Season 5 on Once Upon a Time has been an interesting one. Rather than exploring new characters or settings in a way that drives the story forward, Camelot and the Underworld were somewhat relegated to backdrops for the drama of the core Once characters to unfold. In Season 5A, we went to Camelot where Emma battled becoming the Dark One. In Season 5B, we traveled to the Underworld to save Hook and attempt to reconcile the consequences of 5A. After this week’s episode “Firebird” and with only 2 episodes remaining, we’re left wondering if everything in Season 5 has been for naught as Captain Hook was left in the Underworld by the end of the episode.
This surprising development is either devastating for Captain Swan shippers or a moment of glee for the Hook haters. While there are two episodes left in the season and I doubt the writers of Once would permanently kill off a character that creates so much passion in its fans (whether from love or hate), I want to address some of the problems that I’ve had with Season 5 which despite the fact that I’m absolutely a Captain Swan shipper, I actually lay the blame on Hook for.
First, let’s look at the Dark Swan arc. While it was extremely compelling of a reason for us to believe Emma’s full descent into the Darkness came from not being able to let Hook go and making him a Dark One too, I found both of Hook’s Dark One transformations to be very bland. In Camelot, when he first became the Dark One, he mostly just seemed angry that Emma wouldn’t let him die, but it didn’t feel particularly “Dark.” In truth, Hook has never really been a dark character. He’s definitely been painted as a villain in various flashbacks, but not in the same manipulative and heart-wrenching way that Rumplestiltskin has been. No, Hook has always been the more human villain. He’s been motivated by greed or weakness or revenge, but he’s always just been a man looking out for his own skin first and foremost. Which in the world of Once Upon a Time, if you’re not self-sacrificing, it’s hard to be classified as a hero. (But then…these are fairytales we’re drawing from.) So because Hook has always been such a human villain, it felt forced for him to immediately succumb to the very supernaturally characterized Darkness which apparently feed his anger toward Emma. But then even though he’s supposed to be consumed by Darkness, Emma’s able to wipe his memory which somehow stops the Darkness (?) until Zelena returns his memory and he falls right back into that weird Dark One persona. Honestly, it doesn’t make sense. How can having your memory wiped stop you from being THE DARK ONE? That seems counterintuitive, at least in terms of Once lore.
And of course, right at the last minute, Hook decides to fight the Darkness and sacrifice himself to save everyone. While I found that scene very compelling and redeeming for a character that’s always been very selfish and placed in the “villain” category, the motivation didn’t make any sense. I would have liked to see that ending with a much more compelling storyline as to what transformed Hook into the Dark One. Not just “Hey, I’m pissed at my girlfriend for trying to save my life but in the process making me something I hate.” I mean, you get over it. She saved your life.
So that’s Season 5A which as a Captain Swan shipper started out really amazing with Hook fighting for Emma like a true hero, but then took a dive into “I don’t know what’s motivating the characters anymore.” Season 5B is a direct result of what happened in 5A where once again Emma just can’t let go and brings her family to the Underworld to try to save Hook. Killian almost takes a back seat this half of the season as if the writers are apologizing for the out-of-character chaos they put him through. He does have his shining moments—like having Father/Boyfriend bonding time with David by using his enchanted hook to replace Snow’s name on a headstone—but overall he was either still angry at Emma (which REALLY?) or placed on a backburner as a the doting boyfriend.
So while I’m a passionate Captain Swan shipper I do understand the Hook Haters, but I feel like the problems stem from the misuse of his character by the writers in trying to force certain storylines (and torture Emma apparently) rather than Killian being a bad character all together. He’s got a lot of potential as the most realistically redeemable male character on the show, but I feel like he gets pushed into certain boxes each season/arc that don’t fully utilize his history. Like the writers are still testing whether he’s a good fit for the show. And I feel like when there was the best opportunity for exploring both the good and evil and sides of his character (i.e. the Dark Swan arc), they either wrote themselves into a corner or ran out of time and forced him into a confusing caricature of himself. Hook deserves better! Captain Swan shippers deserve better! But really fans of the show deserve to have fully developed storylines that take the time they need play out rather than forcing huge character developments in a few episodes in order to fit a show’s well-established formula.