Once Upon a Time: Season 6, Episode 16 – “Our Decay”

Hades forces Rumpelstiltskin to bring Zelena and child down to the Underworld, because it turns out that he and Zelena have a bit of a past.

This week’s episode of Once Upon a Time, “Our Decay”, is all about trust issues, with Zelena (Rebecca Mader) taking center stage and trying to navigate who she can trust and who she can’t, while simultaneously trying to convince others to trust her. At the same time, Gold (Robert Carlyle) and Belle (Emilie de Ravin) are having their own quarrel, as Belle discovers Gold has been keeping a number of secrets from her.

It doesn’t take long for Hades (Greg Germann) to take advantage of his new hold over Rumpelstiltskin, the contract giving him ownership of Rumpel’s second born child. Hades, as was hinted at in the previous episode, definitely has a plan up his sleeve, and the first part of it apparently involves retrieving Zelena and her newborn from Storybrook. For that, he needs Rumpel to create a portal, and that means a good deal of Rumpel’s world comes crashing down about his head.

When Belle arrives with Zelena and reunites with her husband, the truth comes out in a string of confessions and realizations: Gold’s alliance with Hades, his selling of his second born, and most importantly, his resumption of his role as the Dark One. In the midst of all this, Belle learns she’s pregnant as well, a fact that complicates her relationship with Gold. She has sworn to break ties to him as long as he’s dark, but it remains to be seen whether she can hold to that promise while carrying his child.

Perhaps more interesting than this dilemma is Gold’s passionate defense of his darkness: “You fell in love with me because I was a man and a beast. Neither exists without the other.” It’s a statement that carries many implications. It makes clear Gold’s own feelings that, even before becoming the Dark One, his cowardly nature made him a different sort of beast. (Wouldn’t it be delicious if it turned out that Gold was also the cowardly lion, a character we’ve not yet encountered in Storybrook?).

It reminds us how uncomfortable he was as a “hero” during the fall half of the season, and how uncomfortable, frankly, he made us. His stumbles in this role were indeed “monstrous”, and his resumption of his rightful place has to have been something of a relief for most viewers. There are echoes here of Harry Lime’s famous defense of his behavior in the classic film The Third Man:

Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love — they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

The point is simple: great beauty can only exist alongside great evil. Gold makes that case about himself for Belle; he makes that case for us as viewers.

But the heart of this episode is Zelena, and her issues with trust take much more time to unfold. For this, we must return to the past and the Land of Oz, where we intersect with a plotline from an earlier season: Zelena’s attempt to go back in time and change her own story. As it turns out, Hades has gotten wind of her plan and wants in on the action, and the two of them set about hunting down Dorothy (Teri Reeves) and the Scarecrow (Paul Scheer) in order to steal the latter’s brain for their spell. (Which gives us our first chance to see both of these characters. I must confess, I’m not quite sure why the Scarecrow had to be CGI’d).

Along the way, they ride a bike together ala Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and wind up falling in love. Or so it would appear.

The flying monkey in the ointment, so to speak, is Zelena’s unwillingness to completely trust Hades’s declaration of love. He insists a kiss from her — “love’s true kiss” — will restore him to being a normal human man again. She can’t quite accept that he isn’t trying to trick her into stealing her spell. The same basic scene plays out again in the present, with Hades working hard to convince Zelena of his good intentions — he built this place, the Underworld, for them to share — and Zelena suspicious that he’s after her baby. The real question here is whether we should see Hades in the light of Gold’s arguments — as definitely defective but nevertheless capable of love, a kind of beauty fused with beast — or simply a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

That’s a question hanging over the heads of many of the villains who currently populate the underworld, including Cruella de Vil (Victoria Smurfit) and Peter Pan (Robbie Kay). In fact, it’s a question Zelena must face as well, as she struggles to come to terms with her own identity. Initially, her goal’s to hide her baby from his father, Robin (Tom Ellis), and the rest of the gang, but the group — especially Regina (Lana Parrilla) — pleads with her to abandon her “wicked” ways and trust them to help her. She does seem to accept this argument — although we’ve seen her duplicity before — and in the end winds up handing over the child for Regina, Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin), Emma (Jennifer Morrison), and David (Josh Dalla) to hide.

Taken together, the episode leaves virtually everyone in some state of suspicious mistrust. Zalena still mistrusts Hades; Regina et al don’t quite trust Zelena. Belle doesn’t trust Rumpel. Meanwhile, Henry (Jared Gilmore), like the teenager he now is, seems to be, um, “writing” in his sleep. Which, at the very least, means we won’t run out of stories any time soon.

RATING 6 / 10