ABC’s Once Upon a Time creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis must feel confident and proud of their fairytale come to life. Its 100th episode, Souls of the Departed, aired on March 6, 2016, shone with lush costumes, alarming makeup treatments, and a character-centered plot, which illustrated the dynamic arc of one of its most intriguing characters – Regina, the once Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla).
Before she ventured into the Underworld to retrieve Hook, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) experiences a vision. Neal (Michael Raymond James) visits her outside a run-down ride, called “The Revelation,” in an abandoned amusement park. He warns her not to continue into the Underworld, the place where souls have unfinished business. She brushes off the vision and embarks on the quest to rescue Hook.
The Underworld appears as a twisted Storybrook, peopled with many whose unfinished business centers on the Once Upon a Time heroes. Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) dubs their mission “Operation Firebird,” and the group splits up to find Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) and help save all the souls they can. Regina’s mother, Cora (Barbara Hershey), demands Regina’s departure, “Take your son and your thief and leave.” When Regina hesitates, explaining her part in the quest to help her friends, Cora explains, “There are only two ways out of the Underworld, a better or a worse place.” She shows the fiery pit, “A mother must do what’s best for her child.” She explains if Regina does not leave, Cora will throw Regina’s father into the pit.
Regina recollects a birthday during her time as the Evil Queen when her obsession with crushing Snow White’s heart consumed her. Her father (Tony Perez) advised forgiveness, explaining revenge would ruin her soul and make her just like her mother, Cora. Concerned about Regina’s relentless pursuit, he used the magic mirror to ask for Regina’s banished mother’s help. Instead, Cora seized the opportunity to enter their world. She stole Snow’s heart and presented it to Regina in a special box. When Regina crushed the heart, though, the women discovered Regina’s father’s cunning. He had returned to Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) her stolen heart. Regina shrunk the well-meaning man and stored him in the box, and then she banished Cora back to Wonderland using the magic mirror. Cora seized the box, leaving Regina bereft.
Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) visits the parallel Gold’s Pawn Shop, finding his youthful father, Peter Pan (holding the Dun Broch potion which allows the living to communicate with the dead). Pan wants the newly-restored-as-a-Dark One Rumpelstiltskin to help him back into the world of the living. To achieve this, one of the living heroes will need to be tricked into remaining behind. Rumpelstiltskin gives the potion to Emma and the heroes, explaining he did his part by getting them to the Underworld. He did not plan to help the lost souls complete their unfinished business, and he intended to return to Storybrook on the next ferry. At Hook/Killian Jones’ grave, Emma pours the potion, but the beat-up vision of Hook cannot hear the questions or respond with his where-abouts.
Regina, also using the potion, visits her father, which he requests she thwart her mother, “She’s using me to make you do what she wants.” Cora enacts her threat in light of Regina’s determination to stay in the Underworld despite Cora’s demand to the contrary. Instead of writhing in the flaming pit, Regina’s father sees a pathway to Paradise. Before he departs, he reminds his daughter, “Never forget who you really are.” The broken Storybrook clock in town ticks. Cora takes an elevator down to meet Hades, Lord of the Underworld. He points out the clock. Each tick means a soul has departed from Hades’ realm. He punishes Cora for her failure to convince Regina to leave by transforming Cora once again into a miller’s daughter.
The scenery of the devastated Storybrook underworld, with glimpses of pivotal villain characters, alludes to interesting storytelling to come. Centering predominantly on Regina with a touching storyline of redemption and forgiveness, achieved a richer character exploration. Thus, this touching 100th episode of the series earns 5 of 5 stars from CrypticRock.