Once Upon a Time: Last Rites Review


By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

The penultimate episode of Season 5 of Once Upon a Time was the kind of blend of stories the series can do so beautifully. “Last Rites” was about life and death, restoring hope, true heroism, and the juxtaposition of happiness and tragedy, which begs the question – can you love an episode, or for that matter an entire series, if something happens that breaks your heart? The answer may vary for some, but for me, “Last Rites” represented the many ways these stories continue to be so compelling. In Storybrooke, the heroes try to discover a way to defeat Hades while Zelena slowly comes to realize that she is not enough for him. In the Underworld, Killian and a newly deceased King Arthur work together to help the heroes in Storybrooke, a quest that brings hope to the living and the dead. Regina and Robin go to rescue his daughter but Robin is tragically killed, sacrificing himself for Regina, while Zelena kills Hades once and for all. And when Emma finally allows herself to break down and grieve, Killian miraculously returns to her, his life restored by Zeus because of his heroic and selfless acts that helped defeat Hades. Amidst conflicting emotions, this episode was a fast-paced, gripping drama filled with brilliant performances and moments that moved me to tears. And these tears came out of tragedy and miracles. My heart wept and my heart soared. But such is life, and “Last Rites” reflected not only the power of hope but also the devastating reality of sudden death.

I have loved the character of Robin Hood all of my life and fell in love with Sean Maguire’s portrayal of the charming outlaw since day one, not only in regards to his love story with Regina and his friendships with the heroes, but also Robin as individual character – lovably cheeky, a devoted father, brave, and honorable. Needless to say his death is heartbreaking and I cried for him, Regina, his son Roland who is now an orphan, and the stories I had hoped to see. Such is necessary, I examined what this devastating moment and the ones leading up to his untimely demise mean for the story. I am reminded a bit of (SPOILER ALERT) another incarnation of the Robin Hood legend when Marian was slain on BBC’s Robin Hood drama series. It was tragic and shocking but served an ultimate purpose. Whether it’s in life or fiction, we always try to make sense of death especially when it comes so suddenly. Did I wish that Robin’s character had gotten more development? Yes. Does his death feel unfair? Certainly. But in some ways, his death reflects very real thing that all too often happens in life. Sometimes people die suddenly and tragically and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. They are here one minute and then gone in an instant and we don’t get to say goodbye. And is it is difficult to make sense of it and Lana Parrilla expressed that sense of complete shock, disbelief, and pain with a heartbreakingly potent expression. So perhaps his death is meant to be a reflection of that reality – a death that shocks and breaks us, and tests our ability to go on with our lives in the same way. Moreover, call me the incurable optimist, but I also feel as if this may be a stepping-stone for the story with two possible outcomes, both of which offer a sense of hope and peace but was very different endings. Despite the feeling of finality of Robin’s death (complete with naming his daughter after him), I offer up this glimmer of hope. Despite what Hades says about the Olympian Crystal ending a person completely, doesn’t it strike you as odd that moments later he threatened Regina, saying that she and Robin won’t be apart for long? If they ceased to exist, how could they be reunited in death? When Robin’s soul leaves his body, giving one final smile to Regina before disappearing, I do not want to believe his soul simply vanished from existence. Could Robin’s death be Regina’s final test, placing her in a very similar position to when the series began? She had lost the man she loved and so sought revenge against Snow and Charming, vowing to destroy their happiness because her own was lost. And now that she has lost Robin, we will see once again see her place blame on the wrong people and give into darkness, seeking revenge on a couple that is happy, only this time it is Emma and Killian? Or will she overcome her demons and dark impulses and choose to grieve her loss in the light, for she is not only a different person but also is no longer alone? She has family and friends that love and support her. Regina once said that her happy ending was feeling at home in the world and that Robin was just a part of that world. So what happens when he no longer is? Happy endings aren’t always what we think they will be. But if this is a test for her character, perhaps in the end Robin can return to her. This is a show about magic and love that can transcend death. I will always hope to see him again.

But if Robin cannot return, it’s important to both keep hope alive and honor the fallen. If so, my hope for her character is that she comes to find happiness from her family. She has the Charmings, Henry, and now Zelena and baby girl Robin. And as far as our beloved thief with a heart of gold, it’s important to remember that no matter what, he will live on in our hearts forever. With his last moments on screen as Robin Hood, the character and Maguire’s performance shined and epitomized the very essence of his character and why, despite the tragic turn, we can take comfort in his final actions that remained true to his heart. His final happy moment with Regina now feels bittersweet but it was a moving representation of the way he loved her – with passion and without condition. Despite the complexity of the situation, he showcased forgiveness and understanding, reiterating that no matter what, she is his future. And Robin’s final moments, though heartbreaking, were powerful, moving, the epitome of love, and the perfect reflection of who he is. Robin Hood is a man who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, who believed in honor and helping those in need, putting other peoples’ well-being above his own. And Robin died the way he lived. He died protecting the woman he loved, his soulmate, sacrificing himself for her and demonstrating what true love is at its very core. Mirroring the first moment he met Regina with his hand held out to her in chivalry and sincerity, Robin’s last moment is of his soul reaching out his hand to her in warmth and love, a way of showing he will always be with her with a hand of spiritual support. And many tears were shed and hearts forever moved by this heroic man.

The tragedy of that scene was also undeniably powerful and I was completely enthralled in the compelling moments between sisters Regina and Zelena as Zelena realizes that love will never be enough for Hades and kills him with the Olympian Crystal. In a matter of moments they both lost their true loves, clinging to each other and comfort, both suffering tremendously, with Zelena realizing that some love isn’t enough. It was a brilliant continuation of her development that I have really enjoyed. All Zelena ever wanted was love. But like a villain, she went about trying to get her happy ending in the wrong way. But now she feels so different – just wanting a quiet life with the man she loves, her sister, and her daughter. Unlike Hades, she had no desire for power or to rule a kingdom. But he wanted it all with love not being enough for him. Thankfully Zelena came to that realization and made the right choice. And their story shares striking similarities to Rumple and Belle, does it not? Belle remains under sleeping curse, her father refusing to wake her in order to protect her from Rumple. At first this is understandable – it’s a knee-jerk fatherly, protective reaction. He’s even willing to face a brutal beating that Rumple threatens him with. But while Belle’s actions can be frustrating to watch, her decision should still be her own and no matter what, she would not want her father hurt.

The drama in Storybrooke was not the only place where heroism shined through and moving moments were had. The quest that Killian and Arthur go on in the Underworld to find the missing storybook pages was an adventure I never knew I needed and was an absolutely brilliant and poignant way of demonstrating the power of hope and the kind of character moments I live for. And while I definitely agree that the two, as Cruella says, make a very appealing “stubble sandwich,” they are more than just aesthetically pleasing. In fact, their quest for Killian’s Holy Grail was able to resolve Arthur’s character arc in an extremely satisfying way and allow Killian to not only fulfill his promise to Emma, but also demonstrate the strength of his character and in a monumental and meaningful way. Arthur was my favorite secondary character from the Camelot arc, a man who went down a dark path but was not evil incarnate. He was someone driven mad into obsession over what he thought was his destiny, letting the desire for glory consume him. But in death, he was able to begin to right his misdeeds by helping Killian and come to the realization that the broken kingdom he was meant to repair was not Camelot, but the Underworld. As for Killian, he proved once again to be a true hero, not only unable to move on until he knew Emma and her family were safe, but also working with and forgiving the man who was essentially responsible for his death, giving Arthur the chance to find peace instead of internal damnation. The rapport between Colin O’Donoghue and Liam Garrigan was fantastic as we see a developing empathy and understanding between the two men, and the teamwork they demonstrated was a joy to watch. From Killian’s voice breaking about his determination to help Emma, to the two demonstrating selflessness as they both fight off lost souls trying to hurt them despite their pleas to obtain the book instead, these two made wonderful scene partners. It was so meaningful that when Killian places the missing pages the storybook, and he could just feel that Emma had done what she needed to, that hope was then restored in both realms. And in that moment, the words that were inscribed on the gateway of the River of Lost Souls “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” had vanished, and Killian’s light to move on appeared. I don’t think Killian would’ve ever imagined that he, along with Arthur, could have accomplished a feat so meaningful and that is incredibly moving. Hope had been a rare thing in his life, but meeting Emma Swan changed his world irrevocably. She brought that glimmer of hope back into his life that had been consumed by revenge and he became the man he was always capable of being. Walking into the light, he’s welcomed by Zeus who thanks him for his heroic deeds, ready to escort him on. Though with a somber look, Killian is ready for his fate, knowing Emma’s future is safe. Zeus tells him it’s time for him to go “where he belongs.” Miraculously and beautifully so, Killian does return to where he truly belongs – with his true love Emma Swan, their union blessed by the Gods and his life restored because of his selfless heroism.

Throughout the entire episode, Emma and Killian showcased the unwavering and unbreakable connection that exists between them. A Chinese proverb says, “An invisible thread connects those who were destined to meet regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.” They may not physically share a heart, but Emma and Killian share a deep and spiritual connection that transcends realms and even death. They can sense what the other is feeling, Killian knowing then she succeeded and Emma knowing he was still in pain unable to move on. She cannot allow herself to properly grieve knowing he was still suffering and Jennifer Morrison portrayed Emma’s pain and determination to not break down with such authenticity. And those moments she does allow herself to were so poignant. When she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the Storybook, she opens it up right to the page that was bookmarked – the illustration of her and Killian dancing at King Midas’s ball. It was touching to see her run her fingers over the picture with tears in her eyes, fondly remembering the moment she finally felt part of her parent’s fairy tale world and began to realize that opening her heart and loving this man could come as easily as breathing and make her feel safe and cherished. But the moment she closes the book and it magically opens back up, her expression turns to one of emotional pride knowing that it was Killian who her gave her this hope. The book has always been an enigmatic entity but its magic always elicits hope when people need it the most. It is just beautiful how two people who have lived such hopeless lives found a way to reach each other because of their faith and love for one another.

Seeing Emma talking to Killian’s grave, placing a flask before the headstone and finally allowing herself to break down and say she misses him brought me to tears. Little did Emma know that her tears of sorrow would soon become tears of joy. Such is the way of life. As it says in Nicholas Nickleby, “In every life there is tragedy. It is the one promise life fulfills. Thus happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it but the delight in it when it comes.” When Zeus told Killian it was time to take him to where he belongs, he didn’t know the miracle that was about to occur. But this benevolent God knew better and it’s why Killian appeared where he did. It’s not that he simply belongs in Storybrooke. He belongs with Emma. She is his home. True love itself is magic but when you meet someone who inspires you to be brave and vulnerable, makes you feel loved and safe and cherished, who is so inherently connected to you in a way that transcends time and space, that is an exquisite miracle. And more than anything the love that is a part of all happiness is a precious gift. When Killian comes back to Emma, all that pain and heartbreak they had endured is washed away in the soft rain that pours down upon them as their incredulous expressions become ones of complete joy and gestures of beautiful affection as they cling as tightly to each other as they ever have and kiss each other so fervently. The way Emma kept kissing Killian’s cheek was so sweet and perfect and demonstrated that pure, unencumbered joy when the one you truly love is safe in your arms. That invisible thread that connects their souls is no longer stretched beyond realms, but instead is only as long as the space between their two hearts that beat as one. And as their joyful reunion fades for a moment as they look onto their friends’ final resting places, holding each other in solace and love, we see that Emma and Killian are a beautiful depiction of that miracle of love, reality of sorrow, and delight in the time that we are given together. True love is a gift and one they will cherish with every kiss, every embrace, and every beat of their hearts.

Favorite Moments: Emma’s and Killian beautiful and heartfelt reunion was as exquisite a moment as the show has ever seen and such a pure depiction of the joys and miracles of love. Equally as moving was Killian and Arthur’s quest in the Underworld which not only showcased a fantastic rapport between the characters but also gave Arthur a new and moving destiny and demonstrated how Killian’s heroism was more than simply finding pages in a book – it was restoring hope to a place that had none and giving the woman he loves the chance she needed. I was also so moved to see the supreme deity Zeus acknowledge Killian’s good deeds and that where he belongs is with Emma. Cruella continued to be a great source of levity and I hope we have not seen the last of her fabulous self. Lastly, while heartbreaking, seeing Robin epitomize what true love is when he sacrifices his life for his soulmate Regina was extremely poignant and showcased that until the end he remained brave, heroic and selfless.

Favorite Lines:
Killian: Hades is up there right now threatening Emma and I need to find a way to save her.
Arthur: I get it now. This is all about a woman.
Killian: Aye. A woman who risked everything for me. The last promise I made was that I would move on from this place and I can’t do that! No while she’s still in danger.

Robin: If being with you has taught me anything it’s that we all have the capability to change. And the future is not written by our past. Regina you are my future.

Regina: Robin died to protect me. That’s what true love is. It’s sacrifice. It’s giving up everything for the person you love.

Zeus: It’s time to take you where you belong.

Cruella: As appealing as this stubble sandwich is, I’m pretty sure lying to you won’t get me what I want.

Blind Witch: Thought you’d guys be back. I smelled a bromance.

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