Aside from short cameo appearances to show how Merida, Arthur, Guinevere, and the people of Camelot came to be in Storybrooke, these last two episodes of the first half of the season focused on our core characters. One could be forgiven for forgetting that they had ever been to Camelot earlier! This is not to the detriment of the story, however. Rather, we are treated to character studies of Emma and Captain Hook, seemingly end the saga of Merlin, and restore the status quo to go off on a new adventure.
In Broken Heart, our heroes deal with the immediate fallout of learning that Captain Hook has been made a second Dark One along with Emma. Unsurprisingly, everyone is shocked. The Charmings in particular react poorly – they cannot deal with their daughter doing anything wrong, even for ostensibly the right reasons, and they distance themselves from her. Whereas they tried too hard to protect her earlier in Camelot, now they simply refuse to consider that she is telling the truth about her intentions. I understand that they are mistrustful, but it is still painful to watch. Snow White and Prince Charming are too heroic for their own good.
Henry makes peace with his biological mother, though it is clear that while he still believes in her, he does not trust her as fully as he did before. He has newfound confidence as he matures. He is more than willing to take on adventures with the family, no longer relegated to the sidelines to be babysat. (Now that is Baby Neal’s role, along with Roland and Baby Pistachio, or whatever Robin’s new daughter is named.) Emma, Henry, Regina, Robin, Snow, and Charming come to terms with the fact that Hook has evil intentions for Storybrooke and themselves in particular. They are at a loss of how to deal with him.
Meanwhile, Hook has fully embraced the darkness much as an addict who falls off the wagon goes hard into drinking and drugs. He is on a bender and has eyes only for revenge, particularly on Emma (for turning him into a Dark One) and on Rumplestiltskin, whom he has never fully forgiven for killing Milah and chopping off his hand.
Swan Song concludes stint of Emma and Hook as Dark Ones, bringing Emma back into her red leather jacket and Hook to the underworld, but at least redeemed as a hero. Rumplestiltskin has regained Belle’s trust, but he is hiding from her that he managed to find a loophole to give himself back the darkness and regain his powers as the Dark One. I am not surprised – after centuries of being one of the most powerful men in the realms, he could not simply give up that power. It is an addiction much stronger than vengeance. Nothing will truly satiate him.
We also learn about Captain Hook’s childhood and how, like his crocodile Rumplestiltskin, he and his older brother were abandoned by their father. At the Evil Queen’s urging, prior to the beginning of the series and the birth of Emma, Hook managed to get his revenge on his father. At his core, Hook believed that he could not truly change from the murderous pirate hell bent on revenge into a loving and law-abiding man. The darkness was tempting, but it was not what he wanted to be. Hook always wanted to be strong and he has always abided by a code of honour. At the eleventh hour, Regina reminded him of that, in the process saving Emma from sacrificing herself.
The episode ends with the family, minus Belle and the younger children, heading to the underworld. This should prove to be an interesting twist for the next half of the season. There are a lot of dead characters with unfinished business to bring back! The status quo has been restored, but it has also been turned on its head. Just because Emma has returned to her Saviour status does not mean that she has shed her darkness entirely. She is still connected to the newly-formed dagger. Furthermore, the underworld is not easy to escape from! Meanwhile, Zelena has to find her way back from Oz to get her daughter (whom I will keep calling Pistachio until we find out her name).
To be honest, while I enjoyed these episodes and they are certainly though-provoking, I mostly simply enjoyed them for the characters and story without delving deeply into further themes. What stood out was that true to form, Once Upon a Time has brilliantly illustrated addiction. Rumplestiltskin struggles with his addiction to power and truly does not want to give it up. He knows that he ought to, but he cannot do it. A part of him still convinces himself that he is better off with his power. He needs to be able to protect Belle. He needs to be able to protect himself, especially if Hook is still harbouring thoughts of vengeance. He needs to be able to protect others against the darkness. After having the darkness being the voice in his head for so many years, he is lonely without them.
In contrast, Hook is less an addict and more someone who cannot hold his darkness. He goes full tilt when it suits him and is highly destructive, but he can more easily quit. He listens to others. He comes off of his high and realises his anger is mostly for naught. He is more easily redeemed and far more likely to fight off his drunkedness-on-darkness.
As a viewer, I was disappointed that the writers quickly resolved the plot threads regarding the Dark Ones and left the threads about Camelot dangling, but I understand why they did so, and I agree that it made for a good story. If they had another episode or two before their break, it would have been worth it to drag out these plots for slightly longer, but I trust that there will be more to the story in the spring. I remember that this is not my story, after all.
I look forward to exploring the Underworld in March!