“Sisters” | Once Upon A Time
Rebecca Mader’s portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West has always been a lot of fun. And that’s partially why we’ve never cared to see her character redeemed. Villains can overdo it after a while, but that was never the case with Mader — she always played Zelena with the right amount of emotions and because it was always clear she was having a ball, so were we. And because the audience knows how wicked Zelena is, Mader needed to show genuine changes in the character.
Words without actions are dead and no one changes overnight, but Zelena’s struggle has been showcased wonderfully giving Mader the opportunity to do some of her finest work. And knowing it’s a struggle made her performances in “Sisters” that much more compelling. We’ve always seen deeply rooted sadness and wrath in her expressions, but the extent to which Mader conveyed hollowness in “Sisters” broke us. Zelena has always been empty — it’s why she could never trust anyone. If her own mother gave her up, why would anyone else stay in the picture?
Mader made sure the audience could see just how desperate she was for validation. She needed to believe she was worthy, and to finally hear Cora share her regrets opened her eyes was exactly what she needed. The sincerity in her eyes paved with the tranquility in her physicality as she regained her memories were incredible. And when remorse made its way onto her expression, you felt the pain, which dawned on her upon remembering how much she once loved Regina. Years of hatred and a thirst for revenge were replaced with adoration and longings. And as they said their goodbyes to Cora, Mader wore such heartbreak in her expression, she reminded us of a child. Both she and Parrilla mastered the goodbyes exceptionally with innate vulnerability and sincere adoration. It was easy to feel the love between this family because for once, they were completely honest — for once, they bared it all with no tricks up their sleeves. And in that moment, Mader was no longer the Wicked Witch trying to be good for her daughter; she was Zelena, the abandoned little girl who had felt real love for the first time in a very long time.
Essentially, because Rebecca Mader’s always been so meticulous with her acting choices, she’s shown the progression of Zelena’s character beautifully. And perhaps most importantly, Mader’s performance felt so real because it was clear she felt them as well. The raw delivery of each and every emotion was profoundly and poignantly heavy allowing the audience to feel every beat. Zelena won’t be a “perfect goody two shoes” from her on out, but she won’t be as broken. There is genuine, resilient love in her heart right now, and that will undoubtedly play a vast role in guiding her actions. Mader has showcased a plethora of emotions this week, but the strongest was her happiness. To suddenly feel such a rush of love must have been cathartic, and Mader made sure we could see every once of that bliss — whether it was through her tearful smiles or the serenity in her posture, she bared it all. Zelena is not home yet, but she’s headed there and knowing she finally belongs is greatness on its own.