Once Upon a Time, S5 Ep21 – Last Rites

The penultimate week of Once Upon a Time season five had a pretty busy episode, with characters returning briefly from the earlier half of the season and other characters bowing out. Despite its eventfulness, however, the episode felt pretty anti-climactic, bogged down by the same old problems that often plague Once Upon a Time: treading overly familiar territory, killing characters off with minimal impact, and hastily getting rid of compelling villains.

As the gang returned to Storybrooke, we were reminded that there were other characters left behind in that spooky town. For one, the annoying King Arthur imposes his irritating presence on us by having screentime. He meets a liberated and power-hungry Hades and is promptly killed and sent straight to the Underworld, where he and Hook become the most unlikely pair to ever go on a heroic quest. Hook enlists the king’s help in finding the missing pages of the Storybook that contain Hades’ weakness.

Once Upon a Time, S5 Ep21 - Last RitesMeanwhile back in Storybrooke, Emma has problems processing her grief over Hook while the rest of her family tries to be as supportive and comforting as they can. Considering Hook’s active role in this episode, it didn’t really take that much imagination to believe he would be making a heroic return. And as I said last week, if Hook didn’t come back, the whole Underworld arc would have essentially been rendered futile. So Emma’s tears really did not make that much of an impact.

But what did break my heart was seeing Regina lose yet another person she loves. Seriously Once Upon a Time – has Regina not suffered enough? In spite of all the terrible things she has done, she has already atoned for so much and come so far. The show seems determined to prove she can never have it all. She gets a second chance at love only to have Zelena ruin it all. She finally reconciles with Zelena, only to lose Robin. Can’t a Queen catch a break?

Once Upon a Time, S5 Ep21 - Last RitesAnd I was never particularly fond of Robin Hood. He always struck me as a pretty bland character and I always thought that Regina deserved a True Love who was a bit more interesting. But he made Regina happy so I tolerated his presence. As it is, I’m not sorry to see him go, only sorry to see Regina suffer again. Not to mention poor Roland, who has now lost both parents, continuing the cycle of early childhood trauma that has shaped the lives of so many Once Upon a Time characters. No doubt Regina and the others will take good care of him, and Zelena of course will be there for her infant daughter. But still, a tragic fate for children so young.

And it doesn’t help that just as Zelena was beginning to have her much longed-for happy ending, she had to let go of it as well since she realized that Hades still craved power and control more than a simple life with her. It was the shared grief of the two sisters that resonated way more than all of Emma and Hook’s weeping over losing each other when they never really lost each other.

Zeus was going to grant the good captain a reprieve from death after his quest with Arthur showed Emma the way to defeat Hades once and for all. Hook managed to send the hidden pages to Emma, but in the end it wasn’t the old Savior who brought the God of Death to his demise but his own lover. In spite of all the madness, there was something very much of a Greek Tragedy about it all.

Once Upon a Time, S5 Ep21 - Last RitesHades had been both a compelling villain and a fascinating character because of his genuine love for Zelena. But like Rumple, he could not let go of power, and this led to his downfall. Still, I can’t help but feel like his death was a bit anti-climactic, with the convenient appearance of the magical MacGuffin of the season, the Olympian crystals. A god really shouldn’t leave the only weapon that could destroy him just lying around. But how poignant was it to have his True Love be the one to kill him? Painful, but poignant.

With Hades out of the picture and Rumple stepping in to be his old Dark self, I’m interested to see how this season of Once Upon a Time will conclude in a two-hour finale next week. But given what has just happened, the show seems to be retreading familiar territory with Rumple going dark yet again and Regina having to face the evil side of grief after yet another devastating loss. Season finales are always painful for Regina; that’s pretty much a Once Upon a Time staple at this point. But it’s a very uncreative way of capping off a generally uneven and chaotic season.

We’ll just have to see how the rest of this convoluted tale plays out next week: