Once Upon a Time: Labor of Love Review

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By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

Once Upon a Time has always been a series about universal themes amidst a fantastical story, its beauty being the result of all of these elements mixed together. “Labor of Love” was an amazing episode that reminds us of this, exploring many of the thematic constants: hope, love, and most especially heroism and self-identity. The trip down to the Underworld to save Killian with “Operation Firebird” is indeed continuing with that beautiful possibility that so many of these souls would’ve never been saved. This was further exemplified and it also continued in a way that I hoped it would – everyone has the potential to save someone along the journey. Moreover, season one familiarity combined with seeing how far our characters have come is a remarkable way to begin this arc. It is interesting that Hades refuses to explain why the Underworld resembles Storybrooke, but it’s actually brilliant from the storytelling perspective. Before Emma broke the curse, Storybrooke was a purgatory all its own, with its residents trapped in a perpetual state of sameness day after day, unaware of the miserable state in which they were living. The Underworld is like Storybrooke turned on its head – the residents may have their memories but they are all still trapped. Cue both times a hero arriving to change things for the better, only this time it’s an entire band of heroes. Furthermore, the concept of self-identity that we’ve seen since day one is also beautifully expressed in “Labor of Love” and will surely continue throughout the season. Here, it was with Snow White, Hercules, Killian, Emma, Henry, and Regina. And what I loved about this episode is that while it centered on Snow White’s character, her journey of self-discovery and confidence reminded us of the beauty and inspiring nature of her character, and also that the essence of her journey could be related to so many others, even our own lives, in profound ways. And the flashbacks to a teenage Snow and Hercules were a perfect reflection to the present day, and how looking back with fondness or with wisdom, not living in the past, and being who we truly are or want to be, can help us to move forward and succeed in the present.

There truly was so much to love that it’s not a labor to write about: Hades is sadistic, vindictive, sassy and stylish, and the absolute perfect villain, and while I hate to see him torture Killian, I loved to see that our hero takes every punch with equal parts sass and integrity, proving brave while retaining his character’s strength and wit. Emma’s steadfast determination to find Killian and equally bold standoff with Hades was remarkable to watch and had so much meaning, while Henry encountering Cruella was intriguing (I love seeing her back because she’s fabulous, darling) as she offered some interesting information about his broken quill’s unfinished business and his great power as the author – though I hardly trust a word she says. I questioned the Blind Witch’s presence because it seemed so random but she is great comic relief especially in her banter with Regina who called her a “child muncher.” Regina also had the honor of referring to Hercules as “Wonder Boy,” something I was waiting for, as well as providing one of the episode’s best moments in a role reversal scene between her and Mary Margaret as she delves out the hope and concept of identity. Although it would’ve been nice to see a similar feisty and sarcastic counterpart to the film version of Megara, without comparison she was still great in her small but important part of the story, while Jonathan Whitesell’s Hercules was a wonderful balance of sweetness and confidence in the past and real and relatable doubts in the present. I also loved the little moment Snow discovers Hercules’s grave and David displays a hint of jealousy over his wife’s childhood “friend,” and then questions losing track of their mission of finding and saving Killian. Of course she means he can help, but it was touching to see how much David cares for his friend. And therein lies the heart of the episode: friendship, love, heroism, and self-identity all abound in exceptional storytelling. 
After being greatly missed from screen time in the 100th episode, Killian’s character returned with great force, displaying why he’s such a remarkable man with his bravery, selflessness, and belief in love. He wakes up in an underground prison, as bloodied as that faded image we saw of him, but now filled with a burst of determination and hope. Although a fellow prisoner warns him not to try to escape for they are being guarded by a monstrous beast, he says he must make Emma’s job easier, knowing it’s really her because “when you love someone, you know.” And then he helps the young girl, using himself as bait to allow her to escape, asking her to find Emma and tell her to find him. Not only does this further and beautifully exemplify how much faith he has in Emma and that belief that true love will always find each other, but proves even more that the true heart of Killian is that of a hero. The vow to be the man he wants to be has not and will not waiver, and no amount of physical torture will break him. He epitomizes how “a hero’s strength is measured by his heart.” Of course, emotional torture is equally as painful and when Hades tells him of his vindictive plot to make Killian choose which one of his loved ones will replace the souls they’ve helped move on, you can see the horror on his tormented face. He would never willingly condemn his friends, so it will be emotional to see how Killian deals with this. To say I loved Colin O’Donoghue in the scenes would be an understatement.

The lovely flashbacks to young Snow White were a reminder of how amazing Bailee Madison is at portraying the princess’s younger persona, and who Snow White truly is, which is something she and even the viewer can sometimes forget. Of all the many incarnations of the iconic character, Ginnifer Goodwin’s Snow White is undoubtedly my favorite and “Labor of Love” proved why. Snow is brave, loving, forgiving, compassionate, strong, capable, and fierce, but she wasn’t always so and she’s also quite flawed. She makes mistakes and loses faith. Even the most hopeful person can lose faith or sight of who they are. Young Snow was kind and good but lacked confidence in herself and her abilities to lead. Seeing that the birth of “Bandit Snow ” was with the help of Hercules was incredibly sweet, lovely, and poignant as he not only teaches her how to handle a bow and arrow (to deal with the bandits terrorizing her kingdom), but also something even more significant: we must never let the fear of failure stop us from trying, and that if we do fail we can still learn and succeed in the future. Similar to the way Anna helped David, Hercules training Snow was quite touching in its similarities and differences. Like David, this person merely unlocked the strength that was already there. They just needed a little push and someone to believe in them. Of course the difference was the sweet puppy love between them – showcasing how first love can always be a part of your life and who you become even if it’s not meant to be your true love. And of course what elevates these flashbacks is the way they informed the present. Snow’s remembrance of Hercules leads to her wanting to not only help him move on but help them in their quest. When she convinces Hercules to take on Cerberus, the beast that’s standing guard at Killian’s prison, it would help him fulfill his final labor and finally be able to move on to Mount Olympus. After his first attempt, we can see both he and Snow are suffering from a lack of belief in themselves. Touchingly so, it’s Regina who gives Snow a boost of confidence and reminds her that they don’t need Mary Margaret. They need Snow White, the brave princess who always fought back against Evil Queen and defeated her in the most unimaginable way possible – by making her a friend. It was such a great moment in their relationship and further showcased how far they’ve come. In the past, Regina was trying to bring her down and make her feel unworthy and now she was trying to build her back up and indeed it does help Snow remember who she is and more importantly who she wants to be – something that informs her Underworld journey with Hercules and Meg as the three of them defeat Cerberus, resolving their unfinished business. It wasn’t just defeating a beast, but defeating their fears, saving themselves, and saving each other. The moment our heroes say goodbye to Hercules and Meg was another moving and emotional instant of souls moving to a better place, finally at peace thanks to this quest to rescue Killian. In this case it was so many of the characters that played a part – Killian who helped Meg escape, Emma who aided her and never give up, and Snow and Regina who led Hercules back toward his heroic path. Sometimes the path is not about facing everything alone without fear, but accepting help. Many tears were shed as Hercules hugged Snow goodbye, always knowing she’d become a great hero, when Emma smiled proudly when Meg expressed her thanks to Killian, and when Hercules and Meg walked hand-in-hand on their final journey towards Olympus. Their hero’s journey was complete, but our heroes’ journey is far from over.

If this episode exemplified heroism and love, and that what matters is whom we choose to be, then the theme of self-identity and discovery is also at its heart. The series always been about these things and the ways in which our characters epitomized them in “Labor of Love” was exemplary. What I loved about Snow’s rediscovery of her great strength and a part of herself was not only because it was a moving moment for her character, but something we can attribute to others as well. When she says she wants to be “Snow White” again, the person who took great risks even if she was afraid and maybe even inspire people, we are reminded that we are who we make ourselves – who we name ourselves. Snow never wants to forget herself again. It’s a way of saying that we are made of all of her choices and qualities – the good and the bad. We are both, but what we strive to be is what matters. Here, Snow proved to be an inspiration. Similarly, I was moved when Killian called himself Captain Killian Jones before Captain Hook, when he helped Meg escape. It’s a profound display that he’s come so far in his heroic journey, no longer introducing himself as the man whose moniker is associated with revenge. He’s remembering and striving to be the man he always wanted to be – the man he truly is. Captain Hook is and will always be a part of him but he’s no longer defined by the lack of a hand, but by the depths of his soul. And I couldn’t help but be moved deeply how Snow’s speech was so reminiscent of her daughter’s own similar journey, as Emma has learned and grown so much over the course of the series. She has become a hero for herself and for others, and like her mother, someone who can inspire people. And she has also learned to take risks even when she was afraid. She has taken the most extraordinary risk of all by opening her heart truly and deeply to Killian, because truly loving someone is very frightening. But with taking that risk and facing that fear of vulnerability can come the most beautiful love unimaginable, and a strength that is unparalleled. Snow has always fought for love and now her daughter is bravely following in her footsteps. It may be a long and arduous journey but the labors of love are always worth the risk. Can our heroes “go the distance”? Whatever lies ahead, I have no doubt that in the end they will not lose hope, until their journey is complete.

Favorite Moments: Snow and Hercules overcoming their fears, remembering the sweet sense of first love between the princess and the demi-god, Killian displaying fierce bravery and belief in Emma and their love, Emma’s steadfast determination to save the man she loves, Regina helping Snow regain her confidence and sense of self, Hercules and Meg making their final journey home, and the sassy and fun villainy of Hades and Cruella, “Labor of Love” was filled with so many fantastic moments.

Favorite Lines:
Killian: When you love someone, you know.

Hercules: You can’t let the fear of failing stop you from trying.

Snow: I was someone who took risks even when she was afraid. I was someone who, I guess, inspired people. I’m saying I don’t want to be Mary Margaret anymore. I want to be Snow White again.
Regina: Well it’s about time!


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