Our Decay Review | Once Upon a Time Season 5 Episode 16

I gave you what you wanted. What she had.


Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Jared S. Gilmore, Rebecca Mader, Sean Maguire, and Robert Carlyle.

Season 5
Episode 16: Our Decay

While delightful this season, Zelena has definitely been relegated to background character, occasionally utilised to let loose a pithy barb or three, but otherwise on the periphery. While Emma’s evil plan as the Dark One made some moves to make her a little more relevant, this episode puts the new member of the cast front and centre for what is an illuminating and complex relationship between Zelena and Hades.

I must confess, I was initially filled with a slight dread when I saw that Zelena and Hades had a past. It seems that everybody seems to have met everybody in the Enchanted Forest, and with each new addition the tapestry of Once Upon a Time grows ever more intricate and difficult to decipher. However, an almost-relationship that never quite reached the finish line makes it all the more interesting, as it revives feelings never quite put to bed and gives us far more potential for future drama.

Zelena and Hades’ connection in the past definitely moved quickly, but it was still nicely played by Greg Germann and Rebecca Mader and the connection seemed realistic. Even more realistic was the way that it untangled. They were drawn together by their intense similarities: their inferiority complexes, their bitterness, anger and need for revenge both of their characters. That aspect of kindred spirits, for Zelena at least, is evidence that there are people who can understand her in a way that she never previously considered.

Their backstory also helped us to understand Hades. Not only do we now know that he wants victory against the heroes on behalf of Zelena for how she was treated, and that he fashioned the Underworld in her name (sounds an awfully convenient excuse to use the same set with a strange red lens if you ask me, but I’m a cynic), but we’ve also learned that Hades is bitter and angry against his elder brother Zeus and wished to reverse time so that he could rule Mount Olympus instead. It’s not too dissimilar to Hades’ plan in Hercules, but it definitely connects him quite strongly with Zelena and it’s understandable why he would be seeking her out after all this time. Quite why he waited until this episode to actually enact any part of this plan is anybody’s guess and whether the writers actually intended this all along is questionable.

It’s quite tragic that their similarities and compatibility is ultimately what drives a wedge between them. As consumed as both of them are in their quest for revenge and own self interest, neither of them know how to love each other. While we have the feeling (knowing Zelena as we do) that her feelings for Hades are genuine, there’s nothing concrete showing either the audience or Zelena whether or not Hades is just playing her for his own revenge. Knowing that she would stoop to such levels and betray anybody in her own mission to destroy her sister’s life, Zelena is unable to commit to their relationship. Their similarity, like a mirror, is what scares Zelena away. It’s as much a reflection of how much she knows herself as it is about what she feels for Hades.

However, in the present storyline we do see Zelena begin to grow. Fearing for her child’s life, she bravely gives her up to Robin and Regina to care for, worried that Hades is trying to bring her harm. The way that Zelena has changed towards her baby goes further than just trying to one-up Regina. Zelena shows that she genuinely cares for her daughter. The scene in which Mader breaks down after accidentally hurting her was heartbreaking and a stellar piece of acting.

Again, however, the fact that her and Hades still aren’t together makes this episode feel more realistic and complex. Zelena’s emotions aren’t neatly condensed into this forty-minute instalment, and are allowed to evolve and change moving forwards. Unlike the previous episodes in the Underworld-arc, where people seem to find salvation and major emotional clarity every single week, it’s nice to have an episode where everything isn’t neatly tied up in a bow, and will make the ongoing Zelena and Hades dynamic more captivating.

It’s intriguing mainly because it’s quite impossible to see what Zelena plans to do next. She’s just as likely to ally herself with Hades as she is with the heroes, and either would be highly satisfying to watch. Seeing Hades’ love for Zelena makes him seem less sinister in a way, and it would be nice to see how changed Zelena might be by giving into a relationship with him. Similarly, it would also be mightily satisfying to have her reconcile with Regina as well, so colour my interest piqued.

Zelena’s high drama didn’t skimp on the hilarious moments, however – even if there was a slightly brutal de-braining incident that I would rather go unmentioned. Firstly, she completely took Robin to task for abandoning their child, which was entirely fair enough. The fact that Regina and Robin merrily skipped off the Underworld right after going to the effort of making sure Zelena wasn’t around was hardly model parenting. What’s more, Robin didn’t even leave them in what looked like responsible hands. Both baby Hood and Neal seemed to just be abandoned in the middle of the hallway, relying upon Belle to come along and feed the pair of them. That wasn’t her job. That was fair from the only frustrating moment with Robin either, as he claimed he hadn’t named her because he didn’t know her yet. What’s there to know? She’s a baby. She won’t do anything interesting for a number of years yet. Just pick a name and get on with it. Still, Zelena’s “not Marian?!” was incredibly hilarious.

I just can’t stand Robin and Regina being so self-righteous towards Zelena and her child. Sure, it’s Robin’s child too, but you can’t just steal a baby and, even if Zelena is a terrible person you have no reason to believe that she would hurt her daughter. No wonder Zelena is always betraying them and trying to get away – there’s no way that they will let her see her child otherwise, and you can hardly claim that Regina wouldn’t do the same if faced with losing Henry. What’s more, it’s not as if Regina and Robin have even taken notice of the child, instead merrily skipping off to the Underworld.

Also arriving in the Underworld this episode was Belle! Yes, my sarcastic prediction about Zelena attacking Storybrooke to take back her daughter was hilariously correct, which resulted in Belle coming through to the Underworld and coming face to face with Rumple, whereupon she finally realised that Rumple was, once again, the Dark One. In a disarming display of loyalty, however, Rumple came clean about his deal to give up their baby and confessed that Belle couldn’t expect him to be a different man, but she could hope for a better version.

It’s nice for the ball to be in Belle’s court and for Rumple to actually be embracing who he is instead of continuing to conceal is from her. Ultimately, if they have a chance at True Love that’s the only way. I do hope that Belle stays away, however, instead of just coming running back. I don’t like the sound of Rumple claiming that she loved the man and the beast, instead of the potential of the man lurking within the whole time.

The end of the episode sees Snow dramatically affirming that they need to take on Hades and escape from the Underworld, after she and Charming have spent the episode trying to contact baby Neal, and Emma and Hook seem to sit around the apartment not doing particularly much. It’s in times like these where location-changing quests like the trip to the Underworld and Neverland fall slightly flat. I mean, of course they’re going to take on Hades – weren’t they doing that already? There’s just no excuse for treading water for episodes chilling around the house when there’s an urgent quest afoot. Why would Emma be doing nothing when she’s got a gravestone in the Underworld and she should be trying to solve it? It just makes no sense, and it makes these story arcs seem silly, especially when they’re trying to ramp up the tension.

Having said that, Henry’s little glimpse of the Author plot this week was delightfully tongue in cheek. I’m still trying to determine the usefulness of someone who just says what has happened, but if it helps the heroes work out the connection between Hades and Zelena that can only be a good thing. Here’s hoping that Hades says something particularly incriminating that Henry can record in his sleep. Not to mention that Henry’s “everybody’s a writer” line was pointedly tongue in cheek.

As a final note, Dorothy was a nice addition to this episode. She appears to have come back to Oz as some sort of warrior. Her reappearance has sort of confused my idea of chronology in Oz. We already know that Dorothy appeared and thought that she had killed Zelena, though I don’t remember seeing the scarecrow, tin man or lion in those flashbacks, unless my memory is failing me in a haze of Once Upon a Time reflections. Having Dorothy pop up again does seem like a bizarre character to reappear unless they have further plans for her, so I’m intrigued to see where that goes.

Ultimately, we learn a lot in “Our Decay” and, in addition to being expository, we gain a greater appreciation for both the villain of the hour Hades and our snarky main character Zelena, who has been desperately overused this season so far. Hopefully this reinvigorates Hades’ plot with Zelena and Belle now in the Underworld along with the rest of our cast, and leads to a speedy escape to Storybrooke.

You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.

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