TV Time: Once Upon a Time 5.11

 

Title Swan Song

Two-Sentence Summary When the arrival of all the past Dark Ones in Storybrooke threatens to send our heroes to the Underworld, Emma believes the only way to save her family is to sacrifice herself. However, as we learn through flashbacks about the impact Killian’s father had on the man he became, we learn in the present that the man Killian wants to be might be different from who the Dark Ones thought they were dealing with.

Favorite Lines
Killian: That’s enough!
Nimue: What do you think you’re doing?
Killian: Being the man I want to be.

My Thoughts

People are going to tell you who you are your whole life. You just gotta punch back and say, ‘No, this is who I am.’

Once Upon a Time is a show about many things. It’s a show about hope. It’s a show about love. It’s a show about family. And it’s also a show about self-definition. From the moment Emma Swan uttered that line about saying “No, this is who I am,” back in the early days of Season One, this became a show about so much more than just believing in fairytales. It became a show about believing in your ability to define yourself on your own terms.

We’ve seen it over and over again: A crucial theme on Once Upon a Time is that our choices determine who we are. Labels of “villains” and “heroes” mean nothing without actions to back them up. And it’s never too late to change how others see us—and, more importantly, how we see ourselves. What it comes down to is recognizing when you have a choice to—as Emma said—punch back, and being brave and strong enough to make that choice. To believe you can be more than your weaknesses, your darkness, and your demons. To believe you can be your best self.

“Swan Song” distilled that theme of choosing how you want the world to see you into a series of incredibly powerful, moving moments for many characters. Some were tragic, some were shocking, and some were more hopeful than even I expected—and I’m the queen of reminding people that Once Upon a Time is a show with hope in its DNA.

Was it a perfect hour of television? Of course not. This show is always going to have some plot holes and loose ends that don’t get tied up. Yes, I’m still confused about why Merlin had a Dark Curse ready to go in Camelot. Yes, it felt weird to have no closure with the Camelot characters or Merida. (Maybe we’ll still be seeing them in 5B. Even if we don’t, I was happy we focused more on the regular cast for this hour. You can only do so much with 45-ish minutes of storytelling time.) And yes, sometimes the magical deus ex machina stuff gets a little old. (“I had some magic nearby…” Of course you did, Rumplestiltskin.) But, ultimately, I don’t watch this show for perfectly tight plotting. I don’t watch it for the guest characters, either—no matter how fun they might be. I don’t watch it with the idea that everything has to make perfect sense. I watch it because it makes me feel more deeply than any other television show I’ve ever seen. I watch it because I care about the core characters with an intensity that led me to start a website where I could write as much as I wanted to about them. And I watch it because its themes speak to my heart and soul in a way that matters so much more than any piece of plotting ever could. And the theme that has always spoken to me the most is that of choosing who you want to be, so you can imagine how much “Swan Song” resonated with me—since the most important line was “What kind of man are you going to be?”

The first time that line was uttered was in the episode’s opening flashback, with the cutest little Killian Jones imaginable being asked that question by his father. But after waking up to find that his father had abandoned both him and his older brother, Killian also discovered that they’d been sold into slavery (or indentured servitude or whatever term that realm used). And suddenly, so many things about Killian Jones made so much more sense.

I love when Once Upon a Time flashbacks give you information that suddenly illuminates a character in a whole new light. And that’s what happened upon learning that Killian Jones spent his childhood under the control of a master. In that moment, the pieces all fell into place. Choice has always been such a huge part of this character. And it’s been a central element of his relationship with Emma from the very start. Now we know why he’s always been so adamant about her making her own choices; it’s because he knows what it’s like to have your freedom taken from you. This piece of information about his past also sheds important light on why Emma trying to control him with Excalibur was what pushed him over the edge into the darkness. Having control over his own life is essential for Killian, and when that was threatened—by the woman whose own sense of control and agency he worked so hard to protect—he lashed out like a wounded animal, the scars from his past reopening to let the darkness back in.

And when the darkness came in, it came in the most dramatic way possible. (Did we expect anything less from Captain Hook, though?) It was chilling to see the hooded Dark Ones walking through the streets of Storybrooke. And it was even more chilling to see characters we’ve always associated with hope (Snow and Henry) genuinely afraid and resigned to their fate in the Underworld. If ever there’s a time to feel hopeless, it’s when Snow White starts talking about spending time with her loved ones before they all literally go to hell.

But if tying this arc to the story of Brave was meant to do anything, it was meant to teach us that you can change your fate, even if that fate is to spend eternity in the Underworld. Emma’s fate seemed to be that she would stay alive while all her loved ones were taken to the Underworld, but she knew she could change that fate—not by being the Dark One but by being the Savior. She tried to save Killian from death with darkness, but she knew that, in order to save her family, she would have to destroy the darkness instead of multiplying it.

It broke my heart to see Emma lose hope that she could save Killian from his dark fate (That’s what the darkness does—it tears apart love with doubt and disbelief.) but vow to change everyone else’s fate by sealing her own. Emma has learned that all actions have consequences—even actions taken with good intentions. That’s what her showdown with Killian in her house was all about: facing the consequences of her actions and her choices. When she told him that he was becoming the thing he’d spent centuries trying to destroy, his reply was perfect: “If you didn’t want me to change, you should have let me die.” Dark Hook is a reminder to Emma that her choice to deny him his dying wish and instead turn him into the thing he’s hated for centuries was selfish. And she believed the only way she could atone for what she’d done was to die trying to right the wrong she committed.

But whether he was going to admit the real reason for it or not, Dark Hook didn’t want her to die. Somewhere underneath the darkness was someone who still cared about her—even if he hid it under the guise of owing her for unleashing his dark side once again. But that didn’t mean he still didn’t want her to suffer. There was a kind of twisted poetry behind the idea that her penance for turning him dark because she was unable to let him go was to have to let everyone else she loves go. The Dark One knows how to target a person’s deepest fears and weaknesses, and Dark Hook knew exactly what would hurt Emma the most: turning her into an orphan again, just as she turned him into a villain again.

There was no doubt that Dark Hook was a villain. And he was another character who seemed to resign himself to a pessimistic fate. He became a Dark One believing he was destined to be consumed by it, because he never fully believed in himself as a hero. So every action he committed as Dark Hook felt like a self-fulfilling prophecy, a reminder that it’s easy to be defined by who we were and it’s easy to convince ourselves that we’ve always wanted to be what we are now—even if that’s not true. Killian Jones felt he had to be Dark Hook because he wasn’t strong enough to be more than his darkness, so he let it consume his identity.

That fit in perfectly with what we saw in the flashbacks to Hook and Regina’s past adventure. What I’ve always loved in Hook-era flashbacks is the way they all show the same thing: Killian Jones still existed under the Captain Hook exterior, but he always chose to let himself be controlled by his demons and darkness in the end. It was that way with Bae and with Ursula. And now we learned it was also the same way with his father.

I cannot say enough good things about Colin O’Donoghue in the scene where Hook finally confronted his father. He managed to make so many complex emotions come through which such startling clarity. His work in that scene reminded me of when Killian told Emma in Season Two’s “Tallahassee” that all lost boys have the same look in their eyes: “the look you get when you’ve been left alone.” That was the look O’Donoghue let shine through in his eyes as that scene progressed, and suddenly we weren’t watching Captain Hook; we were watching Killian Jones, a lost boy. The unshed tears in his eyes as he realized he couldn’t kill his father were a beautiful reminder of the humanity that this character has always carried with him.

But that humanity would once again become lost under the darkness, as Hook turned his back on his plan to help his father (and his half-brother) escape instead of killing him. That act of patricide showed how dark Hook really was at his worst. And it was all because he kept choosing to define himself as a villain obsessed with vengeance. He kept choosing to let his pain control him, to let himself be owned by his darkness just as he was owned by his master as a child. Because of his obsession with hurting those who hurt him, he left a trail of collateral damage behind him, and that now included a half-brother who grew up alone.

That obsession with hurting people who wronged him was at the center of Dark Hook’s plans in this episode. And the one person to call him out for that and to connect his present actions to his past choices was Regina. I absolutely loved her interactions with Hook in “Swan Song.” In the flashbacks, it was fun to see her shamelessly trying to flirt with him and to watch them develop the snarky relationship we’ve come to see in the present—because it’s always fun to see Lana Parrilla in all her Evil Queen glory. But in the present, I loved seeing Regina use her own experience of choosing to define herself as more than her past darkness to try to get through to Dark Hook. Regina knows what it is to be dark and to commit dark acts against those who caused you pain. But she also knows what it is to turn away from that life and that identity. And she knows that Killian was on that path with her before becoming the Dark One. It was a powerful thing to see her strike a nerve with him by bringing up his father. The first time she mentioned it, it resulted in the Once Upon a Time version of a Force choke. But the second time, it changed everything.

Family is the center of Once Upon a Time. And Regina appealed to Dark Hook to really think about whether or not he wanted to destroy another family to get his revenge. Because that’s what would happen if the Dark Ones succeeded; Emma’s family, which had become Killian’s family, would be destroyed. And this episode took great pains to remind us of what a beautiful family it is—from that lovely moment of Snow kissing Emma’s forehead and telling her she loved her to those sweet moments between Henry, baby Neal, Snow, and Charming at Granny’s. There is no greater symbol of light on this show than the Charming Family, and I loved seeing Regina stand up to a Dark One and fight for the goodness she once worked just as hard to downplay and destroy.

In the end, it all came down to one question: What kind of man did Killian Jones want to be? Did he want to continue being Hook, a villain lost to his own demons and at the mercy of the darkness? Or did he want to be more? And the answer came with two words that brought me to tears and are still making me emotional today:

That’s enough!

With those two words, Killian Jones chose to finally fight back against the darkness. He chose to define himself by who he wanted to be and not who he thought he had to be. And he believed that he could be strong enough to beat the darkness that had controlled his life for too long.

And what gave him that strength? The root of all strength on Once Upon a Time: love. There was such raw power in the moment in which Dark Hook watched Nimue choke Emma. Even though Emma couldn’t die, it was a symbol of all the pain she would go through if Dark Hook let the rest of the Dark Ones succeed, and that was enough to finally break through the darkness and bring Killian Jones back to the surface. O’Donoghue was incredible in that moment; you could see the light returning to his eyes as it dawned on him that he had the power to not just save Emma from Nimue, but also save her family from going to the Underworld and save himself from his own darkness. His love for Emma made him strong enough to break free of the hold the darkness had on him, just as his love for her helped her find the strength to fight the darkness in Camelot.

Killian Jones was often at the mercy of forces he felt were beyond his control, including his own penchant for darkness. But with those two words, he finally chose his own destiny. He chose how he wanted the world to see him. He chose how his story would end. And it was going to end with him finally telling the darkness that he’d had enough of it controlling his life. He changed his fate: He would be remembered as a hero. So much of Killian Jones’s character arc has been about his reluctance to call himself a hero because he was so afraid of his own ability to slip back into the darkness. But the minute he turned Excalibur on Nimue, he accepted that he could finally be a hero—and not just for Emma and not just for his new family, but also for himself.

Although it was such a triumphant moment when Killian finally punched back and said, “No, this is who I am” to the darkness, that triumph was short-lived, because we all knew the pain that was coming. And I’m not sure there are enough words in the English language to describe how hard it was to watch Emma and Killian work through his choice to sacrifice himself. Once Upon a Time has had many heartbreaking scenes, but this was its most viscerally painful. And so much of that came from the stark realism O’Donoghue and especially Jennifer Morrison brought to their performances.

Once again, it all came down to choice. And Emma had to choose to be better than who she was in Camelot; she had to use his strength to fuel her own, even though that meant being strong enough to let him die. I loved that the writing made it clear that Killian didn’t want to lose her just as she didn’t want to lose him. But this was his chance to die as a hero—a fate he never would have let himself believe in without her. And unlike the last time, she needed to fight her own darkness and make the selfless choice to finally give Killian the agency he’d always given her.

I loved the shot of the two of them holding Excalibur together, believing they were defeating the darkness together—just as they’d both promised each other at different points this season. And I cried when Emma told him she loved him and kissed him as he told her he loved her, too. It was such a tender moment: two people who never imagined they’d have this kind of love in their lives taking one last second to savor it before losing it forever. It was a moment of beauty amid the heartbreak, and isn’t that why we all love this show?

And then Killian Jones proved once again why he’s a romantic hero to rival Prince Charming. He was about to die—Emma had the sword ready to strike—and what did he choose to do with his final words? He tried to smile, and he told Emma it’s okay. His last words were words of love and reassurance, caring more about her pain than his own. But what made that moment resonate were the subtle hints of fear in O’Donoghue’s expression. To see that Killian was afraid to die made his sacrifice all the more heroic. And it was matched by the brutally vulnerable pain written all over Morrison’s face. Those two actors have done such great work this season, allowing each other to go to incredibly deep and honest places in their performances, and this scene was the epitome of what they can accomplish together.

Once Emma ran the blade through Killian, I was stunned by the poignancy of the moment in which both of them changed from their Dark One appearance to their true selves, especially seeing Emma in her red leather jacket again. They weren’t Dark Hook and Dark Swan anymore; they were Killian and Emma again. They saved each other. But they were also about to lose each other again, so you could see them trying to hold on to that moment with everything they had. It was especially bittersweet to think that Killian died being held by Emma—not Dark Swan. He died knowing he saved her.

But once again, Emma couldn’t save him. It was so hard to watch her lose another person she loved, especially knowing this was the third time she’s had to watch Killian die. What made it even harder was the intensity of Emma’s grief that Morrison allowed us to see. Morrison has always played Emma in a way that grounds this show about fairytales in very real emotions, and this time, she showed the harsh reality of grief. It’s not pretty or nice; it’s mascara running down your face and sobbing until you have no voice left and your legs threatening to give out with every step. And that entire montage of Emma reacting to Killian being taken away in a body bag was so powerful because it was done with complete devotion to playing that moment as truthfully as possible. There’s never been another moment like that on this show; it was absolutely devastating. And it was all because of Morrison.

But even through the devastation, there was love. It moved me to tears to see Snow hold her daughter and tell her, “I’m sorry, baby” after they took Killian’s body away. In life’s darkest moments, sometimes you just need your mom. And for so long, Emma didn’t have that. But now she has a mother who wants to hold her when she cries, and she’s finally reached a place where she’ll let her mom take care of her. It was one of the most beautiful moments between those two characters I’ve seen in years.

While Killian’s death was shocking, there was still another twist around the corner, and it came from the master of deceit: Rumplestiltskin. Throughout the episode, I loved watching him give Belle the chance to explore the world, because I have always wanted that for Belle. I loved watching Robert Carlyle show Rumplestiltskin break down as soon as Belle left, because Carlyle is entirely too good at breaking my heart. And I even loved Belle coming back once she found out the truth.

But nothing compared to how much I loved the twist of Rumplestiltskin turning into the ultimate villain by denying Killian the chance to destroy the darkness, because he absorbed it all. I clapped on my couch when it was revealed, because I love that this show can still surprise me. And I’ll be honest: I love Rumplestiltskin as a villain. I think it’s the best use of Carlyle’s talent.

Now I see why Rumplestiltskin’s “hero” arc felt rushed; it was supposed to. It was never about him being a hero; it was about him having a clean slate and still choosing power. It was about him being an addict and not being able to stay clean, even after his addiction almost killed him. It was about him choosing to define himself as a power-hungry villain even when he had the chance to be a hero. And it was about the pull of the darkness making him manipulate Killian’s sacrifice into something that fed his lust for power.

However, just because Killian didn’t accomplish his ultimate goal of destroying the darkness, that doesn’t mean his sacrifice was completely in vain. He still saved himself and saved Emma from being the one to sacrifice herself. They still proved that love was stronger than darkness. And he still chose to define himself as a hero and not as a man fated to be lost to the darkness forever. Nothing Rumplestiltskin did can take that away.

But Killian thought he’d died finally destroying the darkness he’d been hunting for hundreds of years, only to have it put back into his mortal enemy. And Emma couldn’t stand for that. I loved her conviction in that scene in Gold’s shop, and it reminded me that Savior Emma and Dark One Rumplestiltskin is one of my favorite dynamics on Once Upon a Time.

In the end, Emma knew what needed to be done. She wasn’t going to sit back and let Killian stay dead when his reason for sacrificing himself turned out to be a lie. So she made the choice to literally go to the depths of hell to bring him back. This was Emma choosing to define herself on her own terms again: She wasn’t going to be the person who lost everyone; if she’s the Savior, then she’s going to save the man she loves—but as a hero this time.

It was so powerful to see Emma have such faith that she can save Killian. It was especially beautiful to see her draw upon her parents’ love story and their shared heart as proof that it can be done. Emma believes the love she and Killian share isn’t just strong enough to break through the darkness; it’s stronger than all the powers of hell. She finally believes she can have the kind of love her parents have—the kind of love she thought wasn’t in the cards for her because of who she was. Emma has finally chosen to believe her identity as the Savior and her identity as a woman who can have real, lasting romantic love don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Her parents have shown her how to hope, how to believe, and how to make choices from a place of true love. And now she’s acting on what they’ve shown her through her own quest to find the man she believes is her romantic true love.

She’ll find him. She’ll always find him. That’s Emma Swan’s identity: The daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, the mother of the Truest Believer, and a woman who will never give up on the man she loves. And with that in mind, I’m filled with so much hope, excitement, and enthusiasm for what’s to come.

“Swan Song” featured everything I loved about Once Upon a Time: beautiful Charming Family moments, epic romance, shocking twists, character development in spades, themes of self-definition and choice, “I will always find you,” and a whole lot of hope to balance the heartbreak. It was a great ending to a great half-season arc, and it made me want to start counting down the days until the show returns in March.

Extra Thoughts:
• I loved that the theme of believing in yourself extended to Regina using the wand to get rid of Zelena. And while I’m sad to see Rebecca Mader go (for now), it’s the right time for a break from Zelena.
• If you want to cry again, watch Henry and Regina’s reactions to Killian’s death. The pain on Jared Gilmore’s face is palpable. And I love that Regina—a woman who once took pleasure in causing suffering—has to turn away because she can’t watch Killian and Emma in such pain.
• Although it was a much quieter moment of grief, I was also struck by the scene with Emma laying on the couch in the home Killian had chosen for them, holding his ring. It showed the exhaustion of grief so well. And it also made me think about that ring again and how much I want Emma to propose to Killian with it.
I’m pretty sure Killian was trying to point to Rumplestiltkin while he was dying. Does this mean he knew what was happening?
• It’s been a true pleasure writing about this half-season and discussing it with all of you. I’m panning lots of Once Upon a Time content to help us get through the hiatus, and this time would also be perfect for you to get started on letters for my book (especially if you’re planning letters to Emma, Regina, Snow, etc.)!

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53 thoughts on “TV Time: Once Upon a Time 5.11

  1. Yay! Wow that was fast! The thing is…I didn’t cry at all during the show. Well, a little with Snow and Emma because Snow can always make me choke up. But two things today have made me cry. One was a gifset that included images of Henry as Hook was dying (KILLED ME) and then reading your moving words here about how far Captain Swan (together and individually) have come.

    I can’t wait for March! Although I have to admit, I am going to do my best to enjoy this break. It will be good to take a break for a while and enjoy the holidays and the start of next year. I do think that next half of the season is going to be FANTASTIC! And I too really hope Emma does the proposing. And I also hope for a 5th “meet-cute”. Qqueenofhades had a cute write up of how each of the Nevengers will have to convince Killian who he is by what he meant to all of them. That would be just too good to be true!

    Looking forward now to your write ups during the hiatus. And I promise to get back on my Lorelei Gilmore letter!

    • I’m looking forward to your letter! 🙂

      Is it weird if I say that it’s a honor to be considered on the same emotional level as that heartbreaking Henry gifset? To be honest, the first time I was watching the episode, I didn’t cry during the scenes themselves, either (upon re-watching that’s another story). But when the commercial break came and I had a second to really process what happened, I lost it. I have a weird tendency to do that—to not cry immediately but to cry minutes (or even hours) later when the full impact of something sinks in.

  2. Holy……I can’t even put into words how much that episode wrecked me, in the best possible way. I will rewatch and form real words, but from someone who just had a baby a week ago, that was a heavy dose of emotion to handle from my favorite all-time romance!

    • First of all, congrats on the new baby! I hope you and the little one are doing well. 🙂 I can’t wait to read more of your thoughts after you re-watch—although if you don’t have time I think we all totally understand. You’re a little busy. 😉

  3. AMAZING REVIEW. this episode was everything i love about once upon a time all condensed into 45 minutes of emotionally devastating television. And when Emma said “I will always find you,” I shouted at my screen. TRUE LOVE. WE ARE IN THIS FOR THE LONG HAUL.

    Also, Rumple’s deceit was a huge punch to the gut even though I should have seen it coming. I WANTED to trust him, to believe in his redemption arc. And to see him use everyone like that again made my blood boil. Carlyle is AMAZING as a villain, and I do think it’s the best place for him, but I’m also looking forward to the day that this all comes back to bite Rumple in his sparkly crocodile posterior.

    BRING ON THE UNDERWORLD. Is it March yet??

    • Thanks, Ronnie! Like you, I freaked out when they had Emma say THE TRUE LOVE MANTRA. It was so unexpected and so beautiful, and it really reinforced the idea that she finally let herself believe she could have the kind of love a child of true love deserves.

      And you are not alone in being mad because you wanted to trust Rumple. In this very episode he had me crying and believing he was ready to change for the better. And then he pulls that bait-and-switch and I was torn between being so proud of the show for shocking me and being so mad at the character that I wanted to scream. But that’s the reaction they wanted from us, I’m sure. Mission accomplished, A&E.

  4. I found this arc so frustrating because everything with Emma/Hook was so well written, and everything with everyone else was so poorly written.

    I really wish the Regina/Zelena and Rumple/Belle storylines had been properly developed because I feel both units had scenes in the finale that should have been amazing powerful moments that instead felt repetitive. One of the underlying tensions throughout the series is the question of when do you grant mercy? when do you seek justice instead? With both Rumple/Belle and Regina/Zelena, we’ve seen the heroic character continuously extend mercy on faith and be disappointed by the villainous character’s lack of any desire to change. Now we had this perfect parallel set up of Belle once more falling into wish and failing to see who Rumple really is with Regina finally giving into reality and doing what she needed to do to protect Robin, baby Pistachio, and herself from Zelena’s commitment to wickedness.

    But neither set up was given the time or development during the rest of the season to have the power that it should have. We should have seen Belle/Rumple in small, quick scenes where they talked about their issues, and Belle slowly gained the faith to try again. With Zelena/Regina, we should have seen Regina and Robin actively reaching out to Zelena and also sharing scenes with each other and trying to believe they could safely keep Zelena in the baby’s life. Then, in the finale, they would admit that they couldn’t accomplish Zelena’s redemption for her, and the decision to banish her would be understandable and poignant… a loss of hope that would also contrast Regina and Emma managing to reach through the darkness to the core Killian inside Dark Hook.

    • I can definitely understand your frustrations. With a cast this big and so many storylines and relationships happening, things are bound to not get fleshed out enough. And, in this case, I think that happened with both Robin and Regina’s discussions about the baby and Belle’s decisions regarding Rumple. I was especially caught off guard by the major shifts in Belle and Rumple’s dynamic over the last two episodes and how quickly they happened. When she returned to him, it did fall a little flat. Although that might be for the best, since I might have been even angrier with Rumple if that reunion would have affected me more.

    • I often wish some of the episodes ran 75 minutes (or 60 w/o commercials) to accommodate these types of things. I think we all feel it more at different times. It didn’t bother me as much here as it did in 4A.

      Gotta say, love “baby pistachio.” I’m going with baby pistachio until someone names this child. Did Robin even think to decide on a name before leaving? He did make sure the baby and Roland would be taken care of, so he gets points for that.

  5. So much to love in this episode. Great recap and reflection — loved, loved it.

    Themes of identity!! Be still my heart. 🙂 There is much gleeful clapping followed by many, many words.

    What do we let define us? How do we choose to define ourselves?

    OUAT has often been about how the past defines us as we blindly let it shape us, use it as a crutch, or make a conscious decision on how we will use the past to create our own identities.
    I love that heroes and villains In OUAT have equally tragic backstories – the difference is what they choose to do going forward. Even when the heroes make a misstep, they can choose to let that determine their paths or not. I loved the emphasis on choosing the person you wish to become.
    Arthur, for instance, still wants to blame Merlin for what he (Arthur) became. No, Arthur made the choice on what to do with the information Merlin gave him. All of Arthur’s actions were under his control. Merlin realized his love for Nimue define him, but he wouldn’t let the tragedy define him in a negative way. Nimue used her past as an excuse for vengeance and darkness. Zelena, too, keeps trying to shift blame to fate with her constant refrain that everything always works out for Regina – and I love that the sentiment often gets the Regina eye roll it deserves. And yes, I think it’s time for Zelena to go back to Oz. Zelena still sees her child as a method of revenge against Regina (life) and that is no way to raise a child. (Plus can’t you just see Roland being a GREAT older brother?)

    Yes, the past shapes us, but we do get a say in how it shapes us. Killian may have seen his lack of control in his early life as a negative experience, but it’s part of what has made him insist on Emma’s agency – an insistence she desperately needs. In the last few seasons we’ve seen him make deliberate choices to try and be a better man (even if sometimes those choices didn’t quite work out like he planned.) I think that was part of what was so gutting about Killian as Dark One – he acted like he no longer had a choice. Kate, I loved your points about his past and how that shaped his appreciation for control. What struck me about his past was how much it explains about his interactions with Baelfire and Henry.

    I love the points you made about Dark Hook making Emma an orphan. I hadn’t quite made that connection, but there was the “Yes! Of course!” moment when I read it. Part of the reason that Dark Hook can hurt Emma so badly is because he knows her so well. When Dark Hook shifted into Henry, I yelled “Bad form!!” at my tv.

    As I mentioned last week, I’ve been waiting a long time for Emma to fight for Killian the way he’s fought for her. (I really thought it would come last season.) We know he’d go to the end of the world and time for her, so I love that she’s going to the Underworld for him.

    I’m of two minds about the Rumple reversal, so I can’t wait to read everyone else’s reactions. On the one hand it makes sense. He just can’t give up the power. Part of me thought “Again???” However, that may be the point. Rumple sees himself as and chooses over and over and over and over again to be the Dark One. I think what annoys me is that Belle is getting played . . . again. And yes, I yelled at my tv. Loudly.

    I’ll probably have more thoughts later, but I should stop before I crash the blog.

    Random thoughts:

    — Umm, Katie, sweetie, what do you mean, “If you want to cry again . . .” ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL US??? *sniffle*

    — I really thought about just organizing a post around times I yelled at the TV.

    — Are you taking requests for posts? I’d love to explore names and labels in OUAT. (If you’re already booked up on ideas, don’t worry – I’ll find a way to cram it into another discussion, so don’t be surprised when you get non sequitur whiplash.) I look forward to whatever coolness you do decide on.

    — Speaking of names, loved Regina’s deliberate use of Killian (along with Dark Hook’s snarky response).

    — Yep, pretty much slayed by Morrison’s and O’Donoghue’s acting. Just . . . wow.

    — Does the script simply say “Hook: sexy jaw clench”? Cause, really, lots of sexy jaw clenching. (That’s not a complaint. Not in the least.)

    — Are we going to see Liam II again?

    — Poor Dopey. I hope he gets de-treed soon.

    • I think we all just need to affix a photo of Rumple to a dart board and go to town. Seriously, I am quite upset that Emma didn’t punch him in the face before blackmailing him to take them to the underworld.

      Also, I hope Colin has a good dentist, all that jaw clenching cant be good for his teeth (but it is damn sexy).

    • Thanks, friend!

      I’m going to start with the shallow and work my way to the deep end. So AMEN TO THE JAW CLENCH. Colin O’Donoghue is a master of it, and I’m pretty sure the best part of the Dark Hook arc was the continued opportunity for jaw clenching.

      And you aren’t the only one who yelled at your TV when Hook turned into Henry. My first reaction was to yell, “Low blow, Captain!” followed by “How could you be so dumb, Emma?!” Needless to say, I was dealing with a lot of feelings already by that point. 😉

      And now onto the really good stuff—past and identity. I absolutely loved reading your thoughts on how these characters let their pasts define them. In every single one of their stories, a defining moment has been when they finally stop using their past to excuse their inability to move forward and become better versions of themselves. As you said, your past shapes you, but you have a say in how it does that. You can use it to make you stronger, or you can use it to make excuses for your bad choices and behavior.

      I also loved that you pointed out the fact that Dark Hook was acting like he didn’t have a choice, which goes against everything Killian stood for. We’ve watched Killian be open about who he was and his own battles with his darkness. We’ve watched him admit that he made wrong choices and he could have been better. Killian Jones has always been self-aware, which made Dark Hook’s actions feel even more tragic, because he acted like he didn’t have a say in what he did with the darkness once Emma put it in him. But just as he chose to embrace it, he finally chose to reject and destroy it.

      To end on a lighter note, I really hope we see Liam II again. My heart wants nothing more than for Killian to find him still a boy in Storybrooke (because of the Curse) and for he and Emma to eventually take him in and make him part of their little family. But I suppose that’s what fan fiction is for. 😉

  6. There are no words to describe how much I loved this, my friend — absolutely none. This review perfectly summed up exactly how I feel about this show. Plot holes are upsetting, but at the end of the day, I was moved tears by a love story that I’m gonna make my kids watch. I was moved to tears by characters, family dynamics, and bravery. And that’s what’s important. I was up at night thinking of just how much bravery it takes to be honorable. I was up at night thinking of wonderful performances. And that’s what this show, writers, cast, and crew do — they evoke all these feelings that are almost always beautifully overwhelming. As much as there are fantastic series out there, nothing makes me feel as hopeful as OUAT and you made sure readers could see just how important this entire story’s been. And you wrote about this episode perfectly. Bravo! I felt like I was rewatching the episode again through your words. A+ work. I can babble forever about this.

    Also, I love that we pointed out that sometimes, no matter how old you are, you just need your mom. It’s an idea that I cannot exactly find the right words for but it always tugs on the heartstrings.

    • Your comments always make me so emotional, because I respect you so much as a writer (and a friend). So thank you. ❤

      Like you said, this is a show I'm going to treasure forever. I know it. I'm going to make my kids watch it someday and eagerly await their reaction to ever moment the way I will when I show them Disney movies and Star Wars and Harry Potter. That's how much this show means to me. And it's nice to know I'm not alone.

  7. I can’t even think of anything to add to this wonderful review so I’m just going to ramble on about some things I liked about this ep and the arc as a whole.

    This arc has brought out so many incredible performances from this cast. From the gleefully evil villains to the Emma’s conflicted nature as the Dark One to all of the many beautifully sincere scenes between these characters in nearly every combination, I have loved them all.

    This was an amazing arc for three of my favorite relationships in Emma’s life. Obviously, it was a great one for her relationship with Killian and Emma allowing herself to find comfort and security and strength in that love, which is all I’ve ever wanted for her. I want her to know that she’s so loved and that she’s worth fighting for and sticking around for even when she’s not her best self. None of us are going to have to deal with being the Dark One but we will go through times of struggle and self-doubt in whatever way that manifests itself in our lives. We’re going to make mistakes and we’re going to be selfish and hurt the people we love but it makes such a difference knowing that there is someone in our lives who sees all that but still sees the person we are underneath the struggle and continues to love us. It left Emma in a place where she was so secure and confident that Killian is the person she wants to be with that she’s literally walking into hell to rescue him and that is such a huge leap from the girl who was scared to think about forever and a future with anybody that it makes me incredibly proud.

    It was also a beautiful showcase of just how far Emma and Regina have come. Regina was right to make promise Emma that she would do what needed to be done to protect everyone from her and I believe that she would have followed through if it came down to it. It would have been hard and hurt her but I think she could have done it. But the fact that Emma trusted Regina enough with her whole family is huge. She trusted her to keep them safe at all costs and it’s just another example of how rich Emma’s life is now that she’s fully opened herself up to those in her life. In addition to a pirate who loves her, she has a friend and co-parent to both believe in her and tell her when she’s being stupid.

    And finally, there’s Snow. Snow and Emma completely broke me in every scene they shared together, more so than any other pair of characters. Emma’s relationship with Snow has been lacking while they focused on her relationship with Charming but to have it be so prominent in this episode felt right. Emma needed her mom to hold her while she hurt. Snow couldn’t make the pain go away but she could finally be there when her baby was at her most vulnerable and broken with her. It’s an opportunity that has been denied to both of them for so long but when Emma needed it, Snow didn’t hesitate.

    In other random thoughts, I love how much fun all of these actors have when they get to be gleefully evil. Lana just looked like she was having a blast last night being the Evil Queen again and Dark Hook was nothing if not theatrical.

    • Oooooo. Love what you’ve highlighted about the relationships. Because Snow missed so much of Emma’s life, it’s always seemed to me that she’s almost a better mother to Regina — simply because she’s spent more time with her, so she knows her better. Snow wants so badly to be a good mother to Emma. Like you, I was glad to see the opportunity for Snow to be the type of mother to Emma that she (Snow) has always sought to be. (I am also glad to know I wasn’t the only one gutted by the “I’m sorry, baby.”) It was heartbreakingly beautiful to see how Snow comforted Emma and how Emma allowed it — something she wouldn’t have in the past.

      And then you go and write this:

      “We’re going to make mistakes and we’re going to be selfish and hurt the people we love but it makes such a difference knowing that there is someone in our lives who sees all that but still sees the person we are underneath the struggle and continues to love us. ”

      No, I’m not sniffling . . .

    • YOU MADE ME CRY AGAIN.

      You analysis of all these different dynamics was perfect, but it was what you said about Snow and Emma that got the tears flowing again for me. I remember back in early S3 after Emma thought Neal died, Snow told Charming she had no idea how to comfort her daughter, even though that’s the first thing a mom should know. That line has always resonated with me because to me it represents how Snow tries so hard to be the “right” mom to Emma that she gets in her own way sometimes. But this time, when Emma needed her perhaps more than she’s ever needed her before, Snow didn’t think. She didn’t let her insecurities about her parenting get in her head. She didn’t try to be mom. She just was a mom.

      It was such a small moment but such a high point for their relationship.

  8. I’m so glad the show gave you all the things you love – and all the things that make it easy (easier) for you to write an enthusiastic, heartfelt review 🙂

    I loved the finale. It made me feel quite emotional (which I’m not generally) and the acting was generally awesome. I loved the way JMo and Colin inhabited their evil versions – the way Emma moved so stiffly as the Dark One, for instance. And I loved that we circled back to themes we’ve seen over and over again. The “I will always find you” – OMG.

    As for Rumple’s twist, I have to admit that in the moment my reaction was “again?!!” But on firther thought, yes, Rumple seems to be the biggest big bad, and he is much more interesting as a villain, and it is probably the best use of Robert Carlyle. But, and it’s a big but – Belle. I’m so sick of her being screwed over again and again. I want to believe that she’ll get a happy ending too, and at one time I thought she might have one with Rumple. But now I don’t know… obviously Rumple is out of the question – he’s made his choice. So yeah. That’s my one reservation about where this storyline went. I wish Belle had not come back to him.

    One of the things that made Killian’s sacrifice so tragic was the way they actually showed his body being taken away. We don’t often see the Real World details of Storybrooke – the medics/coroner coming to take Killian away was a little out of norm for the show, but it made the sadness so much more real and awful.

    Looking back on this season I do think the creators had eyes bigger than their stomachs – there was a bit too much going on for a half season. But in the end the show always has a lot going on, but they pull it together when it really counts. The focus of this finale on the main characters felt right. (And I have to say that I love that Robin is part of the core of this show now, and I love that Regina is really truly part of the Charming family now). I was a bit perplexed when the dwarves didn’t show up for the final confrontation (did they get marked too?) and when the episode was done I was wondering what happened to all the Camelot people too. But that’s OK. I gather that they will be addressed in the second half season, and I would have been annoyed if the core story of this episode had been diluted by bringing in any of the other characters.

    So yeah. I’m looking forward to everyone’s adventures next (half)season!

    • I’m glad I’m not alone in reaction to the Rumple-reverse. (I don’t know if that’s actually what it is; I just like the alliteration.) I’m really ready for Belle to take the dagger and make Rumple her minion for life. I just really don’t see any way for that relationship to move past this. Now, granted, I’ve thought that before — and then they removed the darkness last season but honestly, I don’t see how Belle can ever trust him again.

      I guess the dwarves don’t want to be a part of the underworld adventure. You weren’t alone in wondering why they weren’t there at the end — especially given how many dark ones were roaming the town. I thought they had been marked, too. Who knows, maybe one of those trees was Dopey.

    • Thanks, Jo! I can’t tell you how good it felt to write this review, which basically felt like a fleshed-out list of everything I love about this wonderful show.

      I do think this season had a lot of moving parts, but that’s just something I always expect about OUAT. It’s always going to be ambitious in its scope. And I’d rather have fewer scenes with the guest actors in order focus on the core characters than the other way around (looking at you 4.11, which was pulled in way too many directions with the Frozen story and setting up the Queens of Darkness). And, like you, I think those arcs and characters will be addressed again, so I’m willing to let it slide that they were omitted.

      I share your concerns about Belle, too. I wish they wouldn’t have had her come back to him—end her story for now with her exploring the world. That’s all I ever wanted for her. And don’t even get me started on the fact that she has to stay back again while everyone else goes on an adventure (which I totally understand is because of Emilie de Ravin’s pregnancy, but it’s still a sad fate for a character who’s always wanted to have adventures).

  9. I am just dropping in to say I have NOT watched the last few eps but I’m so very very glad that your optimism and hard work at staying positive as much as you could was rewarded in the end!!

    • Thank you so much, Nic! For as heartbreaking as this was, it was still a reminder that—with this show—the hopeful POV is usually the right one to have.

  10. What an emotional episode. The scene when Emma ran Excalibur through Killian reminded me of the scene when Buffy did the same to Angel in Becoming, Part 2.

    The twist with Rumple was surprising and heartbreaking. It disappointed me to see Rumple once again succumbing to his hunger for power. But I hope that they let him stay a villain because I’m tired of the flip flopping with his character.

    • I’m at the point now where I hope they keep Rumple on this track, too. Then again, I have always liked Rumple best as a manipulative, complex antihero.

  11. This was a wonderful recap! I also don’t watch the show to see if I can poke holes in the plot…I watch because I love fairy tales. Seeing iconic characters blended in with the real world is a fascinating premise. I also watch for the relationships between the characters. I’ve always been impressed with the dynamic between Emma and her parents. Even though they’re roughly the same age, I can really see and feel the paternal/maternal relationship that they have with Emma. The characters made me care, so I have to stick with it and see how their stories turn out.

    This was a tough episode to watch, but it was also glorious! I’m not one to get stressed out when viewing painful moments. I’m more marveling at the performances. It takes bravery and conviction to open yourself up like that in performance, and it’s wonderful to let yourself feel those things that the performance is trying to draw out of you. So, hats off to everyone this episode but especially Jennifer and Colin for making me feel the characters’ pain and love. Opening yourself up to love carries the risk of loss, and I was glad to see Emma finally take that leap. Once she admitted she wanted a future with Killian, she was all in as Dark Swan to try to save him. As it turned out, saving him also meant honoring his choice and letting him go. I have no doubt whatsoever that her conviction to find him will end successfully, and I’m going to enjoy the experience of the journey to the happy ending!

    Thanks for a thought-provoking read!

    • Thank you so much, Jennifer!

      I loved what you said about the bravery it takes for actors to be as vulnerable as Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue were in this episode. I feel like, with certain actors (not really on OUAT but on other shows I watch), you can see them get self-conscious when they’re trying to hit emotional beats. But those two actors just attacked this material and went for it with everything they had, which is something not every actor is courageous and confident enough to do.

  12. What a incredible review! I am so sad I just found it at he end of 5A. Your insights are fantastic and I love the passion you have for the show because it mirrors my own! Thank you so much for the time and effort you put into it! I loved every word! And look forward to future reviews and any other content you have to offer! I wanna give you a hug as a thank you for being so awesome!!! Can’t say enough How much I enjoyed it! Keep up the good work! Counting down the days til March 6th!

    • I am always ready to accept virtual hugs!

      Thank you very much for saying such kind things, and I’m so happy you found us! It’s never too late to join in here at NGN. And I’ll be looking forward to your future comments!

  13. Katie, what an awesome review! Your passion and excitement for this episode definitely comes through, and all your reviews this season have been a joy to read. For me this episode as a mid-season finale was kinda a logistical mess (so was 4×11), but as you so perfectly outlined, it was still a thematically satisfying wrap up for this half season.

    I will admit I did find myself disappointed we didnt get any kind of hint as to what is going on with Camelot folks. There is always going to be some lose ends, but this was pretty ridiculous even for OUAT standards. But there are worse things than when the main annoyance with your show is that there isnt more of it.

    I want to go back to my list of reasons why I was so excited for the ‘Dark Hook’ storyline after ‘Birth’ and how these things wrapped up.

    1. [Its completely in character for Emma. Is it hard to watch Emma fail? Yes. But now we get to watch her learn and do things the right way. And I am here for it.] I really don’t have much to add to what you already said so perfectly: “Once again, it all came down to choice. And Emma had to choose to be better than who she was in Camelot; she had to use his strength to fuel her own, even though that meant being strong enough to let him die…unlike the last time, she needed to fight her own darkness and make the selfless choice to finally give Killian the agency he’d always given her.”

    2. [Emma has to face the consequences of her decisions. Dark Swan keeps saying “I didn’t have a choice”. To Regina. To Killian. To herself. But she is not going to be able to come back from this until she accepts that she did have a choice. A choice to choose the hard path and let Killian go.] Again, I only need to quote you, “Emma has learned that all actions have consequences—even actions taken with good intentions…Dark Hook is a reminder to Emma that her choice to deny him his dying wish and instead turn him into the thing he’s hated for centuries was selfish. And she believed the only way she could atone for what she’d done was to die trying to right the wrong she committed.” I think this part hurt me even more than Killian dying, seeing Emma so defeated and still feeling like she needed to fix things on her own. Also, see #1.

    3. [Rumple gets to literally fight his inner demon. That’s a pretty big test for reformed Rumple right there to resist the opportunity to once again take that power…Bring it on.] So, I have to say, despite all the crappy things he has done, I was really hoping for a reformed Rumple, so this was the hardest part of the episode for me. I just got SO angry that after having to watch Killian and Emma go through all this crap (that HE himself started) only to end up in the same place we started was rough. Ugh, I am still FUMING. But at the same time, it also makes Emma’s anger completely understandable. She’s is pissed, and it does make sense why she is refusing to accept Killian’s death. I mean, I also think the writers could have come up with 20 other reasons to go to the underworld, but this is what they are going with, so I am going to try to calm down and hope there is a point to it eventually beyond just Rumple being THE WORST.

    4. [I like the romance…for now, this is Emma’s journey, and it is important.] And what an emotional roller coaster it was! But Emma and Killian both got a moment to say goodbye, which made this a lot easier to handle, at least for me. As soon as Killian became a Dark One, all I was really hoping for was for the resolution to allow both Emma and Killian to make the right choice in the end, and thats exactly what happened. They made it together, and it took both of them being strong. That equality is what sets this apart from what happened in Buffy. While visually the two situations look almost exactly the same, it is a big difference story wise, and to me Emma and Killian’s joint sacrifice is much more bittersweet than tragic. “It was a moment of beauty amid the heartbreak, and isn’t that why we all love this show?” Yes, yes it is.

    5. [Killian gets the chance to once again choose love over revenge. Even though he didn’t choose to be a dark one, I think it would be awesome if he was able to choose NOT to be the dark one in the end.] And it was awesome! I will admit, after last week I was pretty much convinced that there was no “long con” going on here, and I was relieved when that turned out to be true. You know why? Because the thought of Killian choosing to be that cruel to Emma only to “throw her off” was more upsetting to me. As was the thought that he would devise a plan like this one on his own and leave her and everyone else out of it. This show has told us time and time again that doing anything alone is not the way to success, so I couldn’t see them abandoning that message now. I have also learned that this show doesnt really do “long deceptions”. Usually the simplest explanation is the one they go with. And if they do the “deception thing”, they just lay it on you like a brick (see Rumple still being the dark one, AGAIN). So yes, I was quite happy with how this was resolved, even though we had to see Dark Hook at his worst along the way. While I dont know if the all of the Flashbacks were all that necessary for those of us that know and love Hook’s character and evolution, they did go well with the theme (again with the ton of bricks), and we got to once again see Hook in is familiar pattern of showing mercy/feeling betrayed/lashing out. And once again we got to see him make the right decision in the end. “So much of Killian Jones’s character arc has been about his reluctance to call himself a hero because he was so afraid of his own ability to slip back into the darkness. But the minute he turned Excalibur on Nimue, he accepted that he could finally be a hero—and not just for Emma and not just for his new family, but also for himself.” Perfection.

    6. [I am invested.] Yep, still invested. I wouldnt be so mad and annoyed at Rumple if I wasnt. I am really looking forward to the Underworld arc and getting to see our characters interact with the people they have wronged in the past.

    And, finally, something I didnt see potential for back then, but ended up being one of my favorite things about this episode, was relationship between Killian and Regina. Ever since I started commenting here, I have made it no secret that moment between the two of them on the Jolly Roger in the 3A premiere has been one of my favorite exchanges in the shows history [He said Im a villain, and villain’s don’t get happy endings. Do you believe him?/ I hope not, or we’ve wasted our lives]. Ever since that moment I have been hoping we would get a scene that called back to it in some way, and here I finally got my wish. As you so perfectly said, “I loved seeing Regina use her own experience of choosing to define herself as more than her past darkness to try to get through to Dark Hook. Regina knows what it is to be dark and to commit dark acts against those who caused you pain. But she also knows what it is to turn away from that life and that identity.” Its great to see how far Regina has come since that moment, and her using that self awareness to genuinely connect with Hook when he needed the reminder.

    Other Randomness:

    – I was totally fine with Regina banishing Zelena. The only reason why Regina had a change of heart is because her and Robin were being dragged to the underworld and they werent going to be there to protect the baby from her. I thought it was justified. Guess its pretty dang easy to travel through realms now with that wand?

    – So there is still a dark curse on the town? I am actually surprised that TLK didnt work with Emma and Killian at the end there, but I am going with Killian was actively and intentionally holding on to the darkness in order to allow it to be destroyed, so just like in Camelot, no shockwave.

    – I have a feeling that Killian’s not going to be in the same part of the underworld with the rest of them. It doesnt really seem like he had unfinished business. He died a hero, and got to see his Emma one last time before he died. And now I am having flashbacks to ‘Casper’.

    – So, Emma, you may have a heart to share, but Killian definitely doesn’t have a body to put that heart in, so I am not quite sure how this plan makes any sense?! But I am glad you are trying. And way to embrace the family motto!!

    – Zelena with her shades of green baby names was all kinds of perfect. I think my choice would be ‘Olive’. I also actually know a girl named ‘Forest’, so also a valid option. And ‘Viridian’ definitely sounds like a good name for the land of Oz.

    – People I am most excited to see in the underworld: Liam, Milah. I would also LOVE to see Graham, but I dont see it happening, boo.

    • So much great stuff in your post. I loved how you broke down the differences between what happened in Buffy and in OUAT. A lot of people locked down on the fact that they looked the same and didn’t look beyond the surface similarities. The Buffy-Angel relationship is not the same as Killian-Emma. It’s actually fun to consider how the seemingly same action is actually so very different in the two contexts.

      I also loved seeing Killian choose not to be a Dark One. I think you’re right that if this had been a long con on his part, that would have actually been more brutal. It made sense that seeing Emma take that darkness on herself is what pushed him back (esp. considering that what he saw as Emma’s betrayal is what pushed him to full-throttle Dark One), but I kept thinking, “Surely he’s not going to do this to Henry — send him to the underworld.”

      Like you (and some others), I found it odd how the issue of the Camelot peeps was left in the air. Given the focus (and time constraints) of the episode, I can understand it. Dealing with that would have been a distraction. But still . . . However, I’ll reserve final judgment until 5b to see if they address it. Interestingly, that lack of resolution didn’t hit me until a few hours after the episode.

      We can spend the hiatus inventing fitting punishments for Arthur (who is dead to me) and scenarios for how Merlin did not die. 🙂

    • I LOVED this breakdown, Shauna! I have so little to add because you did such an excellent job bringing up so many important points. I found it interesting that you brought up the comparison with 4.11 in terms of this being a bit of a logistical mess, because I remember thinking almost as soon as this episode was over how glad I was that it was different from 4.11. To me, that episode was a mess because it tried to tie up a hundred loose ends quickly and introduce major new plot lines and characters all in one hour. This one did the opposite—choosing to keep a tight focus at the expense of tying up loose ends. The show does need to do a better job of finding a middle ground between both extremes, but I’m so happy (as a writer even more than as a fan) that—if they had to pick—they chose to err on the side of too tight a focus instead of too broad a scope.

      As far as your main points go, I really liked what you said about there not being a “long con.” I think you’re right—I’m not sure Killian could have ever brought himself to say those things to her just to throw her off. It had to be the darkness talking. And I think it made everything feel that much more powerful for him to finally push back against the control of the ultimate darkness instead of him somehow being able to resist it the whole time. (I have an essay I really want to write right now about this arc, the fight against the darkness, and what it meant for me personally—why are there not enough hours in the day to write?!)

      And as someone who never watched Buffy and has had to endure reading too many negative comments about the show “ripping off” Buffy, I really appreciated you describing the difference between those two moments. Once again, it all comes down to choice and equality, and I love that. A moment can look the same and be thematically very different, and that seems to be what happened here.

      I also would like you to know that you were the first person I thought of when the Regina/Killian stuff started developing in this episode. Those two need more scenes together that go deeper than just banter and nicknames, and I hope this episode is the start of that.

  14. Katie, you review, WOW!!! I had tears in my throat the whole time I was reading it!
    First of all thank you for always bringing new insight and input in the episodes, I love your reviews!

    I don’t think I ever cried that much from a TV show as I did in this episode, not even when Buffy send Angel to hell (now I have the song ‘Full of Grace’ in my head and it makes me even sadder) or Syd seeing Vaughn in her head. That was brutal for Emma and Killian, I love this characters so much, I identify with Emma in alot of aspects that it literately broke my heart to see her in so much pain, to see Killian fighting so hard and still reassuring her it’s ok (one of the best things he ever said to her imo), Jen and Colin are amazing, there’s not enough words to describe how brilliant they are and how much they bring out of each other.

    Before I read your review I thought they made DH too dark, some parts of me still think that (more above) because even though he couldn’t go on with his plans he aimed his revenge on Emma, killing her entire family and it still feels OOC, but you made me see something else about his struggle with the darkness and the core of it that I didn’t see before. ‘He kept choosing to let his pain control him, to let himself be owned by his darkness just as he was owned by his master as a child’ I love this line

    I didn’t think about the parallel between PapaHook selling Killian to slavery and denying him his agency and Emma turning him to the DarkOne and denying him his agency twice with Excalibur too, I would also add how his father was the light in his life as a child, they even emphasized it by having him light the candle, and Emma being the light of his life ever since they met, and how both of them turn down the light on him and that was what made him snap. I don’t know if they thought about him being under indentured servitude from the get go but it fits so well with his character. Last episode he called himself a ‘free man’ and makes me think of it differently now.

    I would have loved to see more on his background in the past but was delighted to finally see Little Killian (the actor was precious! great great casting). he is a broken soul, he has trouble seeing himself as something more that a villain, in his confrontation with his father he yelled at him that he didn’t change, Colin said in an interview that Hook thought his father will leave Liam2 like he left them so he sacrificed his father, and I think part of Killian is having troubles believing he truly changed cos than maybe his father changed as well and he killed him for nothing (not that killing him was justify in any case but I hope you understood what I meant)

    I was really surprised Killian died if only because A&E always say ‘Dead is Dead’, I thought TLK will save him and later he will be dragged to the underworld alive so rescuing him will be possible but I do like that of all the people Emma lost she is determined to bring him back to life, it’s a fighting spirit I don’t think we saw before, determination, hope, believe…it sums up everything they gave each other by simply loving one another.

    I also love the anti-parallel with Rumple, this entire arc I was worried that by making us understand how the darkness works and that its an entity that consumes you it takes the responsibility from the holder, If we can understand why DarkSwan or DarkHook did things cos they were like possessed than it clears Rumple from any responsibility of his acts as the DarkOne and I’m glad they showed that Rumple with a clean slate choose to become dark, while Hook with the darkness feasting inside him choose to become good, it’s all a matter of CHOICE- What kind of a man you want to be

    I wrote above that I still feel DH was extreme, I feel in a way that the writers let his character down, I don’t see him as weak because the way his redemption arc was- his deciding all on his own to be better and fighting for it everyday for 3 seasons, he was the only one that was able to help Emma fight the darkness, I felt he was strong to fight the darkness before the 11th hour, but I guess they saw it differently and saw him more broken and complex than I did, at least in the end he knew what he is – A Hero.

    3 months will be hard to wait

    • Thank you for the kind words, I loved your analysis of this episode!

      I suppose when it comes to the show’s main cast, “Dead is Dead” flies out the window. The same thing happened when Rumple died in S3.

      I know you feel the writers might have let Killian’s character down with their writing of Dark Hook, and I can obviously see where it would upset people to see him being so cruel and enacting a plan that would have taken everyone Emma loves from her. But the Dark One has always been that kind of over-the-top villain, and Hook—whether we like to admit it or not—was the Dark One. And not a struggling, dark-with-good-intentions kind of Dark One like Emma (who still had Savior magic in her and essentially a clean heart because her parents transferred her darkness into Lily). He was a Dark One who took on the darkness with no belief that he could fight back, and I actually think that’s very consistent with who the writers have always shown him to be—a man terrified of something happening that would push him back into the darkness, a man who struggled to see himself as a hero, a man who believed in Emma far more than he ever believed in himself. And by forcing him to confront the very depths of his darkness, I think the writers showed not how weak he is but how strong he is. And he’ll be so much stronger for having become the darkest version of himself that feared becoming and ultimately choosing to be more than that part of himself.

      Was it hard to watch Dark Hook take over a character we came to love and see as a hero? Of course. But I think it was a powerful representation of the fact that sometimes we are our absolute worst self, sometimes we hurt the people we love not accidentally but on purpose, and sometimes we get lost in our demons to the point that we forget who we are independent of those demons. And Killian’s triumph over that darkness and those demons when they were at their very strongest made me feel hopeful for myself and for all of us—that it’s never too late to decide to be your best self, and you can only do that if you stare down your worst self and choose to be more.

  15. This Dark Swan arc could have worked if it had lasted a season. Perhaps it would have finally allowed Emma to face how low she can sink and truly face her past mistakes and crimes. But I fear that will never happen.

    • Yeah, it would have been interesting if they had gone all-in with a season-long Dark Swan arc but I knew, based the show’s history for half-season arcs, that Dark Swan wouldn’t last that long.

    • I could have seen this arc lasting a season, but that was probably considered too dark for this show’s overall theme and audience. It’s too bad that it once again left you disappointed in terms of how it handled Emma’s character, but I personally thought this arc forced Emma to confront a number of her biggest flaws and learn that actions—no matter how noble you think they might be—have consequences that must be considered. I understand not everyone will see it that way, though, but I do think that if you’re looking for an arc that allowed Emma to face how low she could sink, this was probably the closest you’re ever going to get.

  16. Thank you for another wonderful review of what was such an emotional episode. Like I said on Twitter – I started yesterday off in tears watching the show and ended the day in tears reading your review (good tears though!!)

    I think, at some point in our lives, we are all guilty of allowing our past to affect our present (and possibly future) so I liked how this episode showed how, by letting go of the past (of which we can’t change a thing), we can create a present and future that we truly deserve. All the characters (apart from Zelena), at some point in the show, have realised that they can’t allow their pasts to define their future selves.

    Praise must be given again to Colin and Jennifer’s acting in this episode; their performances were powerful, gut-wrenching and utterly heartbreaking. I have enjoyed watching Killian/Hook’s and Emma’s relationship grow and flourish through their mutual encouragement of each other throughout this half of the season. They proved time and time again that no matter what, if you have someone who believes in you, you can overcome anything. And because of their eventual belief in and love for each other, they both found the strength to defeat the darkness that was inside them. And in a way, Merlin was right all along when he told them that Nimue would help them defeat the darkness. If it wasn’t for her choking Emma in front of Killian, then would he have been able to find the strength to fight back against the darkness and help save Emma and her family or would he have allowed the darkness to fully consume his soul and watch whilst they all get dragged off to Hell?! I also liked the nod to the Charming family mantra of ‘I will find you, I will always find you’; for me that definitely confirmed that Emma and Killian will have the same type of relationship as Snow and Charming – true love forever. And that in itself gives me hope that, in the end, everything will be OK.

    It took me a couple of hours after watching to realise that none of the Camelot characters appeared but that didn’t really bother me (wasn’t really a fan of Arthur); I don’t understand though why so many fans got upset over the fact the Camelot characters weren’t wrapped up in this half; this show has never said it was perfect (tell me what show is) but in the bigger scheme of things, does it really matter that the Camelot part of the arc has been left unfinished? Plus, I have a sneaky suspicion that we may possibly be seeing them all again at some point in the second half!!

    Now to my thoughts on Rumplestiltskin. I think it has been said somewhere before – he is like a drug addict who isn’t wanting to give up his drug of choice (power). You can see the reasons why he first got ‘hooked’ (for want of a better word); he wanted what was best for his son; and at first he thought he could do that by doing what he is best at – allowing his cowardice to take over and run away from the problem. So when he is told of a different way of doing what could be best for his son he is tempted and finds out that despite what he has to do in order to do it, he likes the thrill it gives him. And the more he does, the more powerful he becomes, the more he enjoys it and the deeper the ‘addiction’ becomes. The trouble of course is that like any addict who sees their loved one’s hurting, he wants to give it all up; but every time, he is doing it for someone else (Belle/Neal) and not himself so when he hits a rocky patch and the cowardice rears it ugly head again, he turns to the one thing that he thinks will help him – his drug of choice, power and magic. He thinks that each time he will be able to control it (a bit like a recovering alcoholic saying they’ll have just one drink but it turning into 3 bottles) but each time he falls deeper and deeper into the addiction. And that is why, I think they have made Rumple the Dark One again (and I do Love Robert Carlyle playing the Dark One). He’s tried to be the ‘hero’ in this arc, but when the time came for him to actually face his fears and head off to the Underworld with everyone else after being marked, his cowardice returns and he turns to the one thing he thinks will make him ‘brave’. I think the moment he truly gives up the power and the darkness for himself will be when the show is nearing it’s end. Whilst I was surprised at the twist, I wasn’t shocked and I am actually looking forward to seeing how, now filled with the power of all the Dark Ones, his relationships with all the other characters will develop. However, I did want to shake Belle though when she came back to him again. It is quite frustrating to watch but then I guess, despite all her strength, Rumple is her weakness and in ‘real life’ there are people who may be in a similar situation of where, for whatever reason, they can’t live with the person, and yet they can’t live without them. I really hope that in the second half of the season, Belle finds her inner strength and is able to leave Rumple (not for good though as I do like them together – sorry I’m full of contradictions!!)

  17. Hi Katie, I know I repeat myself every week but once again I loved your review, and I’m pretty sure I’ll keep repeating it as well during 5B! Anyway this episode was truly epic, as an Emma and Killian fan I thought this ep did a wonderful job of concluding the Dark Swan/Dark Hook storylines and it set us up for an exciting rescue mission in 5B. Again I’m repeating myself but I thought Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue were both excellent in this episode – Katie you already talked about it a lot better than I can so I’ll leave it at that. What struck me most while watching was that Emma was really emotional all during this ep – she really looked like she was going to burst into tears at any stage. We’re not used to seeing Emma so open and emotional, and it once again shows how much she has changed over the 5 seasons .
    Besides all the Emma/Hook scenes probably my favourite Emma scene was the Emma/Gold scene at the end of the episode. I’ve always loved the dynamic between Emma and Gold, and in this scene the air practically crackled with the tension – I can’t wait to see more scenes between them in 5B. I can’t even bring myself to comment on Belle returning to Storybrooke and to Gold – all I’ll say is whatever sympathy I had for her is pretty much gone at this stage. Loved seeing Snow supporting her daughter when she needed it most, and I really hope we have more Charming family scenes in 5B. I’ve loved 5A and I can’t wait to see Operation Save Hook in 5B.

  18. Excellent review! I’m always so impressed by how well you capture the essence and themes of the show so well even going back to previous seasons’ storylines as references. You should write reviews and get paid, my friend! Kudos! I won’t bore you with my long drawn-out thoughts because you said it all, but I have a few random ones.

    -I knew Killian would be our hero though he wasn’t conning everyone! I knew Emma would break through to him. Who would’ve thought Regina would be a part of that too!

    -I feel so awful for Belle. Poor girl, she was almost out of town and Henry made her have a change of heart. She should’ve gunned that old ass car across that town line and never looked back!

    -New idea for Geico commercial: If you’re Rumplestiltskin, you deceive people, it’s what you do.

    -When something bad happens, why does Robin always look like he’s smelled something foul?

    -I’m wondering if they’ll see Merlin in the Underworld. I still want to know how Nimue can destroy the darkness. Maybe she and Merlin will reunite since the darkness is all in Rumple now?!!

    • Your geico commercial is brilliant! Thanks for making me laugh through the pain.

      And yes to seeing Merlin in the underworld!! I still feel like there has to be more to that whole story, and any excuse to see his handsom face again is a welcome one.

  19. Thank you Katie for yet another awesome review! I am so impressed by your ability to write so eloquently and with such enthusiasm. One of my first thoughts after finishing the episode was “I can’t wait to read Nerdy Girl Notes!” I only found you and your blog in September when season 5 began and now I would hate to live without it. It’s become my version of “Talking Dead” for Once Upon A Time; an open discussion based on the insightful thoughts of a dedicated fan. So basically you’re Chris Hardwick and us your loyal readers are the guests on the couch – haha.

    Your knowledge of the show is unbelievable. I have watched the show from the beginning at least 3 times and I still don’t feel I have your level of expertise. The quote from Emma in season 1 is so powerful and all encompassing of this show, I can’t believe it hasn’t stuck with me.

    “I love when Once Upon a Time flashbacks give you information that suddenly illuminates a character in a whole new light.”
    I could not agree more with this. I think it is one of the show’s greatest strengths. And it’s not only our core characters either, the way they introduced classic fairytales stories early on in the show was what kept me coming back for more. Episodes like “Hat Trick” and “True North” that managed to change the way you think of the Mad Hatter or Hansel&Gretel, and “illuminate a character in a whole new light” is truly what makes Once Upon A Time so special.

    Once again thank you. I CANNOT WAIT til March 6th! It’s going to be a loooong winter without my fairytale fix. Looking forward to your “Once Upon a Time content to help us get through the hiatus” !! Happy Holidays!!

  20. I forgot to mention that my family had a real life experience like the Liam 2.0 story. My great great grandfather abandoned his wife and 3 kids while he was supposed to be away working, left the country, found a new partner, and started a new family with 6 new kids. I was recently discovered by one of his grandkids who told me that had the cheek to name one of the new girls the same name as my great Nana Vera who he’d left behind as a 6 year old. What an ass! My family was very upset (even though this all happened 100 years ago). Maybe not stab-him upset, but maybe if my great nana had seen it like Killian did…

  21. However, just because Killian didn’t accomplish his ultimate goal of destroying the darkness, that doesn’t mean his sacrifice was completely in vain. He still saved himself and saved Emma from being the one to sacrifice herself. They still proved that love was stronger than darkness. And he still chose to define himself as a hero and not as a man fated to be lost to the darkness forever. Nothing Rumpelstiltskin did can take that away.

    Thank you so much for saying this. I thought, at the beginning of the Dark Swan arc, okay, the goal would destroy the darkness forever. Emma was going to succeed where Rumple failed, and everything in Killian’s since his first appearance going was finally going to come full circle.

    In a way, it still came full circle, just not in the way he expected. He still saved Emma (a thing I’m still not over) and he saved Emma’s family too. He did what no other Dark One has been able to do, use the power to protect the one’s he loves. In a truly selfless way.

    I do think going forward Rumple is the no holds barred baddie of the series.

    This man is so selfish and obsessed with his power, that there is honestly no changing him at all. And it makes me feel really bad for Belle because once she finds out he’s the Dark One again and he stole back his power, she’s going to be really devastated. It’s going to be her wondering all over again, “Why aren’t I enough for him?” And to add that feeling, she might also wonder, “Is something wrong me that he can’t change?” It also makes me ill to read in interviews with Adam and Eddy to defend Rumple’s actions because I don’t think his actions can be defended.

    I also liked how Adam and Eddy contrasted Rumple and Hook in this episode. They posed the question to Killian, “What kind of man are you going to be?” But this also can be applied to Rumple as well. These two foils, the same way Emma and Regina are foils. They’re the same and yet different.

    Emma’s last moment with Killian before he died was really heartbreaking to watch, but she finally did the right thing, she let him go and let him take control of his destiny. What I love about Captain Swan is that Killian’s always respected Emma’s agency, and we see in this flashback to his childhood why agency is so important to Killian Jones. Little Killian and his brother were sold into slavery as children and their freedom and choice were taken away from them, and this was done to them by someone they loved, their father.

    It makes me think about Killian went through in 4A with Rumple and oh my god, how much he truly loathed being his nemesis’ servant, the memory of his free will being taken away like that at such a young age and he’s basically a slave all over again as an adult.

    That really hurts.

    As awful as that was, I’m still proud of Killian for the brief moment he showed his father compassion and genuinely wanted to help him and his half-brother escape from the Evil Queen. This wasn’t Captain Hook, this was Killian Jones.

    Killian Jones at his core is a compassionate and good person. Time and again, Adam and Eddy try to show us the ruthless Captain Hook but that’s not who he really is and never was. Captain Hook is the persona that was created when love was taken away from him. Killian Jones is the true person.

    And I love that Killian Jones’ has this three seasons long arc of trying to prove himself a true hero. As much as the haters want to say he’s turned into a hero overnight, it’s just not true. His redemption arc, when you think about it, is over four seasons long.

    And I also love seeing how much Emma has changed too.

    I always say, each season, Emma takes baby steps towards her happy ending and accepting love into her life. The first season was her love story with Henry, coming to terms that she is his mother and she truly loves him. Season two about Emma accepting Snow and Charming as her parents and season three was about her letting go of past love and coming to accept new romantic love into her life. Season four was about Emma learning to love herself and season five, to stop running from love and accepting that Killian Jones is her true love and also her future.

    You know baby steps.

    I love that by the end of the episode, Emma holds the belief that Killian Jones is what Charming is to her mother. He is her true love and there isn’t anything that she wouldn’t do for him.

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