In this episode, it’s explained what that artifact Gold/Rumpelstiltskin was so interested in was. Turns out it’s a magical sorcerer’s hat, and it’s something previous Dark Ones have been searching eons for (Hi, Dark One Zoso) because if the current Dark One managed to capture enough magical power within it, it could help grant them immunity from being controlled via the Dark One’s dagger. Because it was under the protection of a sorcerer’s apprentice (are we speaking of THE Sorcerer’s Apprentice? The walking brooms would suggest yes), none have succeeded. As one might suspect, Dark One Rumpelstiltskin also has tried to obtain this artifact in the past, which is shown during the episode’s flashback, when Anna sought him out per Ruth’s instructions in order to ask him what her parents had been looking for. Because Dark One Rumpelstiltskin never did anything for anyone unless there was something in it for him, he tells Anna he’ll only tell her what she wants to know if he runs an errand for him. The errand involves her going to the cottage where the Apprentice was currently living and spike his tea with an mystery potion. Anna, true to her nature, decides not to do so, particularly after meeting the Apprentice and assessing him as simply a kindly old man. When she goes back to Dark One Rumpelstiltskin, he’s all ‘haha, joke’s on you,’ as the mystery potion wasn’t poison as Anna, and the viewers, were led to believe, but an antidote to something the Apprentice had previously drank. Since he didn’t drink the antidote, the Apprentice turns into a mouse, giving Dark One Rumpelstiltskin the opportunity he needed to enter the cottage and make off with the magic sorcerer’s hat. He then reveals to Anna that the contract she signed stated that, because she didn’t give the Apprentice the antidote, she now is essentially his prisoner. (WHY DO THEY NEVER READ THE CONTRACT?!) However, Anna isn’t giving up without a fight, and even in the form of a mouse, the Apprentice has still apparently maintained human awareness. By working together, they manage to get the hat away from Dark One Rumpelstiltskin and Anna, inadvertently discovering the power of the Dark One’s Dagger, uses it to command Rumpelstiltskin to send her and the hat back to Arendelle, also ordering him to never harm her or her sister ever again. And to turn the Apprentice back into a human. To which I say, you go, girl! Anna might not have had the foresight to actually read an obviously shady person’s contract before signing it, but the fact that she knew enough to throw in all those conditions when getting Rumpelstiltskin to send her home really shows how clever Anna is. This girl was leaving NOTHING to chance, and for that, she has my utmost respect. However, Anna’s return home is not as joyous as she’d hoped, as Dark One Rumpelstiltskin had informed her that her parents had been searching for something to remove Elsa’s ice powers, and she’s left wondering if she should tell her sister or not.
The Storybrooke subplot starts off with what looks like a general filler storyline, but it very quickly shifts into a huge character moment for Killian. It begins when Emma, encouraged by her conversation with Killian the night before (in which he ensured her that he was a survivor,) decides that it’s time for her to stop beating around the bush and asks him out on a date. It’s really awesome how she’s clearly discussed her plans with Henry beforehand, as evidenced by the fact that he’s standing with her before she goes into Granny’s to see Killian. It’s the sign of a good mother when she takes her children’s feelings into account before she dives into the dating pool again. While I did think it was a bit odd how Henry admitted he wasn’t that excited about the notion of Emma and Killian dating, considering I’d gotten the impression that Henry liked Killian, I suppose it does make sense. After all, it hasn’t been that long since Neal died for real, so I could see Henry feeling like it was too soon for his mother to start dating again. (Then again, it wasn’t as if she and Neal were actually together when he passed away, and I never saw any indication that Emma was considering changing that.) But Henry admits that he’s willing to put his trepidation aside, simply because he wants his mother to be happy. This kid is really on his way to being a very mature young man, and I highly appreciate that. Which brings me to the moment when Emma actually asks Killian out, resulting in his visible shock. While it was really funny how he was so taken aback by the fact that Emma asked him out so directly, he completely missed the dartboard, I am a bit disappointed we couldn’t see his facial expression at that precise moment. After all, how long has he wanted to be with this woman? And here she is, coming right up and asking him out on a date. Whatever his facial expression might have been, he composed it very quickly and, after a bit of banter, he accepts her invitation, on the condition that she allows him to plan the date, a condition that Emma readily accepts without any real argument.
Flash-forward to the evening, when we get to see Emma’s choice of dress for her date. Remember the dresses we’ve seen her wear in the pilot for her fake-date with Ryan? Or what she wore for her date with Walsh, the Wizard-Turned-Monkey? Both times, she went for the hot dresses, first with the eye-catching red number and then with the sexy black dress. This time, she’s selected a tastefully soft feminine dress. It’s like she knows she doesn’t have to worry about impressing Killian with her past dress choices. Because he’s already completely sold on her. But that’s nothing compared to what Killian did to prepare for the evening. First off, say goodbye to the full pirate regalia, which he’s never really been seen without before, with very few exceptions. We’ve already seen him making an effort to acclimate himself into Storybrooke, from his obvious attempts at educating himself on the modern world and even owning a cellphone. Now he’s gone and gotten himself in modern-day attire. Not only that, he’d also gone to Gold to get him to restore his missing left hand, which Gold has kept preserved in a glass jar (because that’s not creepy at all), simply because he wanted the opportunity to possibly hold Emma with both hands. Okay, how can you not find that totally sweet? Plus, it really gives us a hint about an unspoken factor to Killian’s state of mind. While he never hesitates to give off an air of unyielding self-confidence, the fact that he did this does suggest that the whole one hand thing leaves him with secret feelings of insecurity, which he’ll probably never willingly admit to. It’s like he feels his missing left hand somehow makes him less of a man, and therefore makes him completely unworthy of a woman like Emma. Of course, it’s clear to the viewing audience that his actions in reclaiming his left hand, while they were romantic and touching (albeit a teensy bit foolish, as Killian knows perfectly well that Gold cannot be trusted to legitimately grant him any favors, considering their history), was also completely unnecessary, as Emma doesn’t notice he’s got his left hand back until Mama Snow points it out to her. This shows that Emma doesn’t care if he’s got a hand, a hook or even a bare stump. All she sees is Killian. And while I know the chances of the show writers seeing this post is extremely slim, I would still like to request that they give us a scene in a future episode that shows Emma convincing Killian to allow her to see him without the leather cuff that covers his left arm and hides his scarred wrist. Because there is no way a scene like that would not be emotional in all the right ways.
After they leave the loft apartment, where Snow and Charming are currently at work at helping Elsa by going through the town’s census books to see if they can determine if Anna was ever picked up by the curse that created Storybrooke, we see Killian has taken Emma to a previously unseen Italian restaurant (Wow, a new Storybrooke location! Yay!). At first, Emma is still a bit hesitant to completely put her responsibilities aside for the evening, voicing her lingering concerns about Mystery Ice Cream Lady, whose Storybrooke name is later revealed to be Sarah Fisher, and how she’s sure that the new Big Bad knows her personally somehow, but Killian manages to get her to simply enjoy herself. It’s probably a safe bet that Emma did enjoy the evening, but we don’t get to see much of the date occurring. All we can really determine was that at some point, Killian gave her his new leather jacket to help her stay warm on the walk back to the loft apartment. But Emma did admit the date helped take her mind off of the threat Mystery Ice Cream Lady posed. She also practically stated she would have invited Killian for ‘coffee,’ if it were not for the fact that the loft was also occupied by her parents, baby brother and house guest Elsa. (Many fans speculate that ‘coffee’ is the new ‘taco time.’)
Unfortunately, while the date did end wonderfully, complete with Killian making himself completely vulnerable again when asking Emma for another date in the future (with Emma not objecting at all), and a really sweet goodnight kiss, there was still a dark shadow lurking over Killian’s head. When they were still at dinner, the date got interrupted when Will Scarlett, who is also at the restaurant, spotted the two sitting there and tried to sneak out undetected. (Because he did make off with the ice cream shop’s register money last episode, after all). Since Will is by no means a ninja, his attempt to slink past Emma and Killian without being seen results in him accidentally colliding with a passing patron, which ultimately results in a waiter spilling a glass of wine on Emma’s dress. Killian’s reaction to this is, well, a tad extreme but it was still understandable. A man should always defend his lady’s honor, after all. And Killian has always been a man of honor. But when his head caught up to his knee-jerk reaction, Killian is visibly shaken. When he got his hand back, Gold told him that there was a curse on the hand on account of how it belonged to the old full-pirate Killian. At the time, Killian had dismissed Gold’s warning as just another one of his tricks, but his impulsive action at the restaurant has placed a seed of doubt into his mind. His anxiety only increases after the date had ended and he once again runs into Will when the former Merry Men member was trying to break into the town library. When Will refused to heed Killian’s attempts to talk Will out of his breaking and entering, Killian once again reacts violently. At this point, Killian is REALLY scared. Because what if his cursed hand makes him do something really horrible, like hurt the people he cares for? In desperation, he goes back to Gold to try and get him to remove his hand again. Gold agrees on the condition that Killian helps him with a little task. While Killian refuses to even consider it at first, trying to consider alternative options to get rid of the cursed hand, Gold eventually worms his way into Killian’s head, making him think he has no other choice. In the end, Killian reluctantly goes along and ends up helping Gold track down the Apprentice, who is now living in Storybrooke, resulting in Gold trapping the Apprentice inside the Sorcerer’s Hat.
So, now that that’s done with, Gold removes Killian’s left hand again, replacing it with the hook. But then he’s all ‘haha, I got you now!’ as he’s magically altered the security tape from the Apprentice’s house to make it look like Killian acted alone (much like he did with the security cameras at the Sheriff’s Station to hide his involvement in Zelena’s death.) He threatens to show the altered footage to Emma and everyone else if Killian doesn’t agree to be under his employ for future misdeeds. Once again, Killian attempts to resist the blatant blackmail, but Gold, counters that by telling Killian that the hand was never cursed, and every violent action he committed with it in place was all his doing. As you can imagine, this doesn’t exactly mesh well for Killian, as he has yet to overcome his internal feelings of self-loathing, and Gold clearly knows that. So his words really throw another log onto that particular fire.
You REALLY feel so bad for Killian this episode. It’s so very like Gold to take advantage of Killian’s tattered self-esteem for his own personal gain. And it’s such a shame because it’s obvious to everyone else that Killian has changed for the better. As for the violent tendencies he displayed during the episode, I don’t think anyone should hold that against him because a) how do we know Gold wasn’t lying about the hand NOT being cursed after all and b) even if it wasn’t, Killian immediately pulled back the second he realized what he was doing and was so horrified by his actions, he allowed himself to enter into a desperate deal with Gold just to get rid of the hand he believed was cursed. Really think about that for a moment. The only reason why Killian still has his trademark hook after this episode was because he couldn’t bear the very thought that he might end up doing something he couldn’t ever take back. Such as hurting the people he loves, like Emma and her family. That alone should be proof enough that Killian is a good man. Now, if only we could get him to believe that.
As for Will Scarlett, he does break into the library where he passes out drunk only to be found by Belle the next morning. As a result, he ends up waking up in a prison cell at the Sheriff Station, where Emma grills him on what he was doing, as he was found clutching a copy of the Alice in Wonderland book as well as an illustration of what I’m guessing is the Red Queen? I’m gathering this was a reference to the fact that Will Scarlett was a star player in the Wonderland spinoff, and it’s indicating that he wants to go back there. I wonder if he’s tried going to Jefferson, since I’m sure their paths crossed at one point. (Yeah, I’d take any excuse to see Jefferson and Grace again.)
Snow and Charming were just comedy gold in this episode with their reaction to Emma’s date with Killian. They were acting like the typical parents whose daughter was going off to prom, with the mother whipping out the camera to take pictures of the daughter in her dress and the father giving the stink eye at the guy taking his daughter to prom. They even wait up for Emma to return home. Those two already have the parenting thing down, so they won't have a problem when their real-life son gets older.
There was also a small subplot with Regina and Henry, in which they further discuss the issue of the mysterious Author, and their plans to track him down and convince him to write a happy ending for Regina. It ends with Henry deciding to go undercover and get a job at Gold’s shop, because Henry’s logic is that Gold has managed to obtain his happy ending when he married Belle, even though he’s classified as a villain. Yeah, Henry. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin only just lost the son he’d been trying to reunite with for CENTURIES. He’s totally gotten a happy ending. As for his marriage to Belle? Well, let’s not forget that Evil Queen Regina believed she got her happy ending for 28 years until Emma arrived in Storybrooke. Did that ‘happy ending’ last? Yeah, didn’t think so. It’s starting to bug me with how they’re trying to demand happy endings in this season. What was it that Prince Lir said in The Last Unicorn? ‘A happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.’
The final moment in the episode has Charming discovering that there is no record of Sarah Fisher/Mystery Ice Cream Lady in any of the town’s census records. Which means she didn’t end up in Storybrooke because of the curse but came there on her own accord. That of course leads to the question of how she wound up in the Land Without Magic. At this point, only a small handful of people accomplished that feat without being brought over by the Dark Curse: Emma and August/Pinocchio via a magical wardrobe, Killian with a magic bean and Elsa, who had been trapped in the urn. And those were rare/one-shot occurrences. So how did Mystery Ice Cream Lady manage it?