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‘Once Upon a Time’ Review: I Swear on Emma Swan

ABC/Jack Rowand

If you have never felt personally victimized by an episode of Once Upon a Time, then you are probably watching the show wrong. “The Jolly Roger” is not the first episode that has ripped my heart out and stomped on it repeatedly and I don’t doubt that it will be the last one to do so, but it’s certainly the one that has hurt the most this season (“Going Home” originally held that honor) and I’m still trying to process it while I fight the urge to sob in the corner.

Here’s the thing: believe it or not, I try to tone down some of my character and shipper bias when I write reviews. It doesn’t always work out, but I do try. That’s not going to happen this week and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. So if you’re not a fan of Captain Hook or of Hook and Emma as a romantic pairing, that’s totally cool. Different strokes for different folks and all that, but fair warning – you probably don’t want to spend your time reading this review.

Okay for those of you that are still with me, let’s talk about the episode. We finally got to see some of the pieces of Hook’s past year and I’m not going to sugarcoat this: it was not pretty. Hook threw himself back into the pirate’s life. Since he didn’t have his ship, Hook, Smee and the few remaining members of the crew had started robbing carriages (which was the reason Hook was disguised as a knight). Afterward, they went to celebrate over drinks and the men bought their captain a hooker because that’s the pirate thing to do.

And this was when we saw the first cracks in Hook’s happy-go-lucky pirate façade. He politely gave the woman more money and sent her on her way because he was not interested – his heart was clearly still with Emma, even though he knew he was never going to see her again (stupid curse). But there wasn’t much time for reflection because as Hook started to walk away, he was hit over the head and then Ariel held a knife to his throat and demanded to know where Prince Eric was.

ABC/Jack Rowand
ABC/Jack Rowand

It didn’t take long for Hook to get the upper hand over my favorite mermaid and then Ariel told him that Eric was being held prisoner on the Jolly Roger. THIS was the spark Hook had been looking for – he’d tried to reassure the men that they were still pirates, but now that his ship was on the table again, he had a renewed sense of self and urgency in his quest to get it back and get back to the pirates’ life he knew and loved. Hook had hope and purpose again, but let’s be real – it was a distraction, something for him to focus on so he could stop dwelling on the giant Emma-shaped hole in his chest.

Ariel picked up on that, even if she didn’t quite know the specifics. She thought it was odd the way he talked about his ship like it was a woman (Smee thought so too). She also mentioned that she’d heard he was a hero after what he’d done in Neverland and that started to make Hook uncomfortable. He’s never been good with taking praise from anyone, but this was especially hard because it brought out those cracks in his façade again and made him remember the life that was better than a pirate’s life and that was not what he wanted at the moment so he pushed it down and went on with his mission to reclaim his ship.

Blackbeard (the cartoon version of Captain Hook brought to life) taunted Hook over the rumors that he’d gone soft and that fueled Hook’s anger so it wasn’t difficult for him to quickly get the advantage (side note: I love the shadowy sword fight that was straight out of Peter Pan). He was prepared to finish Blackbeard off, but Ariel stopped him because Eric wasn’t there. Blackbeard offered Hook the information in exchange for the ship. It was a big moment, a choice between being a pirate and being a hero and Hook chose his ship. He forced Blackbeard to walk the plank and reclaimed his ship, leaving Ariel devastated and angry. She slapped Hook and told him she’d been wrong about him and then she dove into the shark infested waters to go track down Eric herself.

I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t want Hook to choose to help Ariel, but I’m not mad or upset that he chose the Jolly Roger. He was in a bad place and he made a selfish choice. It was a human decision, something everyone can relate to because we’ve all done something we’ve regretted and hurt someone who didn’t deserve it. Hook has lost everything that matters to him: Liam, Milah, Bae and Emma. The only constant during those 300 years of pain and misery was his ship so no, I’m not going to fault him for wanting to get it back, even if the price was destroying someone else’s happiness. He was clinging to the only thing he had left and he absolutely regretted the decision.

That was plain as day when the action shifted to Storybrooke and Hook told Emma that trying to go back to New York was a mistake, that it wasn’t possible to pretend all of this hadn’t happened and just go back to the person she used to be – he told her that he’d spent the past year trying to do that and it hadn’t worked. This part of the episode came before we knew the truth about Ariel, but the pain on his face spoke volumes. Even without the answers she asked for, Emma could see that it was bad and that he was hurting and he got through to her – but that wouldn’t come to light until later in the episode.

Hook and Henry’s adorable bonding time was interrupted when Ariel arrived in Storybrooke, looking for Eric. Charming and Snow brought her to Hook since he had his memories, but he lied to her and said they’d never met before. That didn’t stop Charming from suggesting that Hook help her and despite looking like he’d rather walk the plank, Hook did just that. He took Ariel to Gold’s shop and Belle helped them do a locator spell with Eric’s cloak and Hook’s expression remained pained as the cloak went straight for the water and submerged itself, leading Ariel to realize that Eric was gone and her love story was over – she just wished she knew how it ended.

And that was what broke Hook once and for all. He went after Ariel and told her the truth, told her what he’d done and how her love had paid the price because he’d been trying to fill the gaping hole in his heart. Colin O’Donoghue let all of Hook’s pain and heartbreak and remorse and regret coming pouring out of him in an emotional tidal wave that was incredibly beautiful and powerful to watch. Hook was sorry and he hated himself and the choice that he’d made and he wanted – needed – Ariel to know that. She wasn’t interested in hearing anything from someone who’d stopped believing in love, but then he told her that he still did.

That got her attention. She made him swear on his love’s name and Hook did – he swore on Emma Swan. At this point, it was like time slowed down and I was watching a train wreck because the smirk that crossed Ariel’s face seconds before she waved her hand and made Hook’s lips turn green, gave it all away. This was not Ariel. She was not the one making Hook relive every bad thing he’d done to the mermaid – it was Zelena. She’d stolen her mother’s signature move and disguised herself as someone else to mess with Hook. The curse that she put on him made it so that the next time he kissed Emma, his kiss would steal her magic, leaving her powerless.

How dare you, Zelena? How dare you? I think Hook and Emma fans everywhere wanted to reach into the TV and snap her neck at that point. Hook immediately said he would tell Emma and she would defeat her (that’s our hero right there) because he knew there was a reason that Zelena couldn’t kill Emma. The witch didn’t reveal what that reason was, but she warned Hook that if he didn’t kiss Emma, she would start killing the people close to her – her parents, her friends, her son. That obviously got Hook’s attention and Zelena smugly taunted him over how much he’s come to care about Henry (seriously, someone get the bucket of water).

These scenes hurt so much, but the episode was not done kicking us while we were down. Emma had spent the episode practicing magic with Regina and she’d finally awakened her powers, which are connected to her emotions. It’s not a coincidence that this happened after Hook told Emma to stop trying to run from who she is – Emma might not have responded favorably to his words at the docks, but they stuck with her and she embraced her true self. This should have been a celebratory moment, but it wasn’t because when Hook showed up on Emma’s doorstep, he was carrying the weight of the curse on his shoulders.

Hook told Emma and Regina that Ariel had found Eric, using the details Zelena had given him (she really has been spying on everyone). Regina wanted Emma to test her powers and use the mirror to look between worlds to check in on them and she agreed, despite Hook’s protests. And can we talk about the less than subtle mirror moment? Regina tells Emma to look inwards to find her power while the mirror is reflecting Emma and Hook standing together. The power of true love, ladies and gentlemen…and obviously this will not be the last of it.

We got to see Eric and Ariel basking in their happily ever after as he twirled her on the beach (I love how many scenes from The Little Mermaid the show has replicated) and then it was time for more heartbreak. Emma was so happy that Hook had done that for them and he tried to tell her that it had all been Ariel, but she assumed he was just being modest. Charming and Snow returned with Henry and after Regina and Emma lecture Charming for letting Henry drive (Charming wanting to prove he’s just as cool as Hook is everything), Snow wants to celebrate Eric and Ariel’s happy ending with dinner at Granny’s.

Hook attempts to make a hasty exit and Emma is confused as to why he’s not going with them. He still wants to leave, but Emma calls out to him again and tells him that she doesn’t care about whatever it is that happened in the past year – she’s tired of living in the past. Hook meets her gaze and assures her that he knows how she feels before he leaves and Emma is clearly thrown. Everything about this scene hurt. Emma calling him “Killian” even though Henry was out of earshot, Emma letting her walls down and letting go of the past and Hook being the one to walk away because he’s so afraid that she’s going to get hurt because of him. Who said watching a show about fairy tale characters would be a happy experience?

Just in case you weren’t sobbing hard enough on the floor, the episode tacked on one final scene: Emma, Henry, Snow, Charming and Regina sharing a meal at the diner (side note: how awesome is it that they invited Regina to dinner just like Rumple sarcastically suggested she hope for one day?) while Hook stood outside, using his spyglass to watch them. This show has never been subtle and that’s okay because I love it exactly the way it is, but I can’t be the only one who pictures the writers doing something along these lines as they imagined the audience watching this last scene:

Seriously, this episode hurt a lot and it’s going to take some time to get past all the heartache it brought, but we need to look at the big picture: Hook has changed. He tried to pretend that he hadn’t and it cost him dearly. He’s not going to make that mistake again. This is character development – it’s painful and hard to watch, but it was absolutely necessary so we can get to the next step. The same goes for Emma – she needed to embrace her magic and let her walls down and it’s going to be awful to see her hurting when Hook keeps pulling away, but that’s how this show works. It’s all going to be okay in the end though because we all know there’s one thing that can break any curse – true love’s kiss.

Next week, Zelena gets back to tormenting Regina as she searches for her heart. Regina comes up with a plan to get answers that involves talking to her dead mother. Check out the promo below and then hit the comments and share your thoughts, theories and pain with us!

About the author

Mandy Treccia

Mandy Treccia has served as TVSource Magazine’s Executive Editor since 2016, formerly as Editorial Director from 2012-2016. She is an avid TV watcher and card carrying fan girl prone to sudden bursts of emotion, ranging from extreme excitement to blind rage during her favorite shows and has on more than once occasion considered having a paper bag on hand to get her through some tough TV moments. Her taste in TV tends to rival that of a thirteen-year-old girl, but she’s okay with that. Follow her on Twitter at @SourceMandy.

  • Calli

    What a wonderful, wonderful review!!! I couldn’t agree more on everything you pointed out…

    It’s been 30 hours now and I am still in agonizing pain – the good kind if there is such a thing…

    I thought it felt very true to Killian Jones that he would desperately try to get back to his old pre-Emma life minus the thirst for revenge. He told Emma at the beginning of the episode that there was no going back, no matter how hard you try – “once you’ve lived a life with a purpose” spelled in between those lines. But his awareness of that comes only after having tried really hard to prove the opposite. And it’s such a testimony to the brilliance of the writing on Ouat and of Colin ODoonoghue’s performance that I understood where Hook was
    coming from when he tried so desperately to fill the void Emma left in his heart by trying to get the Jolly Roger back. He was heartbroken and miserable. Convinced he’d never see Emma again, fighting to shush his broken heart by getting back to what was once good enough. Killian is lost without Emma. But not too lost to realize – even after making the choice to keep his ship instead of helping Ariel find her true love – that not even his home of 300 years can fill that void he feels. Not too lost to realize he made a mistake and to feel
    remorse and guilt over fighting his better instincts and falling back to old patterns. I found it impossible not to feel for him as he was struggling and deluding himself, subconsciously referring to Emma when he was talking about not being himself ever since he returned to the Enchanted Forest because he doesn’t have “her”.

    It’s interesting that Adam and Eddy still haven’t told us though how Hook did get to Emma, what actually happened to the Jolly Roger and how he got his hands on the memory potion. I’m thinking about how Killian told Emma a few episodes back that he was sticking to his “tale” and am wondering how much of that tale includes his guilt over his choice when it comes to helping Ariel versus what really happened afterwards. I’m thinking though that said guilt and Ariel’s unwavering belief in love were part of why he set out to find Emma and
    succeeded – the other part being his realization that there’s no going back to his old life and that there’s no life without Emma; or at least the hope of seein her again.

    The ending killed all of us who were still somewhat breathing. Emma is finally taking a step towards him only for him to walk away because he has no other choice at the moment. Talk about a rock and a hard place. Zelena is truly wicked…and just one more on the list
    of villains who have picked up on Killian’s and Emma’s feelings for each other. It’s interesting that Killian’s guilt over his choice while in the Enchanted Forrest was something that Zelena chose to use in order to find a way to defeat the Savior. It’s interesting because it speaks to Killian’s remorse and truly good heart (he wants to be a better man) and to the fact that Emma and Killian must be each other’s true love (not that I had any doubts at this point). Why else use Killian as a means to defeat the Savior?

    Stellar episode!!! But I’m sure the pain it left in my stomach pit will linger the whole week…which is probably exactly what Adam and Eddy were going for.

  • “Just in case you weren’t sobbing hard enough on the floor” I was literally like that omg haha ): anyway, I feel that better times are coming for us. But, by now, my heart is broken. Poor Killian.

  • sirona7

    Thanks so much for the review, Mandy. I felt gutted last night, in the best kind of post-drama way. Thankfully today is a new day, and your review (along with many wise observers of CS on Tumblr) helped re-contextualize everything we’ve seen from Hook since New York Serenade (and before). And while Colin was given a lot to work with in this script, he was a bloody revelation expressing a range of strong emotions with passion and clarity and the cumulative power of small moments. All this, and we’ve still only seen part of Hook’s story of the missing year! I am gathering my emotional reserves for the remaining episodes of the season, and am truly excited to see Emma Swan become who we all know she can be.

  • KB

    Such a good review Mandy! Agreed – it was a fantastic episode!

  • Mel

    Perfect analysis! I loved this episode even though THE PAIN!!!! Colin is an amazing actor and I cannot wait to see what happens next.