Once Upon a Time Review: Devil’s Due


By: Marianne Paluso (@Mariane_P81)

In the best episode of season 5B so far, the stakes are raised even higher and themes displayed prominently in the show since the beginning, most especially this season, were brought forth in dramatic ways. We saw how powerful hope can be contrasted with how fear and desperation affects people, as well as the power of choice among our characters, something that will likely continue throughout the season. This quite sad but dynamic episode explores how life and people are not so black-and-white. Things are often murky and gray, while simultaneously there often are very clear distinctions between right and wrong decisions. Rumple has always been an extremely complex character – a villain who has moments of humanity, but is incapable of maintaining them; a good man in the past whose cowardice and desperation led to very bad decisions. The flashbacks between Rumple and Milah illuminated important elements to their characters and their relationship, showcasing sadness, sympathy, and anger. While no one can deny that Milah was very unkind to her husband, it was obvious her own personal misery affected her deeply, believing her life was out of her control. When a poisonous snake bites Bae, and the cure is more money than they can afford, Milah wants Rumple to go back and steal it, using homicidal force if necessary. She wants her husband to do something brave for her and her son. But when he goes to retrieve the antidote, holding a knife to the healer’s throat, he is unable to go through with it. He doesn’t want to be a murderer to save his son (ironic given that he becomes one anyway). So the healer offers him a deal and Rumple signs a binding contract, revealing its details to Milah when he returns and gives Bae the cure. In exchange for the antidote, Rumple promised the healer his second-born child. Milah is understandably hurt and shocked that he would sell away their future especially without giving her any choice in the matter, and when he says they just have to make sure they never have another child, you have to wonder his meaning because how can you guarantee that? Are they to live a lifetime of celibacy together? While it’s true a single child is enough for any parent, to take away even the chance for another is heartbreaking. It brings forth so many complex issues and emotions. Is it good that Rumple did not want to kill anyone? Yes. Is it clear that he let his desperation to save his son lead to his decision? Undoubtedly. But there may have been another choice. Surely not even considering what his wife would want was wrong, sympathetic as that desperation was. And while it was undeniably selfish for Milah to leave her child, retreating to the tavern instead of clinging to her son, you can feel sympathy for her plight and understand even more clearly why she fell in love with Killian. The scene in which she first meets the charming and dashing pirate took me by complete surprise. Not only by how disarmingly beautiful he appeared (give a girl a warning next time), but more importantly by what his actions and words represented. He defends her against a drunkard’s assault, tells her stories of freedom and adventure, and that instant connection between them is obvious. Most significantly, he asked her what she wants and when she says her responsibilities with her son and husband keep her there, he simply offers her the chance at more should that ever change. This moment was so important to the story, not only showing that her decision to run away with Killian, while selfish, was not an impulse but a desire to take control of her life and be happy. You can feel both anger and empathy for Rumple and Milah for their decisions and these scenes informed the present in significant ways.

In the past, things were too complex to be defined in black-and-white terms, but in the present day Underworld, things are much more distinctive. After constructing a crystal ball to show him “what he seeks,” Rumple is horrified and upset seeing an image of Belle (we discover later on why), and so is more than ever determined to get home to her. So he offers his assistance to help rescue Killian from where he’s being held captive. As we saw already, Killian is being mercilessly tortured by Hades. He’s beaten, bloodied, and in great physical and emotional pain, refusing Hades’ order to inscribe the names of his loved ones on tombstones and trap them in the Underworld. Furious at his refusal, he chains Killian over the River of Lost Souls that will turn anyone who touches its waters into a mindless husk, forever lost. Hades is angry at Killian’s resilience, but also that, despite his torturing of him, there’s still a glimmer of hope in his eyes. That hope which our heroes have brought into his domain must be snuffed out so that is his motivator at the moment. It takes fine actors to makes these scenes feel believable and painful and not only does Colin O’Donoghue’s performance make you profusely empathize with his suffering, but Greg Germann is so delightfully evil that you love watching him while wanting to jump into the screen and stop him yourself. Meanwhile, Rumple says they need someone from the Underworld to help them gain access into Hades’ prison so he finds Milah and proceeds to introduce Emma in the most awkward way possible because Emma has been involved with Milah’s son and ex-lover. Did I mention awkward? It felt as if Rumple was exasperating the situation on purpose trying to pit these two women against each other, but I loved seeing the opposite happen. Despite the uniqueness of the situation, they are mature and compassionate towards each other. Both cared for Neal/Bae and both care for Killian, and seeing them work together and express relief and joy when Emma tells Milah about her vision and knowledge that Neal is happy and moved on to a better place was truly lovely. In this moment there is no hint of rivalry or awkwardness, just two strong women – two strong mothers – with a genuine understanding and empathy for each other. When Emma goes to rescue Killian on her own and Rumple and Milah stay behind on the boat, which is their means of escape, we are reminded of both the high-stakes and the deep sadness and truth about their characters, showcasing things much more clearer than in the past. Hearing how Milah recognized her selfishness at leaving her son behind and that she hopes that being generous in the present can help her move on and apologize to her son was so poignant, as was hearing Rumple tell her sincerely and without malice that she will be forgiven as he was. But it’s also a reminder of how these glimmers of humanity within him are always so fleeting, and that no matter how unjust, sometimes our hopes are not granted. When Hades arrives and freezes Milah, he offers Rumple a deal. Seeing as he wants the heroes to remain in the Underworld, he says he will send Rumple home if he destroys the boat and figures out what to do with Milah. Horrifically he agrees, unfreezing Milah, telling her he’s finally being the man she wanted him to be, taking what he needs. It is a significant and upsetting contrast to Killian sacrifice in “Swan Song” when he becomes the man he wants to be – a hero. Here, Rumple retreats into villainy, destroying the boat and blasting Milah back into the River of Lost Souls, condemning her in death once again, only worse because this time her soul cannot move on. Milah made mistakes but seeing her chance at peace being denied was heartbreaking, perhaps even more so now that we saw her acting in such a kind way to help Emma. When Milah shouted out to Emma and Rumple killed her again, one can only feel tremendous anger at him for this act, especially when he is able to convince everyone it was Hades who attacked. But in a case of instant karma, Hades reveals that he knows why Rumple was distressed at seeing the image of Belle. She’s pregnant with his child and the contract for his second born is now signed over to Hades.

Poor Belle is the only one who deserves real sympathy here and I can’t imagine that she’ll be pleased that her child has been sold to the Lord of the Underworld. What was amazing to see beyond the great dynamic between Carlyle and Germann was that not only has Rumple met a formidable match, but also that Hades is indeed even more frightening. Rumple has never expressed any deep fear towards a villain, but when he looks Hades in the eye, there’s real terror. What Hades has planned is uncertain but it’s pretty clear that this came out of Rumple’s own bad choices. He made the choice to condemn Milah and destroyed the boat before his child and Belle were threatened. It was merely out of selfishness to return home with no regard for anyone else. The saddest part is that if he told everyone the truth, our heroes would’ve helped him because that is who they are. He may have taken no pleasure in condemning Milah but he still did it. He still chose to hurt her and he still chose to be deceitful and now is paying the price for it.

The romantic heartbeat of the episode was undoubtedly the moments that Emma and Killian reunited with each other, resulting in very poignant and beautifully performed scenes. When you truly love someone, no distance or obstacle can ever sever that bond. There’s a profound connection between souls that can be felt in inexplicable ways. Killian knew that it was truly Emma who’d come for him because when you love someone you just know, and when they approach where Killian is being held, Emma clutches his ring, and a feeling of certainty comes over her. He is close. She can feel it. Seeing Emma rescue him from nearly falling into the River of Lost Souls was a moment rich with meaning, symbolism, and beauty. Despite his agonizing torture, and despite the obstacles put in their path, Emma found him just as he believed she would. Their hope was not fully extinguished because that is what they represent for each other. They both were lost for so long and retreated behind walls of insecurities, sadness, revenge – but falling in love brought light back into their lives. Having Emma rescue Killian from this river was more than just plot point or terrifying threat. It was a symbol of how she once again saved him from losing himself, as he had for her. It was touching to see such warmth and tenderness in the scene as he tells her she should have let him go, but that she never listens. She is indeed impossible and he does love her for it. He loves how stubborn but fierce and loving Emma is. But what was so stunning was the first look he gives her was one of relief, joy, and amazement. As she cradles his face that is bathed in darkness, suddenly the light appears on the single eye with which he can gaze upon her. Light, and love, had returned to him, because Emma is the light in his life. This look of amazement is beautifully matched in the moment he learns Emma plans to split her heart with him. It is an expression of love, disbelief, worry, acceptance, and resignation. He’s grateful but the concern is very evident. He may be willing to die for her but seeing Emma put her life on the line is entirely different. Our heroes were faced with a shock when Emma’s heart couldn’t be removed; but it had nothing to do with her love for Killian. In his revenge against their hope-filled quest, Hades inscribed three names on the tombstones himself – Emma, Snow, and Regina. Interesting how he chose the three women, the three mothers, first. Does he have something against the maternal? Regardless, Killian especially, whose hope had not been extinguished looks practically defeated and it’s heartbreaking. It’s bad enough his sacrifice was taken away; now his loved ones are threatened once again. They will have to fight like Hell to defeat Hades, but come what may true love will prevail. 

Favorite Moments: Seeing Emma rescue Killian was worth the wait because despite the pain, you can see the weight lifted off their shoulders when back in each other’s arms. It was also such a powerful symbol of how their love once again saved his soul from being lost. It was also touching to see the sincere moment of empathy between Emma and Milah, two mothers who share similar feelings of regret, as was, however short-lived, the moment of sincerity between Rumple and Milah discussing their son. Although not discussed in the review, the moment Regina found Daniel’s grave, discovering he’d moved on was also lovely, and Cruella provided, once again, such fabulous levity. She is absolutely perfect!

Favorite Lines:
Killian: I told you to let me go. You shouldn’t be here. Nobody should.
Emma: I never listen.
Killian: You’re impossible.
Emma: And you love me for it.

Milah: You’ve been with my son and my ex-lover?

Cruella: (Discussing her fur) I’m not saying it’s Bambi’s iconic dead mother. And I’m not saying it’s not.

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