I’ve always said the best part of Once Upon A Time is its villains, but after tonight, I could watch an entire series just based on Hades and Zelena. OUAT has packed (some would say, overloaded) its cast with a ton of dead weight, which just makes vibrant performers like Greg Germann and Rebecca Mader stand out all the more. Germann can make someone as heinous as Hades sympathetic, and he musters up actual chemistry between himself and Mader’s Zelena, on a bicycle yet. For Mader’s part, not only does she get some chewy lines to munch (“You’ll smite me with your book-learning?”), she does her best work in the series in the scene where she gives her baby up because she knows she can’t protect her. It’s so good, in fact, it makes the rest of the cast seem like a bunch of lunkheads: Robin with his refusal to name the baby until he gets to know her (I guess it works that way in China), Charming and Snow in an episode-long quest to talk to baby Neal on the phone, Emma and Hook doing nothing but hanging around the Underworld apartment and fret.

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At least Rumple and Belle come to some sort of understanding about him being the Dark One again (although she seems a little slow on the uptake about what her pregnancy will mean: “Yes Belle, the good news is that you’re pregnant. The bad news is…”). Here the OUAT twist actually improves on the original story, because Rumple is right. Belle didn’t fall in love with the man behind the beast: She fell in love with them both. And let’s face it, even she found the powerless Rumple a bit of a snooze. Thankfully he’s back to his sneakiness, here helping Hades (using his old spinning wheel) with a portal between the Underworld and the real world.

Another nice twist: Dorothy as a warrior, holding her ground against the much more powerful Zelena. I don’t really get how the strongest weapon of all is “the love of the people,” but that seems like one of those Once Upon A Time catchphrases that will come into play later. You have to admire Dorothy’s spirit, but she really is helpless as she is forced to just watch Zelena cruelly grab Scarecrow’s brain for her time-travel spell. Turns out Zelena needs to take her place in line behind Hades and James under “siblings who feel like they got the shaft.”

So with that in common, and since Zelena herself holds the key to defeating Hades, it’s too bad that she can’t trust him. Too much is made out of what will happen when these two kiss for it not to happen eventually, but you also can’t help but side with Hades (thanks to Germann), after he fixes Zelena a fancy dinner or reveals that he created bizarro Storybrooke just for her. He ingests these scenes with such pathos, it’s actually heartbreaking when Zelena insists on walking away, both times, figuring that he’s trying to double-cross her because it’s exactly what she would do. I look forward to the two of them rightly teaming up (after having been alone for so long), and lording it over this self-righteous lot.

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Because the other Storybrookers can’t even hold a candle to these two. It’s almost like these plots were devised in separate writers’ rooms. I like the idea of hauntings coming from the people of Underworld, as the show gives it a very brief nod (a “level-one haunting”). But the rest of it doesn’t hold up. Just this phone call (confirmed by Henry, who’s now just writing what the pen tells him too, even as his moms critique him annoyingly) brings Snow to one of her all-important revelations. A few weeks ago, it was to say goodbye to Mary Margaret; this week it’s to decide to go after Hades. Sorry, hasn’t that been their goal in the first place? The show heavy-handedly talks about how great it is to have friends, and family, and friends that feel like family, that you go off and help even if it means leaving your brand-new baby back with Mother Superior/Blue Fairy. Which makes Zelena and Hades even more of an ideal pairing: Unlike everyone else on this show, they really only have each other. Their scenes together bring out a side of these characters we haven’t seen with anyone else. They’re so good together, it makes you wish that the rest of Once Upon A Time would follow suit, instead of getting bogged down with dry toast and magic pens and phone booths.

Zelena and Hades: A

Rumple and Belle: B+

Everything else: C-

Stray observations

  • The brain grab: better or worse than the heart grab?
  • Where did Regina’s awful hat come from then?
  • Even Hades’ “You will regret this” parting shot is interesting; although he seems nothing but smitten with Zelena at the end, could he still be harboring some revenge plan of his own?
  • Even the Charmings’ breakfast choices are dull.
  • “The thing is… I love this dagger.”
  • I like that there’s a sign for the river Styx.

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