‘Once Upon A Time’ Season 5 Episode 13 Review: ‘Labor of Love’ Is Awesome TV

Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 5 Episode 13 – Labor of Love:

This just might have been the best Once Upon A Time so far this season, despite “Labor of Love” largely focusing on two people we’ve only just met. This episode had the perfect balance of well-paced drama, strong character arcs, and a solid twist or two to compel us to come back next week. This essentially recaptured that adventurous, yet emotionally grounded feeling of the first two seasons. To say I loved this would be one of the big understatements of the TV season so far.

What’s surprising is how effectively the episode weaves Hercules (Jonathan Whitesell) into the history of these characters. In any other show, it’d feel like a massive copout to learn that some guy we’re just meeting, and to whom the story has never alluded, was a major influence in the development of one of our leads. But it doesn’t feel cheap when we learn that Hercules is largely responsible for why Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) became such a badass in her post-Princess/pre-Storybrooke days. If anything, the script presents a scenario where it not only makes sense that these two would know each other, but it also makes it plausible that, in another lifetime, they might have fallen in love. To make a long story short, Snow White meets Hercules in her youth, and he helps train her to take on some bandits and become a hero, teaching her that it’s okay to fail, since this is how we learn to succeed. Yet Hercules runs into trouble of his own when he fails his mission to defeat Cerberus. He’s killed by the hellhound and sent to the Underworld below, never to see Snow White again. That is, until now, where Snow gets to be the one to show Hercules what being a hero is all about. It’s a compelling narrative that allows us to see the change in Mary Margaret, who’s had some of her more badass qualities stripped away in service of being the group’s de facto maternal figure. Here, she reconciles these two halves of herself: Mary Margaret the Mother and Snow White the Hero. By the end of the episode, she’s aided Hercules in his quest to kill Cerberus, while also uniting him with Megara (Kacey Rohl), allowing him to move on to the afterlife of Olympus now that his “unfinished business” is complete. And, having now rediscovered her heroic attributes, Mary Margaret decides to ditch that name once and for all, becoming Snow White from here on out. It’s a triumphant moment for the character, and a hell of an episode for Ginnifer Goodwin, who gets to show why she’s such an underutilized asset to this show. And while he isn’t as beefy as you’d expect the character to be, I think Whitesell made for a terrific Hercules. It’s an interesting take to have the character consumed by self-doubt due to having previously failed in his quest. Yet all heroes suffer defeat at some point, so to use that defeat to craft an arc for his character made sense, since it also made for a nice arc with Snow White, who becomes her truest self through helping him. It’s exactly the kind of story we get last week with Regina (Lana Parrilla), but I liked it better here. Granted, it mostly comes down to personal preference: I just found myself far more engaged by the plight of Hercules’ “unfinished business” than that of Regina’s father. Both storylines, however, not only tie into the hunt for Hook, but they both illustrate why rescuing him is going to come at tremendous cost.

'Once Upon A Time' Season 5 Episode 13 Review 'Labor of Love' Is Awesome TV

Credit: ABC

Prior to riding off into the sunset with Hercules, Megara had been cellmates with Hook (Colin O’Donoghue). And she doesn’t exactly seem hopeful about our heroes’ chances of saving him, and with good reason, as Hades (Greg Germann) proves to be a particularly difficult host for the Underworld gang. He materializes in front of Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and the others, revealing a blood-stained hook, which has been forcefully removed from ol’ Killian. “What did you do to him?” asks a horrified Emma, to which Hades responds that it isn’t what he did to Hook, but what he’s going to do to him, that she should be worried about. Sure enough, at the end of the episode, we learn the cruel twist Hades has in store for our favorite pirate: since Emma’s group has been freeing souls left and right, those souls will have to be replaced, meaning that for each soul they set free, one member of the gang will have to stay behind. And it’s up to Hook to decide who stays! If the show has the guts to follow through on this, it could make for an outstanding bit of drama, since Hook would essentially be condemning all of Emma’s family and friends for the purposes of seeing her set free from the Underworld, despite the fact that Emma has come to do the same for Hook. I could easily see a situation in which Emma and Hook choose to remain in the Underworld together rather than see their friends condemned to eternal suffering, but that would create a bit of a wrinkle in the storyline. I mean, we can’t really have this rescue mission carry over into Season 6, can we? Realistically, it wouldn’t be impossible to pull off, but Once Upon A Time is a show that likes to change missions, themes and settings every half-season, so I would imagine we see a conclusion to the Underworld arc by May. But I’ll be damned if I can figure out how the hell the show gets out of this one without us saying goodbye to some familiar faces. And that sense of peril makes for some woefully good TV, as the nervous dread sets in.

On the subject of nervous dread, it seems like Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) is going to have a big choice on his hands. While searching the Underworld alongside Robin (Sean Maguire), he encounters Cruella de Vil (Victoria Smurfit), who needs Henry’s help as The Author. As it turns out, the magic quill was a living thing as well, meaning it’s also down here in the Underworld somewhere. If Henry can find it, he can rewrite Cruella into existence, returning her to the world above, and exonerating his mother for her murder. Of course, it’s a choice Henry will have to come to on his own, and that could prove to be good for the character, who’s spent far too long as a reactionary presence. I think if he’s given more of his own storylines (like he might have gotten as The Author, had he not chosen to discard the responsibility), the Henry character will prove to be far compelling than he has been this season. This is to say nothing of how intriguing it is to have some of the characters have independent goals while in the Underworld. Last week, it was Regina rescuing her father. This week, it was Snow White helping Hercules. And now, it’s Henry facing the dilemma of whether or not to help Cruella. It keeps the narrative from stagnating, as it would if the only mission anybody had was to rescue Hook and leave. I’m really enjoying the multi-layered approach to the narrative in this half-season. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention how stoked I am to have Cruella back, since Smurfit delivers perhaps the most pitch-perfect portrayal of any Disney character inserted into the Once Upon A Time universe.

All in all, I found “Labor of Love” to be the best Once Upon A Time this season. I’ve always been a fan of the show, but I can’t remember the last time I was this eager to get to next week to see how the story plays out.

But what did you think of Once Upon A Time Season 5 Episode 13, “Labor of Love”? Sound off in the comments!

And for more on Once Upon A Time, read our recap and review of last week’s thrilling midseason premiere!

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