Once Upon a Time: Our Decay Review

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By Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

One of the things Once Upon a Time does so often and so well is the unexpected. Although many things are not subtle and we like to theorize where the story may lead (many times correctly), what I’ve always loved about the series is how things I never imagined, or expected to happen, occur. Snow White and Prince Charming are a timeless, legendary couple, but who would’ve imagined that one of the most beautiful love stories of our age would be one about their daughter and a dashing Captain Hook. Who would’ve thought that the Evil Queen and iconic outlaw Robin Hood would steal each other’s hearts? Love can blossom when we least expect it and such was the case with “Our Decay,” which not only reflected that truth, but also highlighted that love is also complicated, often painful and not enough for some, and that love of family and our children can bring out the best in us. I never expected to see love blossom between the Wicked Witch and the Lord of the Underworld, and for that matter, for that witch to show real signs of hope for redemption as well as selflessness. But lo and behold, this episode provided not only a surprisingly enjoyable romance between Zelena and Hades in the past, but also moments of sincerity, love, and sympathy in regards to her daughter and sister Regina in the present. I always like revisiting Oz if nothing else for how incredible it looks on screen and I will be curious how much plot will prove relevant to the current situation. But in the flashbacks we see Zelena determined to obtain the Scarecrow’s brain for her time travel spell going up against a now grown up Dorothy who says she has what Zelena never will: the love of the people. Enter Hades, who is impressed with Zelena’s power and tenacity and wants to help in creating said time travel spell for he too has an older sibling he’s seeking vengeance on – Zeus, who lives on Mount Olympus while Hades is trapped in the Underworld with a dead heart that can only be awakened by true love’s kiss. It seems the two have much in common: feeling unloved and wanting revenge on their siblings, both decidedly evil, and yet in their scenes you sense a shared sadness and humanity that really took me by surprise. I for one did not expect to be delighted by a scene where Hades teaches Zelena to ride a bicycle but I absolutely was. Not only did it have a beautiful atmospheric quality as they ride through a dark and misty forest, but Zelena’s trademark laughter, while still possessing that wicked quality, was the most gleeful and innocent we’ve ever heard. And when Hades tells Zelena that for the first time in eons he felt his heart flutter and that he believes a True Love’s Kiss between them can return him to the man he once was, he did indeed sound sincere. But she can’t bring herself to believe him, thinking he only wants to steal her time travel spell. Sincerity from Hades was, again, unexpected but whether it remains in the present is far less certain. When he tells her that he’d never hurt her, that he only wanted her baby to protect it, and that he made the Underworld look like Storybrooke all for her, it feels genuine and you can see Zelena wants to believe it. But is it true? Trusting the Lord of the Underworld hardly seems like a good idea, but when he says his love for her remains, wondering what it would be like to not have to be alone anymore, you can understand not only why these two have a connection, but also why the truth of the situation and his feelings remain elusive. Love does often come in unexpected places, after all.

But as we’ve seen, love, and not just romantic, but also love of family and children, can inspire the best in us and this episode provided poignant examples of this. Despite the conflict between them, seeing the self-awareness of Regina was wonderful when she relates to her sister in an important way. If you only care about yourself, no one will care about you. But if you strive to be a good person and think of others, sometimes the unexpected can happen – your enemies can become your family. And it was clear in this episode that beyond being siblings, Regina and Zelena do parallel each other, or at least have the potential to, in what was – you guessed it – an unexpected way. We saw glimpses of Zelena’s humanity and that for me is when Rebecca Mader really shines. In “Our Decay ” there were signs that there is more to Zelena then bitterness, envy, and selfishness. It wasn’t clear if we’d ever see it, but much like Regina’s love for Henry eventually inspired the best from her, Zelena is making positive strides towards goodness, or the hope of such with regards to her baby girl. And many of these small moments actually made me cry. Thanks to a portal concocted by Rumple, Belle, Zelena, and her child were transported to the Underworld. Belle of course tries to protect the baby from the witch, but Zelena, believing Hades wants her baby for time travel spell, goes to Regina and Robin for help in finding and protecting their daughter. As is often the case, characters need to learn something before a revelation or moment of selflessness can shine through. At first Zelena exhibits what she usually does – some form of sympathy that she turns around to get what she wants. In this case, she uses her “unpredictable” magic to blast back her sister and Robin and escape with her daughter. But when she sees her magic has hurt her baby, her look of horror is heart wrenching. Zelena does love her daughter and it makes the moment she willingly gives her back to Robin and Regina even more moving. I cried when she kissed her little girl goodbye asking them to protect her, saying it’s more important than what happens to her because it not only displays that selfless kind of love that a parent can have for their child, but that it reiterated that theme that has been demonstrated since day one. We will do anything for our children to give them their best chance. Zelena’s selflessness was actually powerful and despite her unwavering sense of this she displayed at the end of the episode (thanks to the uncertainty of Hades and his feelings), for the first time we see a real sign of hope of redemption for Zelena and it’s all because of the love for her daughter.

Belle certainly will want to give her child its best chance, and in the scene where she reunites with Rumple, learning that she’s pregnant, that unexpected element of the episode kept going, for something very surprising happened. Rumple was completely honest with Belle about the situation with their baby being sold and, importantly, with who he is as a person. And while it was long overdue to see a conversation between them completely devoid of deceit, it was also a very unsettling scene. He tells Belle he loves her, and he loves the dagger. He won’t give up his power. This is who he is and always has been because even as a weak spinner he craved power and now that he is in his possession of it, he’s unwilling to let it go, not even for her. We’ve wanted to hear Rumple be this honest for so long and yet what he says is not good and extremely troubling. And when he claims that she didn’t love the man behind the beast but that she loves the man and the beast, this feels unequivocally untrue. But regardless of that, it’s unclear where their relationship is headed. What is certain is that his unwillingness to not relent the power of the Dark One is not what true love should encompass. It’s as if he’s a drug addict unwilling to stop abusing these toxins even though it hurts not only himself but also those around him. True love should inspire you to be the best version of yourself, and inspire goodness and heroism. True love should be enough. Belle should be enough for Rumple and I wonder if she ever will be.

Love of family provided the sweetest moments of this episode that were heartwarming, profound, and completely lovely. Along with the perplexing aspect of Henry’s author status as pages keep appearing to him already written and illustrated with no memory of writing them, and frankly including things he couldn’t know, we also saw very authentic moments of a teenager having feelings of insecurity. I loved the little moment where Emma and Regina try to show him support and he leaves in a huff saying, “Oh, you’re all writers now? I’m doing my best!” because it’s not only a clever and sly commentary on the criticism the OUAT writers are often given (bravo to them for that), but also that we see glimpses of his extended family beginning to realize how much he’s growing up. And I smiled when Emma commented that they definitely have a teenager on their hands, and Killian and Robin shared an amused smile between them obviously remembering what it is like to be a boy at that age. Robin also provided a great deal of heart to this episode that showcased how much warmth and integrity his character has. His steadfast honor has always been admirable, but hearing that helping a friend, in this case Killian, is important because it sets a good example for his children, was quite moving. I could not help but be choked up when his daughter was back in his protective arms as he cradles and kisses her saying, “Daddy’s got you.” If your heart did not melt in that moment then perhaps it’s made of stone, for this thief has certainly stolen mine. Snow and Charming also had a heartwarming moment with their baby boy when they learn a special phone booth can allow them to communicate with people from the other side. They tell Emma it is important that little Neal hears their voices, to know that they love him, even though they’re not there because they’ve been gone for a while on their quest. The guilt on Killian’s face when he hears this is heartbreaking, though neither the Charmings nor anyone else would make him feel as such. He’s family now and you never give up on family. But that is why it’s so lovely in the episode’s final moments when our heroes discover, thanks to more magically written storybook pages, that their son did hear their voices as they sang a lullaby and he fell asleep as “soundly as if he were in their arms.” There was so much to love in this moment: Emma’s sweet and soothing voice reading the storybook page, and Snow’s reborn determination that they can save themselves, defeat Hades, and for their entire family to return home. As the camera highlights each one of these characters looking fondly on each other with hope in their eyes, we are reminded that family means everything and that it’s the ones you create that truly matter. Ones based on love in all its forms, respect, forgiveness, and unfailing faith that they will never give up on each other.

Where the story leads will surely be interesting as this episode presents many intriguing things, the two most significant being how the storybook pages are being written, and whether True Love’s Kiss can truly restart a heart. Is this the key to saving Killian? Will Emma still be able to or need to share her heart with Killian or can True Love’s kiss save him? His mortal wounds from Excalibur caused his death so can a kiss of true love save him in much the same way? Come what may, we know that True Love can overcome anything, and if there were two souls that could transcend even death, it would be the savior and the pirate. But we have to wonder – will the Wicked Witch and the Lord of the Underworld share one as well or is tragedy on their horizon? After all, love always prevails, but only if it is true.

Favorite Moments: Zelena and Hades falling in love on a bicycle ride through a dark and misty forest was an absolutely unexpected surprise that I loved, and the moments of selflessness she exhibited for her daughter were equally wonderful and surprisingly poignant. Perhaps there is hope for redemption after all. And all of the lovely family moments really warmed my heart, from Emma reading the storybook page to her family, that I hope will one day be repeated with her own future children, to Robin holding his daughter in such a loving, protective, tear inducing way, to Snow proclaiming that they can save themselves and she is ready for their entire family to return home. Once Upon a Time has always been about family – finding people to love and share your life with and doing everything you can for the your children, and this episode was another exemplary example of this beautiful theme.

Favorite Lines:
Hades: That’s the thing about True Love. It endures. It can never be broken.

Robin: Helping friends, setting an example of heroism – that’s important.

Regina: I thought all I needed was my vengeance to keep me warm at night. But then something happened. My enemies became my family. And that’s when I finally felt happy. That’s why I’m here. They need my help, and when family needs help you step up.

Zelena: Who the Hell are you?
Hades: Who the Hell am I? That question is more appropriate than you know.


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