‘Once Upon A Time’ Season 5 Episode 16 Review: ‘Our Decay’ Proves Villains Need Love Too

Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 5 Episode 16 – Our Decay:

Well, if Once Upon A Time has taught us anything, it’s that bad guys want love too. “Our Decay” is an episode that depicts the wonderfully twisted love story between Hades (Greg Germann) and Zelena (Rebecca Mader). On the one hand, while we’re not necessarily encouraged to root for them to be together, the pairing is interesting for how it contrasts with the other romances in the show. For every villainous romance like Hades and Zelena, you have another romance whose moral underpinnings aren’t so clear, like Gold (Robert Carlyle) and Belle (Emilie De Ravin). This sort of complexity makes these relationships interesting to watch unfold.

What’s funny is that while I loved the characterizations, I didn’t particularly love the story itself. The plot of the week is twofold, really. On the one side, we have Zelena enlisting Robin Hood (Sean Maguire) and Regina (Lana Parrilla) for help finding her baby, which has been abducted by Hades. Interspered throughout these scenes are flashbacks to how Zelena and Hades met. Jealous over his brother, Hercules, being assigned to Mount Olympus while he was assigned to the Underworld, Hades decided to seek out Zelena in Oz after hearing that the witch was working on a time travel spell. As is usually the case in stories where one person seeks out another for solely selfish reasons, Hades is taken aback when he actually ends up falling for the green-skinned sorceress. And yet, even though his feelings are true, Zelena can’t allow him to kiss her, since she suspects he’s simply using her to get her time travel spell (an intricate spell which requires ingredients embodying innocence, love, wisdom and courage). Despite the two never really consummating their relationship, it’s a connection that Hades has held onto in the years since. In the Underworld, Hades confesses to Zelena that he never intended to harm her child. Rather, he abducted the baby for her, so that mother and daughter could finally be together in their own Underworld version of Storybrooke. Granted, this version of Storybrooke will inevitably decay, but, as Hades puts it, “it’s our decay.” Part of the reason for the creation of this bastardized Storybrooke is so Zelena can cast the same Dark Curse that Regina did, and finally get one over on her sister. To her credit, Zelena isn’t buying any of it, and says she’d rather get her daughter back without Hades’s help. That said, even with this rejection, Hades’s feelings remain, as he tells her how he “took care of” Cora for her. They really could have been a deliciously villainous pairing. And I imagine they still will be. It’s a strange sort of chemistry, but Germann and Mader definitely have it. While I’m not rooting for everything to work out for them, I can see why they might be attracted to one another, and why they might actually be a great fit for one another. And that gives me a greater window into the human reasons for their villainy, since their respective evils are a consequence of being fundamentally misunderstood throughout their lives. Granted, their long past the point of misunderstandings resulting in their bad behavior, but it’s interesting to see how relatable their reasons for turning villainous were, even if our empathy doesn’t mean we condone anything they’re doing. I enjoyed this, and I like that we also got to see Robin and Regina working together. That relationship has been neglected in recent weeks, and it’s good to see the show come back to it, considering how strong the chemistry is between Maguire and Parrilla as well.

Once Upon A Time - Season 5 Episode 16 - Recap and Review - Our Decay

Credit: ABC

Meanwhile, on the other side of the plot coin, Gold returns to Storybrooke to visit Belle after creating a portal for Hades that will allow him to travel back and forth between worlds. The creation of this portal is a condition for Gold to be free of his contract to Hades, so he’s quick to abide. But his visit with Belle isn’t as sweet as Gold would probably have liked for it to be. On the one hand, he reveals to a happy Belle that she’s expecting a child. On the other hand, he also breaks the awful news that he promised said child to Hades. And this is where things get intriguing: in telling Belle that he’ll use all his power to make sure that doesn’t happen, he inadvertently reveals to her that he’s basically the Dark One again. You’d think we’d get a rehash of all the old ultimatums, with Gold having to choose between his power and Belle, or Gold having to repent and promise Belle he’s a changed man. But we don’t get that at all, really. What we get is a man who no longer feels ashamed about who he truly is. While he notes that Belle made him a better man, he assures her she hasn’t made him a different man. In fact, Gold argues that Belle fell in love with him precisely because of his darker nature. “You fell in love with me because I was a man and a beast,” Gold states. And perhaps he’s right. But it doesn’t make Belle’s decision any easier, as she holds off on making any concrete plans for the future until everyone returns from Hades. Ultimately, I think it’s a solid direction to take the narrative between these two if it ends with Belle embracing that this is just who her husband is. That doesn’t mean she has to be villainous herself, only that she accepts this as a facet of the man she loves. It could make for a cool evolution of the character, and her relationship with Gold. As it stands now, this relationship is the middle ground between dark pairings like Zelena and Hades, and heroic pairings like Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and David (Josh Dallas). I mean, for crying out loud, the plot for the Charmings this week centers on the couple figuring out a way to send a hello message to their infant son back in Storybrooke! It’s a cute story, and not a whole lot more, as it all ends in David and Snow feeling uncertain whether their call went through, only for Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) to appear with new pages from the storybook. The new pages reveal the look of joy on baby Neal’s face when he heard his parents’ voices on the other end. In stark contrast to Zelena and Robin, David and Snow are of a unified front when it comes to their child, and they’re representative of how a relationship in this world can succeed when both are committed to it. It looks like we’re seeing the struggles of commitment reflected in many of the other pairings, whether it’s Emma/Hook, Robin/Regina, or Gold/Belle. And while things seem to be working out for some pairings, it’s doubtful it’ll all work out for all of them. It should be a compelling couple of weeks.

'Once Upon A Time' Season 5 Episode 16 Review 'Our Decay' Proves Villains Need Love Too

Credit: ABC

“Our Decay” is a twisted love story, showing how darkness invades the love lives of Hades and Zelena, and Gold and Belle. Once Upon A Time has shown us just how badly villains desire love, and we’re seeing that play out here in a more nuanced fashion. Zelena may be a villain, but she’s still a mother who loves her child. Hades may be just as awful, if not worse, but he still wants someone with whom he can share his Underworld empire. Those are interesting character beats to explore, and I’m glad Once Upon A Time is taking the opportunity to dig into those stories.

But what did you think of Once Upon A Time Season 5 Episode 16, “Our Decay”? Sound off in the comments!

And for more on Once Upon A Time, read our review of last week’s deeply emotional, “The Brothers Jones”!

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