I went into this one not sure what to expect. I don’t know a lot about Hercules (either the myth or the movie, a rare Disney blind spot for me!), but it didn’t end up mattering all that much. Hercules, while a cool character, mostly served to further the story of one of our characters, Snow White, and I’m extremely happy with the result.
In the first season, Snow was one of my favorite characters. She was tough and feisty and kind. She could not only hold her own in a battle, but was often the one leading the charge. However, since that first season, Snow has become increasingly more like her Storybrooke counterpart, Mary Margaret, too willing to sit back and let others fight her battles for her. She had a nice self-awareness about that in this episode that I appreciated. I’d become a little worried that she simply was that person now, so to hear her say that she’s done being Mary Margaret and wants to get back to the hero bandit she once was, was a great moment for her character, one that I’ve been hoping for for quite some time.
An old friend helped her come to that conclusion, first playing a role in her hero origin story in the Enchanted Forest and then helping her remember that part of herself in the Underworld. I liked Snow’s first meeting with Hercules for a few reasons. One, it was fun to see Snow as a teenager for the first time, as well as how she made her transition from meek princess to arrow-wielding bandit, something that’s been a question mark in her story up until now. I also loved the role that Hercules played in that; it wasn’t about him saving her or pushing her to become a hero. All he did was train her briefly and give her a pep talk when needed, making it clear that the hero part of herself was there all along. I also loved the give and take between them, with Snow giving Hercules a similar nudge in the Underworld and rediscovering the hero part of herself in the process.
Regina also played a role in Snow’s story in both the flashbacks and present-day scenes, sending the bandits her way in the Enchanted Forest, but encouraging her in the Underworld, a cool juxtaposition that showed just how much their relationship has changed over the years. These characters have such a complex history and few scenes throughout the series have shown that better than the one in this episode. It was sweet of Regina to remind Snow how she finally defeated the Evil Queen: by never giving up on her and making her nemesis a friend in the process. That conversation proved that it now goes both ways; Regina isn’t going to give up on Snow either. But like I said, they do share a rich, combative history, so I liked that Snow mentioned her lingering anger over missing most of Emma’s life because of what Regina did. You can love someone without loving all of the things they do or have done in the past, and their relationship is wonderfully realistic in that aspect. I also love that, despite doing wrong by both Snow and Emma, Regina has a fairly different relationship with each. We’ve seen a lot of great stuff in her friendship with Emma over the last couple of seasons, so I love that they developed hers with Snow a bit more here.
This hour also gave us more Hook than we had last week, as he helped Meg escape and received a hearty punishment as a result. His conversation with Meg beforehand was lovely. I love the way he spoke of Emma, proving that he’s just as eager to reunite with her as she is with him. Also, any concerns about Hook’s heroic nature coming off of his Dark One stint were laid to rest by the sacrifice he made for Meg, a woman he had just met. It was tough to see him so beaten up in this episode (the moment where Hades showed Emma his bloody hook was especially heartbreaking). However, all of that was just a warmup for the sadistic choice Hades gave him at the end of the episode. I’m very curious to see how Hook will come to his decision, or if he’ll somehow be able to avoid making it all, likely worsening his personal situation in the process.
We also had Henry running into Cruella in his mom’s office, and I’m definitely intrigued by the proposal she offered him. The pen’s magic being in the Underworld was a great twist, though I hope that Henry doesn’t use it in the way Cruella wants him to, largely because I don’t believe that Emma’s soul needs to be restored. I think she’s made peace with the fact that killing Cruella was necessary to save Henry. However, I could see how Henry might think otherwise, so I hope we’re not in for another Peter Pan situation where he allows himself to be manipulated. He’s grown an awful lot since then, so I love the idea of him having a true hero’s dilemma and making the right choice in the end. I’m also glad that Cruella’s the one involved; she was my favorite Queen of Darkness, and I felt like she was killed just as she was reaching her full potential as a villain.
Lastly, a couple notes on this arc: I know the writers said that this one would feel a lot like season one, and I completely agree with that so far. The structure and themes, with flashbacks that shed light on present-day stories, definitely harken back to the first season. However, season one flashbacks helped us get to know the characters and understand their motivations, while now, four seasons later, they illuminate how much the characters have grown since then. That not only rewards longtime fans of the show, it also makes for episodes that are fairly easy to follow. You can tell complex, interesting stories in a simple format, which is exactly what the show is doing here. I made it pretty clear that I wasn’t thrilled with the last arc’s messy timeline, much as I enjoyed the stories they were telling, so I’m glad that this one is so streamlined.
What are your thoughts on this episode and the Underworld arc so far? Hit the comments and let me know!