Review: Once Upon a Time 5.11

Once Upon A Time Season 5 Episode 11 "Swan Song" Script Tease

I enjoyed this one quite a bit, even if it was one of the show’s most heartbreaking finales, mid-season or otherwise. I have a lot of thoughts about the Dark One arc as a whole, which I’ll get into down below, but let’s talk about this episode first.

If we have to pick a character of the hour, it’s obviously Killian Jones, but Emma had some big moments in this episode as well. Appropriate, since her journey has been a huge component of this arc. Similarly, her decision to sacrifice herself was a huge part of this episode, even if it didn’t end up coming to fruition. I liked her plan for a few different reasons. One, it was an excellent echo of her choice to become the Dark One in the first place, this time prepared to say a far more permanent goodbye, showing yet again just how much she loves her family. Her potential sacrifice led to other lovely, but painful moments as well: asking Regina to make good on the promise she made in Camelot; watching her parents, Henry, and Neal from afar before leaving her note, knowing they would try to stop her if she said goodbye in person; and that twisted scene with Hook and the sword that perfectly showed their current heartbreaking reality.

And speaking of Mr. Killian Jones, he was of course the one who ultimately made the sacrifice and proved once and for all what kind of man he is. There’s a lot to break down here, starting with those flashback scenes which helped explain why Hook has wrestled with the darkness for so long. In the first one, my heart broke for kid Killian, having to listen as a stranger explained what a selfish coward his father was. But it also broke for Captain Hook, listening to that same father talk about how he’d changed, how he had another son to do right by now, even if he couldn’t find it in himself to do the same for Killian and Liam.

Hook’s response to that information spoke volumes; even in the middle of his revenge quest, there was an element of good in him. Hurt as he was, he fully planned on giving his father and half-brother safe passage. But, understandably, hearing his father call his new son “Liam” was too much, he couldn’t bear to hear his brother forgotten, replaced by another, so, in a way out of love for his brother, but also hatred for his father, he chose darkness in that moment, killing the man who abandoned them so many years ago.

I’ll admit, much as I felt for Hook, that moment was a little hard to swallow, but largely because of its place in the narrative rather than because of the act itself. We haven’t had a Hook flashback in a long while, and it’s become a little too easy to pretend that he wasn’t as bad as he says he was, even though he’s been very upfront with Emma about the terrible things he did as Captain Hook. For comparison’s sake, I enjoy the Evil Queen sightings (like the one in this episode) much more than I used to, largely because Regina is so far removed from the person she was then. It’s tougher to watch someone do something terrible when they’re currently wrestling with darkness, because it makes succumbing to it seem that much more likely. But, of course, that’s exactly why they chose this episode to reveal that Hook killed his father. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know it made me a tiny bit nervous to see the darkness that Hook was capable of, and showed me just how big a step it was for him to ultimately reject it.

He did so for a couple of reasons. One, seeing the love of his life in pain, pleading with him to make the right choice (which I’ll talk about in a moment), and also because of a question from a pretty unexpected source: Regina. I was surprised by the role she played in Hook’s story this episode, but I think it worked very well, especially because of the way it built to that final moment. The flashback added an interesting dimension to Hook and Regina’s present-day relationship, explaining why they’ve never gotten along, always keeping each other at arm’s length, probably because they remind one another of a pretty terrible time in their lives. However, Regina showed that, despite that history, she does care for him (calling him Killian was a nice touch), and was willing to remind him that each of them would face retribution in the Underworld for what they did in the past, an apt reference to how similar they once were. I also think, if push came to shove, Killian would do the same for Regina. They may love to snark at each other, but this episode proved that they have things in common that can’t be ignored.

Of course, Regina may have posed the question of what kind of man Killian is, but it was undoubtedly Emma Swan who helped him answer it. In the same way that his father’s relationship with his nurse changed him, Killian’s relationship with Emma has made him see that it’s worth choosing light, choosing love, choosing being a hero, even if it means losing his life in the process. That scene provided another parallel as well, with Emma killing Hook as Hook killed his father, the latter for revenge, the former the greatest sacrifice imaginable. It says so much about these two characters that Emma has now seen Hook die three times in recent memory, yet each time their pain is just as palpable. Here, the way they pleaded with each other was heartbreaking, as were their final “I love you”s and the way she held him as he died.

Immediately afterwards, her sobbing and clinging to her parents as they took him away was gut wenching, and the resolve she later show in Gold’s shop impressive, furious at him, but hellbent on getting the love of her life back rather than exacting revenge.

And let’s talk about Mr. Gold, that increasingly irredeemable man, for a moment. I’ll admit, though I’m not a Rumbelle fan, I did think it was nice that he worried about getting her out of town; if there’s one thing I’ve never doubted it’s that he does love her. But I took issue with Belle taking his lie and turning it into a sign that he’s a good man, when it would have been just as easy for him to tell her the truth. Unfortunately, that lie was small potatoes in comparison to what Emma figured out in the end: that Rumple made himself the Dark One again and has no plans to tell Belle. This is frustrating on a couple levels. One, as a Belle lover I never like to see her manipulated, and it has happened far, far too many times already. Two, on a story level it’s boring, because they’re basically back to the same place they’ve been a number of times before, which doesn’t allow for any growth in their relationship.

However, I will say that I was a little irritated when Rumple basically got a free pass to becoming a hero this season, especially in comparison to how hard Regina and Hook have worked to get there, so I’m a little glad that he’s back to where he was (and clearly wants to be) and can once again be held accountable for all that he’s done. Plus, there’s something kind of comforting about Rumple being back to his normal manipulating self in a half-season that’s sure to be pretty twisty, with everyone headed to the Underworld.

I love that they all supported Emma’s plan to go there, find Hook, and share a heart with him (the ultimate sign of true love if there ever was one). I did have to laugh a little bit at everyone going to the Underworld with her (surely Robin Hood or Charming would have stayed behind to help the fairies with the kids?), but it did show what a unit this crazy, dysfunctional, but thoroughly supportive family has become.

Thoughts on this arc as a whole:

On a character level, this was one of my favorites in the show’s entire run, especially for Emma and Hook. They grew so much in this half-season, both as individuals and in their relationship. They learned about themselves and the happiness that they deserve, as well as the strength of their relationship, despite its believable imperfections. And, because their characters experienced so much, Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue had the opportunity to deliver their strongest performances to date, particularly in the last couple episodes.

The other main characters had some great moments as well. Henry showed a nice maturity in his scenes with Violet, and his fight with Emma added an interesting layer to their relationship. The close proximity of the darkness allowed Regina to come to further terms with the woman she used to be and remind herself why she never wants to be that person again. Snow and Charming learned to trust Emma more than they ever have before, building some good will with both she and the audience after last season (in this episode, assuring her that Neal wouldn’t be alone was especially sweet). Finally, Belle, Mulan, and Ruby were all given episodes that showed their physical and emotional strength, reminding viewers why we love them so much in the process.

However, much as I loved this arc for the main characters, on a plot level it wasn’t my favorite. The pacing needed work; Emma’s journey as the Dark One was done very well, but Hook’s felt a bit rushed. I don’t have a problem with how quickly he submitted to the darkness (killing his father showed why he was so predisposed to it), but I could have done with a few more beats showing him fight it off. If he submitted to the darkness so quickly, why was he able to ignore it so easily at the end of this episode?

I also don’t think the new characters were utilized nearly as well as they have been in past arcs. I liked Merida a lot, but she didn’t feel all that necessary to the story they told this season. In contrast, the Camelot characters were a little more important, but I had a hard time getting invested in them. It also doesn’t help that their stories are incomplete as of now. I read that they did film scenes with the Camelot characters leaving Storybrooke, but they were apparently cut for time. This hour was probably stronger without those moments, but I wish they would have found time to include them in one of the last few episodes. As far as we know, Guinevere is still under Arthur’s influence, his kingdom still has no idea what a jerk he is, and Lancelot doesn’t know about Guinevere’s true feelings for him, which is kind of a bummer. It wouldn’t make much sense to revisit these characters during the remainder of this season, but I hope there’s a chance they’ll pop up again in a future season to conclude their stories.

Like Merida, I don’t think Zelena was needed in this arc, though her abrupt departure in this episode could be a setup for something interesting in 5B. Perhaps a little revenge seeking for getting cut out of her daughter’s life? I did love Regina’s glee at sending her sister away, though. She basically cackled “somewhere over the rainbow”, proving once again how adept Lana Parrilla is at showing the flashes of vindictiveness that once made Regina the Evil Queen.

So, off to the Underworld we go! I’m intrigued by this premise and excited/nervous for the return of Storybrooke’s biggest villains. As always, it’s going to be a long wait for March…

What are your thoughts on this episode and the 5A arc as a whole? Let me know in the comments!

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