‘Once Upon A Time’ Review “Labor of Love”

Sometimes an episode will give you what you want. More often than not, if the writers hit the spot, however, an episode will give you what you need. And that’s exactly what Once Upon A Time did in “Labor of Love”

I didn’t want to see Hook in pain. I didn’t want to see desperate Emma. And I certainly didn’t want Snow, young or otherwise, to be doubting herself, or kissing anyone but David. But, maybe, in a way, we needed that. We needed to see Hook to get a real sense of what the stakes are. We needed to see Emma’s desperation to understand that this love story, the epic one we were promised, cannot come easy. And, we needed to see Snow before she was Snow, to appreciate the person she has become.

We needed this episode. And, for an episode we needed and not exactly wanted, this one was a real treat. A surprising one. Now we know. Now we understand. Now, maybe, we can go the distance.

Even without Hercules.

(Yes, I’m going to be making many Disney song references. That’s just the way it is.)


The episode opens with our pirate-turned-hero. Let’s make no mistake about it, that’s what Hook is now. The show doesn’t even treat him like they do Regina, as a person who still somewhat struggles with her good side, no. Redemption arc complete. No villain to see here.

Both Megara and his unflinching fate in Emma are proof of that.  He couldn’t communicate (for reasons that I’m sure the show will never explain), but he saw Emma. He knows she’s here for him. And he not only accepts that, he owns it. He loves her, and most importantly, he knows she loves him. This is no longer Hook chasing after Emma. This is a relationship of equals who are, finally, on the same page.

As the hero he now is, though, Hook can’t stay still and just wait for Emma to rescue him. I’m not sure he could have managed that even as a villain. But he also can’t leave this girl, a girl he’s never seen before in his life, to her faith. He’s clearly gone a few rounds with Cerberus already, and knows there’s no way out of that prison. Not by himself, at least.

A villain would have sacrificed Meg. Hell, a normal person would have. But Hook is no longer the first one, and he was never the later. Moreover, he’s a man who has found a woman he not only loves, but one he trusts. A strong one. One that’s more than capable of saving him.  And he’s going to trust that she can do that.

Later, when he threatens Hades, when he looks at him unflinchingly and almost seems to say: Bring it on; he’s doing it for that reason. Killian Jones, in that moment, is not a man with nothing to lose. He’s a man with everything to live for.

And that makes all the difference.


Emma’s desperation in this episode is meant to parallel Hook’s quiet certainty. He knows she’s coming, so he can take anything. She not only doesn’t know where he is, she doesn’t know if he knows she’s there. So, for Emma, this is a race against time. She pushed Hook away for so long, she fought against her feelings, she let her fears get in the way of her happiness, and now she’s got to be wondering if this is how it ends – if she lost it all because she wasn’t brave enough to grasp it with both hands.

Thankfully, this Emma is not alone with her fears. This Emma has a team, a family behind her. And that makes all the difference.


Obviously, Snow and David’s definitions vary greatly. But then again, there was no need for Snow to describe Herc as “my first love” or anything so prosaic, because Herc, to her, was more than that. He wasn’t just the one who first trained her; he was the first one who believed she could be more than a scared little girl. He was the first one who believed she could be a hero.

And that doesn’t have anything to do with David. It doesn’t make their story any less. This is about Snow, and who she was – who she became because of Hercules.

David doesn’t know the whole story, but David clearly gets it nonetheless. He proves it time and time again, because despite his comment at the beginning, David never acts like the jealous husband, never demands Snow go with him and not with Hercules. And that’s not just because David is focused on the task at hand (though he is), it’s because he trusts Snow. He loves her. He doesn’t feel the need to take away a person she cared for years ago, whether romantically or not, because David is 100% sure of his place in Snow’s life, and he respects her enough to understand that she makes her own choices.

And that’s why Snow/Charming are still the backbone of this show – still the ideal that all other couples aspire to. We’ve gotten so little from them lately, that we might have forgotten. But it’s all there, clear as day. And I’m glad the show still remembers.


If this scene with Henry and Cruella isn’t here to set up something bigger, then it’s just a waste of our time. Sure, I adore Victoria Smurfit. I think she not only IS Cruella, she manages to embody her in a way I never expected to see. And I say this as someone who used to fear Cruella more than the Evil Queen. Cruella was real, after all.

But saving Cruella to save Emma is not the big picture, no. The big picture is Henry and what he can do. If what Cruella says is true, then Henry finally gets a chance to be a hero in his own right. If what she says is true, then Henry is the key to his family’s safety. And wouldn’t that be a nice bookend for the truest believer? To finally be more than a conduit? To be, once and for all, a hero?


Anyone who’s watched the show as long as I have has been waiting for this conversation for at least a season. Now that we got it, though, I can see why they waited. Regina wasn’t ready, but more importantly, Snow wasn’t ready. The damage Regina’s curse did on Snow was more than take away David and rob her of 28 years with Emma, what the curse ultimately did was turn Snow into a meek, fearful woman. Regina despised who Snow was, so she turned her into the opposite. She turned her into Mary Margaret.

And yet, Snow never completely lost herself. She might have misplaced the warrior side, but she didn’t misplace the kind, selfless side – and that’s what turned Regina around. Her words about how Snow defeated her, not with arms, but with love, are as poignant as they are true. By making Regina care about her, Snow is the ultimate victor in the battle between the two.

Proof of that is that it’s Regina, and not David or Emma, who finally talks some sense into her – who reminds her of the badass she used to be. Along the way, we get a nice reminder of what these two women went through, and what they did to each other, made more poignant by the end result, which is: Snow listens. Regina has finally become what she never wanted to be – not just a friend to Snow, but someone who can dole out advice, someone who makes Snow better. Regina’s redemption arc might not be fully realized, but these two women have come full circle. They’re now what they were always supposed to be: Family.


We knew this before the episode started. The song was clear. And yet, in case we had any doubts, our very own version of Hercules proves it, time and again. First, in flashbacks, when he helps Snow find her inner strength, and then, in the Underworld, when he tries to face the beast that killed him once again, just to help Snow.

Sometimes we tend to think that being a hero is about not being scared – but it isn’t. Being a hero is about overcoming that fear. And in this particular episode, we found not just one new hero, but two. Meg was scared. She was also killed by Cerberus once before. And, more importantly, she had no reason to believe she could do this, no hope speech, no previous deeds to her name. But she overcame her fear; she said yes, she helped Snow and Hercules defeat Cerberus. She was a damsel, yes, she was in distress, but she had it. She took care of it.


Snow’s declaration, at the end of the episode, is the culmination of a journey that began the moment the curse broke. For some, it was easy. David didn’t want to be the Storybrooke version, so he left that man behind. Snow, however, didn’t completely hate who she’d become, so she incorporated parts of Mary Margaret to her personality. They were just the wrong parts.

“I was someone who took risks, even when she was afraid” she said, and that’s a very self-aware statement, because that’s not only who she used to be, that’s exactly who she stopped being. She didn’t stop caring, she didn’t lose hope. She just stopped believing she could affect the outcome by herself.  But now, Mary Margaret is gone. Snow is back. And she couldn’t have come at a better time. Because, if the Underworld needs something, it’s warriors.


The end twist was as inspired as it was unexpected. Hades is, predictably, mad. They’re stealing his subjects! He’s also a sadist, though, so, in the interest of continuing the torture of Killian Jones, and, at the same time, securing more subjects for himself, he devises the perfect plan. For every soul our heroes save, one of them stays. And Hook gets to choose the order.

Now, we know this can’t be as straightforward as it seems. Another twist is coming. Either that, or Rumple is staying in the Underworld. And as much as I wish that were happening, I don’t see it. So, buckle in. Did I say we were in for quite a ride? Because we’re in for quite a ride.

Other things to note:

  • Did Hades really have to take the hook? Did he?
  • “A man my daughter loves” –oh, Snow. And to think not so long ago you didn’t really approve.
  • Robin needs to learn how to tell when teenagers are lying, and he needs to learn fast.
  • Hey, Henry. She hasn’t earned the “Grandma Cora” title. Don’t give it to her.
  • Can you keep a secret? Hercules asks Snow, and I laugh. The whole premise of the show is that she CAN’T.
  • Though it wasn’t the point of the conversation. I’m glad Snow got to call out Regina on what she did. It was a long time coming.
  • Was I the only one worried about Rumple being MIA? He’s probably screwing up something somewhere.


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

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