Title Souls of the Departed
Two-Sentence Summary As Regina’s relationship with both of her parents is explored in the past and present, she begins to sew the seeds of hope in the Underworld. That hope will be needed, as the quest to save Hook is revealed to be even more challenging than initially feared.
Favorite Line “If you stay, you spread hope, and that’s the best thing anyone can do.” (Henry Sr., to Regina)
My Thoughts It all started with the tick of a clock…
The pilot of Once Upon a Time ended with a ticking clock and a smiling little boy, a symbol of the possibility that things could begin to change for the better and that hope had arrived in a place long thought to be without it. The 100th episode of Once Upon a Time also featured a ticking clock in its final minutes, serving once again as a symbol of positive change in a previously hopeless world. The difference this time was in the person smiling as the clock began to tick and hope began to spread. In the pilot episode, Regina was the villain keeping everyone in a state of hopeless stasis, but 99 episodes later, she was now the hero smiling at the possibility of restoring hope and happiness in a dark world.
“Souls of the Departed” showed how much Once Upon a Time has grown over the course of 100 episodes while still honoring the hopeful tone that has always been its hallmark. And it did so through the lens of Regina’s character growth. Did we need another flashback to the Regina/Snow war? Of course not. That story’s been told an exhaustive number of times. (Although it was nice to fill in the gaps concerning how Cora came to be in possession of a shrunken version of her husband.) But it served as a nice reminder of how far Snow and Regina’s relationship and Regina’s character in general have come since the days when the story told in those flashbacks was the only story to tell for those characters. And it’s always fun to see Lana Parrilla in full “Evil Queen mode,” complete with those gorgeous costumes.
The flashbacks also set up a very nice parallel between Emma in the Once Upon a Time pilot and Regina in the show’s 100th episode. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the writers chose to set this episode’s flashback on Regina’s birthday, just as the series started on Emma’s birthday. Emma and Regina have always been positioned as two sides of a coin, characters whose journeys reflect each other in fascinating ways. And just like when Emma’s decision to stay in the pilot made the clock move, Regina’s decision to stay in this episode did the same. Both of these women have grown from being loners to being part of a loving family, and their choices to stay and be a part of something instead of running away represent the hope that we can all find it in ourselves to stay and fight for what’s right when it feels easier and safer to leave.
That theme—having the courage to stay when it’s safer to leave—was at the center of this episode. It was truly the perfect theme to build this show’s 100th episode around. Once Upon a Time started as a show about a woman who’d only known abandonment. But over the course of 100 episodes, that woman has discovered she has a family that’s now ready to stay in the depths of the Underworld in order to secure her happy ending. They aren’t going to leave her behind. In fact, they’re going to encourage her to stay and fight even when things look hopeless. Because Once Upon a Time also started as a show about a man and a woman who lived their life by the phrase, “I will always find you.” And now, it’s their daughter’s turn to live that phrase as she fights for her true love, with the parents that taught her to never give up by her side.
And what keeps us fighting when things look bleak? Hope. This show has always preached that heroes are the people who believe they can do the seemingly impossible instead of giving up or taking the easy way out. Heroes have hope. And that hope is what allows them to continue to do the right thing rather than the easy thing.
The contrast between belief and skepticism—between hope and fear—was clearly laid out in the first minutes of the episode. I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed by Neal’s appearance—not because I don’t appreciate his history with Emma (I thought Jennifer Morrison and Michael Raymond-James brought just the right amount of warmth and affection to that scene.), but because I really wanted Neal to have a moment with Henry or Rumplestiltskin in this episode. (Although there were some touching mentions of Henry and Neal by each other.) I know the absence of such as scene was most likely due to scheduling conflicts, but it seemed crazy to me that Neal had no unfinished business with either his father or his son. However, after spending a lot of time thinking about the purpose of that scene beyond plot exposition and honoring another departed character, I’ve come to appreciate it more than I did upon first viewing.
It made sense for Neal to be the one to suggest that Emma turn around for her own safety and the safety of her loved ones. Neal never had the sense of hope that’s written into the DNA of Emma’s family; he didn’t believe he was strong enough to stay and fight for and beside the woman he loved, so he left her behind and never tried to find her. Therefore, it felt right for Neal to be the one to warn Emma that her hopes could be in vain and that it would be safer to turn around and leave Killian behind. Hope isn’t a natural state of mind for Neal, so for him to be the voice of doubt in Emma’s mind was ultimately a perfect choice.
But Emma isn’t Neal. She’s learned to hope thanks to her parents, her son, and her pirate. So I loved seeing Emma dismiss Neal’s warning without a second thought—she isn’t someone who runs anymore; she’s someone who stays and fights, and this time she’s going to fight for her own happiness and the life of the man she loves. And it’s because she has hope. She believes in herself and in the strength of her love for Killian (and his for her), and she believes that love and the hope of a happy future is worth the risks that might come in such a dangerous place. So Neal’s warning didn’t get her to abandon her quest, but it also didn’t ease the doubts in her mind about allowing others to follow her into the Underworld.
Emma had every right to be concerned about her loved ones following her into such a dark place. I really liked the world building this episode did in terms of the Underworld. Setting it in a twisted version of Storybrooke made it feel Twilight Zone-esque, in the best possible way. I also liked that we jumped right in with important character interactions in this world. While the Snow/James kiss was an attempt to bring humor into this dark setting (It bugged me, though, that Snow couldn’t tell she wasn’t kissing the man she shared a heart with, but that’s just me being picky.), the real gems were found in the revisited parent/child dynamics with Rumplestitlskin and Pan, as well as Regina and Cora. Not only did Rumplestiltskin and Pan’s scene set up a major plot point for this season—with Pan wanting to replace one of the heroes in order to return to the land of the living—it reminded me just how good Robbie Kay is in that role. It’s hard to go toe-to-toe with Robert Carlyle at such a young age, but Kay manages to shine every time they share a scene (which is also a testament to Carlyle’s strengths as a scene partner). And, of course, any scene between Parrilla and Barbara Hershey is completely captivating. I loved that Cora having her heart didn’t change the fact that she’s still a master manipulator, and that just made it even better to see Regina finally push back against those manipulations.
Neither Cora nor Pan has ever shown real belief in their children. They’ve always tried to use manipulation or magic to get them to do what they feel they should do. In this episode especially, Cora’s lack of belief in Regina stood out. Instead of having hope that she would be able to help Emma and the rest of the team, Cora tried to prove to Regina that her actions would end up in a hopeless fire of suffering in order to get her to leave. That was contrasted so spectacularly with the other parents this episode focused on: Snow, Charming, and Henry Sr.
This was the most I have liked Snow and Charming in ages. Sometimes those characters are written in ways that ignore their supportive, hopeful sides (especially when it comes to their daughter) in order to further the plot. So it was nice to see them at their strongest and most supportive when Emma needed them. Morrison did a great job of showing Emma’s desperation and anxiety with characteristically believable restraint. It was clear Emma wasn’t going to give up, but it was also clear that she didn’t want her loved ones to stick around if it was going to be as dangerous as Neal said. And once she saw the state Killian was in (Kudos to the makeup team for making Colin O’Donoghue look awful—a truly difficult feat.), it was heartbreaking to watch her panic set in. You could feel the hopelessness descend on her as she worried he was suffering alone, without any hope that she was coming for him. As someone who’d suffered alone for a long time, Emma knew—to an extent—what that was like, and it killed me to see how much she wanted Killian to know she was trying to find him.
But Snow was there for her daughter—just as she was when Killian died. I loved watching Snow’s strongest side rise to the surface to protect her daughter from her own doubts and fears. Snow has always been a beacon of hope, and it was beautiful to see her share that hope with Emma, reminding her that Killian knows Emma loves him and that they will find him. It was an echo of Charming’s earlier statement that they weren’t going to leave the Underworld without Killian—no matter the dangers they would face. They’re a family, and Killian is a part of that family now. And this family always finds each other. That belief has encouraged Snow and Charming as they’ve fought for their love, and now it’s allowing them to encourage their daughter as she fights for hers. Their support of Emma and their belief that they will find Killian together provided a spark of hope that moved me beyond anything I was expecting.
Speaking of things that moved me beyond anything I was expecting—I did not expect to be left a sobbing mess after all of Henry Sr.’s scenes, but there I was, crying on my couch last night because he was the epitome of everything right about this show. Like Snow and Charming, Henry Sr. encouraged his daughter to keep fighting. It didn’t matter to him if he was in danger because of it, what mattered was that he was going to keep encouraging Regina to do the right thing. In the past, she was too consumed by her anger and need for vengeance to listen to him, but now, she was finally at a place where she could let his love for her and belief in her inspire her to be the best version of herself.
Henry Sr. is a wonderful character. His willingness to forgive and to love his child unconditionally makes him, as Regina said, special. And in that forgiveness, one of this show’s most beautiful themes was brought into the spotlight: redemption. No matter who we were in our past, there is hope that we can be forgiven and that we can grow into a better person. It’s not too late, and we’re not beyond hope. All we have to do is make the choice to acknowledge who we were and to take steps to be better than that person. Henry Sr. allowed Regina to do exactly that, and she emerged from their meetings the best and strongest version of herself yet.
The real emotional gut punch of the episode came when Henry Sr. met his grandson. In both men, we were given examples of people Regina hurt when she was at her worst, but they were also examples of people who’d forgiven Regina and who believe in her best self. Henry is so much like his grandfather: He believes in people and he encourages them to believe in themselves. So it was lovely to see those two characters finally meet—and for Regina to witness that meeting. Parrilla was at her absolute best in that scene, as well as the scene between Regina and her father at his grave. There was a softness and subtle vulnerability to her performance that was unlike anything we’ve seen from her before, and it was beautiful. I have a feeling this arc is going to bring incredible things out of both Regina as a character and Parrilla as an actor.
In the end, seeing Regina embrace her best self allowed her father to be able to move on. And that gave Regina a sense of purpose. She put many people in the Underworld, and her job is going to be to help them find happiness and move on. It’s a huge change from the woman who wanted to destroy all the happy endings and keep everyone stuck in one place and time forever. And I can’t wait to see her grow even more through this journey of contrition and forgiveness.
By choosing to stay, Regina spread hope that this team of heroes could help all those souls stuck in the Underworld move on to a place where they could be truly happy (including Killian, whose place is with Emma and her family). And so began Operation Firebird, an aptly-titled operation about rising from the ashes and being reborn from death. However, not everyone was pleased about this operation. I loved the first glimpse we were given of Hades in all his wine-swirling, pedicure-getting, violin-loving glory. I like that he chooses his punishments carefully (turning Cora back into a peasant was brilliant), and I’m interested to see why he’s physically punishing Killian so severely. Did it just start in response to Emma and her family going down there to get him, or is it based on something more?
No matter how bad things look for Killian, if this episode reminded us of anything, it’s that hope is the one thing that truly matters on Once Upon a Time. Even when things look bleak, we must hold on to hope and work to encourage others to do the same. And that’s why I have no doubt that this season will end with Killian back in the arms of the family that’s not giving up on him. They always find each other, and I don’t expect that to change now.