Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Good, the Bad, and the Meh of #OnceTurns100

(Photo credit: ABC)

It’s hard to believe that Once Upon A Time has been around for 100 episodes already. We’ve traveled from modern New York to the Enchanted Forest, learned about curses upon curses, lost our memories, encountered wicked witches, ice queens, and a boy who wouldn’t grow up... and we’ve done it all on ABC! When Once Upon A Time first premiered, I was completely sold on the show. I had a sneaking suspicion that it would either rise spectacularly and audiences would embrace it, or it would fail and become one of the shows people made reference to whenever they talked about a good concept on paper but poor execution on screen. Helmed by many of the same people who created LOST, this is a show that has often felt convoluted (try and map out everyone’s family tree. Sheesh!), and occasionally downright poor in quality of writing and plotted arcs (everyone else was itching to be rid of Neverland, too, right? That wasn’t just me?).

But when this series is at its best, it focuses not on the extraordinary, magical things happening around it but on its nuanced, layered, and complex heroes. Because everyone on this show falls somewhere in the “hero” or “villain” — some even transitioning from one to become another. What the ABC hit show does, however, is present the idea of heroes and villains as more complex than just strictly “good and evil.” It allows the fictional characters we have grown up knowing and loving — people like Snow White, Prince Charming, the Evil Queen, Robin Hood, Belle, Ariel, Mulan, Red Riding Hood, etc. — and presents them as infinitely complex. Once Upon A Time, when it’s great, changes the way we think about stories and about fairytales, in particular.

Because of the Oscar buzz that would surely drown out anything not related to golden statues next week, ABC released the 100th episode of Once Upon A Time to the press. Having watched it, my general feeling is that this is a very quiet episode, though not underwhelming. I like quiet episodes that focus on character development rather than flashy theatrics. It’s unexpected though — on a show that features so many grand, big, crazy stories — for the show to spend this milestone rather calmly.

To prepare you for the midseason premiere of “Souls of the Departed,” I thought I would tease some of the best, worst, and “meh” moments from this episode. Keep in mind that I won’t be giving any plot spoilers away, and I’ll try to keep everything vague enough that you all can still enjoy the episode!

(Photo credit: ABC)


Regina Mills, our sweet queen.

For an episode featuring a trip to the underworld, one might assume the main plot would involve Hook. And while the heroes are certainly intent on finding him, the majority of this episode is heavily devoted to Regina Mills. Lana Parilla has two scenes, in particular, that are extremely emotional. She knocks both completely out of the park, and it’s a nice contrast because she’s also portraying the flashback Evil Queen to such joyful malevolence in this episode. If you walk away from “Souls of the Departed” and still don’t feel anything toward Regina Mills’ fantastic arc, I’m not sure anything will convince you.

A new title card!...

... Sort of. The typical Once Upon A Time blue is replaced with red instead.

Welcome to the underworld! Please enjoy your stay.

The underworld is going to look awfully familiar for more than one reason. On a practical level, it’s is filled of souls who have unfinished business. And, as Regina points out early on in this episode, you can bet that some of that unfinished business involves some of our heroes in some way, shape, or form. (Don’t forget that a lot of these souls are there because of our heroes in the first place.)

Hades’ appearance (played excellently by Greg Germann) is really welcome, and fans of mythology will appreciate an array of aspects in the underworld, including some very colorful rivers. Additionally, Germann’s clearly having a blast playing a live-action version of the god of the undead.

Also, you might get to meet a character who I assume is from mythology we haven’t seen yet toward the episode’s end. ... Or maybe we met her already and I just don’t remember. There have been 100 episodes, after all. Either way, I believe I know who she’s supposed to be and I’m welcoming the inclusion of more mythology into this fairytale-centered show.

We’re going on a quest!

“Operation Firebird” is a new mission that Henry names (probably the first well-named mission of his in my opinion), and it’s not just a mission about Hook. Our heroes have all found a kind of purpose in the underworld, with Regina Mills leading the charge in a very significant way.

Speaking of Henry, he gets to witness an extremely emotional moment of Regina’s that spearheads this quest.

Tick, tock, goes the clock.

Pay attention to a clock in this episode. Hades thinks it’s important, and he’ll tell you why at the end of the episode too.

Holy wardrobe and jewelry, Batman.

Once Upon A Time always does an amazing job in the costuming department, and this episode is no exception. The flashbacks of the Evil Queen’s wardrobe feature two REALLY beautiful ensembles, complete with some stinkin’ awesome jewelry to match.

The Queen’s fantastic wardrobe is only matched by an equally fantastic tiered birthday cake you’ll see. It should go without saying that I now want cake.

It’s like Doctor Who all over again.

I want to remain as tight-lipped as possible about the tiny bit of Hook/Emma there is in this episode, but the only thought I had while watching a scene was: “Doomsday.” If you’re a Whovian, you might feel shades of the same when you watch.

Well, it IS almost Easter, so...

Look for some fun Easter eggs in this episode! Some of them are pointed out by the writers in dialogue, and some aren’t as much. Since this episode was a bit low-key for the 100th, the writers found a nice way of paying homage to its history by bringing back some elements from the show’s past.

(Photo credit: ABC)


“Special” effects.

Though the lighting and directing of this episode was pretty great, some of the special effects just really didn’t work and were laughably bad. There’s a scene with Cora, in particular, where I spent a good deal of time trying not to laugh at the absurdity of the effect.

“That was a lot of information to get in thirty seconds.”

Unless you’re a seasoned Once Upon A Time vet and remember every little detail about this show, you might feel a tad lost during this episode. Even with my knowledge of the series, having watched from the beginning, I found myself being tripped up by plot points that originated four years ago, especially in regards to Regina’s backstory. While the re-introduction of characters we haven’t seen in a while was good and a fun nod to the show’s history, from a writing standpoint, it didn’t work for me and left me pausing multiple times as I tried to remember what had happened years prior.

My advice? Definitely watch the midseason finale before this one for a refresher course, and try to read up on some of Regina’s past again before you watch the episode.

Rumple is still as Rumple as ever.

In case you’ve forgotten the reason everyone is in the underworld to begin with, this episode reminds you. There’s a “lost” Rumple/Belle scene (which made me roll my eyes because of the show insisting that Belle’s completely na├»ve, but that’s neither here nor there), and Rumple spends pretty much the entirety of the episode reminding us all that he’s only in the underworld for one reason — because he’s being blackmailed to be there by Emma.

(Photo credit: ABC)


A... “reunion” of sorts.

The opening scene of the episode features a character we haven’t seen in a while. The dialogue — while seemingly poignant — just feels like it’s cycling a hamster wheel. It didn’t really click for me and, though emotional, felt a bit off for some reason. I’m really not sure what the episode was trying to do with the scene, but I’ll let you guys be the judge of it.

In addition, there are at least five or six other past characters brought back in “Souls of the Departed.” And though most of them worked in some way, a few of them I could have definitely done without.

Double, double, toil and trouble.

A character meets their double which causes some problems for another character. It’s supposed to be impactful, but it’s really just kind of boring.

As red as a Taylor Swift album.

This episode is going to be messy for people who like to make GIFs. Though there’s some really cool red lighting throughout a lot of the episode, it also doesn’t really work in certain scenes and moments and feels like someone shot the episode with a shoddy Instagram filter on it.

Never fear though — not all scenes in the episode has tinges of red to them.

Ensemble? What ensemble?

Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely LOVE the fact that this episode was Regina-centric because Lana Parilla knocked it out of the park. However, it did seem rather odd that for a series built on Emma Swan (and plot being driven by her motivation to rescue Hook), the episode was pretty Emma-lite. Additionally, most of the other characters including Snow, Charming, Henry, and Robin Hood were relegated to background (or flashbacks, in the case of Snow).


“If this were a dream, there would be talking donuts or something.”

“What can I get you? Do you like gingerbread or children?”

“This was a terrible idea.”

“You okay?” “I just hope he is.”

Check out the 100th episode of Once Upon A Time when it debuts on March 6. In the meantime, let me know your thoughts about the season so far and what you hope for the back half of this year!


  1. Oh boy, every review just reinforces my decision not to watch! It's a real shame.

  2. I'll watch it because I love Once Upon a Time but I'm not a fan of Regina. I loved the Neverland arc! Season 3 was my favorite.

    1. Yeah!!! Someone else who loved Neverland. I honestly think Peter Pan was one of the best villains!

  3. Seeing Regina's nth flashback is getting very old, having such an important episode centered on her and not the MAIN character Emma and sidelining everyone for her sake reinforced my decision to skip the episode and watch it with the next one. Hopefully, the screen time of the other characters in the 2 episodes combined will be reasonable. Good things I don't live in the US, so me not watching won't affect the ratings.

  4. Good! I was getting tired of so many Hook/Emma episodes. They have sidelined Regina, Charming and Snow. It's only fair they get focus as well.