Let's start with what seems like a pretty obvious fact after five seasons of OUAT: the flashback as a narrative device has long since worn out its welcome. We're at the point in the show's lifespan when the flashbacks are a hindrance instead of a helpmate and often times the flashbacks are crammed into an episode, adding little to nothing to the current arc or even our understanding of the characters. Suddenly, out of the blue, characters who have never interacted before are the best of buds, throwing the timeline and history of the characters into mass confusion. Such was the case this week with Baby Snow White and Hercules, the demi-god wonder boy. First, just to clarify, it's great to see Bailee Madison again. She always brings such an honest portrayal to the screen; a mini Ginny Goodwin who effortlessly captures all of Ginny's mannerism and hallmarks characteristics as if she might actually be Ginny Goodwin from the far past. Apart from the joy at seeing Bailee again, what exactly was I supposed to take away from this flashback? Snow learned how to be a hero and conquered some of her fears with the help of her new godlike pal, Hercules? Okay, well that's nice and all, but it would have been even nicer if that been touched upon at any point in the past five years. It also throws a big ol' feminist wrench in the fact that Snow originally learned how to lead and be a (future) queen from her dying mother, Eva, a woman who told her incredibly young daughter that fulfilling those hard roles was about hard decisions and choices, like not killing another person in order to save someone you loved. That moment-- Snow letting her mother die and realizing just how heavy the crown really is--is far weightier and more meaningful than learning to fire a bow and arrow to stop some bandits. The original message imparted by Eva was a simple one but it was a powerful one and one that fit into the earlier seasons theme of women who depended on one another, helped each other, guided each other, and found solace in each other without the aid of a man, or getting their cues on how to be a hero from a man.
Hey, look, there's a three headed dog residing in Hellbrooke! Also, Hercules appears to have taken the Dexter route in life and become a lumberjack? Maybe he and Mary Margaret can renew their friendship by bonding over their tragic fashion sense. Hercules has gone from a floppy haired teenage wunderkind to being a depressed dead man who, this time around, needs Snow to remind him that "you can't let fear of failure keep you from trying" (theme!). And sure, it's nice to see the gender roles reversed and witness Snow teaching the demi-god a lesson, but at the same time, it's a lesson Hercules already knew and had previously taught the young Snow White. It's not like this is an inversion of gender dynamics; it's one in which the female props up the male by reminding him how simply awesome he is. If they were going for strong women, they failed (I know; the shock is overwhelming, isn't it?). This is, essentially, the main problem with this week's episode: the events are so paralleled as to be repetitive. OUAT has always paralleled their flashbacks with their present day, but it used to feel stronger. Or at least, they were different enough that I wasn't watching the same story play out with only slight changes in the notes. It's because of this that I find I have very little to talk about. Yes, Snow decided she wants to be Snow again and not Mary Margaret anymore. But why now? Hasn't she faced down hardships and been self-confident and brave before? How about when she fought for her daughter against an Ogre? Or said goodbye to the same daughter in S3; wasn't she the most Snow White she's ever been since the Pilot during this moment? Bravery doesn't have to be fighting and winning with bows and arrows be it against bandits or three-headed puppies--and, in fact, I'm getting rather tired of the show selling home the point that heroism is defined by physical prowess. Snow's bravest moment came, post-curse, when she kissed Emma's head in a wordless goodbye, knowing she'd never see her child again. She wasn't Mary Margaret, then. She was Snow flipping White; but apparently it takes Hercules and his trials (sorry, labors) and his bravery to help Snow see sense. It's disturbing and disappointing but as I said above...not exactly shocking.
--Speaking of underwhelming, Megera had the impact of a small pebble, no? I've seen the actress in other things and she's done well so this is clearly a writing issue because she was so dull and lackluster here and very much a damsel in distress as to be completely pointless. A sad reality given how spunky her Disney counterpart is.
--"I miss the gin, the glamour...the gin." Cruella is fabulous and I've missed her.
--The pen has magical essence, is alive, and has unfinished business. Okay, sure. I guess I should expect Chip to come to life and have a sit down talk with Rumple about the fate of his favorite ship before crossing over the bridge to Olympus.
--Emma you lived in the real world for your entire life and have made several Harry Potter jokes before. How did you NOT snarkily suggest that someone play Cerberus a lullaby?
--Hades and Emma meeting was nice and I'm glad the show didn't keep it until the midpoint of the season. It should have felt a bit more weighted, but I can wait for the more cosmological meeting. Speaking of...
--"Why does everyone think that [I can be defeated]? I'm Hades. This is death...." Classic Hero Story: unlocked! Emma Swan, that's your cue.
--Heaven is Olympus. Ooh, keeping it religiously neutral would have been better, I think. Or at least not implying that heaven is a specific mythological place from legend. Does this mean that Mulan from Fictional China and people from Agrabah don't get to go to "the better place" because it's not their mythology? Does this mean that their cultural stories of what happens when you die are wrong? Also, gods really do exist? How does that mesh with the Holy Grail of S5A?
--Hercules would make an excellent Sunday Roast.