A birthday, a trip to the Underworld, and daddy issues mark the show's 100th episode
Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC
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Once Upon a Time has taken us pretty much everywhere in and out of fairytale lore over the past five years: Storybrooke, the Enchanted Forest, Arendelle, Neverland. Tonight, with a return marking the show’s midseason premiere, as well as its landmark 100th episode, Once gave us something old (daddy issues), something new (the Underworld), something borrowed (a potion) and something blue (that classic Hades hair). Before we actually got to the Underworld, however, we had a little moment of nostalgia. Okay, a big moment of nostalgia. Emma wakes up in her yellow bug in the middle of something that looked like a cross between Storybrooke and a carnival, with Neal in the backseat. “It’s really great to see you,” he says because that’s apparently the greeting you give someone when you see them again after they die. Are they in the Underworld? No, they’re in some in-between place because apparently the Underworld is only for people with unfinished business and that doesn’t apply to Neal. After an emotional reunion, Neal does warn her that she shouldn’t go to the Underworld — it won’t end the way she thinks it will.

Emma wakes up right as the crew approaches the REAL Underworld, which looks exactly like Storybrooke. Except, predictably, this Storybrooke is tinted red because, you know…hell. Also, this is kind of like a broken-down version of Storybrooke, complete with a broken clock tower. “I don’t think we’re in Maine anymore,” deadpans Regina, who is probably going to get me through most of this season. Rumple confirms to the group what Neal had told Emma earlier: Everyone here is dead or trapped because they have unfinished business (cue Cruella’s car driving by). What’s worse, the Storybrooke crew knows that half the people are only here because of them. Well, okay, mostly Regina. Either way, that can’t feel very welcoming.

Snow visits the Underworld version of Granny’s, where she runs into David. I mean James. Right. Totally James, who plants one on her before leaving. (Hey, when in hell…) When the rest of the group shows up, Rumple professes his annoyance at the fact they’re getting nowhere. He elects to take matters into his own hands and visits his shop, which isn’t actually his shop here: It’s Pan’s. (Nice shot of Rumple noticing his old Pan doll right before Pan shows up.) “Aren’t you glad to see your dear old father?” No, he’s really not. But Pan insists that he wants to put the past behind them and that he meant what he said before he died: He wants to start over. Rumple has no time for sympathy, even when Pan threatens him with the fact that his friends might not make it out alive and tries to convince his son to bring him back to the land of the living. Rumple refuses, but Pan does give him a special potion, no strings attached, that lets you communicate with the dead. Rumple’s plan? If they pour it over Hook’s grave, they can find him easily. And this is great news for the group because if they can find him, everyone can leave together and things will be fine! Best-laid plans, amirite?

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Regina, meanwhile, is having some growing pains of her own. After being tipped off, Regina visits Cora at her house, and the two reunite in an emotional meeting. Cora’s unfinished business? Her daughter. And that includes trying to get Regina to leave because her friends and family are holding her back. Most people can only leave the Underworld in two ways, both of which don’t seem very appealing. But Cora’s arranged for a boat to take her home safely with Robin and Henry. She gives Regina a taste of what will happen if she stays: Someone will suffer the wrath of the fiery chasm of Mordor, a.k.a. be swallowed up by the flames of the Underworld. The person who will suffer, in particular? Regina’s father.

NEXT: A birthday fit for a queen

We’ve been teased that the Underworld will focus on Emma and Hook and Emma’s quest to rescue her loved one. It was a surprise, then, to have the entire episode focus mostly on Regina and her fractured family. (To make it clear, I’m not complaining. Regina is one of the best things the show has going for it.) In her Evil Queen days, Regina is celebrating a birthday because, yes, even Evil Queens get birthdays. She wants Snow White’s heart, which no one seems to be able to get. Snow gets the villagers to fool Regina so she can show herself, but Regina can’t make herself kill Snow on the spot. She returns to the palace, where her father kindly insists she give up on the whole revenge thing because shouldn’t she be actually ENJOYING her birthday? Henry tells Regina that her mother is controlling her and that she’s also the reason she’s obsessed with vengeance. When Regina refuses to listen, Henry takes matters into his own hands and asks the Magic Mirror to summon Cora, which even the MIRROR doesn’t want to do. He begs his wife to help Regina realize her issues, but Cora only believes Regina needs to finish the job. After telling Cora he’s going to talk to Snow White himself, he leaves…totally not paying attention to the fact that Cora somehow made it through the mirror and is now back in the Enchanted Forest. Thus, when Snow meets Henry, who seems to be genuinely worried about Regina, she doesn’t realize it’s actually Cora that she’s meeting, who manages to take her heart before Henry gets there. “Regina needs her birthday present,” explains Cora because mothers ALWAYS take care of their daughters.

Did I mention that in addition to the best outfit, Regina has the best birthday cake? She really does. She’s bored, though, because she’s not enjoying her party…until her mother shows up because what’s a birthday without a few surprises? She gives her the box with Snow’s heart, and Regina doesn’t believe her until she looks for herself in the mirror. She sees Snow laughing with the dwarves and David, and as Regina squeezes her heart, Snow looks like she’s dying…until we realize that she’s perfectly fine and the guard is the one that’s dead. Turns out in a bid to eternally save his daughter from falling into evil, Henry switched the hearts. Regina is so pissed that he father stopped her from getting her only chance at happiness that she shrinks him and locks him in the box. I guess that’s one way to stop a convo. Regina’s done with her mom, as well — she uses the Magic Mirror to send her back to Wonderland through a sealed portal that even she can’t re-open again. But it turns out that Cora has the last laugh, snatching the box with Henry in it at the last minute and leaving Regina completely alone. Conclusion: This birthday definitely sucks.

When the group meets back up again in the present day, Regina tells the group what her mother’s told her. Emma thinks she should go, while (unsurprisingly) Snow and Charming insist everyone stay and help. They go to Hook’s grave and attempt to use the potion, but it only half works and brings a really gruesome-looking version of Hook back, one that can’t communicate. Regina finds herself at her father’s grave, where she apologizes for his death. But he’s come to tell her something important: Cora is using her to get her to leave. Her dad wants her to stay because she finally started to put her vengeance aside to be a hero, and he wants her to do the right thing and help her friends. And then suddenly, we’re back among the fires of Mount Doom with Regina and Henry and Cora, who goes through with throwing Henry into the flames. But something strange happens: Despite being consumed, Henry doesn’t die. Instead of falling into the fire, he sees light — his unfinished business was Regina, and he sees now where he’s supposed to belong. Yes, Henry looked into the eye of the Island Underworld. And spoiler alert…it’s beautiful. See? When you’re a good person, you CAN get redemption. Regina introduces him to his grandson/namesake, and then he disappears into the light.

They return to the group, which has realized that, hey, people CAN be saved after all (though Rumple disagrees). Henry dubs this new mission “Operation Firebird,” and as the group decides to stay and hang out and be saviors to the people they’ve wronged, Regina watches the clock tick to 8:15. Meanwhile, Cora finds her way into a secret, hidden lair, where there are lots of luxury things. And music. And a man sitting in a chair drinking wine with his feet up. It’s a good lair, honestly. He wants to know if Cora heard the ticking of the clock, which signals that another soul has left his world. Apparently, Hades wanted Cora to get Regina out, which she obviously failed at doing. Why does he want her out so badly? It’s not explained, but here’s what we do know: Hades is knowledgeable about Cora’s life (even Zelena); he clearly has her around to do his bidding, and he has apparently promised her something that she’s obviously not getting thanks because she failed her mission. In punishment, Hades makes her a miller’s daughter again, and when Cora tells him, “You promised to save us,” Hades’ answer is, “And you promised not to fail.” Something to think about for all eternity, eh?

I know we’re going to be dealing with a lot of returning cast in the coming weeks, but admittedly, I was a wee bit let down by the fact this was touted as Once’s big reunion episode, and the only significant people we saw from the past were Neal, Cora, and Pan. What I am happy about, though, is the prospect that Regina may end up being wholly important to this Underworld story line. Maybe she’ll finally get an arc that’s more than just waffling between good and evil. More importantly, it seems like everyone in the Underworld is either in cahoots with Hades or being manipulated by him in some way. Both Pan and Cora were keen on persuading their still-living significant family members, with Cora asking Regina to leave and Pan asking Rumple to save him. I’m interested in seeing exactly what’s going on in this little corner of hell and exactly how Once is going to wade through this new road of storytelling.

Odds & Ends:

  • How did Henry switch the hearts when no one was looking? It’s magic, y’all. Just go with it.
  • Oh, how I missed the Evil Queen outfits. This one was no exception. Also in important news, Regina prefers (what else?) apple pie.
  • Regina: “You killed him.” Cora: “Killed is a relative term down here.”
  • I like that we got a small moment of seeing Rumple and Belle together, which at least reminds the audience that the ship is still somewhat sailing (and that Belle still exists).

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Once Upon a Time

Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.

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