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Once Upon a Time - From Our Decay to Last Rite - Review: "The end is near"

9 May 2016

Relationships: they are the heart of every single story. In order to keep viewers invested on a show, book, comic or anything that tells a story you need compelling characters and you need interesting characters dynamics or otherwise people won’t relate nor care much for what’s going. Every writer has to aim towards building something meaningful in their stories. I bring this up because lately Once Upon a Time has been either hit or miss (or, somehow, both) in this regard. There have been interesting characters dynamics, but they all have been rushed.

We’re at the point where true love blooms in just one day. I don’t know if you watched Frozen, but one of the lines that became iconic was “you can’t marry a man you just met!”, a shot fired towards the old notion from classic Disney films where pairs would fall in love in one single day (unless the films featured animals, in which the relationships were actually allowed to develop, like in Balto or even recently on Zootopia. Weird thing, the healthiest Disney relationships on movies are usually held by animals). Disney seems to have been evolving towards creating more real relationships, but for the last month it seems like OUAT wants to make a case for love at first sight. And it does so with mixed results.

Hades and Zelena fell in love over riding a bicycle one time. Ruby and Dorothy over a conversation. Heck, even young Zelena and Regina become best sisters ever just on the span of one day. These kinds of dynamics work half way because the actors are so good at their jobs and have such an amazing chemistry that it’s just a pleasure to watch them on screen together. But damn… it feels so rushed!

Out of these batches of multiple episodes, there are only a few relationships that are not rushed or developed out of wimp: Belle and Gaston have a complicated history that made for interesting storyteller as Gaston wasn’t simply dismissed as a villain, but someone who put a good case for his belief. Then we have Emma and Hook, whose relationship has been on the making for around 4 years now, so that certainly isn’t rushed. But for the most part, everything is a rush towards the end line and in doing so things don’t longer feel organic, but rather manufactured which is a delicate thing when it comes to storytelling.

Let’s start with “Our Decay”. First of all: who cares about Snow and David trying to reach for Neal? That’s a story that I bet next to no one is curious about and it ends on a very cheesy way with Henry just telling them that they succeeded. That’s it, stalling time from what it’s mostly an interesting installment.

The Hades and Zelena stuff was interesting as both actors share intense chemistry that makes them interesting to watch and make for quite a pair to watch, especially since both villains have motivations that make them seem like a power couple. But man… even Zelena herself mutters by the end of the episode “but we just met!” when Hades declares his love for her.

What happened to developing these relationships? If they were trying to fit it all in one episode, why didn’t they just make it so Hades and Zelena have previously met? They could have been partners in crime in some middle point in Oz and reunite when Dorothy comes back to Oz, but instead the writers decide that just going together on a bicycle is enough to make them fall for each other.

I was never against a Wicked Witch/Lord of Underworld pairing, if anything it could have been loads of fun (and for the most part, it was), but it felt completely unearned. And that’s the problem with most of what has been going on with the show: most of what happens can be fun or interesting, but it is unearned. Nothing is really satisfying because it just doesn’t feel natural.

Which is a problem that follows through “Her Handsome Hero”. Look, Belle may be the most interesting hero character the show has, but she needs to free herself from Rumple. He is poison to her, even when he loves her Rumple is nothing but toxic to her, which is why while I knew Belle was never going to side with Hades (since it would be unwise, this man is all about loopholes), but a part of me wanted her to do it so she could finally pay Rumple back for all that he has done to her.

But sadly it all ends up on a simple accident: Belle is always trying to pledge for the good in people, she is the kind of character that puts hope first and is not afraid to live by her words, which is something I respect, but neither Gaston nor Rumple would back down and the resolution that comes from this is Belle accidentally throwing Gaston to the river of soul.

The most interesting part of the Belle/Gaston interaction is that it is never truly about love as it is about just two people with different worldviews: Belle was someone who could’ve guided Gaston through a more heroic lifestyle, but that chance was ripped away from him by Rumple. Even while in the underworld, Belle still believes he can move on and she tries to help, which makes the resolution all the more frustrating. Why did the show had to side with Rumple on this one? I’m tired of the show just enabling the dark one to do whatever the heck he wants. He is just fine with killing everyone, and when he hugs Belle after she accidentally threw Gaston to the river of souls, it just felt wrong.

And Belle giving Rumple back his dagger… OH MY GOD! The episode grade would be probably higher if it wasn’t because of that stupidity. I mean, I get it, Belle wants to believe on Rumple, but he already has ran out of chances as far as I’m concerned. There’s only so much “love can change” I can take.

The uninteresting subplot with Emma’s dream (whom now seems to have prophetics dream) leads us for more stalling as she tries to erase the names from the graves. Then, as she, Hook and Snow are followed by some kind of unshown creature, the show stalls until we get the reveal that it was Ruby all along.

Look, I was as happy as the next guy to have Red back, but “Ruby Slippers” suffers from the same problems most episodes this back half does: rushed relationships. And in this case, it was particularly important to serve this one right, since we are tackling Disney’s first ever LGBT couple.

Once again, the weight of the relationship is carried by the actresses and their chemistry, because the writing team wasn’t there. Ruby and Dorothy have good chemistry and one good conversation before the writing team decides to turn them into a couple. Once again, in just one day.
As a bisexual, I find it really important for TV to portray LGBT couples as something that is just as natural as relationships between straight people. I have been on a relationship for 8 months now with another man and it has been as natural and rewarding as any relationship with any given woman, but it took time to build. That “build” is what is missing on OUAT.

I’m a bit pissed by that because the show just made it look easy. Granted, none of the characters saw any issue with it and they treated it as something completely normal, which is something that I’m happy about. The Ruby/Snow interactions were on point, a healthy female friendship that lead to some of the best moments of the hour as Snow told her it was ok for her to go for Dorothy and that she has to embrace the challenges it may bring.

Those challenges are the ones not being portrayed on the show and that are the key to relationships: as much as Snow talks about it being hard, the show doesn’t seem to do much to portray it. It is hard being LGBT, not because loving someone of your same sex is hard on itself (it is as hard as anyone else), but rather because there is this expectation of you to be different, even weird. On OUAT’s credit, they showed that you don’t have to follow that expectation to be different, but there is absolutely no build up to the relationship and truly explore what that means. And so, Ruby and Dorothy’s relationship feels kinda hollow in a way, even though they have crazy chemistry.

But one day rush into relationships is not just about lovers, it’s about sisters as well.
“Sisters” may be the very best episode of the Underworld saga, but it falls on the same mistake every other episode of this arc has done: the one day rush of love, this time with Regina and Zelena as kids. It took them 5 seconds to bond and start loving each other like crazy.

The episode really work wonders as it brings this whole complicated story together. Barbara Hershey, Rebecca Mader and Lana Parrilla are some of the show’s brightest stars and their characters are all shades of gray with complicated stories, fluctuating between good and evil. They are complex and well developed, which is why a story involving bringing the family together just felt right.

The last few episodes have been about redeeming Zelena on a similar light to which the show decided to start redeeming Regina back on season 2 and for the most part I have loved it because it is as compelling as it was the first time around, even if the plot feels a bit recycled. And, I must admit, it was poignant to see Cora bringing the family together, though I have reservations about her moving to a better place (is this one good deed enough to counter weight a lifetime of ruin to so many people?).

On the subplot section of the episode, absolutely nothing happened: sure, James fell to the river of souls and that’s pretty much it. It was a wasted opportunity to do something with David’s character, though I’m happy to have seen Josh Dallas having some fun for a change, as OUAT usually just denies him that with David being so bland.

Oh, and Belle is also sleeping. By the end of “Ruby Slippers” she decided to keep her baby safe by taking a sleeping curse and she knows that the only true love kiss that will wake her up is her father’s (thank god she recognizes that Rumple is not her true love anymore). And once again, Rumple frustrates me as he decides to go against Belle’s wishes and kidnap Zelena to force Hades into trashing the deal that gives him his son. Which works… in a weird way.

“Firebird” is a good episode for the most part, but it begins a bit clunky. Hades teams up with Emma to make sure Zelena would be safe during this deal and she saves her. Everything works up well as Peter Pan is screwed, Rumple has no deal to worry about and Zelena is all but safe. For a moment everything is right in the world: a portal to Storybrooke opens, Hades is free from the underworld, Henry helps people see their unfinished business and Emma and Hook go on a quest to finally bring him back.

Now that I have seen “Last Rite” this episode is a bit underwhelming looking back. It was all about Emma and Hook making peace with the fact that they had to part ways as they go on a dead end quest which does nothing but to prove their love for each other and force them to part ways. And I was happy with that: the sentiment would have made this episode all about Emma learning to say goodbye.

The flashback to Emma’s days before becoming a PI was spot on, bringing more insight to her character. It was compelling and emotional, which is a flashback must be. Even the death of this character we have barely come to know comes as a bit of a shock and it is sad as we see what it does to Emma. It also helps her understand a bit more what underlies a parent giving up their child.

All of this ties back with Emma’s issues with letting go and how she gears up, how she wears an armor that keeps her from dealing with her feelings. That’s all explored to this point, but I felt that “Firebird” added just a little bit more to the equation to allow us appreciate Emma as a character a bit more while also finding respect for the show as they decided to let Hook be on the underworld… until “Last Rite”.

My god, I can’t even begin with my disappointment this morning when I eagerly watched this episode. Convenient writing, rushed plot development, unnecessary sacrifices and so, so BORING!

It has been a while since I have seen a death scene as unnecessary and offending as this one. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t care for Robin Hood, but the fact that he wasn’t as much killed as he was erased from existence puts him in a special category of cruelty towards a character, which I haven’t seen since Fred’s death on Angel (she also didn’t just die, her soul was crushed). Back when Angel killed Fred I was so mad as Joss Wheadon, not just for killing Fred, but because he did it in the most cruel possible. And now the OUAT writers decided to pull the same crap on Robin Hood.

Even if I don’t care much for him, it is an unnecessarily cruel way to increase the stakes. Just make resurrection impossible in the first place and leave the after life as a final destination, but nope, the writers had to take any bit of consolation Regina could have and push her away from her happy ending AGAIN!

Oh, and Hook is back. Why? Well, he helped take down Hades by recovering the pages that say what Hades weakness is. I admit that I loved the bro trip he had with Arthur and I liked that the Camelot King decided to repair this broken kingdom. It just felt fitting in a way, for him to find meaning on restoring order and peace on a kingdom after fracturing another. That being said, Zeus first appearance (with an actor that resemblances nothing of Zeus) is used to resurrect Hook.

My disappointment was big because I had hope that the show would rise the stakes by making resurrection impossible. I was honestly hoping that there was no way back on the underworld and while I would have missed Colin O’Donoghue and Hook, I was already prepared to let go… but he just came back.

Look, I like Emma and Hook together, they make a good couple, but after the show made a whole statement about letting go on “Firebird”, this is extremely anticlimactic and disappointing. The boldness of “Firebird” is undone by its decision to bring Hook back, and it happens while leaving Robin no chance of moving on or happiness on another life, making grief all the worse for Regina.

The only thing I’m truly happy about (bro trip on the underworld aside) is Zelena finally coming back to her senses as she destroy Hades. It is the kind of development we needed all along and her scene of grieving next to Regina was poignant.

Now, I just have one thing to plead to the writers: PLEASE don’t make Regina evil again! I’ve seen the promos and I believe they are misleading, I think she will be tempted to the dark side again, but both Regina and Zelena deserve a chance to be heroes now and I don’t want to see such a character regression on my favorite character. Please, let her grief, but don’t turn her evil again. Just don’t.

As we reach towards the end of the season I have been able to find joy in most of what happens in this second half of the season, but also a lot of disappointment. There are next to no stakes on the show and when the show tried to make them it fell flat with unnecessary cruelty and convenient writing. That does not bode well for the future.

As fun as OUAT is, they are asking too much: they are asking to make too many logic jumps, they are asking to accept fated couples while ripping apart one just out of what? Spite towards the character? Is Regina never going to be happy?

I don’t know. I have come too far to give up on OUAT, but I won’t mask my disappointment. There is still good on the show, but just like Rumple, it’s as if the writers just decide to stab me in the back.

Our Decay: B
Her Handsome Hero: B-
Ruby Slippers: B
Sisters: B+
Firebird: B+
Last Rite: C-

Wish List for the season finale
-Kill Rumple: Robert Carlyle deserves better than this inconsistent villain that was once one of the greatest characters on the show. Now he serves no place here.
-Wake up Belle: she is too good to keep sleeping.
-KEEP REGINA GOOD: She can grieve, she can hurt, but don’t you simply can’t make her revert to her old ways. I won’t take it! I will seriously consider dropping the show if they do this.
-Make Henry the villain: the promo teases he destroys magic. Wouldn’t it be incredibly fun to have a twist in which he is the main villain for season 6? I really want that to happen, to see how the characters would deal with it.
-Set up season 6 as its last: go out with a bang, not a whimper. Prepare to end the story, don’t stretch out too long.

Final Words about me as a Reviewer
Next week I may post my very last Once Upon a Time review ever.
That’s right: I’m contemplating leaving my post as a reviewer. Honestly, all of the heavy lifting has fell into Ashley these past few weeks. As always I have reasons: as I started working and as I saw my grandfather in his dying bed, the big changes on my life didn’t really allowed me to sit down and write about the show, and honestly I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to. Once I got down to it, it was really fun to write so much about the past episodes. But I wonder: will I ever get the time to post reviews in time? I feel you deserve better than these huge chunks of reading material, of these compressed reviews into a huge one.

I have reviewing OUAT since season 3 and I have loved doing so, but never before I have been so irresponsible, and I have realized that it comes for many reasons: I’m not loving the show as I used to, but I’m also a vastly different person. In the span of one year, I got a loving boyfriend, I started working, I dealt with health issues and now a loss in the family is near, I see my sister about to get married, and I just look at the future, unsure, afraid, as I try my best to surge as a writer with the little time I have available.

Some of the changes in my life have been for good, some other have been not, and I now stand in a completely different place from last year. I’m a completely new person and I wonder: do I still want to make reviews for the show? Maybe, but then, do you deserve a reviewer who does little work and doesn’t show up in time? Absolutely no.

So I’m pondering on that: if next week turns out to be my very last OUAT review, I want to thank you all for reading, for discussing, for being there with me. I have felt amazing while working on SpoilerTV as a reviewer and my time here has been nothing but bliss, but now I must think about it. Maybe it’s time for me to move on. Unlike Once Upon a Time, I don't want to stay in a state of arrested development, I want to evolve. And I have to question if in that process I can still fit in as a reviewer: I hope so, but I will only do so if I know I can do it.

About the Author - Pablo
I'm currently studying Psychology while also writing fantasy books (one already published in my home country, Chile, you can check it out on the facebook icon). I watch many different types of shows, including my favorites Revenge, Game of Thrones, Once Upon a Time and about 23 more. Currently writing reviews for Once Upon a Time, The 100 and Supergirl
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