‘Once Upon A Time’ Review: “Souls of the Departed”

It feels like I last wrote one of this a lifetime ago. But three months can be a lifetime to fans. A long, cruel, never-ending lifetime of waiting and waiting and …waiting.

Until now. Until this very moment. Until this landmark episode that was both underwhelming and overwhelming, depending on where you want to look. So, buckle up. If you thought 5A was crazy, well, it looks like 5B is going to give it a run for its money. And with a 6 season assured, well, we already know the stakes are high, after all, they have another year to fix anything they break.




So, without further ado, let’s discuss the beginning of the Underworld arc. For that is what this is – a beginning. Don’t think of this episode just as the 100th episode, think of it as setup. Or, if you’re a Regina fan, setup + tears.

Here we go!

I WOULD HAVE COME AFTER YOU TOO

I can’t start anywhere other than with Neal, and with this phrase from Emma. I really love the phrase, because it says so much about who our heroine is. She says it earnestly, and you can say she really and truly believes it. But it’s a lie. She wouldn’t have. In this one instance, she would have let common sense win. Not because she didn’t want to save Neal, she did. But, for Henry, she wouldn’t have risked herself. Moreover, her family wouldn’t have let her.

This family only takes risks for true love, after all.

Neal’s appearance was still a nice bit of closure for his fans. I’m not one of them, so I spent most of the scene cringing at how Emma could look at the man who left her PREGNANT and alone IN JAIL because he was too much of a coward to face his father with so much affection. She’s got a big heart, Emma. I, however, prefer to pick and choose who I care about.

(Not you, Neal. Not you)




But that’s not the only reason Neal is around, no. He’s a narrative device, a way for the writers to warn us that the Underworld is not to be taken lightly. And that’s fine, we get the message. We got the closure. Thanks for that bit of exposition, Neal. It was nice to see you (Not). Please come back soon. (Never)

HE DOESN’T KNOW I CARE

Hook-lite episodes are not usually my thing. I love Hook. I miss his puppy dog face when he isn’t around. But, in this case, his absence was necessary, maybe even warranted. Our heroes can’t go on a journey to save Hook and then find him right away. If saving him were easy he wouldn’t need saving. He’s a hero in his own right. If it were easy, he would do it himself.

Spoiler alert: It’s not going to be easy.

His bloodied, barely conscious apparition proves it. We knew, ever since Merida got to talk to her father, that we’d see Hook like this. We just didn’t know it would HURT quite this much. And it hurt. It really, really did. But it drove home both Hook’s plight, and Emma’s determination.

“He doesn’t know I care,” Emma says, when the apparition disappears. But that’s not what she’s trying to say. He does know she cares. What Emma’s trying to say, however, goes deeper than that. He might know she cares, but he doesn’t know she’d give up everything. He doesn’t know, never truly understood, how important he is. Emma never really knew how to say it. So Hook doesn’t expect to be saved. Of course he wouldn’t. No one’s ever loved him that much. He’s always been the one fighting for other people, not viceversa.

And that’s what Emma’s regretting – not telling him he was not just another guy she loved, but the guy. The last one she would ever love. The only one she ever needed to love. But then again, maybe Emma didn’t really know. Not till she lost him.

Not till know.

FRIENDSHIP

The word “friendship” is brought up a lot in this episode, first by Snow referring to Hook, and then by Cora, referring to the rest of the group, when talking to Regina. That, plus Regina’s own:  “I can’t turn my back on those I love,” and we might as well drop the pretenses that these people are anything other than family. A dysfunctional/hard to explain family, but a family nonetheless. Regina can be the sassy aunt, Robin the silent uncle.

It’s not just a saying, though – not just the easiest, more convenient word. These people actually care about each other. All of them. That’s why they’re here, in the Underworld. That’s why they’re not leaving. They’re family. And family sticks together, plain and simple.

REGINA’S JOURNEY

“Souls of the Departed” is the perfect episode to examine Regina’s journey. We already got a chance to examine Hook’s redemption arc at the end of 5A. We saw him make the final sacrifice, choose to die a hero, and we saw him do it for himself, not for Emma. Now, one episode (and three months) later, we get to explore Regina’s journey from the Evil Queen with great fashion taste of the flashbacks, to the increasingly more self-aware and caring woman of the present.

Is Regina perfect? No. Is it outstanding to see how far she’s come? Without a doubt. You have to understand that she went from having so much hate in her heart that she was willing to sacrifice the thing she loved the most to almost giving in because she couldn’t bear to let Cora hurt Henry Sr. again. That might read as weakness to some, but not to me. Giving into hate is a weakness, giving into love isn’t. Yet, giving into love means caring. It means you’re vulnerable. Sure, Regina’s father is already dead – she killed him, but that doesn’t mean she can see him suffer again. Especially considering the kind of guilt she carries over what she did.

“I would never do anything to hurt you,” she tells Henry at one point, but hurt him she does. And because it was her, her own choice, that just makes the possibility of letting Cora hurt him again so unthinkable. A part of Regina rebels against giving in, but another part, the human part, doesn’t care.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account what Henry Sr. wants. He wants to see the daughter he always dreamed of having. He wants to see her as a good woman, a kind woman, a woman who makes the right choice. That’s HIS unfinished business, that he could never help Regina become THAT woman. And when Regina finally makes the choice to stay and help her friends, when she proves that, it might have taken a while, but she CAN be that person, then Henry is free from the Underworld. He can pass on – to a better place.

Before he goes, though, he gets to have a heartbreaking conversation with his grandson:

“Thank you, Grandpa, for believing in her, like I do,” our Henry says.




“Thank you, Henry, for being there when I couldn’t.” Regina’s father replies, and after asking his grandson to take care of Regina, he finally moves on. There are tears in Regina’s eyes as she watches her father disappear – she doesn’t want him to leave, of course, but the tears are mostly happiness. For the first time, Regina is getting actual concrete proof that the path she’s chosen can and does bring good things. She just has to keep following it.

WARRIOR SNOW

From the beginning, Snow and Mary Margaret have been too very distinct people in my head. Snow is the badass warrior who acts – Mary Margaret is the kind, scared, rational part. They’re both part of Snow White, but they don’t usually manifest themselves in the same way. The past season and a half, maybe two seasons, the person we’ve seen most of the time has been Mary Margaret – the cautious, scared mother. But now, in the Underworld, with her daughter’s happiness on the line, it’s very clear that, this time, we get to see Snow. Mary Margaret stayed in Storybrooke. It’ time the warrior came out.

And this is not even about Killian, though in a way, it is. This is Snow accepting him into her family – this is her making him one of the people she cares about. When she says things like: “If there’s even a chance that’ll work, we have to risk it,” she’s saying them for Emma, of course, but she’s also saying them for herself. For the family she’s built – the family she loves. The family that is, right now, missing one member.

“We will find him,” she reaffirms, when it looks like Emma might be losing faith. And this is warrior Snow, not the woman the curse made of her. The Snow White of Season 1 is back. And I couldn’t be happier.

LOVE TRIANGLES?

It’s been ages – literal ages, since Snow and David got a romantic storyline of their own. This isn’t really one, or at least, you wouldn’t think so, but hey, James was the one kissing Snow (David is going to LOVE that when she finds out), and he does seem to understand what the easiest and most convenient way to get at his brother is. Because that’s what he’s trying to do – get at his brother. And, boy, am I pumped for that confrontation.

Either way, this is a subplot for David, with a touch of Snow, and for two characters who haven’t gotten much this season, that’s welcome. Plus, even if this isn’t exactly a love triangle, if I were Snow, I’d make David wear a ribbon or something, to make sure I was kissing the right man.

PARENTS OF THE YEAR

It’s not just Snow, though, David is ALSO, all in. All in with finding Hook, all in with Emma. All in with helping her find her happiness. “We’re not giving up on you,” he says, when Emma suggests they leave her alone, and it’s beautiful, it’s BIG, especially because Emma Swan, the same woman who came into Storybrooke broken in season one, doesn’t even need to give it any thought. She just accepts it. Her parents are not leaving her. That’s the way of the world. That’s what parents do. And Emma has parents. She has a family.

That’s not quite the happy ending yet, but it’s way closer than she used to be.

DADDY ISSUES

Peter Pan is back! Yawn. And he, of course, wants to come back to the real Storybrooke. Rumple can sacrifice one of those people he came with so his dear old dad can come back to life, right? I wish I were more interested in this storyline, but I’m just …not. Rumple has no love lost for daddy dearest, so what makes him think that his son would actually do anything like this? Rumple doesn’t betray people just because. He does it for a reason. So, what is the reason? What?

OPERATION FIREBIRD

“I don’t think we’re in Maine anymore” Regina says, as soon as they step into the Storybrooke-but-red Underworld, and she’s right. The Underworld might look familiar, but this isn’t the place the curse created. In this place, she has no control.

The funny thing about Regina’s journey in this episode is that it was her that gave this mission a little bit of depth – sure, they’re all here to save Hook. That remains the main goal. But these people are not regular people, no. They’re fairytale heroes. And like the heroes they are, they can’t help but try to save others. So, Operation Firebird means let’s save Hook, but it also mean, if we can, let’s help others. Why not?

HADES

You can only leave the Underworld to a better place or a worst one, Cora says. It’s clear that, either way, Hades doesn’t want anyone to leave. We don’t know what his endgame is, not yet, but one this is clear – he’s not going to give up Hook, or any of the other souls in the Underworld, so easily. And that’s fine. We need a villain worthy of hell, and though we’ve only seen Hades take on Cora, we like the punishment he devised for her enough to have a good feeling about him. And by good feeling, we mean it’s not going to be easy, or fun, for our heroes.

We wouldn’t expect anything else from the Underworld.

Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.

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