With “Souls Of The Departed,” Once Upon A Time, believe it or not, has just crossed a key threshold: 100 episodes. For all this show’s inanities and love of catchphrases and gaping plot holes where logic should exist, there’s clearly something very compelling about Storybrooke and its residents that resonates with viewers. In my own home, it’s a decent family watch, that the kids find intriguing and even occasionally scary enough not to be lame, and the adults in the house can still take an interest. And the show still finds surprising mileage out of turning fairy tale tropes on their ear, or offering different sides of characters we think we know well.

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That’s why the Dark Swan arc that kicked off this season was so effective, and the Underworld one, introduced this episode, shows promise. Mostly because we get to bring back compelling characters that the show has been lacking: Robbie Kay, we hardly knew ye (even though that Neverland arc threatened to suck the life out of me, he was far and away the best part). The Underworld dark side of Storybrooke is decently menacing, with its red-tinged sky and smashed clock tower and people just randomly spray-painting things. For all the show’s cheesiness, it’s pretty impressive. Of course, said cheesiness compels our resident do-gooders to set up shop there until all the troubled souls can be released, but Underworld is such a more intriguing spot than Storybrooke, I don’t even mind. Much.

Because it wouldn’t be Once Upon A Time without some mind-melding flashbacks and the continued and confounding appearance of Snow White’s wig. This week, we deal with Regina’s Snow hatred (all those annoying Snow traits she listed as she tore black petals off that flower? We can relate) and parental issues. But it’s all so confusing: We see how Cora came back from Wonderland, but if Dad Henry is trapped in a tiny box with Cora in the magic mirror, how does Regina eventually rip out his (normal-sized) heart and kill him?

Also, how convenient that a drunk(?) Jiminy Cricket gets trapped in Snow White’s bodice, just as Regina is trying to kill her, to make it look as if she’s squeezing Snow’s heart. She crushes the heart anyway, and some faceless soldier dies instead. Her father protests that killing Snow would make Regina permanently dark, but: She literally just killed someone. In fact, many people, in her search for Snow. Why is Snow such a magical flower that this foot soldier’s death doesn’t even count? And wouldn’t Regina herself be a fine candidate for Purgatory in any case?

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The only person who appears right at home in the Underworld, at this point, is Rumple, of course, which leads, as mentioned above, to the episode’s most welcome return (not Cruella). Cora is dastardly as usual, before she gets saddled with her Miller’s daughter moniker for all eternity. Neal is a pointless visit, trying to talk Emma out of something that he knows she’s going to do anyway, because no one can talk Emma out of anything. No, far and away the best re-appearance is Peter Pan’s Robbie Kay, suited up just like Rumple, and in charge of the Underworld antiques shop. (Was also pleased to see that most of the artifacts have an evil history, like Maleficent’s spinning wheel, and the Wicked Witch’s bicycle.) For all of Rumple’s tricks, Pan offers someone even craftier than he is, so I’m already looking to seeing how that plays out in this new realm.

The Underworld apparently represents the Catholic concept of Purgatory, where people have to deal with (lord help us) “unfinished business” before moving on up or down. Regina’s father, fortunately, gets to move up after resolving his situation with her. Her mother, of course, takes the elevator all the way down, where we meet Greg Germann’s Hades or Devil or Lucifer or whoever. He appears to be a fine, smirky yet sinister choice for the role, but OUAT can never leave well enough alone. So the show closes with Germann’s head doing a Heat Miser/Cold Miser morph into some crazy blue flame hair. What? Why?

You could ask the same question of why relatively sane people (but insane do-gooders) feel compelled to stay in the Underworld, a place that everyone else is trying to get out of as quickly as possible. Even with a boat ready, who knows when that might happen again? (Luckless Charming insists, “We’ll figure it out.”) Because they arrogantly believe they can help all the souls there. Maybe that’s just how the system works, you now? Maybe purgatory is there for a reason. Of course, that’s not going to stop this troupe, as they smugly look around the town they’re going to transform with their niceness. Doesn’t it occur to them that some these people may be headed toward hellfire, ruled by the icy blue hair guy in the basement? Still, compared to some other arcs (like the painful Frozen half-season, or the piling on of supervillainesses), Hades seems a fine place to while away the last nine episodes of season five.

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Stray observations

  • Catchphrase tallies: Parental usage of “best chance”: one (from Regina talking about her mother’s intentions for her). This season’s new, bound to be smacked into the ground phrase of “unfinished business”: about four.
  • Worst wig will always be Snow, but worst actual hair is Regina’s crazy shoulder flip. Get a Hades haircut, Regina!
  • Who’s watching baby Neal while his parents traipse around in the Underworld? I often wonder why Henry is anywhere (Operation Firebird!), but that was a nice moment when he got to meet his namesake.

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