Just as it felt wrong earlier this season to still call Killian “Hook,” it now feels wrong to call Killian while under the influence of the darkness “Killian.” Therefore, for most of this post (from the moment he said he was playing Emma on), I’ll be referring to him as “Dark Hook” as opposed to “Killian Jones.”
Title Broken Heart
Two-Sentence Summary After Hook becomes a Dark One, his centuries-old feud with Rumplestiltskin rears its head once again. However, there appears to be much more to his motivations than simply vengeance, as his ultimate plan seems to be the release of all the former Dark Ones from the Underworld, and nothing—not even Emma’s love—is enough to deter him from that plan.
Favorite Line “There’s never been a moment where I didn’t believe in you, where I didn’t trust you. But you clearly don’t believe in me anymore, so how am I supposed to fight this?” (Killian)
My Thoughts “Broken Heart” was so much more than an episode title. It was a mission statement. By the end of the hour, there were broken hearts all over the place: Killian’s, Emma’s, Rumplestiltskin’s, Merlin’s, and everyone watching. It seemed the goal of this episode was to break everyone, and to that I will say: Mission accomplished.
Once Upon a Time has always had its dark moments, but it’s also done a nice job of having hopeful moments amid the darkness to keep dramatic stories from turning into bleak ones. But “Broken Heart” was about as bleak as this show gets. In fact, it’s tough to find things to feel hopeful about after that episode that don’t sound like the ranting of a desperate fangirl grasping at straws. But until this show gives me a reason to stop grasping for those straws of hope, I’ll keep doing so. Because otherwise, why bother watching? There are plenty of other shows on TV to watch if you want bleak, hopeless storytelling. I’m still going to believe Once Upon a Time isn’t one of those shows, but I can understand why “Broken Heart” might make some doubt that belief.
There’s a fine line between angst that’s believable and moves the characters and story forward and angst that just exists to twist the knife in further. While “Birth” was a wonderful example of the former, parts of “Broken Heart” felt like the latter. Some of the dialogue (especially Dark Hook taunting Rumplestiltskin about Milah—even more than anything he said to Emma) felt a bit too callously mean, even for a Dark One. I know the whole point was to make viewers uncomfortable, and it worked. And to include Belle walking away from Rumplestiltskin in an already devastating hour of television felt like overkill—even if I was proud of her for standing up for herself. I know this is what penultimate episodes are all about; they’re the “darkest before the dawn” episodes. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a bit overwhelmed by the darkness.
Ultimately, this isn’t an episode we’re supposed to like. We’re supposed to respect it, find meaning it, and appreciate the performances in it. However, we’re not supposed to think this was a particularly likable or enjoyable hour of television. It was supposed to leave us feeling devastated, confused, and heartbroken. It said so in the title!
But that’s the way it goes in most fairytales, right? There’s always that moment when hope seems lost—Henry “dies” after eating the turnover, Emma and Henry lose their memories and their family, or Charming and Snow realize they can’t break his sleeping curse while they’re in different realms. Those moments are needed in order to make the hero’s triumph feel like it’s a triumph over something big and important. And what bigger triumph is there than a victory over the darkest force to ever exist? The stakes had to be raised in this episode because—let’s be honest—Dark Swan isn’t really the best representation of a Dark One at their worst. (That’s what happens when the darkness is in the same body as the lightest Savior magic ever created.) Dark Hook, however, is a different story. He had to be even worse than we could have imagined in order to make us long for the destruction of the darkness like we’ve never longed for it before. And to that, again, I’ll say: Mission accomplished.
While there were plenty of reasons to never want to watch “Broken Heart” again, Colin O’Donoghue’s performance (especially coupled with Jennifer Morrison’s) might be the one reason to give this hour another look. I’ve loved the way Morrison and O’Donoghue have created their own unique takes on their characters as Dark Ones. They’re so different from Robert Carlyle’s take on the character, and they’re also so different from each other’s take on it. While Morrison played Emma’s early struggle against the darkness with increasing exhaustion, O’Donoghue took a more manic approach to Killian’s inner struggle to fight the voices in his head. And it was just as affecting. His mannerisms were jerky, his speech patterns quicker, and his body language looked like a snake ready to strike from the first moment he saw Rumplestiltskin in his head. This painted a tragic picture of man desperately fighting what he believes is a losing battle. He’s felt the pull of the darkness before, and the idea of being so close to it again begins to drive him mad from the first moment we see him the in the vault—reliving all the pain the Dark One has inflicted on him for centuries. (Was this just supposed to be a reminder for the audience of why Killian Jones hates the Dark One, or do all Dark Ones relive the most painful moments of their life when they enter the vault? I think it’s the former, and it’s meant to remind us what his real enemy is.)
However, there is one thing that is able to calm the newly created beast and bring Killian Jones back to the surface, and that’s Emma. I really appreciated the moment where Emma giving him hope for their future allowed him to let go of the dark voices in his head. It was a lovely parallel to what he was able to do for her once before. Hope, belief, and love are the ingredients needed to destroy the darkness, and that moment was a beautiful reminder that these characters can still give each other all those things. They still have it in them to destroy the darkness, but the very fact that their love can stop the darkness makes the darkness work all the more forcefully to corrupt and destroy that love, which is easier to do now that both parties are Dark Ones.
While Emma and Killian do still love each other, Dark Ones don’t know how to love in a healthy way. For Emma, that means wanting so desperately to hold on to Killian that she does terrible things to keep him—from turning him into a Dark One in the first place to lying about having Excalibur so she could control him. Emma Swan fears losing love and happiness once she’s found it, and the darkness has taken that fear and magnified it in an incredibly painful way. It made her take from Killian the one thing she’s always wanted for herself and the one thing he always gave her: agency. And she didn’t just do it once. She did it multiple times.
Emma said it best when she told Regina that sometimes she needs someone to tell her when she’s being stupid. And while Regina often does that with plenty of sass, it’s Killian who is often the one to show Emma when she’s not being her best self in a way that actually gets her to listen. He often does that by being gentle but honest with her. But sometimes gentle doesn’t work, and Dark Ones don’t do gentle (just look at their kisses in this episode for proof of that). So when it came time for Killian to call Emma out, he pulled no punches. And that turned out to be exactly what Emma needed—and exactly the emotional release we as an audience needed after the last episode.
My favorite scene in “Broken Heart” was the fight Killian and Emma had in the woods in the Enchanted Forest. It was honest in a way that both characters needed to be after what Emma did to bring Killian back in “Birth.” And it reflected what I’ve always seen as the most important theme of Once Upon a Time: Belief is everything. Killian was angry with Emma for not believing in him, and Emma wondered how could she if he didn’t believe in himself. Belief matters, especially in terms of fighting the darkness. Emma took on the darkness believing she could fight it and believing she would have help fighting it. But Killian had it forced upon him after telling Emma he didn’t believe he could fight it. That made him more susceptible to its seduction. That also made it easier for the darkness to convince Emma that he needed to be controlled.
Belief is everything. And sometimes we need to know someone else believes in us in order for us to find the strength to believe in ourselves. And that’s okay. At the end of the day, your ability to believe in yourself is what matters most, but there’s nothing wrong with having that belief encouraged by someone who loves you. And, at first, it seemed as if the darkness was able to destroy that beautiful part of Emma and Killian’s dynamic. However, Emma eventually found the strength to fight those darker impulses telling her he needed to be controlled so she wouldn’t lose him. She gave him Excalibur, a sign that she believed in him the way he’d always believed in her. She followed that gesture with an open admission of love—not as a goodbye but as a show of strength. This was Emma fighting through the darkness to love without fear, and it seemed to have a profound impact on Killian, which led to a ridiculously romantic kiss in their field of Middlemist flowers. (Although it’s important to note the symbolism of the field being cloaked in darkness this time, much like the two people kissing in it.)
That scene in the Middlemist flowers seems tragic in retrospect, with Killian later revealing to Emma that he’d played her to get control of Excalibur, manipulating her love and belief for his own dark purpose. However, there’s a part of me that refuses to believe that’s the case. Yes, there’s something tragically poetic about belief not being rewarded this time and love actually being a weakness for Emma instead of a strength for them both. But no matter how dark this episode was, I still don’t think this is that kind of show. Maybe I’m wrong, but “Having faith in a loved one will burn you in the end” doesn’t seem like a message this show likes to send. But if it really is the theme of that moment, then I can understand it, too. The darkness ruins everything it touches, so it very well could turn the belief that made Killian and Emma’s love so strong into something used to get what it wants.
Throughout the episode, I kept having moments like that—moments in which I questioned whether what I was watching was really just an examination of what the darkness can do to a person and to the love that could defeat it or if there was more to it than meets the eye. For weeks, we all knew—thanks to interviews and the fact that Emma is the show’s hero—that Dark Swan had a plan that deeper than what we saw on the surface. However, we don’t have the luxury of knowing for sure that there’s more to Dark Hook than what we’re seeing. It makes it difficult to analyze his actions because there could be more to the story or there might not be. And while that makes things more surprising for viewers, it also makes things harder for those of us who like to analyze character arcs and motivations.
One of the biggest wild cards in terms of figuring out if there was more to what happened in “Broken Heart” than meets the eye is Merlin. One of the broken hearts in this episode was mine after watching him die. I loved the character and the actor, and I found his death a little anticlimactic. He’s supposed to be the most powerful sorcerer of all time! In fact, the circumstances surrounding his death are the chief reasons why I’m all but certain we’re going to discover there are more forces at work here than just Dark Hook’s need for vengeance and the darkness as a whole’s desire to be unleashed. For instance, why did Merlin leave that “voicemail” instead of just running out of Granny’s to tell everyone the same thing? Why did he have a Dark Curse brewing in a pot? Why would Nimue be the person to find to destroy the darkness when she is the darkness?
Watching Dark Hook crush Merlin’s heart to satisfy Nimue and to get back to Storybrooke to enact his revenge on Rumplestiltskin was so painful because it was a direct parallel to Killian being able to talk Emma out of crushing Merida’s heart—but with a much more tragic ending this time. It was horrible to hear Dark Hook call Killian Jones a lovesick puppy, but it also reminded me that Dark Hook and Killian Jones are not the same person, just like Emma and Dark Swan are not the same. The darkness wants to snuff out the light, and their love has always been a light in the darkness for both of them. The darkness sees love as weakness, so it’s going to see Killian Jones as a lovesick puppy who is better off with darkness in his heart instead of love. It’s the same as Emma saying she was better and stronger with the darkness when she clearly wasn’t. The darkness wants its host to hate who they were in order to embrace who they could be with nothing but darkness in their heart, and this was a perfect example of that.
But even the darkest forces can still love. We saw that with Nimue knowing Merlin was still who she loved most. And we saw that with Dark Hook never once entertaining the thought of crushing Emma’s heart, despite knowing she was who he loved most. We even saw that in Storybrooke, with Dark Hook listing Rumplestiltskin filling Emma with darkness as a crime punishable by beheading. Even when he claims to despise Emma, it’s clear he still loves her. But as Emma said when talking about Nimue and Merlin, it’s a love that’s twisted up inside.
And Killian isn’t the only one whose love became twisted under the influence of darkness. Once Emma saw him crush Merlin’s heart, it became clear to her that he was right: Killian Jones died that day in the field of Middlemist flowers; she saved him only to lose him again. And the only way she saw to fix that was to make him—and everyone else—forget he’d ever been a Dark One. This elaborate lie may have been conducted for the right reasons, but it was an action born of darkness. And it was an action born of Emma’s need to isolate herself when things get difficult—her need to run away from people instead of toward them. Emma is so afraid of losing the people she loves that the darkness convinced her to lie to them about the choices she made—choices that affected them all—because she was afraid they’d all abandon her after learning what she did.
I know it’s not the proudest thing for me to admit, but I related to Emma so much in that moment. It’s not healthy to think you should fix all your mistakes on your own. It’s a way of punishing yourself that only ends up hurting you and others in the end. But it’s something a lot of people do on a much smaller scale—myself included. So I got very emotional when she stood in the middle of her unconscious family and friends, prepared to shoulder this burden on her own, even though that’s the worst way to shoulder any burden. And then my heart broke into even more pieces when she tenderly kissed and held Killian, promising him that, when he woke up, he’d be who he once was again and promising herself that the man who loved her would return to her. Everything about what Emma was doing to fix things was tainted by the darkness, but that moment—with her showing more vulnerability than ever before as she gently rested her cheek on his forehead—was filled with nothing but love. Morrison made that moment resonate with painful sincerity, and it created such a tragically beautiful image—perhaps the lasting image of this whole episode.
Dark Swan’s decision to shoulder her burden on her own and keep her loved ones in the dark for fear of losing them played heavily into the Storybrooke side of this episode. From the start, she was given example after example of why she should have reached out to her loved ones for help: She put them all in danger by keeping them in the dark, she lost their trust, and she made it impossible for them to find Emma underneath the Dark One because she acted out of a place of fear and self-loathing—a place of darkness—when she took their memories. It was devastating to see her so defeated and broken. Morrison used every tool in her arsenal—from her eyes to her body language—to make us feel Emma’s sense of helplessness and her isolation. Gone was the Dark Swan with a burden but a purpose, and in her place was a Dark Swan with only a burden.
That burden came charging back into her home when Dark Hook confronted her about what she’d done to him. That scene—with Dark Hook calling her an orphan with biting cruelty—was incredibly hard to watch. It made my hands shake and my stomach turn to see the darkness tear at this relationship like a feral dog. But every cruel word he aimed at her had a basis in fact: Emma does push people away because she’s so afraid of losing them. She does isolate herself. What made those words hurt was their truth. It was like watching someone who knows exactly how to hurt their loved one go for the lowest blow possible. It was a dark moment—pure and simple. But it was also a dark moment that led to something better.
Dark Hook’s words eventually drove Emma to realize that she couldn’t do this on her own, so she reached out to Henry for help. In an episode devoid of hopeful moments, seeing the two of them begin Operation Cobra Part 2 was a rare bright spot. And it was a reminder that forgiveness is possible and love can still be found even after darkness attempts to destroy a relationship. Henry is Emma’s True Love, and that means he has true belief in her. Once he saw that she was trying to do the right thing, that belief returned. The darkness can’t destroy True Love. It can sow seeds of doubt and mistrust, but love is stronger; Henry and Emma proved that.
As Henry and Emma worked to get the dream catchers back, Dark Hook had his own agenda to follow, and it involved his old foe. It was—dare I say it?—fun to watch Dark Hook mimic Rumplestiltskin’s Dark One theatrics as he challenged him to a duel. That scene showed me just how much fun O’Donoghue was having playing this new aspect of his character. But their duel left me wondering once again if there’s more to Dark Hook’s plan than we know of right now. If he really wanted to kill Rumplestiltskin, he could have done so easily. And if he wanted to get Rumplestiltskin’s blood, he didn’t have to leave Excalibur with him in order to do so. Why leave the one weapon that could destroy him in the hands of his greatest enemy, who would probably go to the heroes and Emma with the sword?
As the end of the episode came and we saw that Dark Hook’s grand plan involved using Rumplestiltskin’s blood to open a portal to the Underworld from which the Dark Ones could return to the land of living, I was left wondering why. Why turn the man who spent centuries trying to defeat the darkness into a willing pawn by which the darkness could have its final victory? That would make a terrible fairytale.
There are many possible ways this story can play out: Dark Hook could really just be the epitome of all darkness, and Emma will have to kill him to keep him from killing everyone else. Or he could be filled with darkness now but will face a turning point after which he decides to destroy the darkness in himself to save Emma and everyone else. Or he could be playing a long-con similar to Dark Swan’s, in which he wants to get his vengeance on his actual enemy—not Rumplestiltskin but the Dark One.
While I’m honestly not sure if any of these predictions are correct, I have my reasons for thinking the last one could be likely. For most of the episode, I felt that Dark Hook’s words were a bit over the top, almost too cruel. And while I’m sure those words came from the darkness acting on his justifiable anger, his sense of betrayal, and his frustrations about Emma not letting people in, I have to wonder if he wasn’t purposely laying it on thicker than he needed to in order to get her to a place where she could either destroy him herself or be okay letting him die as he sacrifices himself to get rid of the darkness once and for all.
Whatever happens, I refuse to believe this arc will end without hope. Killian and Emma have been a beacon of light and hope on Once Upon a Time for multiple seasons now, and this isn’t the kind of show that takes hope and crushes it. It’s a show that has always preached that love is strength, belief is power, and hope can be found even when all seems lost. If there was ever a time when hope seems lost, it’s now. So I have to believe that’s when it will have its most decisive victory ever over the darkness.
While I do have hope, that doesn’t mean I think everything will immediately become perfect and romantic again for our leading lady and her pirate. If Belle and Rumplestiltskin’s story in this episode taught us anything, it’s that the darkness can still affect relationships after it’s gone. I was so proud of Belle for taking a step back and realizing she can’t keep running back to someone who hurt her so many times—even if he has changed. And I’m so interested to see where this twist will take Rumplestiltskin now that he’s discovered that acting like a hero doesn’t mean automatically getting a happy ending.
I’d be lying if I said that moment at the well didn’t move me more than anything I was expecting. It was a reminder that actions—even those done under the influence of the darkness—have consequences, and, as such, it reminded me that Killian and Emma will have a lot of things to work through once the darkness is defeated (because we all know it will be, or else this show has been lying to us for years about what it wants to be).
“Broken Heart” was that moment in a great fairytale where everything looks bleak before the hero steps in to save the day and love conquers all. And I still believe both of those things will happen (although who the hero will be is still up for debate). This is a show about hope, happy endings, and true love. That’s what has always made it special, and that’s what will keep me counting down the hours until Sunday’s winter finale.
• I loved the complexity of the Regina/Robin/Zelena scene in the loft. While I’m not sure if I want to see a reformed Zelena, I do love the theme that the bond between a parent and child is a powerful force to be reckoned with. And that baby is too cute.
• Why didn’t Dark Hook get himself a new hand? That would have been my first order of business if I were him.
• I was happy to see Snow acknowledge that she did something extreme to save Charming’s life, just as Emma did something extreme to save the man she loved. While Snow’s actions might not have created another Dark One, she did do something very risky to save the love of her life. I also loved that she encouraged Charming to believe that Emma could save Killian. It was the right moment for a “hope speech.” I’d missed those.