On the heels of record-breaking success for Ginnifer Goodwin in "Zootopia," a synergistic Disney return as "Once Upon a Time" ends its hiatus with a "Souls of the Departed" episode that brings back a few really bad people and the promise of a lot of good deeds to come.
At the end of the winter finale, Emma Swan, David, Mary Margaret, Henry, Mr. Gold, Robin and Regina are all traveling to the supposedly hellish dimension. We start not in the Underworld, but in Emma's yellow VW bug -- with Neal. Neal, the onetime boyfriend/fellow hustler/father of Emma's child, he who sacrificed himself a few seasons back. That Neal. He's not just there to tell Emma he still loves her -- which he does -- he implores Emma not to go to the Underworld. Apparently we weren't there yet and Neal is in Limbo, which is "some place nice, some place where I'm happy." Emma has to go, though.
Now Emma wakes up in the real Underworld as the boat docks. Remarkably, the underworld looks a lot like the regular world. Storybrooke, with a smoggy mist covering it and a broken clock tower, has a menacing look to it. It's even more so as you see the car of the deceased Cruella de Vil barreling through the town. First glimpse they catch of a dead person. Time to split up and start the search for Hook.
Flashback. In the past of the Enchanted Forest, Regina, back when she was the Evil Queen, again demands that the people give her Snow White. Snow and Charming and the Dwarfs trap her, and Regina teleports away. Back at her castle, her father tries to talk some sense into Regina, hoping she can give up her quest for vengeance. And, it's her birthday.
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Next dead person from the Underworld we meet: Cora. She looks official -- turns out that the mother of the once Evil Queen has become something like the mayor of the Underworld (?!). Got her own office and minions and everything.
Quick dead person interlude: James, Prince Charming's identical twin brother. He makes his presence felt the best way -- with a kiss. Snow White didn't know the difference. This'll be fun if it comes back into play.
In Underworld Storybrooke, Regina and Cora meet up. They're actually civil, and Cora has set up a boat to take Regina out of Underworld, with Henry and her "thief." People can only leave two ways -- to a better place, or to a worse one. And if Regina stays, her father, Henry -- another dead person to revisit -- will be the one who suffers. How, you ask? Cora makes an example of a minion. A fiery demise with some sort of flame that seemed almost alive as it consumed the man.
Mr. Gold, or Rumpelstiltskin, as usual, wants to go it alone, and takes a trip to the underworld version of his pawn shop. He finds the chipped teacup -- you remember, the symbol of his love with Belle. He also finds a freaky, freestanding doll. Worse than both, he runs into his father, Peter Pan. Pan gives Gold a potion that he was searching for -- a gesture of goodwill from a father to his son. Sure it is. We don't yet know what the potion is, but it's sure to have strings attached.
Scratch that, we do know what the potion is. Gold takes it to the gathering of heroes in the underworld version of Granny's Diner. If they sprinkle it on Hook's grave, it should somehow show them where he is. Search done. Instead, they get only a glimpse of what almost looked to be a badly beaten Hook -- a suffering Killian. No talking and no idea where exactly he was at. A teasing potion, really.
Regina's father calls on Cora in the past to help Regina stop her feud with Snow White. It doesn't go as planned though, and when he opens a portal to Wonderland, Cora comes through. Unbeknownst to dad Henry, Cora plots against Snow, and takes her heart. Birthday surprise for evil Regina! Cora brings Snow White's beating heart for her birthday. Regina crushes it, while watching Snow struggle -- but it turns out that Regina's dad switched the hearts. Regina is mad, and ends up putting her father in a box because of his betrayal, then re-banishing her mother to Wonderland.
FOR THE RECORD
11:32 a.m.: An earlier version of this article said Cora came from and was re-banished to Oz. She came from and was re-banished to Wonderland.
Problem is, as Cora goes, she nabs Regina's dad, and that's the last she saw of him.
Until the Underworld. Regina and her dad share a touching moment, one in which he tells her not to follow Cora's instructions to leave the Underworld. She should stay and help Snow White, no matter what happens to him. He's proud of her becoming a hero, and doesn't want to stand in the way of that -- even if it means torment and final death.
Cora seems almost reluctant to do what she does, and flames engulf Regina's dad as she and Henry rush to try to save him. But he gets flamed up. Cora leaves, but Regina's dad seems to be OK unbeknownst to her -- until a light calls to him. Henry and Regina's dad (his grandpa) meet, with each thanking the other for believing in Regina's goodness. He leaves the Underworld, but in a great send-off as he walks into the light.
What they realize is that "every soul in this town has unfinished business, and can be saved." Besides finding Hook, it seems that that is going to be the group's new mission as well. Free tormented souls, or as Henry puts it, Operation Firebird.
In then end, Cora takes the elevator below the library/clock tower building to meet up with ... HADES! The god of the Underworld, instead of giving Cora whatever it is that she wanted, turns her back into a miller's daughter, as she was before becoming the mother of the queen. She has to go away, back to delivering flour. And the heroes have made a new enemy, since every soul they save takes away from Hades' kingdom.
The introduction of Hades, will, as foreshadowed in the promo, open the door for other Olympians as well, and Hercules is already on the way.
In a twist, we add insight to the straight-laced recap by publishing occasional questions, concerns and observations submitted by Layla Andre, 8, a fervent fan of "Once Upon a Time" and the daughter of an L.A. Times staff member. They're probably some of the same that many viewers have.
-- Here's who I thought would come back from the dead in this episode: Peter Pan (check!), Cora (check!), Regina's love Daniel (nope!), Snow White's father and mother (nope!), Maid Marian (nope!), Neal (check!) and Merlin (nope!).
-- I totally forgot about Cruella! I'm glad she's going to be back because I really liked her.
-- How will they get back from the Underworld to Storybrooke/Maine?
-- I thought that the scene with Cora showing Regina what would happen if she stayed in the Underworld was really dramatic.
-- I really didn't like the yellow light that covers the Underworld. It just didn't suit it. I wanted more flames. Just like the Nether in Minecraft.
-- When Killian was summoned from his grave, he looked like he just came out of a horror movie.
-- That was a really touching moment when Regina's dad asked her to stay in the Underworld and spread hope.
-- Why didn't Regina just push Cora into the fire?
-- Why didn't Henry hug his grandson Henry when he met him for the first time?
-- If Hades is on the show, that means so are Hercules, Megara, Pegasus and Zeus!
-- How come Hades only had blue skin when his head was hot with blue fire? In the movie "Hercules," his skin is blue all the time.
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