Title Last Rites
Two-Sentence Summary As Emma and the other heroes try to defeat Hades in Storybrooke, Killian and Arthur team up to help them from the Underworld. When Hades activates the all-powerful Olympian Crystal, it proves to be a weapon of terrible consequence for the heroes as well as the Lord of the Underworld’s own undoing.
Arthur: No! No! No!
Killian: Denial, anger, grief…Can we just get to acceptance?
My Thoughts “Last Rites” was an emotional roller coaster. At times, the vast emotional swings from painful grief to soaring love highlighted the beautiful duality of life. Where there is life, there is also death. Where there is grief, there is also joy. Hope and heartbreak both exist in the world. And just as there is pain in knowing that moments of hope will eventually give way to heartbreak, there is also comfort in knowing that moments of heartbreak will one day give way to moments of hope.
At other times, though, the emotional twists and turns of this episode felt like they were giving me whiplash. The objective of this episode was clear: to juxtapose Emma getting the man she loves back from the dead with the death of the man Regina loves. It once again made me think of Emma and Regina as two sides of a coin, which has been a part of this show since the beginning. But I am growing tired of the fact that it feels like only one of these women can be happy or at peace at a given time. I know that they are the two central pieces of this story, and, as such, their stories must have conflict to create good drama. But just once, I’d love to see both women have a chance to be happy and feel like they’re in a good place at the same time—though I fear that probably won’t happen until the end of the series. As someone who loves both characters fiercely, it’s frustrating to see one of them set up for a period of stability and happiness only to realize that means the other will almost surely face a period of misery. But I’m the kind of person who would love for every character to be happy, and that’s why I don’t write TV dramas.
It was difficult to analyze this episode using my traditional format (and within the time constraints my life has put on my writing this week), so I chose to try something new here. “Last Rites” was filled with intense highs and lows, so here are my high and low points of this episode.
Zelena has been the high point of this entire arc. I am so happy for the writers and for Rebecca Mader that a story they clearly put a lot of care and time into has paid off so well. Mader was once again fantastic in “Last Rites.” Her performance in the scene in which Zelena kills Hades was absolutely riveting. I was so proud of Zelena for coming to the realization that has always separated heroes from villains on this show: Love should be enough. Zelena didn’t want power or revenge anymore; she just wanted a normal life full of love. And that was so true to her character—a woman who just wanted a family, who just wanted to be enough for someone. And when she discovered that she still wasn’t enough for Hades, the pain Mader poured into that moment was tangible, but so was the sense of self-respect. I can only hope this character continues to grow and continues to be there for her sister, because I am so excited for the prospect of more Zelena, which is something I never thought I’d write.
I’m sure we all figured that Maurice wouldn’t be able to wake Belle from her sleeping curse, but I was shocked that he willingly chose to keep his daughter under that spell because of his hatred for Rumplestiltskin. I understand him wanting to keep Belle away from Rumplestiltskin, but a sleeping curse has been called a fate worse that death. We’ve seen the nightmarish red room and the flames, and that’s not something I’d want someone I loved to be subjected to for any amount of time. There were extenuating circumstances involved in keeping Belle under the curse (Emilie de Ravin’s maternity leave), but it still served to remind us that Belle needs to get away from the men in her life as soon as she wakes up.
High: Killian and Arthur’s adventure
Killian and Arthur: The scruff sandwich bromance I never knew I always wanted. This was such a smart use of Arthur, placing him on another quest—not for personal glory this time, but to do good for others. His unfinished business was his prophecy: He needed to fix a broken kingdom not through deception and darkness but through honest, good work. And the Underworld was exactly the kind of broken kingdom that needed him. It was an excellent way to resolve his story, which had been dangling as a loose plot thread since the end of Season 5A. And pairing Colin O’Donoghue and Liam Garrigan made for a double dose of charming fun. Both actors played off each other so well, and they both brought a lovely bit of sincerity to their final interaction. It meant a lot for Killian to call the man who dealt him a fatal blow in Camelot “Your Majesty,” proving that he’s no longer a man who craves vengeance. And I’ll admit to getting emotional when Arthur called Killian “Captain,” a title which speaks to the sense of honor that is so important to Killian.
Low: No resolution for the River of Lost Souls
Are we really just supposed to believe Milah and Aunt Em will be stuck in the River of Lost Souls forever? I can pretend that Arthur will one day rescue those souls and help them move on, but it was genuinely upsetting to me that we didn’t get to see it happen onscreen. It felt brutally unfair for those two characters (especially Milah) to be resigned to such a horrible fate, but “brutally unfair” seemed to be a running theme in this episode.
High: Jennifer Morrison and Lana Parrilla’s acting
I know I stated earlier that I’m growing tired of either Emma or Regina having to be sad at almost all times, but it does give Morrison and Parrilla great material to work with. Both actors were at the top of their game in “Last Rites,” creating genuinely moving performances. Parrilla’s work in the scenes following Robin’s death was stunning. The total sincerity in her vulnerability when she was telling Zelena that true love is sacrifice made me cry. That was contrasted in a really smart way by her outwardly stoic performance in the funeral scene—ever the regal queen, fighting to stay poised as her world falls apart. And Morrison’s portrayal of Emma’s grief resonated even more strongly with me because it was given even more time to develop. She brought total authenticity to each moment—from her initial desperation to the achingly realistic way she spoke the simple truth we all feel when we lose a loved one: “I miss you.” This episode was as moving as it was because these two actors made every wild swing in emotion feel rooted in something profoundly honest.
Low: Not enough Sean Maguire (both in this episode and all season)
Sean Maguire had more screen time in this episode than he’s had for most of this season, but that’s not saying much. I know this is a big cast, and I feel as if the writers were purposely trying to lessen our connection to Robin before his death to make it less painful. However, all it did was leave me frustrated at the missed opportunities for this character. It seemed like the writers were never quite sure what to do with Maguire and with the character of Robin—especially this season. For as much as I appreciated the chemistry between Maguire and Parrilla and loved what Regina’s relationship with Robin did for her character, that relationship always felt as if it were missing something. And maybe that “something” was more time onscreen with them being happy or having meaningful conversations before this episode. It felt like “too little too late” in this episode, and the impact of his death was lessened by the character’s absence this season. That might have made it easier to say goodbye, but when you’re bidding farewell to such a seemingly important character, it shouldn’t feel easy.
High: Emma and Killian’s connection
To know me is to know my love for romantic relationships that are supportive partnerships. So you can imagine my joy when Killian and Emma spent this episode continuing to help each other even though they were separated by death. As Killian said all the way back in Season Two’s “Tallahassee,” they make quite the team, and it seems not even death can keep them from being teammates. Perhaps my favorite thing about this part of the episode was the fact that they could feel what the other was going through even though they were in completely different realms. Killian knew that Emma was struggling to fight Hades, and Emma knew that Killian wasn’t going to move on until he helped her with this last task. Eventually, he helped her by sending her the storybook, symbolically sending her hope from the Underworld. And once Hades was defeated, Killian knew Emma had succeeded. I loved O’Donoghue’s delivery of “I don’t know. I just…do.” You could feel the understanding settle in him that they will always be connected by the strength of their True Love. Because, as he said earlier this season, when you love someone, you know. There was such a lovely message of hope in the idea that not even death could sever the connection between their souls and keep them from supporting each other as they always have.
Low: Hades and Zelena’s “True Love”
Once again, the pure love between Killian and Emma—as well as the love between Regina and Robin—made me question how on Earth Hades and Zelena could have shared True Love’s Kiss in last week’s episode. Zelena clearly wasn’t enough for Hades, which goes against everything we know about True Love. He was actively deceiving her, trying to hurt her family, and planning to gain more power because he wanted more than just a life with her. That kiss never should have worked, unless it only needed to be a kiss from someone who truly loved him.
High: Robin and Regina’s True Love
True Love is sacrificial. We’ve seen that time and again on this show, as recently as last week’s episode. And Regina repeated that idea this week when she told Regina that Robin gave up everything to save her, because that’s what True Love is all about. Robin’s death was an act of True Love, willingly putting Regina’s safety and happiness above his own. It was a choice he made to selflessly protect the woman he loves at the expense of his own life—because he believes she is worth it (even when she doesn’t). Although Robin’s death was incredibly sad, it was also a beautiful testament to the fact that the love between him and Regina was as True as it gets. And although it seemed unfair for Regina to lose another person she loved, I was happy that she at least got to see that someone loved her—even knowing her dark side—enough to die for her.
Low: Roland is an orphan
Yes, it was heroic and beautiful for Robin to give up everything for Regina. But he also left behind a son and a daughter. Nothing in this heartbreaking episode destroyed me like the shot of Roland laying an arrow on his father’s casket. That poor little boy already lost a mother, and now he has to grow up without his father, too. I know he’ll be taken care of (I could see Regina taking care of him or any of the Merry Men or even Snow and Charming.), but to inflict that much trauma on a kid seems excessive. However, it is a good “fairytale origin story,” considering how many fairytale heroes and heroines lose one or both of their parents.
High: Robin’s death makes sense from a storytelling perspective…
As a piece of dramatic storytelling, I understand what the writers are doing by killing Robin. It sets in motion a new story for Regina (So can we consider Robin’s death a male example of fridging?). Once again, Regina has lost a man she loves. This creates the conflict between the part of her that will always be drawn to darkness and the part of her that is now striving to do the right thing. In addition, it forces her to confront the idea that it’s not just villains that don’t get happy endings; heroes suffer, too. How will she deal with that? Robin’s death raises the stakes, reminding us that this is a world in which real losses can happen. But most importantly, I think Robin’s death happened in order for Regina to discover what Emma learned in the last episode: When you lose someone, their death won’t be in vain if you find a way to honor them. Emma tried to honor Killian’s death by keeping her armor off (hence the gut-wrenching scene of her being so openly emotional at his grave), and I think Regina will come to learn that she can honor Robin by being the woman he believed was worth dying for—a woman who fought to be her best self when it wasn’t easy, a woman who let herself be guided by hope and love rather than anger and vengeance. Regina’s story can now become a story about the hope that you can live a good and happy life even after suffering a terrible loss by choosing not to let that loss consume you. There is beauty to be found in such a story, and I hope that’s the story they choose to tell.
Low: …but still feels too bleak for a show about hope
Not only did Robin die; he was obliterated. No Underworld. No hope of moving on. No character deserves that fate—especially not when we saw characters like Cora moving on and Arthur finding a purpose in the Underworld. My feelings about this are like my feelings about Milah being stuck in the River of Lost Souls multiplied by a billion: It’s brutally unfair. And I know that life is often unfair. But Once Upon a Time is a show about hope, and this was one of the bleakest turns this show has ever taken. For as happy as I was at the end of the episode, I couldn’t help but to still feel sad on Regina’s behalf. Having Killian return on the same day as Robin’s funeral was a nice bit of compact storytelling, but it was also emotionally jarring. Selfishly as a fan, I didn’t want to have to feel bad because I was happy to see Emma and Killian reunited, but that’s exactly what I felt. Kudos to the writers for making me feel for everyone in this situation, but I just wish what I was feeling was a little happier. This is a show about hope, after all, and what they did to Robin—and to Regina by extension—felt about as hopeless as it gets.
High: Ending on a happy note
Even though the staging of Emma and Killian’s reunion was less than ideal (but was done to heighten the Emma/Regina conflict that’s sure to come), that doesn’t mean I didn’t love every beat of it. One of my favorite little nuances about it was the lack of hesitation on Emma’s part as soon as Killian said her name. This is a woman who used to be as skeptical as it gets, but she didn’t doubt for a moment that Killian had come back to her. That’s what love does; it helps you believe in the impossible. And even when Killian was trying to explain to her what happened (let’s call it the ultimate deus ex machina), it didn’t matter to her. She was willing to finally accept that things could just be good in that moment, that someone she lost could come back to her and that she could be happy without holding anything back out of fear of it not being real or lasting. And she didn’t hold anything back in that scene. Emma and Killian’s kiss was such a stunningly romantic moment, but what I loved the most were all the little kisses Emma showered him with as he tried to talk. The joy of the moment was infectious (I will never stop smiling at the memory of his little giggle as she kissed his cheek.), and it was all because of the sincerity O’Donoghue and Morrison brought to it. It’s not often that a reunion can feel as good as a separation felt painful, but this was the rare occasion where the pure happiness of one moment made up for a season of brutal angst. It was an earned moment if there ever was one on this show, and it ended a very bleak episode with a spark of hope. In the middle of a rainy graveyard, they created a moment of life and light. And it was a moment I won’t soon forget.
As a side note, NGN will be going on hiatus starting tomorrow as I travel to Walt Disney World for a long-awaited vacation! This means my analysis of the Once Upon a Time finale won’t be posted until some time after May 23. (It also means the rest of NGN’s regular content will be on hiatus, too.) I appreciate your patience in advance, and I promise to make it worth the wait!