Title Devil’s Due
Two-Sentence Summary In order to save Killian, Emma and Rumplestiltskin—who’s eager to get home to Belle for mysterious reasons—seek Milah’s help. Flashbacks to Rumplestiltskin and Milah’s past reveal more about their broken marriage and the deal he once made that threatens his future in the present.
Killian: You’re impossible.
Emma: And you love me for it.
“I still see hope in your eyes.”
When Hades finally explained that this—the hope Killian still has—was the reason for his torture, it made perfect sense. If there’s one thing Once Upon a Time has always preached, it’s that heroes hold on to hope even when things seem hopeless and work to spread hope to those who need it, while villains often feel hopeless themselves and want others to feel that way, too. Hope is the heroes’ greatest weapon and the villains’ greatest enemy, so the villains will do whatever it takes to destroy hope. And that central conflict between those who spread hope and those who try to snuff it out played a major part in “Devil’s Due,” which was ultimately one of the most tragic episodes of Once Upon a Time in recent memory. (Yes, I would argue it was even more tragic than “Swan Song.”)
The tragedy of “Devil’s Due” came from the fact that sometimes hope isn’t enough. Sometimes you can’t escape your past. And sometimes you can’t get closure after you lose a loved one.
Lost souls were an important concept in this episode, and I don’t think there’s a better example of a lost soul than Milah. I’ve always been fascinated by her as a character because she’s seemed so complex, and all this episode did was add even more layers to her character. (Of course it added more layers to a fascinating female character; it was written by Jane Espenson, who literally never lets me down.)
Have I always agreed with Milah’s decisions? No. Have I always liked how she spoke to her husband after he came back from the Ogre Wars? No. Would I have done some things differently than she did? I’d like to think so. But that’s what makes her such a well-written character. I may not believe I would have done things the way she did them, but I completely understand her actions and the thoughts and feelings behind them. And who knows? If I was in her situation, maybe I would have handled things the same way. That’s the beauty of fiction; it asks us to be empathetic toward people who seem different from us. It asks us to walk in their shoes. And now, knowing what we know about Rumplestiltskin’s deal and Milah’s first meeting with Killian, I understand better than ever how she could leave her family to be with a man who gave her a choice when she felt all her choices had been taken from her.
Milah felt trapped. Her story always makes me curious about gender roles during her time in the Enchanted Forest. Were they more rigid than they seemed to be in the time of Regina and Snow, when no one really batted an eye at a princess with a bow and arrow? Because Milah certainly seemed to believe it wasn’t up to her to take action to save Bae; it was up to Rumplestiltskin. I kept wondering why she wouldn’t just try to steal the antidote herself instead of making him do it. Maybe it was her way of pushing him to be braver, or maybe she felt like she couldn’t act herself because she was a woman. Whatever the reason; she clearly felt like she had no way out, and desperate souls do drastic things—that’s something Once Upon a Time has taught us from the start.
Rumplestiltskin was also a desperate soul in those flashbacks; he knew he needed to save his son, but he didn’t want to have to kill to do it. And the healer preyed on that desperation with his deal, which is something Rumplestiltskin became famous for as the Dark One. So Rumplestiltskin traded away a possible future child to save his current one. He was caught in an unenviable position—he was trapped—but that didn’t make it any easier to watch him tell Milah what he’d done. He made a decision about their future without her, and it never occurred to him that just because he was satisfied with one child, she felt the same way.
I think that moment made me so uncomfortable because of its relationship to things happening in the real world. Rumplestiltskin essentially made a choice about his wife’s ability to have children without consulting her. And men making choices about women’s reproductive rights is something far too common in the world today. Rumplestiltskin closed another door on Milah, making her feel more trapped than ever. Maybe another child would have brought joy into her life, or maybe she wouldn’t have ever wanted to have more children. But now that choice was no longer hers to make. The hope that another child might have represented was taken away from her. So even though it still made me sad to know she left Bae, I better understood the desperation that drove her decision-making. Choice has always been an important theme on this show, and when characters are stripped of the ability to choose, they often push others away and lash out. That’s a human reaction, and Milah is nothing if not heartbreakingly human.
“Devil’s Due” helped explain why Milah left Rumplestiltskin for Killian in two ways: It showed why Milah felt she couldn’t live with her husband anymore, and it showed why Killian was the one she chose to find freedom with. I was surprised to see the charming Captain Killian Jones in this episode’s flashbacks, but it was by no means an unpleasant surprise. From his first moments interacting with Milah, it was clear he respected her. (It was also clear they had amazing chemistry. WOW.) He saw in her an echo of the boy who spent his youth under the thumb of masters, dreaming of freedom. So he offered that freedom to her. He filled her with hope, which she felt she didn’t have at home. But he also gave her a choice. When he heard she had a husband, he didn’t try to get her to run away with him. Instead, he simply told her she could find him if things ever changed. Agency is such an important part of Killian’s character, so it felt right for him to put the decision in Milah’s hands. It was a nice moment of character consistency and further emphasized the fact that Killian never “stole” Milah. So can people please stop using that awful word to describe their relationship now?
No matter what you think of the choices Milah made, there’s no question she met a terrible fate at the hands of Rumplestiltskin once he became the Dark One. So my greatest hope for this episode was to see her finally move on and put her unfinished business behind her—possibly with Killian, but I actually hoped it’d be Henry who allowed her to move on, knowing Bae lived on in the grandson she finally got to meet. But if this episode showed us anything, it was that hope isn’t always enough, and sometimes things don’t happen the way you expect them to.
From the start, I was annoyed that Rumplestiltskin seemed determined to use the inherent awkwardness between Milah and Emma to pit these to women against one another. So imagine my delight when Emma used her empathy (which I still believe is her greatest superpower) to understand Milah’s unfinished business and to help her make peace with it, when Rumplestiltskin still thought her unfinished business was Killian. Emma knows better than anyone that the love between a mother and her son is something special, a kind of True Love that never dies. And Emma also understands the guilt of a mother who left her son behind. So to see her reach out to Milah to tell her that her son is in a better place was wonderful. It was a moment of connection between two women who are so much more than their awkward romantic connections; they’re both strong mothers who’ve made mistakes and who know how it feels to yearn to make your own choices. Jennifer Morrison and Rachel Shelley were excellent in that scene. They played the depth of understanding and empathy between Milah and Emma so beautifully, and now I’m left mourning the relationship they could have developed if they would have had more time.
It sincerely moved me to see Milah volunteer to guard the boat, staying behind with the man who murdered her, while Emma went off to rescue Killian. Honestly, if I was in Milah’s place, I would have been terrified to be alone with Rumplestiltskin again. But instead, Milah was shocking vulnerable with him as she told him about her unfinished business. I was completely captivated by Shelley and Robert Carlyle in that scene, because they made me feel the history between those characters and the power of their shared love for their son. My heart broke when Milah talked about how her job as a crossing guard for children in the Underworld wasn’t given to her by Hades but was chosen by her as a kind of atonement. (It’s sad enough to think about there being children in that place.)
All Milah wanted was the hope that she would see Bae again, that she could tell him she loved him and was sorry for leaving him. She never got that closure with her son—the closure Rumplestiltskin got in life. But Rumplestiltskin gave her that hope; he helped her believe in that moment on the boat that she would see their son again. And that’s what made what he did to her even worse.
Rumplestiltskin took away Milah’s hope not long after he gave it to her. Instead of getting to move on and see Bae again, she was thrown into the River of Lost Souls, a victim of Rumplestitltskin’s quest to get back to the world of the living. Not only did he kill her on Earth, he essentially did even worse in the Underworld. This arc has focused on the hope that even if someone dies, they can one day move on to a better place. But Rumplestiltskin made sure that would never happen for Milah. He took away her ability to move on, which I see as a fate truly worse than death. And in doing so, he robbed Henry of the chance to meet his grandmother, he robbed Bae of the chance to see his mother again, and he robbed Killian of the chance to see the woman he loved on more time. Watching Milah disappear into that river was hard enough to watch. It was even harder to watch Killian discover that he once again wasn’t able to save her. Colin O’Donoghue was excellent throughout the episode, but his reaction to Milah’s fate might have been his single best moment in “Devil’s Due.”
And how did Rumplestiltskin deal with what he did to Milah? He lied about it, of course. He put the blame on Hades instead of on his own choices. Ever the master manipulator, he even acted as if Killian should be thanking him. In my mind, Rumplestiltskin was past the point of no return when he chose to become the Dark One again despite having a fresh start. But this—pushing Milah into the River of Lost Souls and making it look like he tried to save her—was the last bit of confirmation I needed. Yet I’m still holding out hope that someone will free the lost souls trapped in the river before the heroes leave the Underworld, allowing Milah’s restless soul to finally find peace.
Although I found myself angrier with Rumplestiltskin than ever before in this episode, I also thought he had a great story arc throughout it. I found some incredibly twisted but excellent irony in the fact that Milah wanted him to be brave enough to kill to save his child, and that’s exactly what he ending up doing to her. I wondered why seeing Belle in the crystal ball made Rumplestiltskin freak out, and I had a feeling they were going to write Emilie de Ravin’s pregnancy into the show. But I didn’t connect the two until Hades revealed that Rumplestiltskin was looking for his child and saw his unborn baby instead of Bae.
That was a great twist, but the greatest one was still to come. My jaw dropped when Hades showed Rumplestiltskin the healer from his past, whom he’d killed in order to negate their deal. Sometimes the past comes back to haunt you. It did for Milah, and it did for Rumplestiltskin, too. With Hades now holding the contract, the fate of Rumplestiltskin and Belle’s baby is in the hands of the god of the Underworld. And once again, I was reminded of the real-life parallel to those two men sitting in a room talking about their rights to a baby, while the woman actually pregnant with said baby wasn’t consulted or even informed about their decisions. It made me giddy to see Rumplestiltskin get some comeuppance, but that glee was mitigated by the knowledge that Belle is also going to suffer in the process. I just want better things for women who are or were married to him—is that too much to ask for?
For as mad as I am about the effect of this twist on Belle, I’m so happy to see more scenes between Hades and Rumplestiltskin. It’s amazing to see a villain manipulate the show’s greatest manipulator. Also, Carlyle and Greg Germann are perfect scene partners. I’m looking forward to seeing this dynamic develop, because it’s always fun to see two actors who really relish playing villains play opposite each other.
Hades preyed on Rumplestiltskin’s desperation to get home, and he used that desperation to get what he wanted. In short, he out-Rumple’d Rumple in order to get one step closer to draining the hope from the Underworld. That’s a true villain’s agenda if I ever saw one.
But all hope isn’t lost. Although this was a very dark episode, there were still moments of light. (And I’m not just talking about the levity provided by Cruella and her fur coat that’s probably Bambi’s mother.) It was good to learn that Daniel had moved on to a better place, even if Regina didn’t get to see him again. She got her farewell in Storybrooke when he told her to move on and love again. And it was nice to see her get her magic back, healing what I could only assume was the horse she once had to kill.
However, the most dramatic symbol of hope amid the hopelessness of the Underworld was the scene in which Emma rescued Killian before he was also lost to the River of Lost Souls. Emma and Killian have been saving each other from feeling like lost souls since the day they met, so it seemed fitting for her to save him from such a fate (while Milah’s life with Rumplestiltskin made her feel lost, hence her fate). I loved that their reunion wasn’t sweepingly intense; it was soft and gentle. It was punctuated not with a passionate kiss but with an exhausted, relieved embrace. It was a moment of quiet comfort after so much drama led them to that moment. And it felt exactly right.
I loved the way O’Donoghue and Morrison played the joy and familiarity of that reunion. His small smile when he called her “impossible” and her little laugh after she said he loved her for that made the moment feel unique to them—their own version of “The glass coffin gave me pause.” There was such tenderness in their facial expressions and body language, and that added a really lovely intimacy to the moment.
But, of course, it would be too easy for Emma to find Killian, split her heart with him, and then head back to the land of the living. There had to be a catch, and the catch involved her heart. (I think another catch is going to involve Killian still not thinking he deserves saving—he basically said as much in this episode—and needing to make his own choice to come back. But that’s another story for another time.) I have a lot of questions about the logistics of heart-sharing: Couldn’t Emma have taken the heart out of his dead body and then put half of hers in (like her mother did with her father) without needing to go to the Underworld? Can anyone actually take out Emma’s heart since Cora couldn’t do it? But those questions aren’t relevant right now. Right now all that matters is that Emma can’t share her heart because she’s been condemned to stay in the Underworld along with her mother and Regina.
When you look at who’s been condemned to stay, two things stand out. First, they’re the three main characters this show was built around. Second, they’re the three characters who’ve spread hope in the Underworld so far (Regina with her father, Snow with Hercules, and Emma with Killian). It’s clear Hades sees them as the biggest threat to him, and it’s because those three women represent the thing he detests: hope. All three women were lost souls at one time who’ve found their truest, most hopeful, and most heroic selves. And that can’t sit well with the god who’s cornered the market on lost souls.
In some ways, “Devil’s Due” felt like a hopeless episode of Once Upon a Time—because of the sheer tragedy of what happened to Milah. However, it’s a hero’s job to never stop hoping and spreading hope—even in a place as bleak as the Underworld. So I’m going to continue to hope that all the lost souls with unfinished business—both the dead and living—will find the closure they need to leave the Underworld and discover where they belong.
Just a quick note before the commenting begins: The promo for next week’s episode is causing a lot of fandom stress, and, as we all know, I work really hard to keep NGN a safe place for fans to escape that kind of anxiety. So I would sincerely appreciate it if—just for this week—we kept all promo speculation out of the comments here at NGN for everyone’s sanity, especially my own.