‘Once Upon A Time’ Midseason Premiere Review: Regina Comes Full Circle In ‘Souls of the Departed’

Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 5 Episode 12 – Midseason Premiere – Souls of the Departed:

One of the biggest stories across five seasons of Once Upon A Time has been Regina’s struggle between villainy and heroism, between darkness and light. It’s also a story about redemption, as Regina has spent years attempting to make amends for her villainous actions of the past, believing for a while that she was destined to suffer eternally for her actions as the Evil Queen. But “Souls of the Departed” brings the character full circle by bringing her face-to-face with the character who’d been the catalyst for her turn towards darkness in the first place: her mother.

Going into “Souls of the Departed,” we’re led to believe that the mission to rescue Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) from the Underworld would take center stage in the episode. And, in some respects, it does. Although Regina’s story gets the most screen time, the search for Hook is part of a theme of characters from the past warning the characters of the present against journeying to the Underworld in the first place. For instance, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) has a heartwarming dream sequence in which the late Neal (Michael Raymond-James) warns her against making this trip, whereas Cora (Barbara Hershey) basically gives Regina an ultimatum: either get the hell out of the Underworld right now, or see her father condemned to even deeper, darker layer of hell. While Emma at least gets a touching reassurance from Neal that he’s in “a better place,” Cora offers no such assurances about Regina’s father, Henry Sr. And it’s this latter storyline that gives the episode the crux of its dramatic weight. Regina (Lana Parrilla) has struggled against the pull of her mother’s influence since she was a girl. In a lot of ways, she’s been defined by the things her mother has done, since she never would have been the Evil Queen without her mother’s influence. The story bears this out somewhat in the flashback plot this week, as Cora infiltrates Regina’s kingdom and disguises herself as Henry Sr. in order to crush Snow White’s heart. It’s a bit of a circular subplot that borders on cartoonish supervillainy, but it helps to illustrate just how deeply Cora’s influence runs, even after she’d been previously banished to Wonderland. Even without Cora in her life, Regina was still as evil as ever, and she still planned to crush Snow White’s heart. The memory of all her horrific actions as the Evil Queen comes back to haunt her in this journey to the Underworld, since she’s faced now with potentially killing her father all over again — after all, if she doesn’t adhere to Cora’s demands and leave the Underworld immediately, Henry Sr. will find himself burning for all eternity.

But Regina doesn’t listen to Cora this time. Interestingly, her rebellion against Cora has less to do with her being pushed around by her mother all her life than about doing the right thing. Regina, along with the rest of the Storybrooke gang, realizes that this isn’t just about Hook. This is a possibility to redeem the souls of countless condemned Underworld citizens, as each of the people down here — from Peter Pan to Hook to Henry Sr. — all have some sort of unfinished business that’s keeping them trapped in this hell. The revelation implies that the rest of this season will turn into a sort of a procedural, as the gang tackles a different case of the week, and solves the problems of the downtrodden before moving on, Quantum Leap-style. It’s a great premise, and one of the strongest that Once Upon A Time has ever had for a half-season, so I’m looking forward to seeing how this all works out, especially since this worked so well. Regina makes peace with her father, apologizing for having killed him all those years ago, in a scene that really should be ridiculous. But Parrilla is one of the real gems of this cast, and she managed to make that scene not only work, but feel heart-achingly poignant, because it’s a scene imbued with five seasons of character development. We’ve seen Parrilla nurture and develop Regina’s moral journey, making it feel like a real struggle, but one that would always result in her returning to her inherent goodness and discovering her latent heroism. And that’s exactly what happens here, as Regina says goodbye to her father and rejects her mother. In the process, it’s revealed that Regina was Henry Sr.’s unfinished business. Now that she’s finally free from Cora’s influence, Henry Sr. can finally move on to that “better place” where Neal is — and where, presumably, all the other Underworld residents will go, once their unfinished business is fulfilled. It’s a watershed moment for Regina, who no longer seems to doubt herself as an inherently good person. And, as an added bonus, the story gives a nod to the people who brought her to his point, as Henry Sr. and our Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) share an exchange in which young Henry thanks his grandfather for believing in his mother, and Henry Sr. thanks his grandson for being there for Regina when he couldn’t be. It was a beautiful, celebratory moment, and this hopefully means a more prominent role for Regina in the adventures ahead.

Of course, redeeming Regina isn’t the main goal of the Underworld arc, although different motives exist for different people. We know good and well that Emma won’t be satisfied with just sending Hook onward to that “better place,” she needs him to be able to come back to the real world. And that means splitting her heart so Hook can have half. Naturally, this is easier said than done, since Hook isn’t exactly easy to find right now. Despite using a potion that allows communication with the dead, Hook doesn’t appear as anything more than an apparition. Adding to the trouble is Gold/Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle), who not only doesn’t want to be there, but who’s also being tempted into helping his father, Peter Pan (Robbie Kay), escape the Underworld. To do this, one of the Storybrooke gang must take Peter’s place in the Underworld, meaning someone will have to die. And Gold clearly has that kind of evil in him. Will he have the same change of heart as Regina or will he bail out dear old dad? I could easily see it going either way, although I’m not sure who would die in order to make that happen other than Gold himself. And really, I’m kind of over the constant heel/face turns for Gold. I get that he’s meant to be a bit of a wild card, but it all feels like old hat by this point. I’m far more interested in the possibilities presented by the introduction of Hades (Greg Germann). This is leagues different than the James Woods depiction from Disney’s Hercules (although he DOES get the blue flame hair at one point, in a cool little sequence), but I like that difference. He comes across as a self-important, high-rolling sleazeball, but a powerful one. Hades is that rare Once Upon A Time villain who doesn’t appear like he’ll have any redeeming qualities. Granted, this could all change by the time the season finale comes along, since the show loves having villains with ambiguous morality, but it would be kind of refreshing to have a villain who’s evil through and through. If nothing else, he’s an equal opportunity villain, proving that he’ll punish a terrible person: for having failed to get the Storybrooke gang to leave the Underworld, Hades curses Cora to be a miller’s daughter for all eternity. So yeah, count me among the intrigued.

'Once Upon A Time' Midseason Premiere Review Regina Comes Full Circle In 'Souls of the Departed'

Credit: ABC

I’m looking forward to seeing how Season 5B will go, since I’m already feeling far more optimistic about this than I was Season 5A. And I LIKED Season 5A, so my hopes are pretty high right now. But I’m an unabashed fan of how Once Upon A Time finds new approaches to classic tales. “Souls of the Departed” is a story of redemption, and perhaps Season 5B could be similarly redemptive to any OUAT fans who weren’t thrilled with the direction Season 5A took. I suppose we’ll see. Either way, I’m in for the ride.

But what did you think of the Once Upon A Time Midseason Premiere, “Souls of the Departed”? Sound off in the comments!

And for more on Once Upon A Time, read our recap and analysis of the winter finale, “Swan Song”!

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