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Once Upon a Time – Our Decay – Review

Now this is the kind of episode I like to see from Once Upon a Time. “Our Decay” is my favorite episode of 5B so far. I found this focus on Zelena surprisingly intriguing and a welcome break from what we’ve been seeing in the Underworld so far. I suppose I’ve just grown tired of the focus on Hook and the tension surrounding his rescue and our heroes desire to leave the Underworld. Once Upon a Time is at its best when it explores its characters. This is what drew us all in during the first season, that focus one the people behind the fairy tales. This episode allowed the audience to catch its breath while it acknowledged several plot lines that have been left dangling since our heroes started their quest. From the brief glimpses of Henry struggling with his role as Author, to Belle and Rumple having a very frank and much needed talk, to the centerpiece of “Our Decay”, the exploration of Zelena and her desire for love, everything in this episode just clicked. I’m surprised I found myself so emotionally invested in the struggle Zelena was going through; she seems as if she is on the same path as her sister, though I do hope there are some deviations along the way. “Our Decay” was beautifully shot and focused on the large and dysfunctional family at the center of Once Upon a Time, reminding the audience of why we love these characters.

Snow White’s revelation that they had become “regulars” in the Underworld diner really struck a chord with both the princess and myself as a viewer. Snow’s realization that they had been neglecting their baby on a quest that has already stretched longer than they imagined brought the various recent births that had been left in past season back to light. I know I criticized an earlier episode for a similar side plot regarding Regina seeking closure, but Snow and Charming’s “level one haunting” was more relevant and took up much less screen time than Regina once again seeking closure with Daniel. Especially since it helped to demonstrate Henry’s budding powers as the Author.

Speaking of Henry, going along with the last episode, having the young hero have his own personal struggles outside of the adults remains refreshing. Not only are we learning more about how the writing of The Book works, but Henry is allowed more and more to become independent. Emma said it herself, they now have a teenager on their hands, and with it comes all the struggles a teen in Henry’s position may face. He’s stepping out of the shadow of his family and it’s quite welcome. I hope this continues to set up meatier story lines for him in the future.

I’m always relieved when Rumple and Belle air their dirty laundry, or more specifically when they are both so direct with each other. Rumple in the past has hid so much from Belle and she has given him an unfathomable amount of second chances, but their interaction in “Our Decay” where everything, the pregnancy and Rumpelstiltskin’s new found Dark One-ness, is on the table is satisfying. Not only are the secrets between them eliminated, but their relationship is realistically tested and still holds fast. They are wavering, but determined to work their problems out instead of dramatically breaking apart, though I do enjoy how Belle is sticking up for herself and doesn’t seem to be going along with Rumple so easily. Rumple sums their entire situation up perfectly when he tells Belle that she made have made him a better man, but not a different one.

The real focus in this episode is bringing Zelena back into the fray and laying out her past history with Hades. While I’m not 100% convinced he is totally sincere, their flashbacks together paint the Lord of the Underworld in a more sympathetic light without totally redeeming Hades. This is the kind of back story I like to see for this villain, not a totally retelling explaining away his faults, but a flashback that adds to his character without neutering it. Zelena and Hades’ budding romance, particularly the scene where they ride the bicycle together, are somehow sweet without being saccharine. These are still dangerous characters, but they are also people with emotions.

The present day plot with Zelena and the yet-to-be-named baby (I’m fond of the nickname “Pistachio”, which has been embraced by the internet) help to rectify the rather unsatisfactory point this plot left off in season 5A. The acting was superb in all of Zelena’s scenes. We see the Wicked Witch desperately want to love her child, but she doesn’t know how. Her usual methods of acting, namely stealing the baby away from Robin and Regina and then accidentally hurting the child with magic, are shown not to work in Zelena’s current situation. Regina and Robin telling Zelena how it is in the forest was a great scene, as was the moment when she realized that giving up the baby for its own good were pivotal scenes of growth for the Wicked Witch. This shows a parallel, something Once Upon a Time does quite well, between Zelena giving up the child and Snow and Charming’s decision to let Emma go. In both instances it was to give the baby their “best chance” and the fact that the circumstances were drastically different, Charming and Snow saving Emma from an outside danger and Zelena saving her child from an internal one, create a parallel that isn’t too obvious. The scene at the farmhouse was gut wrenching and I feel sincerity in Zelena. I hope that she is allowed more interaction with her child and learns from her feelings for the baby in upcoming episodes.

My favorite scene of “Our Decay” was Hades and Zelena’s meeting on the streets of the Underworld. Again, a very emotional scene, though as I said before I’m not ready to wholly trust Hades’ sincerity. And neither is Zelena, though I see potential in this pairing. If the episode had played out differently I would have questioned how suddenly this romance came into the plot, but somehow it just works well. The fact that Hades tailored the Underworld to look like Storybrooke for Zelena was sweet in a twisted, dark way befitting the Lord of the Underworld. The line that packed the most punch for me in this episode was when Hades was explaining how even though he tried to make Storybrooke for his love, the Underworld was a place of decay, but their decay. Title drop aside, this line speaks to the fact that these characters are imperfect, selfish, and yes evil. But they are presented as people capable of love and being loved. Once Upon a Time is about exploring the grey areas in fairy tales, of presenting good and evil as human and flawed, and this interaction was an amazing example of it.

On a final note, this episode looked gorgeous. The direction was exceptional, from the use of lighting in the forest scene between Regina, Robin, and Zelena, to the quick cuts back and forth between Storybrooke and the Underworld as the portal opened. I’ve always found Oz to be one of the more visually interesting lands that this show visits and “Our Decay” showcased it well. Also, certain angles used really left an impact while watching the episode, most notably the one used when Zelena strikes and takes the Scarecrow’s brain. “Our Decay” was an exemplary example of the true potential of Once Upon a Time.

Be sure to tune in next week for “Her Handsome Hero”!

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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