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Once Upon a Time - Souls of the Departed - Review

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The "Souls of the Departed” brings us back into the fifth season of Once Upon a Time in fine fashion. There was a little something for everyone, with cameos galore, as well new mysteries to uncover. Most folks would want a 100th episode of a series to be a show-stopping event packed with action, but the more faithful, emotional approach “Souls of the Departed’ took is more preferable in my mind. It caused the season to come to a grinding halt and it allows the writers to effectively use the hour they have to the best of their ability, working the cameos seamlessly into the story. I will say the flashback portion of the episode was well done, but didn’t capture me as effectively as the emotional scenes between Regina and Henry in the present. “Souls of the Departed” looks back and pays honor to the ninety nine Once Upon a Time episodes that came before it.

The episode begins with Emma waking up in the yellow bug. This is a very familiar situation, made all the more so when Neal aka Baelfire, Rumpelstiltskin’s song, pops up from the backseat just as he did when the two first met. Nealfire is in a better place, but has contacted Emma to warn her about the journey ahead. The scene is extremely emotional for long time viewers and does an excellent job of not only giving the audience new information about the Underworld, but also provides a more satisfying closure to Emma and Neal’s story. We learn through bits of Nealfire’s dialogue that Underworld is a hostile place, one with rules that we don’t understand yet, and intermixed with this info are inquires about Henry and the savior assuring Neal that if she knew she could save him she would have. This scene is an excellent way to kick off the 100th episode of Once Upon a Time; it honors the past while moving forward.

So Emma wakes suddenly as the boat carrying them to the Underworld approaches the dock. I love the look of the Underworld; it comes off as so hostile and unsetting. The music throughout this entire episode helps create feeling of being watched and unsafe. There is just something so unnerving about the familiar town turned into a place of anger and despair. Robin and Regina have an interesting conversation alter on about which came first, Storybrooke or the Underworld. Did the curse pull from the Underworld in order to make the “horrible place without magic” promised in the pilot episode, or did the heroes descending to the Underworld color it in a way that would make them the most uncomfortable?

The Underworld is filled with familiar inhabitants, most of who are in limbo because of our heroes and any unfinished business they have with them. This is where the bulk of the cameos come in as the Storybrooke team splits up in order to gather more information. Snow White has an intimate and startling encounter with Charming’s slimy twin brother, James while the Blind Witch from Hansel and Gretel mans the counter at Granny’s. Regina makes her way to the mayor’s office and finds her mother, Cora, waiting for her. This Cora is the woman we saw right before her death, the woman who had regained her heart and truly cared for her daughter. Cora cares so much that she warns Regina right off the bat to leave the Underworld. That’s the second time someone has tried to get our heroes to leave. Despite Cora’s change of heart before she died, she still wants the former evil queen to do what’s best for her first. Thinly veiled threats lead to the reveal that if Regina doesn’t exit the Underworld, the spirit of her father who also resides here will suffer. As we find out at the end of this episode, Cora may have had little choice in the events of “Souls of the Departed”, but I don’t think she was acting maliciously. Cora was always ambitious to a fault and unfortunately thrives on the idea that mother knows best.

Back on the streets of the Underworld, Rumpelstiltskin enters the pawn shop, now almost a museum of his past relationships. He’s searching for something to help the team locate Hook, but unfortunately this shop no longer belongs to him, but his father, the ever youthful Peter Pan. Pan, like Cora, seems to want to extend the olive branch to their offspring and make amends, but also like Cora old habits die hard and it’s hard to decide if this parent’s words are sincere or manipulative. Pan misses the world of the living, and drops a bit of exposition that it’s possible for him to do so, if he trades places with one of the living souls that came down to the Underworld with Rumple. This is definitely setting the audience up for something to come in later in the season, though what we can’t be sure of yet. But again, the rules of the Underworld are being teased out with every encounter our heroes make with their past. It’s a very effective way of establishing a realm without dumping a large amount of exposition on the viewer.

Going along with the theme of an anti-Storybrooke, these cameos all seem to take the place of roles our heroes fill above ground; James quips he is the “sheriff” while Peter pan runs his son’s pawn shop, and Cora takes her place in the mayor’s office. This warped version of Storybrooke is an element we got very little of in the episode surprisingly, but that just makes me wish that it’s explored more.

Peter Pan generously gives Rumpelstiltskin the potion that will allow that will allow Snow White’s daughter to communicate with Captain Hook. I love that I get to write sentences like this one regularly. Anyway, this is the same potion Merida used in season 5A to communicate with her father, so we know it works. Our team of heroes just has to fund Hook’s grave, as apparently everyone who comes to the Underworld has a grave. Emma sprinkles the potion on to the captain’s plot, but the connection is too weak, or either Hook is as he seems badly beaten and they are unable to communicate with him. I like the detail of Regina stepping forward to shield Henry from how horrible Hook looked, for indeed I think this is the roughest and most bloody we’ve seen a character on Once Upon a Time.

This is a good moment to talk about the flashback portion of the episode, which I was surprised to see what Regina-centric. For the 100th episode of a series like Once Upon a Time, I would have thought they would either forgo the flashback, makes it Emma-centric, or make it about the ensemble. This flashback was enjoyable as it added a lot in regards to the audience’s understanding of the timeline of the show, but the story telling elements, aside from Regina’s interaction with her father which are more character moments anyway, didn’t add much to the story that we the viewer hadn’t already pieced together ourselves. It was obvious that somehow Cora got ahold of Henry Sr. and brought him to Wonderland to set up the events of “Hat Trick”, but aside from that and seeing Cora be her awful self which pleases me as she is my favorite villain in the history of Once Upon a Time, the flashback felt lacking to me.

So, knowing from the flashbacks how responsible Regina was for many horrible things that happened to her father, as well as his acknowledgement that Regina’s mother has a terrifying hold over her, watching their reunion was an emotional moment. Regina couldn’t even look her father in the eye after she called him forth with the remainder of Rumple’s potion. Its Henry Sr.’s regrets that kept him tethered to the Underworld, though which ones specifically he doesn’t know. It is nice that the show acknowledges how much of a pushover Henry was and how much he let Cora influence their daughter. Henry Sr. is the only denizen of the Underworld we’ve seen so far to encourage someone to stay. Now, there is a jump in the action that brings us quickly to the caves, where Cora has Henry standing over the fiery precipice she showed Regina early and it seems like such a sudden jump in the story that I wonder if something was cut for time. I’d be interested to see what that something is.

Regina and Cora face off, not in a hostile manner, which is a first, but both try to sway the other. It says a lot that Cora, who in the past had no reservations about using magic on her daughter, begs Regina not to force her hand as the former evil queen continues to edge toward her father. It looks as though the fiery pit does its work, but very quickly we realize that henry Sr. was spared from whatever was down below. There is a bright light and a new path is made for Henry Sr., one that in his words is “beautiful”. This is a very touching moment as Henry Sr. realizes what his unfinished business was. It was Regina and helping her in that moment. The best part of this scene is when Henry Sr. meets henry his grandson for the first time. The look of excitement and pride on Henry Sr.’s face, coupled with the thanks and advice both boy and grandfather exchange, speak to what could have been. Regina certainly would have been a different person if these had been the stronger influences in her life.

The heroes reunite on the street and as Regina tells of her father’s happy fate, the Storybrooke team realizes that everyone residing in the Underworld can be saved. Rumple is against the idea, he wants no part in trying to liberate all of limbo, but our heroes seem to be injected with new resolve with Henry declaring this new challenge be called “Operation Firebird”. I always love Henry’s names for his operations. As the heroes walk into the distance the top of the clock tower, that essential symbol of Storybrooke which plummeted to the ground and was imbedded in the street, slowly began to tick. I love this Imagery, everything that had to do with the clock tower in “Souls of the Departed”. Like I said, this is the symbol of Storybrooke, so it was very clever to take that and ruin it as a visual cue when our heroes arrived, that the Underworld was just wrong. The parallel between the magic returning to Storybrooke in the pilot and the souls beginning to leave the Underworld in the 100th episode is why I watch this show. Once again Once Upon a Time reaches back into its history and creates a special moment that rewards long time viewers.

However, there are evils that continue to lurk in the shadows of the Underworld as we see Cora descend beneath the main building of the clock tower. There she meets with a man of greatly refined taste being pampered by a servant. We can tell already that this person thinks very highly of himself and has a very low opinion of others. Even Cora or all people appears nervous around this man as he coolly expresses displeasure at a soul leaving his domain. He wants our heroes, especially Regina, out of the Underworld, and because Cora failed, he makes her worst nightmare come true and turns her back into the thing she has spent her entire life running from being; the miller’s daughter. With a flick of his neck, the mystery man’s head erupts into licking blue flames. We’ve just met Hades, Lord of the Underworld.

I have to admit that I was not keen on the idea of including Hades in the world of Once Upon a Time. Yes a precedent has been set throughout the past seasons that Greek mythology does have a life in the Enchanted Forest, but I felt that it was too heady of a subject, that it would overtake our current cast too much. I was also afraid that whoever they cast would try too hard to recreate the fast-talking James Woods portrayal. Then the casting news came out and Hades was to be an actor I’d only ever seen in comedic roles, so I was once again leery. However, these moments on screen, the calm and arrogant way Hades had about him, made me change my mind. There’s no imitation in Once Upon a Time’s Hades, he is a character of his own. I think it’s his utter disregard that causes him to come off as dangerous. He is so dismissive, but you can tell he’s watching everything. Time will tell how much of a threat he will prove to create for our heroes, but for now I can say I want to see more.

Join us next week for a Herculean episode with "Labor of Love”!

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.
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