Garden Review | Once Upon a Time Season 7 Episode 11

If a life needs to be traded for Lucy’s, then you take mine.


Starring Lana Parrilla, Colin O’Donoghue, Andrew J. West, Dania Ramirez, Gabrielle Anwar, Alison Fernandez, Mekia Cox, and Robert Carlyle

Season 7
Episode 11: Secret Garden

Once Upon a Time is back after its mid season break, along with the revelation that this collection of twelve episodes shall be the final collection that we shall see. It’s perhaps not entirely surprising, considering the waning viewing figures even with fan favourites in the frame. Unfortunately, this episode is a brilliant return to form for the show, putting the focus upon familial relationships, which is highly identifiable and relatable for the audience.

The first part of the season busy being weighed down with setting up all the logistics of the realm, I felt like most parts were focussed more on being plot driven than being emotional or really delving into the emotions of these characters. While we’ve had small moments of this, lots of this has been shoved to the side in favour of the Eloise Gardener mystery, and Regina being a cockblock for her own son.

In the midst of that has been massive amounts of potential to explore those deeper relationships. Henry and Ella’s relationship up until now has been a fairly vanilla skippable affair, and really the most consequential pairings we have seen have been Hook and Alice, and Tremaine and Drizella. The highlights of the first half of the season was where we did delve far deeper into those characters, such as the Rapunzel-centric instalment, though the dramatic and emotional potential in the present storyline has definitely been limited on that front. Similarly, we’ve had hints as to the tragic backstory of Hook and his daughter, but it’s yet to fully reach its potential, despite the brilliant performances of both Colin O’Donoghue and Rose Reynolds.

However, this episode goes some way to remedy these problems. Firstly, there is a massive amount of focus throughout this episode on Zelena and Robin’s relationship. It’s nice to have an episode with Robin in that focuses upon a relationship other than with Alice, as it helps to develop her character – which is the precise opposite of what we’ve had with Ella, just saying. It’s also a dynamic that audiences should be interested in, as we all know Zelena. Though we’re aware of Robin only as a swaddled lump that doesn’t seem to significantly grow in two seasons and then magically becomes eighteen, it helps us remain invested in that relationship.

The conflict between mother and child is made easy to understand on both sides. It’s not a simple situation where one or other of the pair is in the right, or in the wrong, but you can really understand what Robin means when she feels stifled by her mother, but we also know of Zelena’s intense love for her daughter and why she might be behaving in this way.

The pair reuniting at the end, with Zelena’s powerful gesture of trying to sacrifice herself for Robin was a massive moment for them, and it was touching to see this proclamation of love. Robin then ultimately realising her connection with archery and her father’s legacy was a nice next step, as was surrendering her magic to her mother – not least for the plot practicalities that Zelena definitely gave up her magic in Season 6.

There was also a satisfying and touching resolution and closure for Victoria Belfrey’s storyline. Up until her centric episode, Victoria had been desperately two-dimensional. Discovering her reasons for wanting to resurrect Anastasia – beyond the obvious – helped the audience understand her better, even though her behaviour towards Ivy has been deplorable and consistently abusive.

Victoria sacrificing herself, both for Ivy and for Lucy was a huge turning point for the character, and was an important redemption for her. Admitting to Ivy how much she loved her, and to apologise for all of her faults and behaviour while raising her, was a fitting end to this storyline, and is bound to have an impactful effect upon Ivy, who has been so motivated by her revenge up until this point.

It did seem to be quite a sudden move for Victoria to reach this point, however. It was uncertain for most of the episode whether she actually wanted to bring back Lucy, or merely to prove to Anastasia that she wasn’t a monster, and that wasn’t terribly well conveyed. Her words saying that she “always loved” Lucy seemed slightly false, as we’ve never seen the slightest idea of this during the season thus far. It’s a suffering, really, of Victoria’s characterisation up until this point, where she actually performs a hero’s act it seems a touch out of character and spur of the moment, as opposed to entirely earned. Still, it was a nice resolution to her conflict with Ivy, even though I wish there had been more emotional confrontation between the pair before it reached this point.

By the end of the episode, the audience still have multiple questions: principally what exactly Gothel is hoping to achieve with the Coven in Hyperion Heights, as well as who is desperately trying to cover up the curse. We think that we know all of the players in the game at this point, but somebody murdered the Doctor who discovered that Henry was Lucy’s biological father, which can’t be a coincidence. It doesn’t exactly fit Gothel’s remit, nor could it have been Victoria or Ivy, so it appears that there’s another mystery propelling the action in Hyperion Heights forwards. Hopefully this one doesn’t detract too much from the relationships forming in the show, as action is no substitute for emotion.

You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. Seasons 1 – 4 are now available on Disney+ in the UK. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.

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