Title The Apprentice
Two-Sentence Summary Hook uses his knowledge of the truth about the dagger to get his severed hand back from Rumplestiltskin before his big date with Emma, but that proves to have disastrous consequences when his hand appears to still possess the darkness he’s learned to let go of. As part of a deal to get Rumplestiltskin to take back the hand, Hook is forced to help him capture the sorcerer’s apprentice, whom we’re first introduced to in flashbacks, as Anna learns about the danger of making deals with the Dark One.
Emma: I don’t pillage and plunder on the first date, just so you know.
Hook: Well that’s because you haven’t been out with me yet.
My Thoughts There are two ways you could view “The Apprentice.” You could worry about what this episode means for certain characters and their arcs and relationships, letting yourself get caught up in the potential negatives. Or you could choose to believe that the storylines introduced in this episode will actually lead to really good things and focus on the many positive parts of this episode.
I’m choosing the second option. I’m choosing to hope. I’m choosing to be happy. I was reminded recently of the importance of choosing positivity and optimism when it’s easy to believe the worst, so I’m going to apply that little real-life lesson to fandom. And I hope that any of you who feel disappointed or discouraged after this episode can walk away from reading this feeling a little bit better.
Was “The Apprentice” perfect? No. It had its moments of contrived drama and angst. However, this was a “setup episode” if there ever was one, and the potential for character development in the stories it set up is phenomenal.
At its heart, “The Apprentice” was an episode about Rumplestiltskin, and it was so much fun to see my two favorite sides of this character come out to play: the impish, evil glee of the Dark One in flashbacks and the controlled malice of Mr. Gold in the present-day storyline. Of course I enjoy watching him be romantic with Belle (or at least I did before he was constantly lying to her) and trying to be a better man, but I like my Rumplestiltskin best when he’s working in the darker shades of gray. It’s when he’s at his most compelling as a character, and it’s when Robert Carlyle is at his most compelling as an actor. He makes me furious as I’m watching him, but I can never look away.
I never knew how much I needed to see Anna and Rumplestiltskin interact until it was happening, and now I want so much more from this dynamic. It was more fascinating to me than it had any right to be. First of all, kudos to Elizabeth Lail for once again making me feel as if I was watching this animated character come to life. Her mannerisms and facial expressions are perfect, and every time she’s onscreen I just keep thinking, Can we please keep her on the show after this half-season is over?
Anna’s strength comes from her belief in the goodness of others, but in this episode, we saw that it also comes from a belief in her own goodness. She knows who she is, and she knows she ultimately could never give into darkness. And Rumplestiltskin knows that, too. It’s why he knew he could use her to give the dagger the powers it needed to activate the sorcerer’s hat. (Side note: How great was that Mickey Mouse reference with the apprentice being turned into a mouse?) “The Apprentice” highlighted the way Rumplestiltskin can read people and use their emotions to get his way. It made for an interesting parallel that he used Anna’s inability to give into darkness to get his way in the past and Hook’s fear of his own darkness to get his way in the present.
Rumplestiltskin has a great gift for making people believe whatever he wants them to believe. And while Anna was able to gain control over the dagger for a moment, Rumplestiltskin was still able to get into her head and under her skin with his statement that her parents came to him for a way to get rid of Elsa’s magic. Was he telling the truth? Who knows at this point. (I think he was, but I’d love to be proven wrong.) The important thing is Anna believed him, and that’s going to eat away at her until she tells Elsa the truth—and probably even after that. While I was thrilled to see Anna and Kristoff (and Sven!) reunite, I couldn’t help but fear what’s to come, especially knowing that she’s still missing. What’s going to happen with the hat, and will it have some impact on Elsa and the Snow Queen? And now that we know Anna made it back home, what happened to her?
The most important thing about the flashbacks was Rumplestiltskin’s line about love being a weapon if you know how to wield it. That one line provided such insight into his character. His manipulations are always rooted in using another person’s love to suit his purposes. He used Snow and Charming’s love to create the “savior clause” in his curse. He used Anna’s love for her sister to get the tear he needed to make the hat work. He used Regina’s grief over losing the man she loved to turn her into his “monster” in order to cast his curse. And, in this episode, he used Hook’s love for Emma to turn the tables and help him regain control over the one situation where he seemingly had no power.
“The Apprentice” provided a really fascinating contrast between Rumplestiltskin, Regina, and Hook in terms of what motivates them and how they see themselves. While Regina and Hook have become more selfless through love, Rumplestiltskin is still using love as a weapon. In addition to what he did to Hook in this episode, he’s also using Belle’s trust and love to keep his power and his wife without having to give up either.
Regina’s story in this episode, while brief, was important. First and foremost, it led to the great moment at the end with Henry going undercover, using his grandfather’s talent for manipulation against him. (I liked this side of Henry, even if it worries me more than a little bit.) But it also highlighted both how much Regina has changed and how far she still has to go. Regina’s conflict over being happy that Robin still loves her was perfect because it showed her growth; she can no longer find joy in someone suffering so she can get her happy ending. However, she still thinks that making the author of the book give her a happy ending is the answer, while I’m still convinced the answer is earning her happy ending by being a good person. I’m not sure I loved Henry echoing her “make them” threat from last week, and I definitely didn’t understand the “Rumplestiltskin got his happy ending” thing when he just lost his son. However, this story was less about what Henry thought and more about what Regina is going through. She’s lost and scared that happiness isn’t hers to have because of who she was, and I’m just happy she isn’t going through that alone—that she let Henry in.
Speaking of people who are lost and scared that they aren’t worthy of happiness because of who they were, I am completely in love with the direction Hook’s story is heading in after this episode. This character needed this arc, however contrived its inception might have seemed. For as romantic as the “I want to use both hands to hold Emma” reasoning was, it was a surprisingly dumb move for such a cunning character. However, it wasn’t unbelievable. Hook wanted his hand not just to hold Emma but to show her that he’s making a fresh start with her as much as she is with him. I think part of him associates the hook with being a broken man, and he wanted to be whole for Emma now that he knows how much she cares for him, too. However, he underestimated Emma’s feelings; she was far more impressed with his new wardrobe than his hand. Both Emma and Hook have been broken by things they’ve gone through in life, and Hook should have known that Emma didn’t need him to be whole or new; she only needed him to be himself, because that’s who she fell for in the first place. His insecurities were believable, and I understood why he would want his hand back. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t shaking my head at him for doing something so risky when we all knew Emma couldn’t care less about the hook or the hand.
Hook’s story in this episode was about so much more than just a hand (and a date); it was a way to tie his character arc into the season’s two biggest themes: choosing to believe you can be more than who you fear you’re fated to be, and never giving up on yourself or the people you love. And while parts of it were hard to watch, the points of light in his dark story gave me so much hope for where it’s heading.
Ultimately, the biggest thing to remember when looking back on Hook’s story in “The Apprentice” is that it was meant to show both how little Rumplestiltskin has changed and how much Hook has changed. I’ll admit to getting caught up in trying to decipher the ambiguity surrounding Hook’s hand: Was it cursed? Was it just allowing him to give into his darkness? What does that mean for him? However, what mattered wasn’t so much what the hand was doing but Hook’s reaction to it. He was shocked and disgusted with himself, to the point where he was willing to lose it again if it meant not hurting anyone else. Colin O’Donoghue played Hook’s sense of torment and self-loathing so well in this episode; it broke my heart. He made me believe that Hook was truly terrified of succumbing to his inner darkness again—not just because he could hurt Emma but because he didn’t like himself when that side of him came out again.
Self-loathing has always been a part of Hook’s character, and Rumplestiltskin knew him well enough to prey on that. While Anna was able to turn away from darkness easily because she has a strong sense of self, Hook is struggling with his sense of self, which made him an easy target for Rumplestiltskin. It would be easy for him to simply believe what Rumplestiltskin said about who he really is and who he is always fated to be. But Killian Jones is a man who fights for what he wants—that’s who he really is. And that’s why it hurt to watch him follow the broomstick (another excellent Fantasia nod) and hold down the apprentice as Rumplestiltskin captured him in the hat. O’Donoghue made us see that Hook was lost and desperate, and we all know Rumplestiltskin knows how to recognize (and use) a desperate soul.
In the end, I don’t think I’ve ever been more upset with Rumplestiltskin than I was when he altered the security tape and threatened Emma, using love as a weapon once again. By making a deal to let go his hand again and the dark part of himself it represented, Hook showed his desire to be a better man. But Rumplestiltskin showed in return how little he values believing you can be more than who you were. But he’s wrong, and we know it. Just because he can’t find it in his heart to truly change, that doesn’t mean Hook is fated to always be the dark pirate he once was. And I’m ready to see Hook learn that this season; he can be tempted with darkness, but he doesn’t automatically have to give in to it. And if that means more incredibly meaty and tense scenes between O’Donoghue and Carlyle before all is said and done, then I will be a happy girl. Those two actors bring something truly special out of each other, and I am riveted whenever they share a scene.
I think the key to Hook working to become his best self despite feeling fated to fail at that endeavor is the same thing that’s going to help Regina and has already helped Emma: love. Rumplestiltskin may have used Hook’s love for Emma against him, but I think—even after all these years—he still underestimates what can happen when love is used to heal and support and not manipulate and hurt. In this episode, we saw Emma and Hook’s relationship being exploited for dark purposes, but we also saw just how light and good it can be. It was important to put their date in the middle of all of the stuff going on with Hook and Rumplestiltskin. Not only did it inject some much-needed happiness into a heavy episode; it gave viewers hope for exactly what will save Hook from Rumplestiltskin’s clutches and from his own fears of who he might still be at his core.
I absolutely loved the way Emma and Hook’s dynamic was written in this episode. There was an openness to it that’s never been there before—flirtatious and warm and filled with sexual tension. It was a direct reflection of the vulnerability, safety, and confidence they both felt at the end of “Rocky Road.” And it showed itself in everything from their banter when she first asked him out to Emma’s soft pink dress (a direct reflection of her softer and more vulnerable emotional state).
There was a sense of innocence to Emma and Hook’s date that perfectly contrasted the way Rumplestiltskin used Hook’s love for dark purposes as the episode went on. This date was a source of simple, beautiful joy in the middle of darkness and chaos. And what I loved most of all was that it was a source of joy not just for Emma and Hook but for Snow and Charming, too.
Snow putting Neal down to focus on Emma was hugely symbolic; it’s the first time we’ve seen her put him down, and it was to take a picture of her daughter. For Snow and Charming, this date was the ball they never got to get Emma ready for, and, for Emma (despite her weak protestations to the contrary), this was also a way to reclaim some of the joy she lost in her youth by letting her parents fuss over her and rolling her eyes at them like she never got to do as a teenager. Everything from Charming offering to drive to Snow eagerly wanting all the details (and Charming wanting none) afterward was perfect. It highlighted the fact that love should spread happiness, and Snow and Charming—the epitome of True Love—could appreciate that this happiness had finally found their princess.
That’s what struck me the most about Emma on this date—she was so happy, so warm and bright. And when Hook was able to lose himself in her, he was the same way. I loved Hook’s little shake of his head when he first saw Emma, like he couldn’t believe he was worthy of the woman he was looking at (which was sweet at the time but heartbreaking looking back after the episode ended). O’Donoghue and Jennifer Morrison have such natural, easy chemistry, and it was put to great use in this episode. This was a moment for Emma to finally let herself be happy and feel appreciated as a woman and not the savior, and it was lovely to see her decide to choose happiness and not chase Will. This was one of those good, quiet moments she had been denying herself for so long, and I found it interesting that it was Emma who was able to let go and Hook having something weighing on him now. It was a nice way to lay the groundwork for what’s to come for this relationship.
My favorite part of the date was the end of it because it gave me so much hope for the way this relationship will weather the storm coming its way. I loved the little detail of Emma wearing Hook’s jacket because it spoke to another new level of intimacy between them. That scene outside the loft was full of really delicious desire (Emma really needs to get her own place), but what struck me even more than how much these two wanted each other was how happy they made each other. Emma’s playful, soft smile was complimented perfectly by the biggest, most genuine smile we’ve ever seen on Hook, which was no small thing given what he was going through in this episode.
Standing by the door to the loft, we saw an important role reversal start to take shape: Emma supporting and comforting Hook. When he apologized for what he did to Will, I loved that she gently grabbed his hands and locked her fingers through his while telling him it was okay. Hook may have said it was his turn to ask her out, but it’s her turn to be the rock in this relationship while he finds himself. Without even knowing the details, she was able to steady him for a moment and make him smile again. And when they finally kissed, it was beautiful because it was a kiss filled with hope—for more dates and kisses in the future, but also for a love that makes both of them feel happy and supported when they feel lost and unsure of themselves.
Emma is Hook’s light, it couldn’t have been made clearer as the door closed and his face was completely hidden by shadows. And I just want him to look back at that kiss and the supportive way she held his hands before that moment and see that he doesn’t have to struggle alone. Regina has Henry, Emma has Hook, and now I want Hook to realize he can tell Emma the truth and lean on her for support. Emma’s moment of vulnerability in “Rocky Road” was so important because it allowed her to get to the emotional place she needed to reach to be there for Hook once he tells her truth.
And I do think he’s going to tell her. It would be a repeat of Zelena’s lip curse if he didn’t, and character growth should be shown here. It might not be in the next episode (if it really is focused on Emma and Regina), but I think he’s going to come clean on his own or open up if she calls him out for not acting like himself. Either way, these two characters are going to fight for their happy ending; it’s one of the themes of this season. Emma is part of a family that never gives up on the people they love, and I’m excited to see her do what Hook has done for her in the past—supporting him as he struggles with believing he’s not worthy of happiness. I want to see her fight for him and for this love that she’s found, because now that she’s accepted it, she’s not going to let it go without a fight. And as much as I love seeing Hook fight for Emma, I cannot wait to see her use her love as her own kind of weapon for good.
Yes, there is a Snow Queen to find (interesting that she didn’t come over in either curse—another point towards the “foster mother” theory) and Will Scarlet to deal with (My heart broke at the picture of Anastasia.) and a magical hat set to wreak havoc. But I’m most excited to see Emma and Hook grow as characters through the struggles coming their way. There might be rough waters ahead, but this show’s main point has always been that love is worth fighting for.