Now, THIS is how you do an episode!
As we saw last episode, August is now back, and Gold wastes no time before beginning his interrogation/torture to get the young man to spill what he knows about the Author. He even resorts to forcing August to swallow a potion that brings back Pinocchio’s characteristic nose-growing trait, so they’d know if he was lying. However, Regina manages to send the rest of the Nevengers a message by temporary ‘possessing’ Snow, informing them that Gold has returned to Storybrooke and is in league with the Queens of Darkness. To try and nip whatever he’s planning in the bud, they go see Belle in order to ask her to grant them possession of the Dark One’s dagger. Of course, by now, it’s too late, as Gold already tricked Belle out of it by impersonating Killian. And the real Killian is SO not pleased by this news, angrily announcing they should have killed Gold when they had the chance. I can only imagine how rankled Killian must be at learning that his oldest enemy is not only back in town (who else saw his jaw twitching when Regina dropped that bombshell?), but that he’s still hurting the people he cares about. I’m sure we all remember everything Gold did to Killian, and what he almost did to Emma during the Frozen arc. Not to mention how he could have ultimately caused the deaths of everyone in Storybrooke by having the fairies trapped in the Sorcerer’s Hat before they could develop a cure for Ingrid’s curse. But now, he’s once again manipulating and tricking Belle, whom we’ve seen Killian was developing a nice little friendship with. In my head cannon, Killian might very well be starting to think of Belle as the younger sister he never had, and therefore feels protective of her. So it would make perfect sense for Killian to feel angry over Belle once again being tricked by her estranged husband. Notice how he verbally expressed his anger after seeing how hurt Belle was over Gold once again tricking her.
To try and figure out what Gold is really planning, Killian decides to utilize his past with Ursula. It turns out that centuries ago, when Killian/Hook was still under Pan’s employ, he had a run in with a much younger Ursula, who was originally a mermaid and daughter of Poseidon , the god of the sea. Some time ago, Ursula’s mother was killed by pirates, and the grief-stricken Poseidon decided to use Ursula’s gift of song, which she’d inherited from her late mother, as a weapon. He instructed Ursula to use her song to lure sailors to their deaths. Because Poseidon is now convinced all humans are bad, a viewpoint Ursula disagreed with. (You know, I kinda would like to see a meeting between Ursula and Anton sometime. They both went through similar periods of ‘just because one human was bad, it doesn’t mean they’re all bad. Oh no! I just had a bad experience with a human! I hate humans now!’ Is it possible to ship two characters who haven’t even met in canon?) When Ursula happened to use her melodic song on the crew of the Jolly Roger, she couldn’t go through with luring them to their deaths and allowed Hook and his crew to go free. When Hook later runs into Ursula at a tavern sometime later as she entertains the clientele with her singing, he recognizes her as the mermaid who spared his crew. To show his gratefulness for her mercy, as well as how Ursula’s song actually helped temporary soothe the grief he still carried from Milah’s death, he agrees to bring Ursula to the kingdom of Glowerhaven, which was her mother’s favorite spot. But Poseidon was not willing to allow Ursula to leave, and he tries to bribe Hook into betraying the young mermaid by trapping her voice inside an enchanted shell. Poseidon states that if Hook does this, he will give the pirate captain a vial of squid ink that can be used to paralyze Dark One Rumpelstiltskin. But Hook, who was always a man of honor deep down, refused to take away Ursula’s voice, as he knew how much it meant to her and how it reminded her of her late mother. Instead, he tells Ursula about Poseidon’s plan and suggests that they tweak their original bargain. The new bargain states that Hook will still take Ursula to Glowerhaven if she can procure him a vial of Poseidon’s squid ink as payment. Their plan seems to go over without a hitch. Until Poseidon pops up again and magically takes away the squid ink. In furious retaliation, Hook responds by trapping Ursula’s voice inside the shell. Which isn’t too surprising, as he’s always had a penchant for revenge. (First against the corrupt king, then against Rumpelstiltskin, and now with Poseidon).
In present-day Storybrooke, Killian meets with Ursula and lets her know she doesn’t need the Author in order to get what she wants- he can get her voice back without the Author's assistance. It turns out that the shell that Ursula’s voice is trapped inside still remains on the Jolly Roger, which is still in the Enchanted Forest. Taking advantage of the fact that Ursula can access underwater portals, Killian has her open one up in order to bring the Jolly Roger back. Only when she does, they discover something’s happened to it, and it’s now been transformed somehow into a ship in a bottle. Okay, not the strangest think we’ve seen happen on this show, so I can buy that. To get it full-sized again, Killian swings by Gold’s shop to enlist Will’s help. Since Will had spent a particular amount of time in Wonderland, Killian figures that Will might know of a way to restore the Jolly Roger. (Speaking of Wonderland, are we ever going to see Jefferson and Grace again? Considering Will is now a recurring character on this show, they really do have the perfect set up, as I’m sure Will and Jefferson must have spent some time together at some point.) Anyway, with Will’s essence of magical mushroom, they restore the Jolly Roger to its former glory. Which is awesome for Killian. He LOVED the Jolly Roger but sacrificed it for the sake of Emma. So it’s just so satisfying to see him get it back. However, first thing is first; they have to get the shell that contains Ursula’s voice. But when they obtain the enchanted shell, they can’t release Ursula’s voice. Deciding that listening to Killian was a waste of her time, Ursula knocks him unconscious and throws him overboard. Thankfully, Killian is saved from drowning by a surprise reappearance of Ariel. But wait, wasn’t she sequestered on a desert island with Eric back in the Enchanted Forest? Yes she was, but apparently after Elsa, Anna and Kristoff returned to Arendelle, they also managed to deal with Blackbeard, who had been wreaking havoc throughout the kingdom in their absence. To put a stop to that, Elsa had the Jolly Roger shrunk down. (She can do that? I thought Elsa’s powers were limited to ice magic. Answers, please!) It turns out that when the Jolly Roger got shrunk down, Ariel was hit in the crossfire and got trapped in the bottle as well (why was she even hanging out around the ship to begin with?), only being freed when the Jolly Roger was restored. His reunion with Ariel ended up giving Killian an idea, and he asks Ariel to track down Poseidon, realizing that only the sea god can release Ursula’s voice. Killian’s plan ultimately succeeds, and Poseidon returns Ursula’s voice. The moment is made even more satisfying as Ursula and Poseidon decide to make amends and leave together. Before she leaves, Ursula rewards Killian for his assistance in helping her find her happy ending by letting him know Gold’s ultimate plan. Apparently, he knows the Author cannot rewrite the book’s rules, because Emma was the one who brought about the heroes’ happy endings. So the only way to give the villains what they want is to corrupt Emma’s heart with darkness.
In the final moments of the episode, August wakes up from his nap (because I imagine spending the entire episode being tortured for information can be quite draining) and informs Emma, Regina and Henry that the illustration of the door is not just an illustration. It IS the door, and the Author is trapped inside the book. So all we need is Gumby. Or Atrus from the Myst games.
I have to admit, I hadn’t realized that I missed August until this episode. But seeing him interacting with Emma when the Nevengers show up to rescue him from Gold and the Queens of Darkness really put a smile on my face. As much as August messed up in his job of protecting Emma when she was young, there was never a doubt that August and Emma shared a pretty nice friendship during season 1. When they meet again for the first time since the second half of season 2, it’s like no time has passed, and their camaraderie is still just as strong.
We also get such a great development between Emma and Killian. When Ursula shows up at Gold’s cabin, interrupting Emma, Snow and Charming’s attempt at rescuing August (by the way, who's watching the baby?), Emma is immediately worried, knowing that Killian was supposed to be with her. So if Ursula is here and Killian is unaccounted for, then what happened to him? And when Killian appears, alive and unharmed, Emma’s relief is tangible. So much so, that she immediately reaches out to grasp his arm, and she doesn’t stop touching him until everyone else begins to leave. And when they’re left alone, we get one of the greatest Captain Swan moments to date. Killian opens up to Emma about his fears surrounding the Author. If it’s true that the rules of the book the Author wrote essentially forbids villains from ever getting their happy endings, then it means that he himself will ultimately lose his happy ending. Which leads to the following exchange.
Emma: Wait. If you're afraid of losing your happy ending, that means you found it. What is it?
Killian: Don't you know, Emma? It's you.
Not only is this the closest they’ve come so far to an actual ‘I love you’ without actually saying the words, his confession brings Emma to emotional tears. Emma had grown up feeling unloved and unwanted. So for her, the knowledge that Killian considers her his happy ending is just huge for her. Of course, she probably knows that Killian loves her. After all, she'd have to pretty dense to not realize that. He did trade his ship for her, after all. But then again, her parents also love her. And yet, simply having her in their lives just isn’t enough for them. The very existence of Baby Neal is a testament to that. They needed something more than Emma before they felt satisfied. But here, Killian is stating that all he needs to have a happy ending is Emma, and nothing more. And for someone who’d spent most of her life feeling like an unwanted, unloved orphan, the revelation that someone could be completely satisfied with just her is simply staggering.
Small bit of foreshadowing happened this episode. Regina ends up falling asleep for a brief moment, and dreams that Robin somehow was able to return to Storybrooke. However, when they’re having their reunion, a second Regina appears, only this Regina is Evil Queen Regna, who promptly launches a fireball towards them. When Regina later discusses this dream with Emma, she admits she feels like her Evil Queen persona was trying to protect Robin from someone. The question is, does this mean Regina can instinctively feel that Robin is in some kind of danger through the power of True Love? It wouldn’t be the first time something like this happened. When Snow fell under the Sleeping Curse with the poisoned apple, Charming immediately KNEW something bad happened to her. So if Robin is in danger, what’s he in danger from? Wanting to assist Regina in settling her concern for Robin's well-being, Emma states she will give Regina Robin's cellphone number.
Okay, it’s time I discussed my thoughts on Killian stating that he was once a villain. To be completely honest, I have NEVER thought of him as a villain in this show, so I can’t understand why people refer to him as such. I personally feel the only reason to think of him that way was because that’s how the character of Captain Hook was portrayed in J.M. Barrie’s original story. Allow me to explain my reasons for not classifying this version of Captain Hook as a villain. They say that first impressions are very important. So let’s look at my first impressions for the three main ‘villains’ in this show. I think I made it quite clear how I felt about Regina during all of season 1. Nearly every time she appeared on screen, I was all ‘oh, come on, lady! Go eat a Prozac. Or treat yourself to a singles vacation package at a tropical resort in Fiji.’ With Gold/Rumpelstiltskin, my initial take on him pretty much alternated between ‘ugh, you twisted, manipulative snake!’ to ‘wait, you’re helping the good guys now? I don’t buy it. What’s your game?’ However, when it came to Killian/Hook? After watching his interaction with the ‘Princess Squad’ in ‘The Doctor,’ I was all ‘yeahhhh. Hmmm. Tell you what, Hook. I’m just going to take my stopwatch here, and time how long it takes for you to officially join the good guys. I hope you don’t mind.’ Yeah, to me, it was obvious from the get-go that it was only a matter of time before that character became a permanent ally to Emma and the others. As a result, when Emma left him behind at the top of the beanstalk, even though I understood why she was doing so, I was still mimicking C-3PO in saying ‘what are you doing? Trust him, trust him!’
In addition, let’s look at what motivated Killian/Hook to choose the path he ended up going on. Just about everything he did throughout season 2 was fueled by his desire to avenge someone he’d loved. I can’t see how he can be faulted for that. Wanting to avenge the murder of a loved one is a very human reaction. While it could be argued that Regina also had the same motivation, she lost my support when she chose blame a ten-year-old girl for Daniel’s death instead of the person who actually committed the murder. You never saw that level of warped logic with Killian/Hook. He never tried to hold Mr. Smee responsible for Milah’s death on the grounds that, if Smee had chosen to have his meeting with the Dark One in a different tavern, Rumpelstiltskin might never have crossed paths with Killian and Milah again. No, Killian maintained enough semblance of logic to place blame where blame was due, and I say he deserves merit for that. In a related story, there are the things Killian actually did. Granted we only saw a few of his past deeds, but the bits we did see didn’t strike me as all that bad. Let’s take his backstory with Ursula in this episode for example. At the start of it all, he was completely willing to help Ursula achieve her dream of reaching Glowerhaven (can we please visit that kingdom in the future? I love seeing new locations in this show). So much so, he actually offered to escort her there free-of-charge. And when Poseidon tried to bribe him to double-cross Ursula in exchange for a way to finally defeat Rumpelstiltskin, Killian/Hook REFUSED to even consider it, and instead thought up an alternative option. In fact, when he did end up taking away Ursula’s singing voice, it didn’t strike me as a particularly evil act. Just another very human reaction. Poseidon had taken away the very first lucky break he’d gotten in his quest of finishing Rumpelstiltskin, so of course he was going to react to that. How many people lash out when they’re upset or angry? That’s just human nature. It’s also probably important to note that Killian/Hook didn’t just destroy the shell after Poseidon left. Instead he kept it locked up in his personal quarters aboard the Jolly Roger. The fact that he kept the shell intact could suggest a part of him regretted his impulsive action once his anger had subsided a bit, but since it was probably virtually impossible for him to track down Poseidon or Ursula afterwards, there wasn’t really anything he could do about it.
All in all, even when Killian/Hook was at his worst, he always seemed to know where to draw the line, which is a glaring contrast to Regina, who massacred an entire village because Snow happened to spend a night there, and Rumpelstiltskin, who frequently murdered people for the smallest offences. And while I won’t pretend Killian/Hook hadn’t killed people, even then, he always seemed to prefer to avoid wholesale slaughter (i.e. his reaction to Cora killing all the people at the refugee encampment; he was completely ready to turn against her for that, even before he met Emma.) In fact, the only time he’s done something that made me thing ‘whoa! Going a bit too far there!’ was when he nearly killed Belle in the ‘Queen of Hearts’ flashback. But even then, you have to ask yourself- if that was just some random person and not a character we’d already gotten to know and care about, would that have bothered us as much? I’m pretty sure we were all kinda ‘meh’ over him killing Claude (who was later revealed to be a bit of a jerk, anyway).
Finally, there’s the whole aspect about the condition of the character’s heart. When a character on the show does something that’s particularly evil or corrupted, their heart will reflect that by becoming darkened. The impression I’ve gotten from past episodes is that once someone’s heart obtains a dark spot, that spot is permanent. That possibility makes the most sense to me because if you commit an atrocious act, even if you can make up for it, you can never take it back. So of course your dark spot will remain, no matter how much you turn your life around. (Of course, I’m not on the show’s writing staff, so I could be interpreting this the wrong way.) With that said, let’s compare the conditions of the three main ‘villain’s’ hearts.
First, let’s look at Regina’s heart. Even though she’s supposed to have redeemed herself, her heart still remains mostly black.
Next we have Gold/Rumpelstiltskin’s heart. Even though we haven’t actually seen it by this episode, it will appear before the completion of the Author arc. Much like Regina, his heart is almost entirely black, with only the tiniest speck of red light left.
And that brings us to Killian’s heart, which we’ve all got a good glimpse of thanks to Gold’s actions during the Frozen arc. Again, while I’m no expert, that certainly looks like a healthy heart to me. (And this is me pointing and laughing at what Belle said about his heart in ‘The Outsider.’ Yeah, rotten my eye.)
The very fact that Killian’s heart is mostly devoid of any darkness suggests that Killian never reached the level of depravity that Regina and Gold did, indicating once again that he always knew exactly when to draw the line.
For those reasons, I think it’s a harsh exaggeration to say Killian was ever an actual villain. Personally, I think a more accurate label for this character, particularly at the early stages, would be the antihero. What is an antihero? It’s someone who possesses heroic qualities but is morally ambiguous. I think this describes Killian perfectly. He certainly has plenty of heroic qualities, such as bravery and a sense of honor. How many times has he mentioned believing in good form or keeping to a code? And I think we can all agree that he was certainly morally ambiguous during season 2 with his tendency to have his allegiance bounce back and forth depending on the current situation.