Well, we’re done with another season of ‘Once Upon a Time’. Actually we’ve been done for a few weeks now, but I felt like I needed to take some time to process this season… more so than the others. Personally, I think season 5 has probably been the biggest mixed bag of the series so far. Through both halves, I kind of yo-yoed between hyper excitement and big disappointment. I will do a review of season 5A (a.k.a The Dark Swan arc), but I intend to refresh my memory of that; so for now, I’m going to take a quick look at 5B (The Underworld arc) as well as how I feel about the setup for season 6.
When the heroes first arrived in the Underworld, I can’t deny that I was pretty excited. I know many fans thought that it was lazy of them to make it look like Storybrooke with a red filter and some property damage, but being a fan of creepy, atmospheric, post-apocalypse ghost town kind of stuff, I actually found it quite effective. Plus, it was arguably even further under where the action really was. I really liked how under Underbrooke was designed. Hades’ lair, the river of lost souls, the weird hanging torture chamber place… it was a nice mix of dark creepiness and striking visuals that I thought really made the most of some of show’s often iffy CGI. Similarly, to The Land Without Colour in season 2; I think it works better when they artistically play up the pretty fantasy of the worlds rather than worry too much about making it look very realistic (because frankly the latter just isn’t in their budget).
Now let’s discuss the main villain of the arc; Hades. Honestly, he had his moments, but overall, I wasn’t overly impressed with him. First off, I just mentioned the show’s sometimes iffy CGI and the blue fiery head effect they used the Hades is a prime example of that. Good grief, it was bad! I actually felt for the actor, because a lot of the time he’d get really menacing and have me taking him seriously as a threat, but then his hair would light up and that was it; done. Despite this, I was looking forward to Hades… I mean, it’s Hades! Greg Gerrman went a bit too far in my opinion with the odd, breathy, whispering and the strangely timed pauses. But the character did seem pretty intimidating. Just ask poor Aunty Em! Aww, poor Aunty Em.
Unfortunately, Hades suffered from a pretty blatant lack of direction. Early on, he wants Zelena’s time travel spell in order to go back and stop Zeus from trapping him, suggesting a possible time travelling god-battle on Mount Olympus. Sounds good to me. However, we then got side-tracked with a “love story”. Hades no longer wants to stop Zeus, he just wants to be with Zelena and rule Storybrooke. A bit of a step down for your master plan there. Things just go from bad to worse from there. Hades gets to Storybrooke and he brought with him a mighty McGuffin. The Olympian Crystal, which obliterates anyone, even a god. So… this is the one thing that can kill a god and he brought it with him. Why? Hades has had no problem killing people up to this point, hell he snapped Arthur’s neck with a flick of his wrist in this same episode! He ends up using this to kill Robin (more on that later) and then, surprise, it’s used to kill him. Tip for future bad guys, if you’re realm-hopping and there’s one object that can kill you, maybe leave it behind… or at least hide the damn thing!
So as I said, Hades uses this to totally overkill Robin. This was a bizarre one for me. I’m not really a Robin fan, but even so, I thought his death would have more oomph. It just felt a little hollow to me, especially considering how much of Robin we’d seen recently, i.e: not much. This didn’t alter for me afterwards. Robin is a character that could be killed while maintaining the status quo and changing next to nothing. Hell, they even sent all the Merry Men and Roland away through a portal the very next episode! It’s a shame, because considering what happened with Marion (and Zelena posing as Marion later on) I think the Underworld could have been the perfect place to give Robin some real development and progression. Sadly, that didn’t happen… he had some stuff involving his baby, but even that was mostly focused on Regina and Zelena. It felt like how the River of Lost Souls was used later on; when It essentially became a place to dump any characters they didn’t want to bother with anymore. I feel like Robin was more dumped than killed off.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about The River and The Light. In Once’s Underworld, there are pretty much two final destinations. The first is the light, where you go if you’re good and/or supposedly redeemed. The second is the The River, where souls are thrown in and lost forever. There is, in theory, a hell, but The River more or less replaced this idea. I guess the writers thought sending people to burn in a family show was a bit harsh, so we have the wispy ghost river instead. This arc gets very Ghost Whisperer and we start helping people to move on. I personally think the best example of this was the first episode, in which Regina watches her father walk into the light. This was a really touching scene and a good character moment for our former Evil Queen.
One of the most controversial moments was when Regina and Zelena’s mother Cora was allowed into the light and I can absolutely understand why people took issue with this. When I think about the fates of Aunty Em, Gaston and Milah; I can see why Cora getting to go to the happy place might rub people the wrong way. However, I do love Cora as a character… I just wish they could’ve committed to this a bit more. I’d been waiting to see the Cora/Zelena confrontation for years and although it was well acted, they threw in a pretty huge shortcut; having Cora restore memories that I would argue should make Zelena hate her even more… but they’re cool before she moves on. I was disappointed the more I thought about it, but I am at least interested to see where they take Zelena’s character in season 6. Plus, I can’t deny that even though it was an awfully quick development, the sisterly moments between Regina and Zelena were pretty touching; no doubt due to Rebecca Mader and Lana Parrilla acting their hearts out, as usual.
Okay, this has ended up longer than I expected. I could go on for so long about this season, they packed so much in. I’ll hold off on that for now and talk about what has been set up for season 6.
I’m really looking forward to the sixth season and it’s not just because The Evil Queen is back (seriously, that dress though!). The finale introduced us to the Land of Untold Stories as well as Jekyll and Hyde (a deliciously gothic villain). I’m really excited about this new world and the stories it could offer. This could link the show to even more realms and I’m always excited about new realms. I’ll be interested to see what they come up with, but I’ll just say that Sleepy Hollow and Halloween Town would be cool places to go… oooh and if they could bring in Doctor Facilier or Yzma at some point, I’d be okay with that too.
There has also been talk suggesting that unlike the last three seasons, season 6 won’t be spilt down the middle. That sounds sensible since you’d think The Land of Untold Stories would have enough to fill a whole season. This is also why I’m so excited for season 6. As much as I’ve enjoyed some of the previous arc “themes”, I think Once works best when it’s blending the worlds together and letting the characters drive the show through. We had this in the first two seasons, where you’d have single episodes dedicated to Cinderella or Jack and the Beanstalk etc. They weren’t the focus of the season, like say Frozen or Neverland, but they were fun interactions relevant to the adventures of the heroes. It worked and it gave the show a really fun variety. That’s what I’m hoping season 6 will lean more towards and since they’re talking about not splitting it, that might be the case.
Either way, I’m liking how season 5 left us (Henry’s New York speech notwithstanding… seriously, urgh!). I can say for sure that season 5 was not my favourite season; it had huge pros and cons for me… but The Land of Untold Stories is waiting to be explored and the queen is back! So of course I’m hooked for season 6.
A few bonus thoughts on season 5 (though some of this will be touched on when I do 5A)-
- Mulan and Red forever (Dorothy who?)
- Captain Dark One (that is all)
- Cruella is my spirit animal.
- Arthur wasn’t killed slowly enough for me.
- Zelena: “Regina dear, I’m trying to meditate, it’s good for the baby. Please go, you’re RUINING my chi!”
- Still waiting for follow through on Snow’s “I want to be Snow White again” revelation beyond that one episode.
- Evil Queen, Evil Queen, Evil Queen. Dress, look at that dress!!! Evil Queen, Evil Queen.
- That’s Zeus? Seriously?
- Red/Ruby better not leave again.
- Can we send Henry to boarding school please?