Title Labor of Love
Two-Sentence Summary As flashbacks reveal Snow’s connection to the young demigod Hercules, she works in the present to remind him of what he’s capable of, while also rediscovering what she’s capable of. The two heroes team up with Meg to bring down Cerberus, while Henry runs into an old foe with a new plan and Hades continues to find new ways to torture Killian.
Favorite Line “I’m saying I don’t want to be Mary Margaret anymore. I want to be Snow White again.” (Snow)
My Thoughts Once Upon a Time has many recurring themes: redemption and forgiveness, hope, love, family…But my favorite theme tackled on this show has always been self-definition. I’ve loved watching the way Emma’s line from Season One about punching back and saying, “No, this is who I am,” has been reflected in the journeys of so many of this show’s characters—from Emma herself to Regina and Killian.
“Labor of Love” put that theme in the spotlight once again, and it did so using a common motif for this show: the reclamation of a name. Names matter on Once Upon a Time. And in an episode that started with Killian using his given name first and his more common—but more villainous—name second, names mattered perhaps more than ever.
For so long, I’ve been decrying the use of “Mary Margaret” instead of “Snow White,” and it seems those who sit on the Once Upon a Time version of Mt. Olympus finally heard my pleas to bring back the name—and the identity—of my favorite character, the one who made me fall in love with this show and the one I relate to the most. I might be biased because of how much that name change meant to me, but I thought this was one of the strongest episodes in recent memory. It took one of the show’s most important themes and carried it through stories in the past and present that shed new light on a character who’d been stuck in the shadows for far too long.
Snow wasn’t the only character whose name carried weight in this episode. As I mentioned, the episode started with Killian telling Meg his name is “Captain Killian Jones” before adding “Captain Hook.” It seems fitting that Killian would want to define himself first and foremost by his given name and not the name he gave himself when he was at his lowest and darkest. Killian finally sees himself as a hero; he chose the man he wanted to be when he chose to take on the darkness and die to destroy it, and that man is Killian Jones and not Captain Hook. And even now—when dying as a hero has seemingly caused him endless torment in the Underworld (Once again, kudos to the makeup team for making the absurdly handsome Colin O’Donoghue look terrible.)—he wants to remain a hero. He wants to live up to the name Emma has called him after getting to see his true self, his heroic heart. So he put himself in danger to free Meg and to make Emma’s job of finding him easier.
And what gave Killian the strength to keep fighting as a hero? The things that are the root of all strength on Once Upon a Time: hope and love. Seeing that Emma has come to the Underworld to save him has given Killian hope, and that keeps him fighting. His faith in her and in their love has allowed him to continue to be his bravest self. It was beautiful to see Emma’s determination to find him paralleled with his determination to help her do that, even while being held captive. Heroes find the courage to fight when it would be easier and safer to just stay on the sidelines—that’s what this episode taught us. And Killian’s desire to keep fighting—whether that’s helping Meg get free or never giving up hope that the woman he loves will find him (because “when you love someone, you know”)—is a testament to the heroic part of his identity he’s finally learned to embrace.
To contrast Killian, the Hercules we met in the Underworld lost his sense of self after he died trying to do the heroic thing. There’s nothing more tragic on Once Upon a Time than seeing a character become hopeless, resigned, and unwilling to fight to be their best self. And that’s exactly what happened to Hercules. His unfinished business wasn’t just about defeating Cerberus and saving Meg; it was about believing once again that he could be a hero. But, as we’ve seen time and again on this show, it’s hard to believe in yourself when you’re the only one doing the believing. Having a support system matters, and there’s nothing weak about someone drawing strength from those around them. In fact, a willingness to allow others to help and support you is what makes you a true hero.
In order for Hercules to rekindle the heroic fire in his heart, he needed to find someone to believe in that part of him, and there was no one better suited for that task than Snow. I loved Snow and Hercules’s relationship. There was such warmth between them in both the past and present, and I really liked that Snow was shown to have had a romantic connection with someone long before she met Charming. Once Upon a Time has always gone out of its way to show that first love and true love aren’t always synonymous like they seem to be in the fairytales of old, but that also doesn’t mean we should consider young love as inherently less than the kind we find later in life. No matter when someone comes into your life or how long they stay in it, if they were important to you, then they were important to you. There’s no need to deny that. It meant a lot to me that Snow was shown to have a healthy, mutually supportive first brush with romantic love that didn’t emotionally scar her in the way first love often has for characters on this show. Instead, it helped her become her best self.
(Side note: How adorable were Bailee Madison and Jonathan Whitesell together? They had fantastic chemistry. Whitesell also had a great onscreen rapport with Ginnifer Goodwin. Both actors really sold the slightly bittersweet nature of their present relationship with a layered affection that couldn’t have been easy to get just right.)
In the past, Hercules was the one who helped awaken the hero in Snow. He believed in her ability to protect her subjects, and he gave her the tools to do so. I’ve always wondered how Snow learned archery, and I thought this was the perfect way to show that bit of backstory. This episode’s flashbacks reminded me of the ones from the show’s first season; they felt like they were providing important information about a character’s past while also connecting to the present story in both plot and theme. In this case, not only did the flashbacks introduce Hercules and Snow’s relationship; they provided another lens through which we could view the theme of choosing to be a hero.
Hercules taught Snow that a hero doesn’t let failure or the fear of failure stop them from trying to do the right thing. And that allowed her to find the strength to defend her people. It’s clear that lesson stayed with Snow long after Hercules left her, because she used those words to inspire him upon learning that he didn’t want to face Cerberus after the beast killed him. However, it soon became clear that words—no matter how truthful and supportive they are—aren’t always enough to inspire people. Sometimes we need to take action.
And that is where Snow’s character arc really took off. It broke my heart to see her feeling as hopeless as Hercules after he ran from Cerberus. But then she was inspired by a “hope speech” from the one person she probably never expected: Regina. Snow White doesn’t give up, and no one knows that better than Regina. So it made sense for Regina to be the one to remind Snow of what she’s capable of as he truest self and not as Mary Margaret. The relationship between Snow and Regina has always been one of the show’s most nuanced. Snow knew Regina before she became the Evil Queen. She knew Regina at her worst, but she also knew her at her best. And Regina knows the same of Snow—she’s literally held her heart in her hands more than once. So when Regina encouraged Snow to find her strongest self again, it was because Regina knows that self in the way only someone who’s known you since childhood can. Snow has spent so long encouraging Regina to be the person she’d lost sight of somewhere along the way, so it made me incredibly emotional to see Regina do the same for her. Snow’s most impressive show of heroism came from never giving up on Regina, and their friendship has now made both women stronger.
That scene between Regina and Snow was a testament to how well Once Upon a Time handles complex relationships between women. It was also a testament to how great Goodwin and Lana Parrilla are as scene partners. They bring such depth to their interactions, and they build each other up as actresses in the same way their characters build each other up as friends.
With Regina’s words about needing more than Mary Margaret echoing in her brain, Snow found her fighting spirit again. And that fighting spirit inspired Hercules and eventually Meg in a way no hope speech ever could. Sometimes you have to lead by example, and that’s what Snow did by tapping into the heroic part of herself that seemed to be lost. She didn’t just offer moral support to Hercules; that’s a job for Mary Margaret. Snow White is a woman of action. So she picked up her bow, told Meg to take Hercules’s sword, and literally fought alongside them to take down Cerberus. And together, they defeated the beast (But is he really dead? That seemed too easy.), proving once again that heroes work together—they don’t try to do everything on their own.
In the end, Hercules rediscovered his inner hero. He learned to believe in himself again, and, in doing so, he completed his unfinished business. He fulfilled his destiny in defeating Cerberus, and he fulfilled a different kind of destiny by forming a connection with Meg. I got more than a little misty-eyed when they walked hand-in-hand into the light. Not only did they get to move on to a better place because they became their best and bravest selves together, Hercules got to finally go home. He became a true hero, and he now also had the hope of true love by his side.
In helping Hercules work through his unfinished business, Snow discovered that she had some of her own (which I think will be a recurring theme this half-season). Somewhere along the way, she’d also lost sight of her inner hero. She’d begun to fade into the background, sitting on the sidelines when she’d always been a woman of action. As she juggled with her identities as a wife, mother, grandmother, and friend, her identity as her own woman seemed to disappear.
And sometimes that happens in life. Sometimes we try to be so many things to so many people that we lose sight of who we truly are. Sometimes we forget that we need to be the hero in our life’s story rather than just a supporting player in everyone else’s story—no matter how much we love them and want to support them. Sometimes we find ourselves defined by an identity that we didn’t choose. And sometimes we forget that growing older doesn’t have to mean losing the boldness and bravery we had when we were younger.
While Snow’s inability to break free of her identity as Mary Margaret reflected these sad truths, her reclamation of her real name reflected an even more important truth: We have the power to define ourselves on our own terms. If we don’t like who we’ve become, we can change. We can dust off the parts of our identity that have been hidden for far too long and embrace our strongest self—no matter how long it’s been since we’ve been that person. But it’s up to us to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight. It’s up to us to reclaim our story.
And Snow did exactly that by telling her loved ones that she wanted to be called by her real name again. Mary Margaret was a meek identity forced upon her; Snow is the heroic identity she built from birth by her own actions and choices. Mary Margaret talked the talk, but Snow also walks the walk. And it filled me with joy to see the other characters—especially Emma—look at Snow with such pride as she talked about wanting to inspire people by being her truest self again. While speeches about hope are great, what’s even more inspiring are moments like that one—moments in which a person becomes the living embodiment of hope by choosing to be their best self again.
Snow proved that we have the power to control our story, but on a show about fairytales, there are often additional forces at play. One of these has always been the presence of the Author. I loved seeing Henry get his own plot and his own moral conundrum to deal with in this episode, thanks to the always-fabulous Cruella. (I missed her almost as much as I missed Snow being Snow.) Will Henry use his power to write Cruella back to life so Emma will no longer have “murderer” as part of her identity? Will he try to write others back to life now that he believes he can? No matter what happens, it’s always fun to discover more pieces of this show’s mythology, and that’s exactly what this plot is doing with the rules for the pen and the Author. (And it makes perfect sense for Cruella to be the one to know all this because of her history with Isaac.)
While Cruella is still everyone’s favorite psychopath, she has some stiff competition now with Hades. I was so impressed with the episode’s final twist. It’s one thing to torture a man physically. It’s another to tell him that, for every person his loved ones help, one of them has to stay in the Underworld. And it’s something else entirely to force him to pick who has to stay. It was a devious game worthy of Rumplestiltskin at his worst, and it skyrocketed Hades up my list of characters on this show I love to hate.
“Labor of Love” had a lot of things working in its favor: great villains posing new threats, fantastic guest characters, and even some fun Disney references (“Wonder Boy,” Hercules catching Meg, and the beautiful music played during Hercules’s scenes that sounded so much like the animated movie’s score). But what made it truly special was the way it brought life back to one of the show’s most important characters. Once Upon a Time is at its best when Snow White is at her best. So welcome back, Snow, and let’s hope we never hear the name Mary Margaret again.