TV Time: Once Upon a Time 5.16

Title Our Decay

Two-Sentence Summary When Hades gets Rumplestiltskin to open a portal between Storybrooke and the Underworld, Zelena, her daughter, and Belle are all brought to the realm of the dead, leading to revelations for both Rumplestiltskin and Belle and Hades and Zelena. The latter pair of characters is the focus of the flashbacks, which reveal Hades own plan for vengeance against a sibling and the love that made him reconsider his plans.

Favorite Lines
Zelena: Who the hell are you?
Hades: Who the hell am I? That question is more appropriate than you think.

My Thoughts Well that episode was just full of surprises, wasn’t it?

At a time when spoilers are readily available and episodes seem to be discussed and analyzed in intricate detail long before they actually air, it’s nice to still be surprised sometimes. And it’s nice to know that after five seasons, Once Upon a Time can still surprise me—not just by the twists and turns of its plot but by the unexpected emotional reactions I end up having.

“Our Decay” was a surprising episode on all fronts. But it wasn’t an out-of-character episode for this show. In fact, its surprises came from the way it took many of the show’s most important themes—self-definition, choice, love vs. power, family (specifically motherhood), and hope—and reflected them through new lenses.

Each storyline in this episode was connected through the theme of selfless love. True Love isn’t selfish. It’s the recognition that sometimes you have to sacrifice what you want for what the person you love needs; it’s the belief that the person you love always deserves their best chance, even if that’s not with you and even if you have to go to great lengths to secure that best chance. And that’s never more evident on this show than it is in the relationships between parents and children.

One of the biggest surprises of this episode was the way it made us truly care about Zelena as a mother. Before “Our Decay,” I never really believed that she actually cared about her baby beyond her daughter’s potential to love her (which was a selfish way of looking at parenthood rather than a selfless way of viewing it, though it made sense considering her history of abandonment and her deep-rooted mommy issues). And even at times in this episode, I found myself rooting against her and hoping Regina and Robin would get the baby away from her. However, through an amazing performance by Rebecca Mader and smart writing that paralleled some of this show’s most poignant scenes, it became clear to me that Zelena does truly love her daughter.

The pain in Zelena’s body language when she realized she hurt her daughter with her unpredictable magic was visceral. Mader was at her absolute best in this episode, and that moment was one of her strongest in an episode full of highlights. But even that moment couldn’t compare to the pain that was to come.

The scene in which Zelena gave her daughter back to Robin and Regina made me cry—and we’re talking ugly crying. It was a stunningly executed parallel to the other mothers on this show who we’ve seen do the same thing: Snow in the pilot, Emma in the flashbacks to start Season Three, and Regina at the town line in “Going Home.” In all of those moments, we saw mothers make the heartbreaking choice to give their child their best chance, even though they knew it wasn’t with them. And those moments were all in direct contrast to Cora, who—as this episode reminded us—abandoned Zelena in order to give herself her best chance. In Snow, Emma, Regina, and now Zelena, we’re given examples of mothers who loved their children enough to do what they believed was best and safest for their children, even when it broke them to do it.

Zelena’s case was an especially powerful one because she wasn’t just entrusting her baby to another’s care; she was entrusting her to the care of two people she’s been trying to keep her daughter away from. It reminded me of how important it was for Regina’s growth in “Going Home” for her to give Henry his best chance with Emma, the woman she’d fought for so long to get out of Henry’s life. In “Our Decay,” Zelena knew her daughter was safer with Robin and Regina, so, despite the fact that she’d spent part of the episode actively trying to keep her from them, she ended up leaving her with them. It was such a big moment for both sisters, and I loved that it was treated with such care by all involved—from the writers to the actors. Mader’s performance made me feel so deeply for this woman whose love for her daughter led to what might have been the first truly selfless act of her life and the first step on the road to becoming her best self.

Motherhood awakened Zelena’s humanity and her ability to love selflessly, putting another’s needs above her own. It’s just another way Cora’s daughters are similar. Loving Henry was the first step on Regina’s own path toward becoming the best version of herself, and family continues to be at the center of her growth. In this episode, I loved seeing her reach out to Zelena, encouraging her to accept that she could have a family and a support system if she wanted it. Regina knows better than anyone that love is a more fulfilling goal than vengeance. In choosing love and family over revenge, Regina has grown to become someone who offers the promise of hope to others. And it was beautiful to see her offer hope to her sister, especially considering their turbulent history.

Zelena isn’t quite ready to accept Regina’s offer yet, but all hope isn’t lost. She was willing to set aside her bitterness and her desire to rely only on herself in order to do the right thing for her daughter. But it’s not quite as easy to do it for herself. And that’s a common theme on this show: It’s hard to choose love over revenge. Love requires trust, and that’s not easy for many of these characters. It also requires a belief that you deserve love, which is even harder. That struggle has been at the center of both Killian and Regina’s character arcs, and we saw that conflict once again in both Hades and Zelena’s arcs in “Our Decay.”

Just like I was surprised by my emotional reaction to Zelena’s role as a mother, I was also shocked by how quickly I came to care about Zelena’s relationship with Hades. Did it develop almost impossibly fast? Yes. But this is a show about fairytales. (It’s also a show where its central couple fell in love over the course of one episode.) I’m willing to suspend my disbelief over how quickly its romantic relationships develop. What matters to me is that I believe it when I’m watching it, and Mader and Greg Germann made me believe it. Their chemistry was excellent, and I was especially struck by how well Germann made Hades fit into one of my favorite character archetypes on this show—a sincere man who loves, supports, and encourages a strong woman—without ever making him lose his devilish charm.

True Love on Once Upon a Time does many things: It makes people happy. It awakens hope where it once was lost. It shows itself in belief and support. It honors the other person’s choices. And it lasts—no matter what obstacles it faces—because it’s not just a feeling; it’s a choice made between two people who understand that love is scary but would rather face that vulnerability together than acquire all the power they can alone.

So do I think Hades truly loves Zelena? Call me crazy, but I do. Their joy on that bike ride was contagious. (I loved Zelena’s very familiar cackling.) Hades supported her and told her she was strong, powerful, and smart enough to do anything (even if that meant something as bad as taking the Tin Man’s brain—because he may be nice to her but he’s still not the nicest guy overall). It was strangely sweet to see the Lord of the Underworld so smitten in the past, and his interactions with Zelena in the present that sold me on his true feelings.

All this time, Hades has loved Zelena. He built an Underworld that looked like the world Regina got to rule over just so Zelena could feel like she was her sister’s equal or better. I thought it was actually kind of adorable and surprisingly sad when he talked about how he tried his best to make it look like Storybrooke but things don’t grow in the Underworld. He tried to get her daughter away from the heroes for her and not to spite her (which is going to make things interesting now that Zelena doesn’t feels she needs Regina and Robin to protect her baby). And—the emotional kicker for me—he told Zelena her birthday, which she never knew before. Germann’s sincerity came through beautifully in that moment. I truly believed that Zelena represents his first spark of hope since his brother condemned him to the Underworld and stopped his heart.

The thing I loved most about Hades and his love for Zelena, though, was his respect for her choices. True Love has to be chosen by both parties, and Hades knows that. It made me so happy to hear him say that he knows Zelena doesn’t need him, because the healthiest kind of love is one chosen with the knowledge that you can stand on your own but you don’t have to. Hades loves Zelena for her independence, but he also knows the truth of what Regina told her so beautifully earlier in the episode: Lasting happiness doesn’t come from exacting revenge; it comes from love. So he gave her options but not an ultimatum, respecting her agency in a way I was not expecting. And now I’m left hoping these two crazy kids will work things out so they can get a happy ending. How does this show always manage to make me root for people I wasn’t trying to root for?

But before there can be any more talk of True Love’s Kiss, hearts starting, and hope for the Lord of the Underworld, Zelena has to learn to accept that she’s not better off alone. This episode strongly paralleled Regina and Zelena in that regard, but it also strongly paralleled Zelena and Emma. Not so long ago, Emma was also determined to take her kid away from the rest of his family and do everything on her own—because that was the life she was comfortable living. Zelena blowing out a candle on a cupcake wasn’t just some happy coincidence on the show’s part; it was a deliberate parallel between two lost girls who grew up believing they were abandoned.

But Emma wasn’t really abandoned. While she still bears some of the scars from thinking that for so many years, the truth has given her a sense of peace Zelena still doesn’t have. And that peace has allowed Emma to live without the kind of frightening resentment Zelena feels for the sibling who got to grow up with the life she never had. Does Emma still have some unresolved issues about her lost childhood? Yes—I think that’s what the pieces from her nursery sitting in her Underworld home represent. But she’s a grown woman, and, as such, has handled the difference between her and her baby sibling a lot better than Zelena or Hades.

I really loved the moments between Emma and her parents concerning her brother in this episode—especially because so much of the rest of the plot focused on people who hated their siblings for getting things they wanted. Emma’s beautiful empathy was put on display once again when Snow told her she and Charming wanted to talk to Neal. Jennifer Morrison did such a great job of showing the momentary pain flash across Emma’s features when Snow asked if it would have made a difference to know someone loved her, because of course it would have. Knowing someone loves you—believing you’re not alone—is the key to strength on this show. But then she smiled softly when she realized her brother could have what she never did: the knowledge that people are out there trying to get back to him. It was a small moment, but it said so much.

Snow and Charming’s quest to talk to Neal represented the idea that parents will do anything to make sure their children get their best chance to be happy. That includes haunting. There was some fun humor found in the haunting stuff, but there was also real pathos. I was especially moved by the man who wanted to believe he was getting through to his loved ones because he’s been trying for 30 years.

Belief matters on Once Upon a Time. Charming and Snow needed to believe they could reach their son. And who helped them see that their belief wasn’t in vain? The truest believer, of course. It made me so happy to see Henry get a win and help his family after he seemed to be struggling earlier in the episode. It was sweet to see Emma and Regina working together as mothers to give their son the encouragement they thought he needed (while Killian and Robin exchanged perfect smirks at Henry’s very teenage reaction). But it was even better to see Henry do something more important than describing Snow’s breakfast order. By sharing the story of Neal hearing Snow and Charming’s voices, Henry restored hope when his family needed it most. He gave his grandparents the ammunition needed to keep fighting. And it seemed especially fitting that his grandmother was the most affected by it, because she was the first person to give Henry real hope through that storybook.

That scene with all the heroes around the table in the Charmings’ Underworld loft highlighted the fact that this unconventional little family has grown from individuals who once fought against each other to a group of people who would do anything for each other. They support each other, fight beside each other, and choose each other. And in that dynamic, they’ve all found the strength only love can provide, the strength that’s going to get them home.

Standing outside of that warm, happy dynamic is Rumplestiltskin. Time and again, he’s been given the choice between love and power, and he’s chosen power. He still can’t believe—even after all these years—that love is the only power he needs, and that’s because he still refuses to believe that he’s good enough exactly as he is.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in “Our Decay” involved Rumplestiltskin and his relationship with Belle. When Belle got to the Underworld, I thought it would take at least an episode before she was reunited with her husband and probably another long stretch of episodes before she found out the truth about his Dark One status and his deal concerning their baby. So imagine my shock when all of those things were dealt with in one powerful scene that finally laid all of Rumplestiltskin’s cards on the table before Belle, giving her the ability to make a fully informed choice, which is so important on this show.

Emilie de Ravin was excellent in that scene (especially her shift from radiant joy upon learning she was pregnant to devastation upon learning that baby was promised to Hades), but it belonged to Robert Carlyle. I was left with my mouth open in awe at the fact that Rumplestiltskin was actually saying the things he said in that scene with the ease with which he said them. For so long, all I’ve wanted was for this character to own his truth, especially to his wife. The fact that Belle has been kept in the dark so often has done her character and this show in general a disservice, so I’m excited to see what’s going to happen now that there are no false impressions of who Rumplestiltskin is and who he might someday be.

This moment was Rumplestiltskin’s twisted interpretation of Emma’s, “No, this is who I am” speech from Season One. This was Rumplestiltskin defining himself on his own terms and letting his wife know who he’s chosen to be. And unlike the other characters who’ve gone through this process of self-definition, the person he’s chosen to be is far from his best self. He’s not choosing to be a hero or choosing to define himself by love; he’s choosing power—he’ll always choose power.

The writing of that scene was incredible. It was such a stunning examination of the truth of this character and of a relationship that has always felt uneven. But now there’s no more questioning if Belle can change Rumplestiltskin or bring out the man behind the beast. Because Rumplestiltskin doesn’t want to change. He wants both love and power—to be both the man and the beast. But power always comes first, which is why he spoke so lovingly about the dagger. He’s craved power his whole life, but unlike other characters who’ve also craved power or vengeance or control, he has made a conscious choice to never let go of it—not even for love.

Rumplestiltskin made his choice, and he gave Belle the tools to do the same. There are no more lies or insincere promises of change; he outright stated that if she wants him to change, he won’t do it. So now it’s up to Belle, but she’s still in an awful position. Rumplestiltskin and Hades technically control her right to her own child, and it seems clear that Rumplestiltskin isn’t going to try to give up his addiction to power for that child. For as much as I would have liked Belle to immediately choose to walk away and not look back, I understood why she said she’s not choosing anything when you think about what she’s dealing with. But I’m still hoping the result of this scene is Belle eventually choosing to leave him for good and raise her baby without him. Whatever happens, though, it’s good to know that her choice will be made with full knowledge of what she’s getting herself into. I’ll feel proud of her for leaving if she does, but if she chooses to stay with him, I can feel justified in not feeling bad for her this time.

No matter what, it’s clear that, right now, Rumplestiltskin is incapable of True Love, and it was his choice to close himself off to it by choosing power over love. He might think he can have both, but no one really can. And he has yet to figure out that the strength that comes from True Love is so much more valuable than the strength that comes from the Dark One’s dagger. I’ll be surprised if he ever does figure that out, but if this episode taught me anything, it’s that this show can still surprise me.

Extra Questions:
• Does Hades still want to enact a time-travel spell, and is that why he wants Rumplestiltskin’s baby so badly? And if so, do Snow, Regina, and Emma represent the three other ingredients needed for the spell (heart, brains, and courage)?
• Is that how being the Author really works, or is it supposed to be strange that the stories are writing themselves without Henry knowing it’s happening?
• Where did Regina’s hat come from while she and Robin were walking through the forest?
• Is everyone living in the loft, or are Emma and Killian living in her house?
• Nothing good can come from Robin going into the woods alone with the baby, right?
• What does everyone think the baby’s name will be?

32 thoughts on “TV Time: Once Upon a Time 5.16

  1. Lovely job, sweetie. This episode was such a fun surprise.

    I enjoyed reading your take on the Hades/Zelena relationship. I admit to struggling with this one some. Zelena’s bewilderment echoed my own — this is all really fast. Is her question supposed to speak for the audience? Are we supposed to be reassured or are we supposed to continue to question the speed (and reality) of this? I admit to the chemistry. Those two are great together, and you have to admire Hades’ sense of romance. (Look! I made a town for you! I kidnapped your baby from the wicked heroes!) However, something still just feels off to me. What I’m mulling over is why. The easiest explanation is to blame the writing/execution, but I’m hesitant to do so. So, what are the other possibilities. Now, this could be one of those instances where I personally just don’t completely buy into how quickly the relationship happened (while others do). That doesn’t negate it’s reality or even mean the writers did a poor job here. I can think of a few examples from personal experience where I’ve had the same reaction. What seems like Hades quick glomming on to Zelena may just be part of his character. It’s supposed to feel off because something is off with him. It could also be that it feels off because it’s not real. Bottom line: I can’t wait to see where the Zelena-Hades relationship goes.

    Oh, and poor Zelena and her little pistachio. Mader did such an amazing job communicating the sincerity of her love for her child. *sniffle*

    I was overjoyed at the Rumple-Belle scene. This addressed the issue that has always nagged me about their relationship (or how some people perceive it). You don’t go into a relationship thinking you can change the person. Just no. Therein lies madness. You can help them become the best versions of themselves . . . as hopefully, they will do for you. I loved the distinction made here between a better man and a different man. I think Belle was truly trying to make him a better man . . . not a different one. However, I think that Rumple is right: He’s always been this man. He’s always craved power. In the past, though, I got the feeling that Rumple did want to be better . . to not choose power over the ones he loves (like he did with Bae). It’s just a bit scary that he now realizes he’ll choose power over love EVERY TIME.

    Answers to questions:
    — (Time travel) I wonder about the time travel, too. Part of me would be interested to see another time travel episode . . . with Zeus and Poseidon.
    — (Author) I wish my work stuff would write itself. I guess it has to work this way so that the book actually gets written . . . otherwise you could have procrastinating authors or ones agonizing over the perfect phrasing. Not that I have personal experience with that . . .
    — (Hat) I only want to know where Regina’s hat came from because I WANT ONE. (I missed the continuity issue. I was too busy lusting after the hat.)
    — (Housing) Hmmm . . . I imagine everyone crashing at the loft at various times.
    — (In the Woods) No, I don’t not see this going well.
    — (Name) Wow. No idea. At first I was little annoyed at Robin’s failure to give the little pistachio a name. His initial reason sounded nice (I have to see who she is), but even cultures that wait for naming give the child a placeholder name. However, I did like the idea of waiting to name her because “Hades can do things with names.”

    — At first, I thought Hades and Zelena could be Storybrook’s Bonnie and Clyde . . . until the bicycle scene which is more Butch Cassidy and Etta Place.
    — Wait, we don’t get to hear them sing the lullaby? Also, I now want a scene with EVERYONE crammed into the phone booth, singing to baby Neal.
    — The SCARECROW!! I want to introduce him to the broom. I love them both with inappropriate amounts of love and joy.
    — So, Dorothy, how does the “love of the people” translate into magical power or any kind of power? It seems like all she really had going for her was Toto. (I am cranky because she allowed by beloved Scarecrow to be hurt.)
    — No, Hades is not the devil. (People are always conflating us.) Thank you, writers, for pointing that out. Bonus points for using “conflating.”
    — Love Emma Caulfield as the blind witch.
    — Was anyone else hoping Belle would snatch the Dark One dagger when Rumple set it down?
    — “We’re regulars in the diner on the way to hell.” That is either a great name for a short story collection or an album.

    • I was totally waiting for Belle to grab the dagger off the library shelf! wtf Rumple? You need to look after that thing if you love it so much.
      For all that Hades is not the Devil, he did trigger my “Sympathy for the Devil” earworm with his “please allow me to introduce myself” and he is a man of wealth and taste.
      Seconded: Nevengers in phone booth singing haunting lullabies to baby Neal. (I still cringe typing that name. Pray Pistachio doesn’t get named Marian.)

    • I think you inadvertently hit on the reason why I like Hades/Zelena more than I was expecting to—I have a weird love for all things Bonnie and Clyde. 😉

      But I completely understand your reservations about that relationship. My take on it is that Hades really does love her but is also moving quickly because he wants to come alive again, which can only happen with a True Love’s Kiss. So there is something off about it in terms of how strongly he feels so quickly, but I also think he’s sincere in wanting that kiss to happen with her. So yes, I think Zelena’s statement that this was all happening very fast was meant to resonate with us as the truth, but I also really don’t want it to turn out to be insincere on Hades part. I know Zelena’s done some awful things, but she’s got enough abandonment issues and struggles with believing anyone would love her. (Did I just get protective of Zelena? Wow. This must have been a good episode for her character.)

      I really loved your take on Rumple and Belle. I think you’re right about it feeling for a time as if Rumple did want to be a better man but his addiction was too strong. But now he’s done trying to be better, and I think that’s where the real choice comes in for Belle. You can’t force someone to be better, and you shouldn’t be in a relationship with someone based on who you think you can change them into. Rumple has now told her that this is who he is, and it would break my heart if she chooses to stay with someone who told her that he’s always going to choose power.

      I was going to say “Regulars in the Diner on the Way to Hell” would make a great band name, but it’s too long. Album title is better. 😉

  2. Great Review as always Katie!

    I too was surprised by my emotional connection to Zelena this episode. I was not expecting to feel so much for her and cry as she gave up her child. While I think Hades does love Zelena and I love that he respects her, I think it’s very much in Zelena’s character to doubt, especially something so instant like Hades is promising her. Zelena is very much a woman who has to be shown that she is loved and Hades’s words aren’t enough for her, neither is the underworld Storybrooke because she knows herself, she knows that with her there would always be a catch and she can’t believe that Hades wouldn’t have a double cross planned. It’s clearly not in Zelena’s nature to trust and I think Hades has seen more of people so he’s a little more open with his heart than she is. I did adore the bike scene and the two actors have great chemistry so I’m onboard the Green Demon ship.

    I love that we’ve gotten to see Killian, Robin, Regina and Emma coparent Henry this season, it’s added a great dynamic to the show and we’ve gotten to see how much they all clearly respect each. Henry clearly has some frustration with the workings of being an Author and I’m glad he gets to be a teenager. I’m very excited to see where this arc takes him, I’ve said for a long time that I wanted Henry to have his own role and become a hero. I loved everything with Snow and Charming, it felt like a very real sense of desperation to see their son and I loved that it was Henry who told them that it happened. For me, Henry has been the person who has pushed people into believing and his role as the Author is a very fascinating manifestation of that role.

    On a show where heroes are made with hope, Zelena’s sacrifice of her daughter was a great reminder to the audience that everyone has a capacity for change and for good. One of my other fandoms has been lacking in optimism lately so this was a reminder that as human beings we are not perfect and we fail but we should be admired for trying our hardest. Zelena wanting what’s best for her child, “giving her her best chance” is another reminder that this show is absolutely amazing with paralleling themes.

    I also love that this arc has truly pushed Regina into Hero territory, the way she wanted what’s best for Robin’s child, how she’s given hope speeches to both Emma and Snow over the past few episodes.

    I loved everything you said about Belle and Rumplestiltskin and their relationship. Belle truly is faced with a difficult choice and I’m so so glad that Rumplestiltskin decided to be honest with Belle. For both of them, this relationship is unhealthy and it’s keeping them in a miserable cycle. Rumplestiltskin saying “You didn’t fall in love with the man behind the beast, you fell in love with the man and the beast, you can’t have one without the other” is very true of him and of a lot of the other characters. Rumplestiltskin’s love of power is as much a part of his character as Killian’s honor or Snow’s ability to hope. And Belle saying that she can’t choose until he fixes himself is not a reality because he just gave speech to her saying that “this who I am, take me or leave me but I can’t change”. I honestly hope that this scene is where the romance between these two characters ends because as much as I loved them, it way too unhealthy for both of them. There has been to much lying and trying to change for them to move past it. I thought Robert and Emilie was fantastic in the scene: Belle’s happiness and then desperation, her horror that Rumplestiltskin is once again the Dark One and Rumplestiltskin’s sincere belief that he can have it all, his fear that she’ll reject him. It was a truly incredible scene that was a long time coming.

    This got incredibly long but I have a couple last thoughts:
    • Emma looked a lot healthier this episode then in the previous ones, maybe she more calm now that Killian is back
    • Snow’s line about “We’re regulars in the diner in hell” was hilarious
    • The guy behind Snow and Charming in line was really funny
    • Dorothy’s dress is not Our World style, reminds me a bit of the style in the Enchanted Forest or in Wonderland
    • I love the Blind Witch so much, she’s great
    • Killian had incredibly attractive hair
    • Henry’s “So you’re all authors now” was so like a teenager I wanted to cry
    • I can’t wait to see them take down Hades

    • Belle’s postponement of a final decision felt like self (and baby) preservation to me. As long as she doesn’t make a firm declaration, Rumple can hope that she’ll stay with him — which means he’s more likely to fight for the baby. Honestly, Rumple doesn’t have the best track record where children are concerned. He chose his power over Bae, and he seemed willing to let Henry suffer on more than one occasion. I can see why she would make baby-saving a condition.

      At this point, I’d love to see her walk away. I’d REALLY love to see her walk away with the dagger. . . We’ve seen her make the hard choice before (at the town line), but she did so after careful consideration and weighing what she knew. I’m just glad that she’s finally got all the facts.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this beautifully articulate thoughts with us, Abby! I LOVED your analysis of Zelena and why she would be skeptical of Hades. I also love seeing how many of us are so excited for Henry to get a more active role in this story and for all of his parents and potential step-parents to work together as he navigates so many changes—in both his role as the Author and his life as a teenage boy.

      I’m also happy to hear that Zelena’s story in this episode reminded you of some good things when other fandoms are looking bleak. This show is often my hopeful place when my other fandoms get too depressing—because I never really doubt that my optimism will be rewarded in the end, and that’s a nice thing to feel.

      I think you made an excellent observation about Emma looking stronger and healthier. I saw it a little bit last week but even more this week. I think having Killian back by her side and committed to fighting for a life with her has led to an Emma who looks a little more rested and relaxed than before (which I’m sure is a specific choice Jennifer Morrison made given how much thought she puts into how Emma looks based on her emotional state).

      And feel free to drop in any time with positive comments about Killian’s hair. I know I’m not the only one around these parts who will stop to appreciate it. 😉

  3. Katie, this is an exceptional review, I love love love how beautifully you went into detail about Zelena’s character and comparing it to things Emma, Snow, and Regina have done as mothers. And I especially loved the parallels, between Regina and Zelena and the fact that before anything, she needs to accept the fact that there’s an option other than revenge.

    I also really appreciated the way you broke down the central themes of the series and made sure to mention each of them because they were all incredibly significant in this episode. And I love your faith in the fact that Hades’ love is real because that’s what I need to believe. I want things to be good for the two of them, I want them to have their happy ending, but I’m terrified it won’t happen so I don’t want to actively root for them even though it’s adorable beyond words. I think the only thing that’s holding me back now is why on earth he wants the baby? Why does he want to go back in time now?

    And lastly, perfect perfect perfect break down of Rumple’s character and Robert Carlyle’s performance.

    I cannot wait to see you breakdown Belle even further next week. I feel like we don’t get the opportunity to see her and the way you wrote about her this week was superb which is making me so excited for next week’s.

    • Thanks, Giss! I really love writing about the mothers on this show and how being a mother informs everything they do without completely taking over their identity. It’s a delicate line to walk, and so many TV shows don’t do it well. So I always want to celebrate this show’s depiction of motherhood and its ability to write mothers who are all different and not just stereotypes. (I have been meaning to write an essay about this for a VERY long time, so maybe I will finally do that this summer!)

      I’m glad you appreciated my faith in Hades. I know it could turn out to be in vain, but all I can do is write my truth for the moment, and the truth is that right now I’m buying what he’s selling. If I look like an idiot later, that’s fine. I’d rather look like an idiot for believing in love than not invest in what could turn out to be a great love story.

      And as far as your question about time travel goes, I think loving Zelena hasn’t completely taken away his desire to get back at his brother. I could see him taking Zelena with him and wanting to rule Olympus with her by his side rather than the Underworld.

      I’m excited but also a little nervous for next week! I feel like I don’t get to write about Belle a lot, so it’s going to be fun—and I’m a sure a little bit of a new challenge.

  4. Great review Katie!

    I feel a little disconnected from this episode. And I mean that literally, since my cable went out and I missed a good 10 minutes, including all the stuff with the Charmings in the diner and the writer scene at the loft. I caught what I missed on Hulu today, but just not being able to watch the whole thing together and me cursing at the TV last night was just not the ideal episode watching experience.

    I cant decide where I fall with the Zelena/Hades romance. There were a couple really nice genuine moments in there (I adore the fact that the Underworld looks like Storybrooke because of Hades love for Zelena. I never could have seen that coming, and the sincerity in Hades sadness that everything he tries to build decays) but the speed was a little unsettling (says the girl that took a year to say ‘I love you’ to her boyfriend). To me Emma and Hook’s snail pace has been just right, so anything feels crazy fast in comparison! Regardless of the romance part, I did find Hades story about his brother stopping his heart quite sympathetic. I find the idea of wanting love for a selfish reason only to realize your mistake once you actually feel that love to be fascinating. And as you pointed out, we saw the same thing in this episode with Zelena and her baby, and we saw it in the past with Regina and Henry. So I think I am in wait and see mode to see what becomes of all this with the rest of the season before I make a final judgement call. But I will say I am intrigued, and thats all I can ask at this point in the season.

    I got teary eyed at the end as Emma read the story of Neal hearing Snow and Charming’s voices (it was well written!). Can Emma narrate all the episodes? I think it was one of the most moving scenes we have had in the underworld arc, maybe all season.

    The scene with Rumple and Belle was all kinds of great. The way Rumple’s voice changed throughout that scene was just masterful. The delivery of “I love this dagger” was absolutely chilling. I was terrified sitting in my living room, I cant imagine how scary hearing that must be for Belle knowing he is the father of her child. And dont think I didnt miss the order in which he listed his loves. Dagger..and you.

    -I adore the blind witch. I am so glad we have gotten a good number of scenes with her. Snow’s terror at being called a regular was hilarious, as was how content David was eating is plain toast.
    -Zelena impersonating shady Blue was still less shady than the real Blue Fairy. At first I though Blue was being too nice…then real Blue Fairy burst in all mean and judgy like and I knew THAT was the real Blue Fairy.
    -I am usually a pretty mature adult, but even I was kinda smirking at the whole Hades “heart fluttering” thing. To keep this G rated, I will not elaborate, haha.
    -Speaking of, I really hope Henry’s black-out ghost writing ability comes with pretty strong parental control software, because there are things about his family’s life that he should not be documenting. I get weird-ed out even thinking about him documenting a TLK. That poor kid is gonna need some serious therapy. Is it only an “as it happens” deal? Can he write things that already happened? Like what happened to Milah?!?

    • I feel your pain . . . I had that happen with Agent Carter — the scene where Violet confronts Daniel about Peggy — cable cut out in the middle of the scene. There was much yelling and some moments of non-adult behaviour.

      I’m glad I’m not alone in feeling the weirdness of the speed of Hades and Zelena. Emma and Killian feel about right to me, too. That’s probably because it speaks to where I’m at. (I go into panic mode with declarations of affection, so I would have called flying monkeys down on Hades had I been Zelena.) However, I’m sure there are some who feel Killian and Emma are glacial and Zelena/Hades are about the right speed. Anyhoo, everyone connects differently to the different characters or their relationships. I love Snow and Charming, but I can’t relate to them like I can Emma and Killian.

      Ok, now you’ve got me side-tracked on the possibilities of Author-pen settings and how this entire series is simply Henry’s sessions with this therapist.

    • I’m still so mad on your behalf that your cable cut out in the middle of the episode. Watching something later on Hulu helps, but it’s never quite the same.

      I’m going to start by echoing your request to have Emma narrate all the episodes. JMo has such a lovely voice for it. I remember thinking that Ginnifer Goodwin also had a lovely storytelling voice when Snow was reading the story to Charming back in “Snow Falls,” so Emma’s talent must be inherited from her mother. 😉

      Like I said to Tempest above, I 100% understand thinking Zelena and Hades’ relationship is moving too quickly to be authentic. I’m with you on preferring the slower pace of Emma and Killian. However, they are definitely the exception for this show rather than the rule (which is part of the reason so many of us were drawn to their dynamic, I think).

      I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one who was struck by Rumple’s careful listing of what/who he loves. The fact that the dagger comes first says everything you need to know about his character in one line. I’m still not over how well that scene was written, and I’m not sure I ever will be.

  5. I forgot to add, I find Hades little backstory with Zeus to be even more interesting after last weeks episode. It must have been an extra blow to watch the two brothers forgive each other for their past mistakes and part as equals.

    • YES! There’s been a lot of focus on siblings lately for a show that didn’t put much emphasis on that kind of dynamic for a long time, and I love it.

  6. What made that whole episode for me was the Rumple/Belle scene. Like you, my mouth dropped open at his confession and I was SURE that it was going to be another trick, like Regina telling Henry the truth and wiping his memories, or Rumple confessing to a sleeping Belle, or the fake shadow Belle in Neverland. He really did go for it and leave all his cards on the table. However, instead of repulsing me, it only made him FINALLY more attractive. Pure, unadulterated honesty is underrated and rare in this life and for once, he wasn’t a villain or a coward or a master manipulator; he was honest: gloriously, beautifully honest about what he wants and what he needs and the lengths he is–and was–willing to go through for love. He sold his future child so Bae might live, and he killed Mila in the Underbrook so Belle and he might keep the next one too. And he didn’t prevaricate; to try to convince Belle he’s someone he’s not, even to be with her as a family of three. He’s never been more likable to me, and finally, finally, Belle has her eyes wide open.

    Still haven’t processed the Hades/Zelena reveal, although I love both actors and there is abundance of chemistry there. Loved all the parallels to the other birthdays, as you pointed out. Amazing recap.

    • Thanks, Christy! I think it’s so interesting that Rumple’s honesty made him more likable for you, and I love how you analyzed why you feel that way. I think it was the most I’ve liked the writing for his character in a long time, but I’m not sure it made him more likable for me. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and it occurred to me that even now he’s still not being totally honest. I know he didn’t really need to come out and say it right then, but he’s hiding what he did to Milah—so all of his cards still aren’t totally on the table. That was such a visceral moment of evil for me as a viewer, and I just want someone to find out the truth.

  7. I missed bits and pieces of this episode due to real life (gah!) and my general ambivalence surrounding Zelena storylines… so I missed some details like the cupcake/birthday scene (shame, since I love Once’s perfect parallels) and Regina’s magically appearing hat. But luckily I saw the best bits.
    Hades “please allow me to introduce myself” (he is a man of wealth and taste, and so on – I love Sympathy for the Devil) and “what’s troubling you is the nature of my game” is so true. I just don’t trust him. By the end I was fairly convinced that maybe his love for Zelena could be true, and I found myself wanting that because (another favorite scene) cackling bike ride! was awesome. And I want Hades to have a good OUAT motivation for whatever he’s up to.
    But of course Zelena can’t believe in his love… she’s still got a lot of healing to do. But she’s getting there. I too was moved by her love for baby Pistachio, who must not be named for any dead characters, please please please! If they can get Zelena on the road to redemption I think I can finally learn to love her.
    Speaking of babies with terrible names, I loved the haunting of baby Snowing. And JMo’s perfect acting during those scenes.
    But best of all, Rumple finally being honest with Belle! I’ve been so sick of Belle being kept in the dark. Now she knows. And now we know. Rumple does not want to be a better man. He wants his power and he’s not going to give it up for anything. I always think back to that episode (Skin Deep?) where Belle kisses the beast and he begins to change… and then Rumple shakes that off and makes sure it never happens again. On the one hand, how much clearer can he be? He doesn’t want to be saved or changed. I guess that moment gave Belle hope, that she could release him from his demons. But no. Now it’s clear, as it should have been long ago, if only Belle had known all the facts. And yay for telling her that the baby she didn’t know she was carrying has already been given away. (Babies have it rough on this show! Has anyone just been born without being almost-sold or stolen?) I never expected that Rumple would be up-front about that. He didn’t even make pathetic groveling poor-me excuses. Devastating for poor Belle, but I’m SO glad she knows who she’s dealing with now.
    I was happy to get a reasonable explanation for why the Underworld looks like Storybrooke.
    I’m warming up to Hades.
    I love the Swan-Charming-Mills-Jones-Hood parenting moments. All the domestic-y stuff in the loft was fab. Snow deciding to kick some butt and get them out of there gave me hope too.
    Looking forward to next week’s adventure!

    • I’m glad to hear you’re warming up to Hades, because this was a really great episode for him in terms of adding the kind of depth to his character that was needed to push him into the category of a strong OUAT recurring character. I see some similarities between him and Ingrid in terms of their use within their arcs. They were both villains in seasons where Rumple was also shown to be engaging in villainous behavior, and I ended up feeling much more sympathetic toward Ingrid than Rumple at the end of her arc. So I’m wondering if the same will be said for Hades. (Although no matter how much I end up liking Hades, he will never overtake Ingrid in my heart; my love for Elizabeth Mitchell is too strong.)

      I think it was smart of you to point out the almost-TLK in “Skin Deep” as a reminder that we’ve known from the start that Rumple will ultimately always choose power over love. And although seeing Emma and Killian struggle in a similar way as Dark Ones made me feel for Rumple a little bit more, the fact that he knowingly chose the power of the Dark One again after being free of it made me realize what Belle now knows, too: He has no intention of ever being free of his demons; he thinks they make him stronger than anything else ever could—even love.

  8. I forget the mention how much of a greek mythology nerd I am so Hades and Zelena being Once’s Hades and Persephone makes me incredibly happy as it works well with both their characters, officially making Once’s Hades one of my favorite interpretations of Hades, a man who wants love but whose heart is cold and lonely and is used to being around souls who are lost in someway and therefore makes him lose himself to darkness. I hope that they bring in more of Hades conflict with his brothers but considering the lack of references in show, I’m not counting on it.

    I get the feeling that Hades’s point about the kiss of true love restarting a dead heart will be important for Killian as well. We all know that CS is true love but I think that a relationship of true love/true love’s kiss can truly occur when both parts of the couple are whole and for Killian and Emma that’s only happened in this past season as both characters have worked through their issues and learned to forgive themselves and not hold people on a pedestal.

    • As someone who knows a little bit about Greek mythology but not enough to be any kind of expert, I’m always so happy to hear that people who really love the subject are pleased with the show’s take on Hades and now the Hades/Persephone story. I was hoping we’d get some hints of that, and it’s going to be fun to see how it all plays out!

  9. The only thing I could possibly add to these fantastic reviews is about the speed of the Hades romantic persuit. Killian has been alive for a few hundred years, which I feel adds much to the depth of his feelings of love and admiration for Emma. He has centuries of loss and loneliness as his perspective. I see a parallel with Hades. He has possibly eons of loneliness as his perspective and I feel that his feelings for Zelena are very much matured and developed. Afterall, he has had enough time to build a town! He will have had the opportunity to observe true love in a way no one else could have, both in the “Overworld” and through the feelings of loss that would consume those who reach his realm. I think these are probably the least rushed feelings of true love of anyone in the series. And who knows how long he contemplated before he approached Zelena the first time. Having all the time in the world, I see Hades as having a great potential for patience, again as did Killian. Whether or not Zelena is ready to take these feelings on board yet, we will have to see!
    Then again…. it could all be a scheme for revenge ;0)

    • That’s a really good point, Hades does have the advantage of being able to observe Zelena for a long time and he has insight into her character that Zelena does not have of him. It adds to the belief that his feelings are real but also my conflict that the relationship started off incredibly one-sided.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this! You make a great point about both Hades and Killian having a great capacity for patience given their long lifespans (and I think, to some degree, how long they patiently waited to get the revenge). I think Hades probably had a little villainous crush on Zelena before he officially met her, and part of me finds that cute while another part finds it unsettling that he watched her for a long time without her knowing about (or later being able to control it).

  10. This episode really worked emotionally for all there reasons everyone has noted. I was surprised how much I connected to it, because I can usually take or leave Zelena. However, the pathos she generated through her relationship with her daughter, combined with all the Snowing/Baby Neal/Emma stuff really struck me.

    I wanted to comment on the Zelena/Hades relationship, and Hades as a character in particular, as I am definitely in the camp that is excited to see how it fits into the bigger picture of things. The pair’s scenes in this episode were lots of fun, and he sure did seem sincere, but the writers have thrown a lot at us in terms of Hades’ character, and I really hope that all the elements come together and pay off in terms of his character arc and the overall Underbrooke plot this season.

    So far, we know that he’s: 1) A vain, megalomaniacal ruler of his domain who hates to have anyone defy him and punishes others in very cruel ways 2) The vengeful brother of Zeus who craves everything that his more favored brother has 3) A (maybe) sincerely lovestruck man who went so far as to build his whole world around what he thought Zelena would want, without knowing for sure whether she’d ever see it.

    To me, that’s sort of a lot of balls to have in the air in terms of the character, but I really hope it works! Germann is just fantastic at playing al these different shades. He’s creeping up there now with Barbara Hershey and Elizabeth Mitchell on my list of all time great OUAT guest stars. So, even if the writing doesn’t completely come together, I am sure it is going to be entertaining thanks to him. At the very least, I hope it works a lot better than the integration of the guest characters in 5A, which ended up being one of the weakest parts of that half season (which I mostly liked overall.) Merida and Arthur in particular just never connected emotionally for me as a hero or villain with meaningful a relationship to the core characters, and I honestly don’t care whether we ever catch up with them again. Hades, so far, is a huge improvement.

    Other quick notes –
    -I’m a mom to two young kids, and I have a visceral reaction to the thought of being separated from them. Watching Snow and Charming react to Emma’s reading of Baby Neal’s story made me tear up, which I actually rarely do while watching the show. Great work Ginny and Josh!!
    – I am all for the return of funny, snarky Hook, but the “Wonderful, Snow likes oatmeal…” dig at Henry was kind of mean!

    To Katie’s questions –
    1) I am going to go with it’s more likely than not that Hades is still trying to enact the spell, and the three ladies he’s trapped there representing the other elements is a great theory
    2) Not sure about the logistics of Author-dom, seems like a plot convenience at this point to have Henry write in his sleep?
    3) Regina got a hat, but Emma got a hat earlier too, didn’t she? I don’t recall anyone carrying accessories when they got on the boat to the underworld initially. Maybe they stopped at an Underbrooke boutique.
    4) I’ll bet everyone is just sleeping in shifts at the loft, although I do wish the show would occasionally take a breath and fill in some of these basic logistical blanks.
    5) I thought that the gang might try to get Rumple to send Robin and the baby back to our world…it kind of seems like he can just open portals, right? Or did he need Hades for that? There’s nothing keeping Robin in the underworld.
    6) As long as it’s not Marian.

    • Thanks for sharing this great take on the episode with us, Kate!

      I’m going to start with your comment about Hook and Henry, because I’ve seen that as a point of contention for some people, but it didn’t really bother me. But maybe I’m just willing to cut Killian some slack because he’s bound to be a little cranky and impatient after everything he’s gone through lately. 😉

      I’m right there with you in hoping that Hades’ story continues in this vein and not like Merdia or Arthur last season—neither of whom I particularly connected with. There are a lot of facets to this character already, but I’d rather he seem more complex than he needs to be than turn into something two-dimensional. Until proven otherwise, I’m going to hope that the writers and Germann pull this off.

      Two final notes: I’m laughing so hard at the idea of Regina and Emma stopping to buy hats at an Underworld store. I also 100% agree with you that any name for this baby is preferable to Marian (and I adore that name). I really think the writers know they messed up with Neal and are now having fun being “meta” about it.

      • Katie, upon reflection, totally with you on cutting Hook some slack given what he’s been through. The character gets so much unfounded criticism, and he’s the best! Maybe ‘mean’ was too strong a word. Actually, he was just talking to Henry as he would to another one of the adults, which is totally in keeping with their relationship. Hook has always been the one who treats Henry more like a grown up than a kid. Off the top of my head: Hook talked to him honestly about Baelfire right after he died, he taught him how to cheat when gambling, and he brought him in on his secret plan to find a house for Emma.

        If Henry really wants to be a hero, he’s going to have to start accepting the grown up pressure that comes with all that grown up responsibility! : )

        • I think Killian at least deserved one of Emma’s trademark arm smacks for that comment! But yes, if anyone is probably antsy to get back at Hades, its Killian. I am slightly confused as to everyone’s goal now in the Underworld. Most just want to get home, but Killian is all about “defeating Hades”. Are these two different things? Or is defeating Hades the only way to get home?

          • This is a great question! I think they’re one and the same right now—it’s just that the characters are phrasing them differently (until Snow brought the two ideas together near the end of the episode). I think they didn’t have to be connected until Hades put Snow, Regina, and Emma’s names on the tombstones, keeping them from going home. Now I think they need to defeat him to get their names off the stones in order to be able to go home.

  11. I loved reading everyone’s take on Zelena and Hades. After reading everyone’s responses, I am now of the opinion that Zelena and Hades’ relationship is basically an emotional Rorschach test. 🙂

  12. Great insight, as usual. Everyone has already said so much about the Hades/Zelena relationship, I don’t have much to add. But I totally agree that this was a week of surprises.

    The one thing that stood out to me was when Hades had disappeared and set up this wonderful celebratory dinner for Zelena. Then, just as they are about to kiss, Zelena pulls back and accuses Hades of just using her to get what he wants (my paraphrasing). The line she says: ‘because that’s what I would do.’ stuck with me.

    Zelena, at this point in time, had never had anyone truly love her and doesn’t know what that is like, so she can’t believe that Hades would NOT have an ulterior motive. She would only show care to someone if there was something in it for her. So she believes that is what Hades is doing. It is so true that we often see others actions and words in terms of how we would act or think. Even when they meet years later, she can’t believe that he would have done everything for her. I can totally relate to her doubts. She wants to believe, but everything she has experienced in her life is saying she shouldn’t.

    Other Surprises for me:
    – I was not much of a Zelena fan. She was okay in small doses, but the whole ‘ you got everything and I got nothing’ line was getting old. So I was surprised at how much I cared about her this episode. Kudos to Rebecca Mader for showing us that Zelena is not one-dimensional. I do want to find out what happens to her and the little green bean.
    – Just when I thought Rumplestilskin was the worst, he actually does have some character development. I was surprised as everyone else when he laid it all out on the line to Belle. While not great, he’s at least being honest with her for the first time. That is progress for him.
    – Has anyone else noticed that it seems that Snow, not Emma, is the ‘leader’ in this half of the season. Since they have been in the Underworld, she seems to be the one taking charge; getting Hercules to finish his quest; saying ‘We are done here. We are taking down Hades.’ She is definitely being more Snow-like.
    – How could anyone think that Robin taking a baby into the woods is the right thing to do. What is he going to feed it, for heaven’s sake? I guess I need to suspend my disbelief on that one.

    • This was an excellent analysis of Zelena’s character, Kate! You’re so right about how universal it is for us to only be able to comprehend how people act in certain situations based on how we would act or what we’ve personally experienced. Sincere expressions of love in any way is such a foreign concept for Zelena that she can’t imagine anyone acting that way toward her without wanting to use her, and that’s heartbreaking.

      I also like what you said about Snow taking charge in this arc. I’ve really liked seeing her step up for two reasons. One: I’ve always loved seeing Snow act as the leader we all know she can be. Two: Snow taking charge has allowed Emma to be able to focus on Killian. For such a long time I’ve been waiting for other characters to step up so Emma wouldn’t always have to be the Savior and could focus on herself instead of always having to be everything to everyone, and it seems that’s finally happening.

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