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Once Upon a Time – Labor of Love – Review

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I always find the second episode in any season or half season of Once Upon a Time to just be a little lacking, mostly due to the fact that during it the majority of the story is set up for the conflict that will carry over the course of the season. However, “Labor of Love” really didn’t do much for me this week. It had great moments, but I felt the backstory dragged, as well as much of Hercules’ conflict. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the character of Hercules, but while watching this week’s episode I found myself growing impatient for the action to get back to our main heroes in the Underworld. That being said, this week goes to the villains, as the more I see of Hades the more I believe he is an excellent addition to the series. Hades is proving himself to be a true threat, a more serious foe to match nicely with the creepiness that is the Underworld. Cruella came back this week as well and she was always a favorite of mine. I enjoy the humor and sass she brings to Once Upon a Time, and I’m especially looking forward to the storyline her return is setting up.

The episode begins with a bloody and battered Hook waking in an underground lair. I find myself wondering why he was so manhandled. Is that standard practice for anyone entering the Underworld? Is that standard for a Dark One entering the Underworld? Or was it extra personal? Hook comes across a young woman who appears to be traumatized by her experiences, urging Hook not to anger Hades and his minions by escaping. The pirate is defiant; he knows Emma is there to save him thanks to the power of love. I enjoy how much Hook has always believed in Emma no matter what. Determined to escape, Hook urges the young woman to freedom, while he stays behind and distracts the beast guarding them. I have to say, the effect of those glowing red eyes appearing through the dim smoky distance was a high point for me with this episode, it looked fantastic and was especially chilling.

Meanwhile, Snow and Charming are searching the graveyard for clues while the rest of their party tackles the woods. Rumple is strangely absent this episode. I have a feeling we will see what he was up to next week. Snow is despondent because she fears that they will not be able to protect Emma while in the Underworld, referencing her inability to save the large number of her subjects that were doomed to this purgatory, as seen from their gravestones. Suddenly Snow comes across one grave marker that affects her more deeply than the rest. It’s that of Hercules, the legendary hero. Charming appears a bit jealous that his wife ever got mixed up with a demi-god. The entire “Snow and Herc had a childhood crush” element of this episode just struck me as odd. Why make these waves in the Charming’s relationship here? Also, as much as I like Herc, I just feels weird to see young Snow flirting with someone who isn’t Charming. This might be because Snow and Charming’s relationship has been held up as the quintessential example of True Love, and while things have been far from perfect for them, the idea of either of them with another person just strikes me as out of place. Snow believes that if Hercules is down in the Underworld, he may be able to help them find Hook.

Speaking of Snow and Herc’s flirting, now would be a good time to mention the flashback portion of “Labor of Love”. I actually enjoyed it more than last week’s as it did explain how a previously spoiled and currently pampered princess could survive in the woods and fight when the time came for her to flee from her evil stepmother. I also enjoyed the fact that Snow White was bad at being a hero to begin with. Even after she picked up a few moves, she still fumbled her first encounter, strengthening the message that one “can’t let the fear of failing stop you from trying”. After being reassured by Herc, Snow did try and she did succeed. It might just be me, but because the parallel between the present day story and the flashback was so apparent, I was less engaged in the episode than I usually am. I will say that while it was sweet that Snow and Herc were each other’s first kiss, I just don’t know where this semi-romance was supposed to go since I don’t think we’ll see Hercules again after this episode.

So back to the Underworld. Emma and Regina find the escaped young woman in the woods and whisk her away to safety in the Underworld’s version of Casa de Charming. Its details like this, the fact that Snow and Charming’s home is waiting for them to die and occupy it, that set the Underworld apart for me. These unsettling instances sprinkled throughout the season are welcome, reminding the audience that it’s not just any old realm that our heroes have traveled to. As the young woman explains about the guardian beast, who is actually Cerberus, Snow and Charming do arrive to their Underworld digs and explain that with the help of Hercules they can defeat this monster.

Over to anti-Granny’s, where after a humorous exchange between Regina and the Blind Witch, our heroes find out where Hercules is working off his labors and Snow goes to seek his help. How Once Upon a Time demonstrated Hercules’ strength was well done in this episode. It wasn’t a flashy effect, but often shown in understated actions that made the audience say to themselves, “wait a sec…” Hercules’ reluctance to talk about how he died and ended up in the Underworld instantly hints to the audience that he must have fallen while fighting Cerberus. And if that doesn’t clue viewers in, the fact that he runs from the beast in the mines instead of confronting it solidifies Herc’s fear.
What I like most about the scene in the mines is Hades stepping out to address our heroes. I’m actually surprised he meets them so soon, but Hades clearly has the upper hand. It’s this confidence that makes him scary; the fact that he is in complete control. Hades also appears to know a great many things; even why the Underworld looks like Storybrooke, which he unfortunately doesn’t tell us. With a disturbing tone in his voice, Hades completes his mission by delivering Hook’s bloody hook as a way of sending a message to our heroes.

One of my favorite scenes from this episode takes place a short while later. Snow White is back at Casa de Charming, doubting herself, when Regina comes to comfort her with some tough love. It’s remarkable that what Regina says is true, that Snow White defeated years of scheming with friendship because she never gave up. I love this exchange; it’s so self-aware, what with Regina acknowledging her villainy and Snow mentioning her predisposition to make speeches about hope. Their roles are almost flipped here. It’s just refreshing and says a lot about how rounded and fleshed out these characters are that they can have a natural interact like this.

Snow White leaves the “Mary Margaret” part of her behind and offers to help Hercules slay Cerberus, which will finish the business the hero has in the Underworld, allowing him to move on. Unfortunately, Cerberus has found them first, crashing in to Casa de Charming where the young woman who was prisoner was hiding. We soon find out that this is supposed to be Megara and quite frankly I’m disappointed. I don’t care for when Once Upon a Time goes too Disney, but in a cast of strong female characters, this Megara was sort of useless. Eventually she does help Herc and Snow defeat Cerberus by stabbing him to death in a manner a bit more graphic than we’re used to on this show. I must admit I liked it since I love when this show goes dark. Megara and Hercules, who actually died trying to save her from Cerberus, both finished the business they had in the Underworld and are allowed to ascend to a better place. As the clock ticks once again, Snow White is determined to be Mary Margaret no more.

While this is going on a far more intriguing encounter has been taking place. Henry and Robin Hood went to the mayor’s office in search of maps to the town, figuring that because such a thing existed in Storybrooke, it would be reflected down in the Underworld. That might be an assumption to keep in mind for later episodes. Henry is the only one able to gain access to the office, but he has a startling surprise when he does. Cruella DeVil is waiting for him. I’ve missed Cruella, the humor and biting commentary she brings, as well as her maniacal streak. Simply put, Cruella misses being alive (and gin), and wishes to return to the land of the living. This is another mention of people returning from the Underworld, could this be foreshadowing for someone switching places and coming back to life by season end?

Cruella needs Henry’s help since he is the Author. Despite breaking the quill, it has found its way to the Underworld and Cruella wants Henry to recover it and write her back to life. She tempts the boy by explaining if she comes back from the dead, Emma’s slate will be wiped clean and his mother won’t be a murderer anymore. When Henry emerges from the office, he is silent about who he encountered and the deal he obviously made. I’m looking forward to this storyline. Not only is it going to give Henry difficult choices but also something interesting to do. I’m glad he’s getting his own storyline in season 5b.

The episode ends with the most unsettling of Hades encounters. The ruler of the Underworld presents Hook, who is still battered and beaten, with a chisel as he conjures three headstones and informs the pirate that it’s he who will chose which of his friends will replace the souls lost from Hades’ kingdom. What makes Hades so threatening is that he’s one of the few villains that doesn’t come off as a bit campy. He can be humorous but he’s not funny, so his menace isn’t dampened by the audience laughing at or with him. It’s very interesting to me that I enjoy seeing Hades on screen, but not the same way I enjoy Zelena or Cruella. Both of the latter can have an edge, but their humor endears them to the viewer even despite their despicable acts. Hades has done nothing to win the audience over and yet I want more. Well, I think we’ll get just that when Rumpelstiltskin returns next episode.

Join us next week for “Devil’s Due”!

About the Author – Ashley B
Ashley is as serious as a sleeping curse when she says television is her life. Professional event planner, avid movie viewer, convention enthusiast, and resident sass master, Ashley writes reviews for ABC's Once Upon a Time, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and Galavant, as well as Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. She looks forward each week to the weird and wonderful world her favorite television programs provide.
Recent Reviews by Ashley B (All Reviews)

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