This episode! Oh, this episode! I have no words! It just has everything you could ask for! We get to see two former rivals bonding, with one of the pair becoming a mentor for the other, an AWSOME display of Emma’s magical potential, an epic swordfight between two famous pirate captains, an emotional love confession that could make ANYONE melt, with dashes of humorous moments thrown in for good measure. (How many times did they make the ‘haha, Mr. Smee got turned into a rat’ joke? And yet, it never got old.) And then, we get the angst. OH, the angst.
It all starts with us seeing one notable escapade Killian went through during the Lost Year, as he makes an attempt at returning to his old pirating ways. Only, since the Jolly Roger was MIA, he and his crew were stuck being land-based pirates. The trick we see them pull in the start of this episode was so clever. Plus, we get to see Killian in his Iron Knight disguise. While it was all part of his ruse to steal the gold from the passing carriage, I wouldn’t object to seeing something like that happening for real someday. While it is still, to our knowledge, quite a ways off, just imagine if the series finale has everyone returning to the Enchanted Forest again, this time for good, and with Emma and Henry in tow. It would be great to see Killian becoming a part of the Charming’s royal court. After all, we’ve already seen that he was once a part of the royal navy to some unnamed kingdom centuries ago, so he’s no stranger to having a place of honor among royals. Even though he turned against his former king upon learning of his corruption the hard way, I think he’s seen enough to know that the Charming family would never turn out that way. I’d even go so far to say that, after everything Killian has done this season, for Emma, Henry and, to a lesser extent, Snow and Charming, he’s EARNED an official place among the Charming’s royal court. Well, apart from being a royal consort to Emma someday, because after this episode, is there any real doubt that these two are endgame?
Watching Killian through this flashback of his time during the Lost Year is quite heartbreaking. Despite his best efforts to hide it, we can still see that he hasn’t broken the promise he’d made to Emma at the Storybrooke town line. The one when he’d stated he’d think of her every day. We can see a hint of it in his face when he turns down the barmaid whose services his crew had purchased for him, and again when he tells Ariel ‘few people have held a dagger to my throat and lived to tell the tale.’ We all remember the details of his first meeting with Emma, which ended with him getting tied to a tree, right? (While I might be alone in this, I can’t help but wonder if he’d let himself hope for a brief moment that Emma had found him again when Ariel clouts him over the head after he leaves the tavern. After all, Emma did have a tendency towards knocking him out during the course of season 2.) The constant presence of Emma in Killian’s thoughts becomes more evident after he finds out through Ariel that the Jolly Roger has been commandeered by his archrival, Blackbeard. Just look at these actual lines from the episode:
‘She's not just a ship. ….. She's more than that. I haven't been myself since we've returned. I should have realized the reason why. It's because I don't have her.’
‘Up close, she's even more beautiful than I remember. Don't worry, my dear. You'll soon be back in my loving arms.’
Both times, he’s supposed to be speaking of the Jolly Roger, which clearly puzzles Smee and Ariel, who voice their confusion over why he’s talking about the Jolly as if she were an actual woman. Unlike them, the answer is rather obvious to the viewer. Even though he might not consciously realize it, Killian is clearly projecting his feelings for Emma onto his ship. In a way, this makes perfect sense when you remember that the last time he’d set foot upon the Jolly Roger was during the Neverland arc, when he was helping the Nevengers rescue Henry from Pan. And Neverland was where he and Emma had been the closest to each other. It was where he became aware of the depth of his feelings for her, and it was where they shared that earth-shattering kiss.
When they do locate the Jolly Roger, we get a really well-choreographed duel between Killian and Blackbeard. I confess, I would really like to see a reprise of this in a future episode. (Maybe with Killian defending Emma’s honor after Blackbeard insults her in some way? But whatever reason for another duel would be more than welcome.) The duel ends with Killian getting the upper hand, but that just leads to the turning point- Blackbeard gives Killian a choice- he can either kill him and keep the Jolly Roger or surrender the ship to Blackbeard in exchange for information on Eric’s location. If you’ve seen the episode, you know Killian ends up choosing the Jolly Roger over helping Ariel find Eric. While this clearly wasn’t the honorable choice, I just cannot be angry at him for this. I completely understand why he made that choice. Ariel didn’t realize it, but she was being unwittingly insensitive. She was going up to a man who had just lost his True Love and asking him to help find hers. That’s exactly what Killian was in this moment- he was a man who had lost his True Love for what should have been forever. We’ve seen plenty of proof by now that losing your True Love can leave you at your worst. When Charming thought Snow didn’t love him, he quite literally dove into what was essentially a suicide mission. When Rumpelstiltskin believed that Belle had killed herself, he was at his most manic state and eventually got placed in a magic-inhibiting cage. And Regina… well, we all know what she became after Daniel’s death. Why should Killian be any different? And I imagine it’s even worse for Killian than the others. Think about what he’s gone through. For 300 years, he’d lived believing that killing Rumpelstiltskin was the only thing he had to live for. He didn’t think there could ever be anyone or anything else for him. But then he met Emma, and for the first time in so long, he started opening himself up to the possibility of loving someone. For a brief, shining moment, he allowed himself to hope that he could find happiness with Emma. But then, Regina had to erase Storybrooke from existence to stop Pan’s curse, and Emma had to leave, with no possibility of ever being able to come back. This undoubtedly left Killian in a whole ‘I opened up my heart and let myself hope I could move on from Milah and find happiness with someone else, and this is what I have to show for it?’ state of mind. You can clearly hear that anguish in his words when he tells Ariel ‘love brings nothing but wasted years and endless torment.’ In a related story, he’d already stated that he’d felt something vital missing from his life after returning to the Enchanted Forest and reuniting with his crew. While subconsciously, he knew that it was because he’d lost Emma, he wasn’t consciously willing to accept that quite yet. Much like his habit of hiding his feelings of self-loathing behind an air of swagger and bravado, he chooses to cover up his heartache by pretending everything’s peachy, and that he’ll feel better when he’s a full pirate again. When he sees his chance at getting his treasured ship back, he really thinks that would help him get over his emotional emptiness. Like he says in present-day Storybrooke, he thought getting the Jolly Roger back would help his broken heart recover. Plus, I’m sure the fact Blackbeard practically bated him with the accusation that he’d grown soft didn’t help the situation much. As I said back in my analysis of ‘The Crocodile,’ if Killian Jones didn’t protect his reputation as a fearsome pirate captain, he would quite possibly loose his crew’s respect. Besides, if you poke a wounded animal with a stick, they are going to lash out. It’s a fact.
At the same time, you see he immediately regrets his decision as Ariel swims off. Already, he’s realizing that getting the Jolly Roger back is not making him feel better. He still isn’t satisfied, and feels the same emptiness. I really think it is Ariel’s parting words that make him realize exactly what he was really missing. And he’s also seeing her determination to continue looking for Eric, even when the odds are clearly stacked against her. It should be impossible for Ariel to find Eric, just like it should be impossible for Killian to ever see Emma again. And yet, here’s Ariel refusing to give up, completely sure that she’ll achieve the impossible and find Eric. In that one moment, you really start to wonder if Killian is left thinking that perhaps the same could be true for him. Then again, since we never see what happens to Killian during the Lost Year after this moment in time, we can only speculate.
The Storybrooke storyline for this episode breaks off into three subplots. Ever since the showdown in the last episode, Zelena hasn’t shown her face. Emma decides that it’s time to stop putting their efforts into defending themselves from her and focus on bringing the fight to her. To do so, she asks Regina to pick up the magic lessons that we saw starting during the Neverland arc. Its clear Emma remembers how easily Zelena was able to overpower her in the last episode, which makes her even more determined to learn to harness her magical abilities. During the start of the magic lesson, Emma starts to doubt how she’s ever going to learn anything, particularly after trying to read a spellbook written in half-Elvish, something no one who hasn’t grown up in the Enchanted Forest could know. (Unless you’re some sort of Tolkien fanatic, which I doubt Emma is.) In response, Regina resorts to the Rumpelstiltskin method of teaching, which is an extreme version of Sink-or-Swim. Her method involves forcing Emma onto a quickly breaking rope bridge, instructing her to stop the bridge from breaking. However, while Emma fails to stop the bridge from breaking, she manages to fuse the broken planks and rope fragments together as a sort of magic elevator platform that stops her from falling a rather significant height and levitates her up to safety. And Regina is TICKED. Not because Emma didn’t complete the task as she was told to do, but because this stunt has proven Emma has huge potential that she’s been completely ignoring. Something that’s further proven later, as Emma is able to look into other worlds through mirrors, which is apparently supposed to be impossible for everyone else.
While Emma is off at her magic lesson, Snow and Charming are kinda in a funk over the fact that Henry isn’t interested in spending time with them. It’s really funny to watch them in this episode, as they are acting so much like typical parents whose preteen/teenage kid is at the stage when it’s not cool to hang out with their folks. Which potentially leads to the parents trying to appear more cool by adopting their child’s current lingo (and oftentimes failing horribly), which of course only results in the preteen/teen being even more alienated than they were beforehand. However, the method they, or rather Charming, decides to utilize, was teaching the 12-year-old Henry how to drive. Which of course results in a few near-collisions and a public mailbox to get damaged. Charming, I give you an A for effort, but next time, perhaps it would be smarter to start the driving lessons in a spot away from an actual road? When my father started my driving lessons, we started off in empty parking lots so I could get a feel for being behind the wheel first.
The third subplot involves Killian, who Charming recruits to assist Ariel find Eric in Storybrooke after the mermaid suddenly appears in town, claiming she’d also forgotten what happened in the Lost Year. Killian is visibly reluctant, but goes along anyway. When a tracking spell Belle places on Eric’s old cloak leads them to the coastline, with the cloak sinking beneath the water’s surface, Ariel concludes that Eric is dead. Which doesn’t make much sense, because... aren’t there supposed to be underwater portals to other worlds that can only be accessed by mermaids and other mystical sea creatures? You’d think the obvious meaning of the cloak going underwater indicates that it’s going through one of those underwater portals. Why is Eric’s death the first logical conclusion? However, it does make sense that ‘Ariel’ makes this conclusion, given the episode’s big reveal. When ‘Ariel’ decides to accept Eric’s death as a reality and thanks Killian for his help regardless, Killian’s conscience gets the better of him, and he confesses to ‘Ariel’ of how he chose to keep the Jolly Roger instead of helping her find Eric. When ‘Ariel’ angrily berates him for this, we get one of the most heart-wrenching love confessions ever written. This moment is even more powerful because of actor Colin O’Donoghue’s amazing acting in putting so much emotion into his lines. He apologizes to Ariel for not helping her, stating that he’d do anything to go back and change his decision. To prove the sincerity of his words, he admits he still believes in love and then swears on the name of the woman who broke his heart; the woman he still loves- Emma Swan. While it comes as no surprise to hear him admit to loving Emma, as his past actions have proven that already, it is still beautiful to hear him actually come out and say it. Unfortunately, the moment is ruined when it’s revealed that this whole time, ‘Ariel’ was really Zelena in disguise. As if she knew that Emma was continuing her magic lessons, which is quite possible, as she stated she has spies everywhere, Zelena plotted to remove Emma’s magic. She decided that the best way to ensure this would happen was to place a curse upon Killian. It turns out that Zelena’s spies had already informed her of the choice Killian made on that fateful night and she chose to use his guilt over that choice to trick Killian into verbally confessing his love for Emma, which gave her the opportunity to lay a curse upon him. The terms of this curse were that if Killian ever kissed Emma, or vice versa, her powers would be instantly removed. Before Zelena teleports off, she leaves Killian with an ultimatum- if he doesn’t kiss Emma and remove her powers, she’ll go after the people Emma loves. Specifically her parents and son.
This turn of events really leaves Killian in a state of emotional turmoil. Once again, his feelings for Emma has the potential to severely hinder Emma and what she’s currently tasked with. It’s like Echo Cave all over again, when he poured out his heart in admitting he was falling for her in order to reunite her with Neal, but feeling guilty because he knew doing so would possibly distract her from the goal of getting Henry back. Only this time, it’s so much worse. Now, he’s faced with the impossible choice of taking away a vital part of Emma, something he’d glowingly praised earlier, or doing nothing and possibly endangering her family.
As to why he doesn’t explain things to Emma like he stated he would when Zelena first cursed him, I have thoughts on that. First off, let’s look at what Zelena told him.
Killian: I’ll tell her. And she'll defeat you.
Zelena: Then I'll send The Dark One to kill her before you can.
Killian: No, you won't. If you could have killed her, you would have. You need her power removed. It's why you didn't kill her when she came to the town. It's why you had a monkey look after her in New York instead of killing her. For some reason... you can't.
Zelena: It no longer matters, because you're going to remove her powers. I may not be able to hurt Emma, but I can hurt those around her.
Maybe I’m misinterpreting this exchange, but I think I see a threat written between the lines, with Zelena saying ‘okay you caught me. I can’t go after Emma directly if you tell her I cursed you, but her family is still fair game.’ To me, it sounds as if Zelena is saying that she’ll hurt Emma’s family if he warned her about the curse. And it’s already been established this witch has spies everywhere with her legion of winged monkeys, so she’d most likely know if Killian did tell Emma. And there is a small exchange in a later episode that does suggest the same thing, which I’ll discuss when I get to that episode. Besides, it’s not as if he didn’t make an attempt to inform someone. The scene immediately after Zelena leaves Killian at the Storybrooke pier shows Killian going to the Charming’s loft apartment, apparently looking for Snow and Charming. Perhaps he was going to go to them to let them know what just happened, just like he did back in Neverland when Pan informed him Neal was still alive. But Snow and Charming weren’t there when he came by the loft apartment, and instead, it was Emma who answered the door. When Snow and Charming did come back, he didn’t really have a good opportunity to speak to them without being overheard. He couldn’t exactly ask them for a word in private at the moment. Not without arousing any suspicion. While he might have been able to fill them in later, I don’t think he was given many opportunities to speak to them alone. And I know from experience, the longer you wait to tell someone something, the harder it is to do so.
All the same, Killian starts to withdraw a bit, even going so far as to turn down an obvious invite to join the Charming-Mills extended family for dinner at Granny’s. Here he is, once again trying to be Captain Nobility by distancing himself from Emma in order to keep her safe and happy, even if it means sacrificing what he wants most- to be a part of her family, something that he started wanting from them moment Emma indirectly offered him one at the end of season 2 and again here when she sorta-invites him to join them for the family dinner. If anyone can sit through that final moment in this episode with Killian watching Emma from afar with his spyglass without feeling horrible for the poor man, you have no soul.
It’s so devastating that the episode ends like this, because you really saw the potential for them to be a real family unit. Before heading off to her first magic lesson since Storybrooke returned, Emma once again leaves Henry in the care of Killian. (Incidentally, what was up with Henry in this moment? Kid, your mother is standing a few feet away, talking to a man in full pirate regalia. Is your little video game really more interesting than that?) The scene where this happens is just perfect. While last episode had Killian offering to watch Henry, this time Emma doesn’t need a prompt to ask him to do so. Considering that this is a woman who once vowed to never trust anyone ever again, it’s really a huge character growth moment to see that she’s now completely trusting Killian with someone as precious as her son. Emma even announces that she trusts Killian in this episode when she and Regina are discussing the fact that Emma is leaving Henry in Killian’s care on a regular basis. Emma’s trust in Killian in regards to Henry proves to be well founded throughout the episode, as Killian is clearly developing a strong paternal instinct towards Henry. When Mr. Smee asks him straight out why he wants to stay in Storybrooke while Zelena is at large, we see him immediately look over at Emma and Henry as they’re approaching. The camera angle speaks for itself when we see that Henry is not even close to being obscured in the shot, indicating that Killian values Henry just as much as he does Emma. We see this again towards the end when Zelena directly threatens Henry, and Killian’s voice instantly grows rough with fury and warning. This is not the reaction of a man who only tolerates the son of the woman he’s set his sights on. This is a man who views mother and son as a package deal and loves the son just as much as the mother does. Even though it’s nowhere close to being official at this point, Emma and Killian are already acting like Henry’s parental unit.
This episode also continues to bring back Emma’s tendency to avoid underlying issues. In the scene when she’s asking Killian to watch Henry while she’s off at her magic lesson, she informs him that she plans to return to New York with Henry after Zelena’s defeat. The excuse she gives him is that she feels it’s best for Henry, who still hasn’t gotten his memories back. However, Killian is once again seeing Emma poised to make the same mistake he’d made once. This time by believing that you can simply go back to a life you’ve once lived. He knows that didn’t work for him, as his attempt at going back to being the pirate he was before meeting Emma ultimately failed, with not the smallest of old pleasures satisfying him. Once again, Killian knows that Emma wouldn’t be happy going back to her old life, just because he wasn’t. It’s just one more example of how he’s aware of how like-minded they are.
Finally, I have to mention Zelena in this episode. She is really a sadistic psychopath. And not just because she was clearly torturing Killian throughout this whole episode with making him relive the moment he’d failed to help Ariel, something he felt guilty for ever since. And much like Pan, she is proving she knows nothing about things like true bravery and pure love, and therefore either underestimates them or looks upon them from a sinister angle. When Pan tried to test Killian during the Neverland arc by telling him Neal was alive, he fully expected Killian to keep the news to himself so he could continue to pursue a romance with Emma without any interference. He never took into consideration the fact that Killian had once loved Neal/Baelfire as a son. In much the same way, Zelena paints Killian’s heartfelt apology to ‘Ariel’ and the following confession of his love for Emma as a ‘selfish plea for redemption.’ What would a woman like Zelena, who has spent years being fueled by jealousy, know about feeling true remorse for something you know you did wrong and genuinely wanting to make up for it? However, her actions in this episode do prove one thing- she’s actually scared of Emma’s magical potential, and knows it could be enough to beat her. This witch is a rattlesnake who is starting to rattle. And rattlesnakes only do that when they feel threatened.