Review: Once Upon a Time 5.12

This episode did not have an easy task, needing to set up the Underworld arc while also paying homage to the show’s history. Luckily I think it was pretty successful, celebrating what’s made the show great for the last one hundred episodes while also making me eager for what’s to come.

A big component of that paying homage part was the flashbacks. It’s no secret that I love the Evil Queen, and her appearance was completely appropriate here, given what a huge role she’s played on the show. Celebrating her birthday as the show celebrated its own milestone was a fun touch, and those scenes tied in very nicely with what Regina experienced in the Underworld. The flashbacks pretty much always have some sort of connection to what’s happening in present-day, but that connection felt particularly seamless here, with Regina’s parents playing the angel and devil on her shoulder in both the Enchanted Forest and the Underworld. It also highlighted her character growth in a nice way, but more on that in a bit.

Before the heroes’ arrival in the Underworld, we were treated to that lovely Neal/Emma scene, a moment that I loved, even as a big Hook/Emma fan. It was a nice treat for a special episode, but also served a larger purpose, honoring Neal and Emma’s history without belittling her love for Hook. Their shared pride of Henry was sweet, and I was impressed by how easily Jennifer Morrison and Michael Raymond-James slid back into that relationship. It felt completely natural and accomplished exactly what it needed to in a pretty short amount of time.

Emma’s scene with Henry soon after was a great continuation of that moment, with Henry as eager to look for his dad as Neal was to hear about his son. I’m glad that Emma was able to find some relief for him, armed with the knowledge that Neal is in a better place. I still think bringing Henry to the Underworld was kind of a poor parenting decision, but that scene and the one where Henry met his grandpa proved that it was too good of a storytelling opportunity to pass up.

From a production standpoint, the Underworld design is fantastic: just off-kilter enough to be unsettling rather than comforting for both the characters and the audience. I loved the red tinge everything had, as well as little touches like the black apples in Cora’s office and the different objects on display in Pan’s shop.

I’m glad that we got to see Hook for a moment in this episode (giving both viewers and Emma a bit of hope), even if he did look a little worse for the wear. His poor state upped the stakes quite a bit, showing that the Underworld is even more dangerous than it seems. I feel like we’re in for a long wait for the Hook/Emma reunion, but I’m sure the moment will be that much more powerful because of it.

On to Regina’s reunion with her parents…My biggest hope going into this arc was that Regina would be able to apologize to her dad and that he would get to see her as the person he’d always known she could be. So, as expected, I was thrilled that she got to express how sorry she was and that her dad forgave her. I wasn’t looking forward to her reunion with Cora quite as much, because at least they left things in a pretty good place before her demise. That being said, Lana Parrilla completely sold me on both of those reunions, making each one feel equally as meaningful. The contrast with her scenes as the Evil Queen, hellbent on revenge, and present-day Regina, tearfully apologetic for what she had done, highlighted the amazing range that she’s shown throughout the series.

Her parents’ conflicting views of who they wanted their daughter to be were fascinating to me, especially because they’ve never been shown quite as neatly as they were in this episode. It explained why Regina’s never been completely irredeemable; she’s always had her dad’s belief in her that she’s capable of better. And being able to tell him that she’s finally realized it herself was a pretty perfect way for that character to celebrate one hundred episodes.

It also led to that sweet moment where Henry got to meet his grandpa (adding yet another member to that kid’s crazy complicated family). It was immediately clear just how similar the two Henrys are, and Henry Sr. thanking his grandson for taking over his role of helping Regina see the good in herself was a great moment.

The situation with Regina’s parents also showed the strength of Regina and Emma’s friendship, with Regina insisting that she couldn’t leave the Underworld because of her promise to Emma and the others, and Emma likewise insisting she should leave to protect Robin, Henry, and herself. It wasn’t too heavy-handed, just a very natural way of showing the friendship that those two have built over the last one hundred episodes.

They also found time to establish the “rules” of the Underworld in this hour, with its citizens being able to trade places with a living soul (putting our heroes even more at risk), Underworld souls passing on to a heaven-esque place or a hellish one, and the heroes’ side project of saving those souls. This being a show about hope, I love that they decided to do that, though I have a feeling it’s going to be far more difficult and dangerous than they’re anticipating, what with Hades acting as overlord.

I can already tell that he’s going to be a great villain; he made the fearless Cora shake in her boots, which I wasn’t sure anyone could do. I’m curious to see what his game plan is and why he was so keen on making Regina leave. He has to have some connection to either her or one of the others, right? Also, even though it was a bummer that she did what he asked, I’m glad that Cora manipulated Regina under threat and not of her own volition. I’m hoping Regina finds that out soon, since Cora destroying their relationship yet again had to sting.

Finally, the clock ticking was a great callback to the end of the pilot, with it moving for the first time when Emma arrived. It was also a cool way of showing how far the characters and the show have come since then, with Emma making it tick in Storybrooke and Regina doing so in the Underworld.

What are your thoughts on the 100th episode and the Underworld arc so far? Hoping for any reunions? Let me know in the comments!

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