Dealing With The Devil

season5titleONCE UPON A TIME
Season 5, Episodes 14 & 15 (Devil’s Due)(The Brothers Jones)

Er, I mean, dealing with Hades…

With all of the mythology, folklore, literature, and Disney stories that Once Upon a Time draws upon, and the rich history that all of it has absorbed from many cultures, it is no wonder that Hades and the Devil are confused with each other. In telling their story, the writers have made Hades (the god, not as a euphemism for the Underworld itself) not quite diabolic in of himself, but they are using the classic folkloric elements of the Devil character and transposing them onto him. Hades was not a trickster and the Underworld was not Hell. This version walks a fine line between Hades-as-god-of-the-Underworld and Hades-as-Devil. Likewise, the Underworld is somewhat hellish, but in many ways more of a mundane purgatory where one could reasonably remain for a long time with the hope of redemption.

Making deals with the Devil is a classic storytelling device, usually as a cautionary tale or as a way for a villain to get their comeuppance, but also used to explain characters who came across sudden good fortune, usually in spite of themselves, and did not seem to deserve it. In Devil’s Due, the former kind of deal is struck – by Rumplestiltskin, of all people – and he is faced with the consequence of his long ago actions. Hades, at his most diabolical, is looking to cash in on his contract. Rumplestiltskin may have regained his Dark One powers, but he now has to use them to do Hades’s bidding.

Hades also cashes in on his three blank tombstones, although Captain Hook adamantly refuses to choose names for them. Hades chooses the powerful women of party: Regina, Snow White, and Emma. To be fair, Regina and Snow White helped souls escape the Underworld through redemption, while Emma rescued Hook, and all three are much more dangerous to Hades than Prince Charming or Robin Hood. Unfortunately, that puts a damper on the heroes’ rescue plans, as Emma can’t bring Hook back to life and the women are now trapped in the Underworld. In essence, I suppose they are temporarily dead.

Milah is reunited with her former husband and gets to meet the mother of her grandson – whom is currently dating her ex-lover. Unfortunately, Rumplestiltskin sends Milah to the River of Lost Souls in order to protect himself, so whether she will be able to be redeemed is open-ended. Her unfinished business, as it turns out, is not to earn forgiveness from Baelfire. Since Baelfire/Neal had no unfinished business, he must have already forgiven her abandonment of him. What Milah’s actual unfinished business is remains to be seen, but even in the River of Lost Souls, there is hope.

As it turns out, Milah had even more reason to abandon her husband and son than initially thought. Her husband sold his second-born child (non-existent at the time) to Hades, by way of a wizard, in exchange for a potion that would heal Baelfire from a snakebite. His reasoning? They would just not have any more children. Feeling frustrated and taken for granted, Milah was all the more interested in the mysterious, handsome pirate at the tavern. She also would have wanted to make sure not to have any more children with Rumplestiltskin. The moral of the story? Don’t think you can outsmart the Devil. Rumplestiltskin realised that much too late.

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The Brothers Jones focuses on Captain Hook, who reunites with his long-dead older brother Liam. For his entire adult life, Hook has hero-worshipped his brother and felt that he could never measure up. In turn, that has led to him never believing himself worthy of having a future and being a good person.

As the heroes, now trapped in the Underworld, search for a way to defeat Hades (or at least, get an upper hand on him), Liam stealthily but actively sabotages their plans. As it turns out, he too made a deal with Hades long in the past, one that resulted in many deaths in turn for freedom and security for Liam and his little brother. That deal comes back to haunt him, especially as he still does not want his brother to find out. Hook is certainly not pleased when he does – his whole life was based on a lie. For even after Liam’s death, Hook continued to be haunted by his wonderful image of him. Since he could not measure up to the false image, he never bothered to try.

Some people put a heavy emphasis on self-image or the image that they present to others, to the point where saving face is almost more important than getting a job done. Others see it a virtue to “tell it like it is”. Neither are really virtuous. Self-image is important, as being too hard on oneself can result in not trying, as Hook ended up doing, while being overly proud of oneself can lead to thinking that it doesn’t matter how many people die if it means things will work out fine. Liam sees himself as a plucky hero who is rescuing his little brother and defeating the evil overlord captain. “Telling it like it is” can result in unnecessarily hurting people, adding further conflict to a situation rather than resolving it. (It also makes one look silly if it turns out that is isn’t like that at all.) Liam feels that Emma is unworthy of Hook because she is always considering what she wants – this, to the living woman who has descended to the Underworld to save the man that she loves. In fact, this is the first man that she has actively fought for. She has put aside selfishness. Not saving Hook would play into his self-image that he is unworthy of her love. Being dead is better for him only in the sense that he would be free to do nothing but wallow in self-pity. Liam liked his self-pitying brother only because he could then be the hero and rescue him. It takes him a very long time to realise that he ought to let his brother grow his own spine and save himself.

Henry also needs to figure out his role in the mission. Cruella and the Apprentice remind him that he is the Author. While Cruella tries to tempt him to use his power to save her, he hesitates and tells no one about the fact that the broken magic Quill is in the Underworld. As it turns out, that is a good idea – Liam is not able to sabotage that part of the mission! Henry finds the Quill, and reluctantly admits to his family that he could use it to find Hades’s weakness. All he has to do with re-copy the story. Furthermore, now that the heroes know about Cruella’s manipulations, they can protect Henry.

Hades, as it turns out, also has an image to protect. He has weaknesses that can be exploited. He is, after all, not a Devil. He does have a soul – that is connected in some way to Zelena…

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