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‘Once Upon A Time’ recap: It’s in his kiss

As expected, Oncers, “The Jolly Roger” joins my list as one of the best episodes this season. This Hook-centric storyline allowed Colin O’Donoghue to shine in a whole new light and proves once again that he is an extremely skilled and vital member of ‘Once Upon A Time’s’ talented ensemble.

Will Hook help Ariel find Eric?
ABC/Jack Rowand

Magic tricks often succeed when there is an element of misdirection. Consider this episode as an epic illusion. As we discover what occurred during Hook’s past year in Fairy Tale Land, we also realize the reason why the savvy pirate may have been spared from the amnesia aspect of Zelena’s new curse.

Hook is riddled with guilt after betraying Ariel’s trust by choosing the Jolly Roger instead of doing the right thing and helping her find Prince Eric. Hook’s regrets rise to the forefront when Ariel swims up on Storybrooke’s shore and we watch history sort of repeat itself. While Hook is with Ariel, we have the pleasure of watching Regina teach Emma how to use magic. Plus, Grandpa Charming desperately and hilariously attempts to bond with disinterested Henry.

Fairy Tale Land, Nine Months Ago: “I’m a pirate and I always will be.”

Hook and his men are back in Fairy Tale Land, including Smee (played by the always entertaining and greatly missed Chris Gauthier) who is relieved not to be a rat anymore. As the episode opens, Hook uses a clever optical illusion to rob a band of guards by posing as a knight and setting up fiery arrows to make the men think they’re surrounded. As Smee lights up more arrows, the men run and leave some loot behind for Hook. Smirking, he tells Smee, “You don’t need a ship to be a pirate.”

Later at the tavern, the men present Hook with a welcome home gift. Yes, they got Hook a hooker (pun totally intended.) He acts all macho and happy about it and heads outside with the dame. Then he gives her money and instructs her to tell everyone they both enjoyed their time together. Aww! Hook is still pining after Emma and he only has eyes for her. When Hook falls in love, he sure falls hard and he is willing to do anything to protect the woman he loves. As Hook turns one woman away, another one catches him off guard.

Ariel pins Hook to the ground with a dagger to his throat and she demands to know Prince Eric’s whereabouts. Way to make a first impression! Naturally, Hook turns the tables and gains the upper hand. Once the dagger is pressed against Ariel’s throat, the sweet mermaid explains herself.

Eric and his crew were attacked by the Jolly Roger. One of his men escaped with the dagger and the inscribed initials confirm that it belongs to Black Beard’s dagger. Black Beard has commandeered his ship and Hook’s going to take it back. He fills his men in on what has happened and Ariel recites the pirate’s code of honor, telling them that it is only fair for her to join them since she informed them about the Jolly Roger. Hook tells Smee that he hasn’t been the same because he does not have “her” (aka the Jolly Roger). He hopes that getting his ship back will help fill the void Emma has left. Hook promises to help Ariel get Eric back when he confronts Black Beard and reclaims his beloved ship.

On their way through the woods, Ariel’s cloak gets caught on a branch and the pirate uses his hook to tear her free. She snaps at him for ruining the only thing Eric left behind for her. Hook warns her to prepare for the worse, a tear on Eric’s cloak will be the least of the damage caused by this dangerous venture. Ariel studies Hook for a moment and tells him all the wonderful things she has heard about him. He is known as a hero and she says that being good is nothing to be ashamed of. People can change and Hook is changing for the better. But Hook disagrees and quips, “I’m a pirate and I always will be.” Unfortunately, he proves his point when they find the Jolly Roger.

Hook is love-struck at the sight of his treasured ship. He defends his feelings by telling Ariel that she has her love and Hook has his. Granted a person and an object are two drastically different things, but then again, we know the Jolly Roger’s origin story. This ship represents the time Killian spent with his brother, Liam. After his brother sadly died on that ship, Hook renounced their selfish King and claimed the Jolly Roger as his own. So I can’t blame Hook for his attachment to the Jolly Roger. But does that justify his behavior?

Hook faces off with Black Beard in some pretty sweet swordplay, especially the shot of their shadows dueling on deck. Although Hook literally has the upper hand, Black Beard messes with his head. He taunts Hook for going soft. Clearly the one-handed pirate is not as fearsome as he once was. Black Beard says he left Prince Eric on a deserted island. Then he tests Hook: he offers Eric’s whereabouts in exchange for the Jolly Roger. If Hook is still a true pirate he will choose vengeance and the Jolly Roger over helping Ariel find Eric. To save face, Hook breaks his deal with Ariel.

Hook makes Black Beard walk (more like shoved-off) the plank. As the unruly pirate plunges into the fathoms below (I don’t think this is last we’ve seen of Black Beard, but it’s a great intro to his character), Ariel lashes out at Hook. She slaps him hard across the face, justifiably. She assures him that selfishness, not love, will bring him wasted years in the future. With that said, Ariel dives into the water and swims away to find her True Love.

Storybrooke, Present Day: “I swear on Emma Swan.”

David and Emma are trying to put Baby Charming’s crib together, pieces are missing and he has seen battle plans simpler than the instructions, but they are determined to assemble this crib. Snow White doesn’t understand his obsession with it, saying they can have Geppetto do it. But it is a matter of principle. David explains, “The crib is a statement. We are not going to lose another baby.” It makes sense and is pretty sweet. Just then Regina walks in with news.

Regina has conjured a spell sans blood that will protect the town, but Zelena is still a dangerous threat. Emma says she is ready to learn magic, but Regina is skeptical. She says, “Magic is a way of life.” Emma must fully commit to practicing magic if this is going to work. Emma is all in and is ready to get started. The Charmings offer to watch Henry during her first lesson and Emma tries to let them down gently. All they talk about is baby stuff, so 12 year old Henry is bored by their company. He’d rather spend time sword fighting and learning how to break into things with Hook. The Charmings are offended, but Emma does what’s best for Henry and reaches out to Hook.

Before Emma approaches, Smee asks Hook about the Jolly Roger. Nobody knows where it is, except for Hook. The men want to board their ship and sail away from Zelena, but Hook says there is no guarantee that they can freely leave via sea without turning into flying monkeys. Smee begins pressing the issue because he doesn’t understand Hook’s reasoning. Hook finally snaps, “My reasons are my own. Question them again at your peril.” Whoa! There’s the feisty sharp-tongued pirate we haven’t seen in a little while. As Smee shrugs away, Emma asks Hook for a favor.

As we saw in this week’s first sneak peek, Hook and Emma have a candid conversation. Hook is happy to watch over Henry, but he is disappointed to hear that Emma wants to whisk him away to New York when this Zelena business is all over. Hook assures Emma that she cannot pretend this whole thing never happened. There is no going back. Obviously, Hook is speaking from experience. He hasn’t been able to get over the way he wronged Ariel and now his sins have come back to haunt him.

The Charmings find Ariel washed up on shore. She heard about the new curse and like the others, the little mermaid has no memory of the past year. All she knows is that she swam everywhere trying to find Eric and there is no sign of him. David and Snow say Hook retained his memory and may be able to help, so they pay him a visit.

They find Hook at Granny’s Diner where he is teaching Henry how to cheat at dice. Hook is shaken by the sight of Ariel and denies knowing anything about Eric. The Charmings insist on watching Henry while Hook and Ariel visit Belle at Gold’s shop, if they’re lucky they can find one of Eric’s items and use it to track him down with a location spell. Hook pulls David aside and tells him that Eric could be dead, so they shouldn’t give Ariel false hope. But he still goes along with their plan.

Belle is delighted to see Ariel again. Hook starts searching the shop and finds his old telescope. He scans the room through his telescope and spots Eric’s cloak. Ariel is surprised that Hook knew it belonged to Eric, but he says the maritime clasp was a giveaway. Ariel gives Hook a grateful hug. This is clearly eating away at the poor pirate and it is breaking my heart. So let’s take a break by checking in on Regina and Emma’s magic lesson.

Regina takes out her mini treasure chest of magic and begins with a book of incantations. Emma takes one look and is baffled by the elfish root words. Since magic is grounded in instincts, Regina gets another idea. Emma needs the right kind of motivation. When Rumple taught Regina, he would just through her into the water and didn’t care if she drowned. So Regina puts Emma in the same kind of life-threatening position by teleporting her onto a rickety bridge.

As Emma sways on the tethered bridge, Regina explains how power is spurred from instincts. Regina magically breaks the bridge down slowly and instructs Emma to save herself by rebuilding the bridge. After a brief struggle, Emma reconstructs the bridge and it raises her up to safety. Regina is frustrated. She expected Emma to simply rebind the rope, but she pulled off this hefty feat. Now Regina is mad at Emma’s wasted potential. Regina has really grown on me during the past couple of seasons. Even the way she helps Emma is kind of endearing. She is taking Emma under her magical wing and it really is heartwarming. Once Emma has proven herself, they decide to head back home. Meanwhile, Belle casts the location spell on Eric’s cloak.

Ariel thanks Hook for all of his help as they follow the cloak through the streets of Storybrooke. When the cloak plunges into the sea and sinks out of sight, they both take it as a sign of Eric’s passing. Ariel appreciates everything Hook has done. She says that this revelation has brought her some closure. At least now she knows their love story has come to an end. She praises Hook for being a good man and helping her out. Each word is just another dagger stabbing Hook in the heart. Ugh! This is so painful to watch. Time for a little comic relief courtesy of David and Henry.

I was surprised when a truck appeared in this week’s title card. I expected to see the Jolly Roger, but this scene explained it all. In an effort to prove to Henry that they aren’t “the uncharmings,” David teaches Henry how to drive their truck. Snow watches as Henry literally tears up the town, knocking down mailboxes and more. But hey, at least he thinks his grandparents are kind of cool now. It provided some much needed laughter in the middle of a gut-wrenching episode. Now, back to more drama and heartache.

Hook can’t take it anymore and tells Ariel the truth about their past year. She slaps him even harder this time around, calling him a coward and a monster. He tries justifying his actions by explaining that he was hoping the Jolly Roger would fill the void of a broken heart. So Hook does have love in his heart. Ariel wants him to hold onto that and make a promise not to give up on love. Ariel asks him to swear on the name of the one he loves. Only then can he make this right. Hook solemnly says, “I swear on Emma Swan.”

In a wicked twist, Ariel suddenly transforms into Zelena. Nooo! The real Ariel found Eric on Dead Man’s Island and they’ve been living happily ever after. (At least there’s one bright side to this story). Zelena knew Hook was haunted by his guilt, so she used it to get what she wanted. She has magically taken Emma’s name from Hook’s lips and is saving it in a green puff of smoke. The Wicked Witch just cursed his kiss. The next time Hook kisses Emma, she will lose all of her magic powers. Really!?! Curse you, Zelena!

Hook confronts Zelena, saying he knows that Emma is too powerful to be killed or else she would have done it already. Zelena needs to remove Emma’s power in order to kill her, but Hook refuses to do it. So Zelena presents him with an ultimatum: kiss Emma or everyone she loves will die, including Henry, whom she knows Hook has grown very fond of. Oh come on!!! That is beyond cold-hearted. Way to rain on Captain Swan’s parade.

Hook goes back to the Charmings’ pad and is surprised to see Emma open the door. It seems like he wanted to break the news to her parents and see if there is a way to work around this terrible dilemma. Emma is wondering what happened to Henry, so Hook fills her in on his day with Ariel. Regina seems a little skeptical. Since Emma is powerful enough, Regina has her use the mirror to see if Ariel has reunited with Eric. Hook sweats it out as Emma looks inward and projects the image of Ariel and Eric’s happy reunion. As Hook’s story checks out, the Charming walk through the door with Henry.

Regina is not happy about Henry’s driving lesson, as “mayor” she cannot allow such reckless behavior. That’s cute. The whole family decides to go to Granny’s for dinner and they invite Hook, but he passes and heads out.

Emma follows Hook and tells him that she is tired of living in the past. She doesn’t care what he experienced during his lost year. The present is what matters. Of course, just when Hook can no longer act on his feelings, Emma will start coming around.

As the episode closes, Hook watches through his telescope as the family merrily dines at Granny’s. If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of Hook’s heart literally breaking.

Afterthoughts:

· Wicked Twist: Maybe we should’ve seen it coming. After all, Hook and Zelena’s confrontation was revealed in promos. Nonetheless, I was so involved in Hook and Ariel’s story that I became totally distracted from any clues that might have been dropped along the way. Zelena isn’t wicked. She is pure evil. She clearly has every moved planned out. This is one disastrously epic chess game and the people of Storybrooke are her pawns. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m scared of the horrors that await.

· In the Name of Love: Hook is an old-fashioned romantic. Despite is flirtatious nature, he’s a one woman kind of guy. He remained loyal to Milah and now he’s hopelessly devoted to Emma. Next to Emma, the only thing he loves is the Jolly Roger, most likely because it is a tie to his brother. This was a very emotional and heavy-hearted episode for Hook. He betrayed Ariel’s trust and spat in the face of her love for Eric because he wanted to hold onto the only thing he had left to love. Yes, it was wrong of Hook, but he acted poorly in a moment of weakness. Plus, his character as a pirate had been challenged and he couldn’t let his legacy be tarnished by handing his most precious treasure over to Black Beard. Do you think Hook was acting in the name of love when he betrayed Ariel? Or was it just a matter of machismo?

· Don’t Kiss the Girl: What happens if Emma opens her heart to Hook and leans in for a kiss? Will he tell her the truth? They could try to build an honest relationship in which they’d abstain from smooching until Zelena is defeated. It worked for Ned and Chuck in ‘Pushing Daisies’ (Ned resurrected his childhood sweetheart, but if he touched her again she would die, so they found ways around certain physical obstacles. Despite their unique dilemma, their love for each other grew strong and true. It’s a great whimsical show that’s worth watching, if you haven’t seen it.) Perhaps Hook and Emma could work something out? Hopefully, Hook won’t let a hiccup like this stop him from pursuing True Love with Emma. What do you think, Captain Swan fans? Will you hold out hope for the fledgling love birds?

· Ariel and Eric’s Happily Ever After: JoAnna Garcia-Swisher is the perfect Ariel. She is the sweetest little badass and acted as Hook’s conscience in their flashbacks. It was wonderful to have her back on the show again. I hope the glimpse of Ariel and Eric’s happy ending doesn’t mean this is the last we’ve seen of them.

Ok, Oncers. Time to share your thoughts. How much did you love “The Jolly Roger”? What were your favorite moments? Were you shocked by the twist? Can Emma and Hook work around this hurdle?

Show some love for Colin, JoAnna and the whole ‘Once Upon A Time’ crew below!

Check out the embedded promo for next week’s eerie episode!

‘Once Upon A Time’ airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.