Once Upon a Time: Souls of the Departed Review


By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

With the start of season 5B, Once Upon a Time has reached its 100th episode. Although it did not have perhaps the same urgency and gusto as the premiere or midseason finale of 5A, and I felt like there was not enough character balance – especially with regards to Emma given how the last episode ended – it still was a very good episode with emotional, heartrending, and intriguing moments with a lovely way of bringing many characters and themes full circle with a significant and beautiful connection between them all. The episode begins with a vision of Emma’s. She wakes up in her yellow Bug and Neal is there to give her a warning. While I have mixed feelings about the scene and the character, I understand its overall purpose. Despite Emma saying she would have gone to the Underworld for him too, but didn’t know how to, it’s obvious to me it’s not with the same intent or plan she has with regards to Killian. She will always care for Neal and understandably would want to save Henry’s father, but even before it’s clear to her that he’s not in the Underworld, she said she plans to split her heart with Killian and asks for help. But he simply tells her not to go – that it won’t end well. But Emma refuses to accept this and he leaves her to return to the better place where he’s happy. Honestly, I would have preferred a scene with Henry because he seemed to have unfinished business with his son and not anyone else. Emma had moved on and he’d forgiven his father, but what about Henry? Perhaps the fact that Neal has moved on shows that he knew his son was loved and taken care of. Since he’s moved on, the scene’s true purpose is clear to me. His warning and Emma’s steadfast determination only further showcases why they were never a perfect match. It was not in Neal to fight for love, but that is inherently a part of Emma and this demonstrated the difference between first love and true love. First love will always be a part of you but your true love can transcend anything. There’s only one person Emma could share her heart with and it’s the person she currently does not let any warning deter her from marching into the Underworld for. And when our heroes arrive, Regina quips, “I don’t think we are in Maine anymore.” The Underworld is eerie and intriguing, resembling Storybrooke but with the buildings run down and the clock tower broken in the middle of Main Street. There seems to be a connection between it and the real Storybrooke with the creation of the dark curse and I look forward to learning more about this. But the important difference is that the Underworld is a purgatory filled with souls that are lost or suffering and filled with unfinished business, many in connection to our characters. Despite the creepy nature of the place, I was delighted by so much. I laughed when I saw crew Cruella’s car drive by and at the Blind Witch offering both gingerbread and children to Snow as the proprietor of Granny’s. I also love hearing Snow refer to Killian as a friend she was looking for and that David’s very much deceased brother James comes in and places a big kiss on her. She of course is horrified when she realizes it’s him but I love that Josh Dallas will be playing both roles during this arc. It will give him some juicy material. I also love the scene between father and son, Peter Pan and Rumple. Pan continues to have the ominous quality where he professes change but has such a vile aura about him that it’s impossible to trust him. Robbie Kay is just a fantastically delicious villain. Rumple has no time for Pan’s words but receives what he came for – ale from DunBroch that can communicate with the dead. This magical ale, the sense of family, redemption, moving on, and never giving up are the heart and emotional resonance of this episode.

In recent Regina flashbacks, the material seemed too repetitive and while there was a sense of repetition here with the revisiting of her determination to get revenge on Snow, these flashbacks were some of the best in years because they were framed around her relationships with her parents which perfectly reflected her encounters with them in the Underworld, as well as answering the question of how Regina’s father was trapped in Wonderland. Most importantly, in the past, Henry Sr. wants Regina to give up her pursuit and is worried for her soul, while Cora wants to help Regina get her revenge. But even with the opposing sides, Regina finds no comfort or solace with either – it only fuels her anger. But in the present we see just how far her character has come and it was a beautiful thing to witness. When she encounters Cora, the reunion is warm but it quickly turns sour when Cora tells her daughter to promptly leave with Henry and Robin on the boat she has arranged for them and Regina says she can’t leave because she must help her friends. Like Snow, to hear Regina refer to everyone, especially Killian with whom she has had a rocky relationship with, as her friends, was very touching. Without a hint of sarcasm, she insists that she’s not leaving but when Cora says she’ll send Henry Sr. to someplace far worse, Regina fears causing her father more pain. After Emma uses the ale to contact Killian (I will discuss this shortly), Regina uses it to contact her father and this scene and the one at the end of the episode was very meaningful and brought forth many tears. It’s amazing to think that a character we’ve seen so little of could result in so much poignancy but in these scenes we see what a beautiful soul Henry truly is. And Lana Parrilla and Tony Perez brought so much warmth, authenticity, and emotion to their heartfelt moments together. When Regina cries saying how sorry she is, asking if she’s forgiven, he hugs his daughter, absolving her completely and showing that he is as she says he is: very special. But he is doing what a father does and what someone who truly loves you does. After all, as Killian says, “All sins can be forgiven when someone loves you.” And here, we are presented with a touching example of how letting go of anger, of forgiving both others and yourself, and being brave enough to fight back and do the right thing can truly set you free. Henry didn’t know what was keeping him in the Underworld until the moment they both find themselves free from Cora’s power over them. Regina refused to abandon hope, and her father, and in doing so his soul was able to pass on to a better place. When the two Henrys, grandfather and grandson meet, both thank each other for being a light in Regina’s life, resulting in a truly heartfelt, tear-inducing moment as touching as when he makes that final journey into the white light, his soul released from this purgatory and finally at peace. It’s true the scenes with the Evil Queen are fun and entertaining but these are the moments that I love – ones that are filled with authentic performances that showcase an overarching theme for the episode, and in this case quite possibly the rest of the arc.

The hope that many of these lost souls can be saved is exactly that spark that they needed – that Emma needed, for when she tries to communicate with Killian, the spell is not steady. He appears to them but he cannot speak and all they see is his bloodied and bruised self, clearly profoundly suffering. And when he disappears from Emma, it was deeply heartbreaking because she fears he doesn’t know they’re here for him, that he’s in aguish and doesn’t know that she cares. But her parents, who were so wonderful this entire episode, give her faith. They believe he does know and they are not leaving without him. It was quite a moving revelation to see Snow and David have fully accepted Killian as part of their family – the family that never gives up and will always find each other. And in such a short scene, Jennifer Morrison displays a brilliant range of heartrending emotions, from relief and happiness at seeing her beloved, to fear and despair at his great suffering, not knowing where he is. But hearing her parents express that unfailing faith that they have always embodied was beautiful and mirrors the final scene where our heroes are together and Henry names the mission to save Killian, and many of the other departed souls, “Operation Firebird.” They walk off determined and full of hope as the clock ticks, signifying that a soul has left the Underworld. Regina smiles at the sight, paralleling the pilot when Henry sees the Clock tower move. Those moments were a signifier of hope and a change for the better, only this time all the characters are united as a family believing in their ability to spread hope and in the power of true love. It is so touching to see that all these characters that have gone through so much have come together and formed such a unique family. Regina’s moment with her father is sure to be the first of many emotional and moving ones where our heroes help someone who is trapped in this “Hell.” This not only further exemplifies how Once Upon a Time is such an intricately woven tapestry of connected stories, reflecting relatable truths in our own lives, but it also makes Killian’s heroic sacrifice mean even more. From an emotional standpoint, Killian’s sacrifice was not in vain. He freed himself and Emma from the darkness and saved his loved ones. But he believed his sacrifice was ridding the world from that darkness forever, leaving Emma to a future free from that evil. But the darkness was not destroyed; it was channeled back into Rumplestiltskin. Venturing down into the Underworld may not destroy the evil, but something profound can still occur – souls can be saved. Our lives are a series of events that serve a purpose and if one thing changes, the course of our lives can change. We saw this happen on Once Upon a Time in the season three and four finales. We can go through many events of the series and play a game of “what ifs,” all of which would change where each character’s journeys would be. We could list countless ones but it is the last one that is so meaningful now. If Emma and Killian had not fallen in love so truly that Emma believes she can save him by sharing her heart, many souls may never be saved. True Love can transcend any obstacle and Emma’s belief in that love that she shares with Killian is but one piece of the puzzle, but a significant and irreplaceable one. As irreplaceable as he is in the heart they already spiritually share. We don’t know what the unfinished business of those trapped in the underworld is yet, but Killian’s is sure to be a life lived with Emma, even if he didn’t believe it was possible. Sometimes we are destined for far more than we can dream of. Killian’s life can be saved and these souls can be freed. And all because two people fell in love. The last moments of episode offer as marvelous an introduction as possible with the Lord of the Underworld, Hades (perfectly cast Greg Germann). Lounging in a sleek tailored suit surrounded by colored rivers, sipping red wine and listening to classical music, he is lording over his domain with such delicious, understated panache and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us. One thing is certain: it is going to be one Hell of a ride.

Favorite Moments:
Regina’s beautifully performed moments with her father were truly heartfelt and when he meets his grandson and passes into the white light, his soul finally at peace, I was moved to tears. Emma fearing that Killian does not know they they’ve come for him and that she cares for him was heartbreaking but hearing her parents’ steadfast faith and determination to find him was a lovely moment of giving their daughter hope and accepting Killian as part of their family. Lastly, I loved the moment Henry creates a name for their operation, the clock ticking, as the heroes walk off full of hope. It’s a reminder of what the series truly stands for.

Favorite Lines:
Henry, Sr.: If you stay, you spread hope. That’s the best thing anyone can do.

Emma: He doesn’t know we came for him. He doesn’t know we’re here. He doesn’t know I care.
Snow: Yes he does. And Emma, we will find him.

Henry: Thank you, Grandpa, for believing in her like I do.
Henry, Sr.: Thank you, Henry, for being there when I couldn’t. 


  1. CarpeDiemMarch 9th, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    It’s the first time that I read one of your review and this truly beautiful!

  2. Hayley ten eyckMarch 9th, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    Wow!! I just found your reviews and they are awesome! They way you put that their love is what is making saving these other souls possible was a huge light bulb moment for me i never considered it that way! The ripple of effects of true love! Well done I loved it

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