For future reference, I’ve decided to start referring to Hook by his real name (Killian) in these posts. It feels right to stop calling him by his more villainous moniker now that it couldn’t be clearer that he’s the romantic hero of this arc. In the same way I refuse to call Snow “Mary Margaret” and I tend to favor “Charming” over “David,” I want to use “Killian” to reflect who I think this character is at his core. But feel free to call him whatever name you feel most comfortable using in the comments!
Title Broken Kingdom
Two-Sentence Summary In flashbacks to Camelot’s past, the truth of the legendary Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot love triangle is revealed, shedding more light on Arthur’s obsession with finding the Dark One’s dagger. In the more recent past, Snow and Charming face a challenge when they don’t know who to trust, and Emma and Killian work to fight the darkness in her together.
Favorite Line “You tried to trick me with a catchy title and a comfy chair.” (Charming, to Arthur)
My Thoughts “True love isn’t easy, but it must be fought for. Because once you find it, it can never be replaced.”
Those words from Charming all the way back in Season One of Once Upon a Time were on my mind throughout much of “Broken Kingdom.” Once Upon a Time has always focused on the “true” part of “true love.” It’s something that cannot be faked; it must be chosen by both parties from a place of trust, hope, and belief. Love is a choice, and the truest love is chosen and fought for even when it’s hard—especially when it’s hard. That concept—fighting for love instead of taking the easy way out, accepting the imperfect realities of love instead of living with a façade of perfection—was at the heart of “Broken Kingdom,” which was my favorite episode so far in this stellar fifth season.
I’ll get this out of the way now: Yes, the timeline was ridiculously confusing in this week’s episode, and I hope one of the writers decides to address it at some point to clear things up. How could the Dark One appear to Guinevere and Lancelot when Rumplestiltskin was in Storybrooke five years ago? And even stranger, how could he just get possession of the gauntlet five years ago when he had it in flashbacks with Belle over 30 years ago? My explanation is that Camelot has always been considered a land outside of time, so maybe the passage of time is different there. But it would be nice to have an official word on that. However, I am more than willing to forgive inconsistencies like that if the story keeps me emotionally engaged, which this one definitely did.
This episode told the story of four romantic relationships: Arthur/Guinevere, Lancelot/Guinevere, Charming/Snow, and Killian/Emma. The way the writers created parallels and direct foils between those relationships was brilliant. It seems that one of the major themes of this season is “Love is a weapon,” and it’s clear that love is a weapon for good when the love is pure, true, and healthy. But it can be used as a weapon for evil when it’s twisted by darkness and manipulated by a desire to control rather than truly love. The same can be said of Excalibur, I think. It seems the Dark One wants to wield it for evil purposes—to snuff out the light and free itself from any ability to love. But there’s also the idea that Excalibur could defeat the darkness once and for all, which is a truly heroic goal.
Excalibur has always been associated with a worthy hero, and it was clear in this episode that Arthur is not worthy of wielding the re-forged sword. In order for the sword to become whole again, light and dark have to be combined, which I think is an interesting metaphor for heroism. A true hero is someone who understands darkness and light and knows that both exist in every person. A true hero chooses to be their best self and not their worst with full knowledge of both. While Arthur seems obsessed with maintaining the façade of perfect heroism and the Dark One seems to believe it can create a hero with Rumplestiltskin, I think Excalibur will only be able to be re-forged and wielded by someone who accepts their own capacity for good and evil and wants to wield the weapon for the right reason—as a weapon of love and light and not one of darkness and destruction.
The desire to re-forge Excalibur was a central part of this episode. It’s clear that Arthur has seen the sword as his birthright from the time he was a child—an orphan, as so many of the characters on this show are. Arthur’s story reminded me in certain ways of Rumplestiltskin’s backstory: He seemed to be a good kid who was pushed around and wanted the power to not be anyone’s punching bag anymore. And he found that power with one half of Excalibur, while Rumplestiltskin found it with the other half.
I appreciated the parallels between the Dark One and the man obsessed with trying to find its dagger, because they were unexpectedly clear and incredibly well done. Liam Garrigan did an amazing job of showing Arthur’s descent into a crazed kind of desperation for the power and legitimacy the dagger would give him. It became the focus of his life—so much so that it drove him to push away the woman he once loved so purely (The little glimpse we got of young Arthur and Guinevere was adorable.) and ultimately led him to commit terrible acts in the name of finding and using the dagger. Now who else does that sound like?
It broke my heart to watch Guinevere plead with her husband to take a moment away from his obsession to simply spend time with her on her birthday. It reminded me of Belle trying time and again to reach Rumplestiltskin at the height of his darkness and Killian trying to give Emma True Love’s Kiss after she embraced the darkness. I knew she would fail, because power is seductive. And that’s why it warmed my heart to see Lancelot give Guinevere a moment to feel loved, appreciated, and swept up in romance—because she deserved that. Guinevere isn’t just a queen; she’s a woman who deserves to feel wanted and chosen, much like I’ve always felt about Belle.
I thoroughly enjoyed getting to see Guinevere really fleshed out as a character this week (before her story broke my heart, of course). Her adventure with Lancelot was a reminder that this show does two things really well: developing female characters who are active participants in their own stories and developing male characters who love them for being take-charge leaders. And I found it very telling that Guinevere was able to save Lancelot from the darkness using the torch—the physical embodiment of the warmth and light of the love for him she was just starting to realize. (Confession time: I have always adored the forbidden love story of Lancelot and Guinevere, and I thought this retelling of it was wonderful.)
However, that love never got the chance to bloom. Both Lancelot and Guinevere made a choice—her to try to work on her marriage and him to leave Camelot. But their story isn’t over yet. I loved that Lancelot could tell that Guinevere wasn’t herself at the end of the episode. We’ve seen time and again that love can see through magical manipulations (Charming and the siren, Robin and Zelena disguised as Regina, Killian knowing Emma would say the things she’s been saying without the influence of the darkness), and I hope that Lancelot’s enduring love for Guinevere will help her break free of the magic keeping her from exerting her free will.
Choice is such an important part of Once Upon a Time, and taking away a person’s agency has been associated with darkness from the show’s earliest days. Regina casting the curse that made everyone live a life she chose for them; Zelena controlling Rumplestiltskin; Rumplestiltskin working with the Author to create a new story that robbed everyone of their sense of self; every instance of taking a heart (including Emma taking Merida’s heart at the end of the episode); and even Snow and Charming’s decision to remove Emma’s ability to choose darkness before she was born—these are all considered dark actions. But I’m not sure any of these examples upset me the way Arthur using the sands of Avalon to “fix” Guinevere upset me.
For as deplorable an action as it was for Arthur to strip Guinevere of her thoughts and feelings for his own selfish desires, it was one of the most impressive moments of the episode because of the way it brought so many pieces together. I have to give kudos to Joana Metrass for always playing the character as if something wasn’t quite right with her—as if she was always holding something back. At one point during this episode, I wondered if Arthur had taken her heart because her performance reminded me of characters who’ve had their hearts taken, and I wasn’t too far off. But even more than highlighting Metrass’s subtly impressive work so far this season, that excellent twist provided a clear look at all the ways Arthur has failed when it comes to being a hero.
On Once Upon a Time, heroes don’t take the easy way out. That’s the path of darkness, trying to find shortcuts and ways to manipulate people into thinking you’re something you’re not. But Arthur chose to use magic to fix his problems instead of putting in the hard work and taking the honest path in both his role as a leader and a husband. His kingdom is a sham because it has no real foundation, but the real crime is what he did to his wife. Instead of trying to work through their problems together and trusting that love could be enough, he chose to “fix” her with magic, when what she needed wasn’t someone to fix her but someone to love her and choose her.
Love isn’t about fixing another person; it’s about encouraging the person you love to be their best self. Love isn’t about not having any problems; it’s about facing problems together, as a team. No couple on this show represents that concept better and Snow and Charming. This was the best episode for those two characters in quite some time, and part of it was because their marriage provided such a neat foil for the Arthur/Guinevere “marriage.” I loved that this episode made Snow and Charming feel like a real married couple dealing with something very difficult: a child who, as Charming put it “is sick” and could hurt herself or others if they can’t get her help soon. Just like last week, there was a sense of desperation in Josh Dallas’s performance in Snow and Charming’s big fight scene that really worked for me. It was contrasted by the strongest, fiercest work we’ve seen from Ginnifer Goodwin in ages. It’s always hard to watch one of your favorite fictional couples fighting, but it’s a lot easier when it’s handled as well as that scene was handled.
As I watched this episode unfold, I found myself beyond aggravated with Charming and not exactly loving the parallel of Snow going behind his back with Lancelot just like Guinevere did in the flashbacks. But that made the reveal of Snow and Charming’s con even better. I was so proud of smart, savvy Snow when Arthur held up the dagger and she matter-of-factly told him, “She’s not coming.” (Excellent line delivery by Goodwin on that one.) And I was even prouder when Charming showed up, revealing that his supposed choice of Arthur over Snow was a ruse. “Broken Kingdom” was an episode in which nothing was as it appeared, and I loved how that was reflected in Snow and Charming’s victory—even if it was just a momentary one.
My favorite part of that scene was Snow and Charming admitting that their fight was very real. (Goodwin and Dallas’s perfect facial expressions in that moment spoke to how great it is to have a real married couple bringing this fictional marriage to life.) That’s what makes them different from Arthur and Guinevere; they disagree and face huge challenges all the time, but they choose to always put their love and their family above everything else. They work to fight for their love and the family it created every day; that’s what makes their love true, and that’s what makes them heroes. They’re teammates and partners, which is such a stark contrast from what the relationship between Arthur and Guinevere has become.
Snow and Charming fought together as heroes for their daughter, and that’s why it was so painful to see them fail her—not because they did something wrong but because Arthur and Guinevere’s “love” became a weapon of evil, turning Snow and Charming into another part of Arthur’s plan that needs “fixing.” It broke my heart to think that Emma believes her parents failed her, when they were fighting for her with all they had. It just wasn’t enough in the moment.
I’m very intrigued to see how Regina handles her interactions with this version of Snow and Charming. It was clear that she and Robin were uncomfortable with their initial request for the dagger. And what will their relationship with Emma be like when she gets back to the castle?
Speaking of Emma, her story in this episode also offered a plethora of direct comparisons to Arthur’s story. Arthur kept himself locked away as his connection to the darkness grew through his obsession with the dagger. In the same vein, Emma was locked away in her own mind, not telling anyone about the dark voice that never left her alone. It was just her and her dream catchers, her collection of “flypaper for nightmares.” However, Emma is living a nightmare that no dream catcher can save her from. I’m sure those dream catchers will also serve a greater purpose beyond being symbols of Emma’s inner torment. We’ve seen that they can be used to hold memories, which are conveniently missing in all the people Emma loves in the present-day Storybrooke timeline.
Arthur chose to work alone, but, in “Broken Kingdom,” Emma chose to let someone in to help her battle the demons inside her. In an episode that focused so strongly on someone wanting to fix a relationship they saw as broken by taking away a woman’s agency, I loved seeing the complete opposite of that with Emma and Killian. Instead of hiding her demons from Killian, Emma trusted him with her burdens. And she did so because she knew he wasn’t looking to fix her; he was looking to work through those burdens with her as partners.
At the beginning of the episode, we saw Emma referred to as a “patient” who could be set off by anything. (Was it just me, or did it seem like a connecting scene was missing that explained how Emma went from Killian’s arms to the state she was in later on?) While that may be true, it’s not easy to be surrounded by people who look at you with a mixture of fear and pity while you’re dealing with your own fears of your inner darkness. That’s why Killian’s attitude toward Emma in this episode was so important. He didn’t see as the Dark One or a patient. He sees Emma—his princess. He treated her like he always does, and for a few moments, that made her feel like herself again.
That included being able to feel like herself as a mother, which we got to see in that adorable scene in which Killian and Emma learned about Henry’s crush on Violet. That scene was wonderful because it felt like a real moment between a protective mom, a nervous teenage boy, and a proud future stepdad who is both sincerely happy for Henry and also happy to tease him about it a little. Killian is such a romantic, and I loved seeing that extended toward an appreciation for Henry’s first love. It was a moment of happiness (and excellent facial expressions/eyebrow wiggling from Colin O’Donoghue), and happiness was something Emma (and the audience) needed to counteract the darkness swirling around her. It seemed fitting that Henry and Killian would be the two people to provide her with some levity in her life’s darkest period.
That darkness was something Emma trusted Killian with, and it was clear that her trust wasn’t something he took for granted. For someone like Emma—who grew up handling everything from skinned knees to pregnancy on her own—to be able to admit to Killian that she’s not okay says a lot about how much she trusts him. And what I loved most about that moment of confession was that he didn’t even flinch; he simply told her that he understood what she was going through because he also battled demons in his head during his struggle with his own darkness. He empathized rather than going straight to pity or fear, and that’s exactly what Emma needed.
True love can only exist where there is true honesty. By taking away Guinevere’s ability to be her true self, Arthur destroyed any chance of true love existing between them. However, Killian has always accepted Emma for exactly who she is, and she’s learning to be more open about exactly who she is with him. Now, that includes the fact that she is burdened with terrible darkness. But Killian is not a man who gives up easily; he’s always been one of the most devoted and determined characters on Once Upon a Time. And now that devotion and determination are being used for the purest cause imaginable: helping Emma fight the darkness so they can have a happy future together, picket fences and all. It’s not going to be easy; Killian knows that better than anyone, but he believes it’s worth the effort. Their future is worth the hard work; their love is worth fighting for. And his sincere belief in their future (No one does sincerely romantic line readings like O’Donoghue) inspired Emma to believe in it, too. That’s what will defeat the darkness—not a plan built on lies and manipulative magic—but true, sincere love.
As Emma and Killian rode away on a horse in pretty much the most stereotypically romantic fashion imaginable, I was struck by the idea that this show is creating a new fairytale for these two characters, and it’s turning into something truly beautiful. And so much of its beauty comes from its emphasis on choice. Emma chose to believe that Killian could be her own personal dream catcher, keeping the nightmares away for even a moment. And it worked. They both put their faith in their love, and it was rewarded. They believed their love could be enough, which was something Arthur could never do.
Jennifer Morrison’s face upon realizing that the voices in her head had stopped was the picture of awestruck love and light. There was a glow about her that contrasted so well with both the exhaustion she’s shown in Camelot and the hard edges she’s shown in Storybrooke. For one moment, love was enough to bring light into the dark spaces in her mind. (How beautiful was the soft, ethereal lighting in that scene, too?) And that gave the characters and the audience hope (especially upon seeing Emma in her full Dark One glory still gently holding the rose he gave her). Killian’s determination, belief, and ability to reach the woman underneath the Dark One are the heroic traits needed to help her find her true self again—just like he helped her find a respite from the darkness in that field of flowers.
For one sweepingly romantic moment, Emma Swan wasn’t living in a nightmare. Instead, she was living in the peace of being loved for exactly who she was and in the comfort of knowing she had someone willing to fight for her and beside her, to be the light in her darkness the way she was for him. That final overhead shot of Emma and Hook kissing in the middle of the flowers was gorgeous. The cinematography and direction were the stuff of epic romances, and they highlighted the fact that Emma and Killian are becoming the hero and heroine of a brand-new fairytale romance, which is every bit as beautiful as the ones we all know and love.
“Broken Kingdom” showed us characters who want to take the easy way out, as well as characters who know that the only things worth having are things you have to fight for. It showed us relationships that are nothing but facades and others built on the truest kinds of love. The hero’s path is the path of hard work, honesty, and love. Arthur strayed from that path because he was obsessed with keeping up the appearance of being a hero. And Emma strayed from that path for reasons still unknown to us. But she still has heroes willing to fight for her to find the hero inside herself again. I can’t wait to watch those who love her continue to fight for her—because true love must be fought for. And we all know true love will win in the end.