This works for me on multiple levels. For one, it reminds me of Pushing Daisies and the conceit of the two lovers who can’t express their love for one another in the traditional physical ways. On another level, the twist on the fairy tale kiss here is brilliant. Usually, it is the thing that breaks the curse. Here, however, if Hook kisses his one true love, it will rob her of the very powers she needs to defeat the enemy. I like that Hook is smart and savvy enough to realize that Zelena is bluffing when she threatens to hurt Emma otherwise, since–he wisely reasons–if she could do that, she wouldn’t have needed to curse him in the first place, but that Zelena is then smart enough to counter that by threatening to hurt Emma’s loved ones.
And while I would hope Hook would realize that, even given this threat, it would be wiser for Emma to keep her magic and use it to defend those loved ones, it’s hard to tell. He doesn’t reveal the full truth to her yet, which might indicate that–at least for now–he’s seriously considering taking her powers “for her own good,” but there was a similar cliffhanger earlier in the season, when it wasn’t clear whether Hook would reveal to Emma, Pan’s news to him that Neal was alive, and he came around by the next episode. So I would expect him, ultimately, to realize that he should trust in Emma, as he has before. But, again, he is a rogue whose bad/selfish impulses are constantly at war with his conscience, so it can be hard to tell what he’ll do without thinking it through.
Speaking of Emma’s powers, it’s also fantastic writing, thematically, that Hook finally realizes that he can’t ever go back to the man he was before in the same episode that Emma realizes that she needs to finally accept her magic. She has avoided it numerous times in the past, and even when she allowed Regina to start training her in Neverland, was still hesitant to fully embrace it. In many ways, it’s the ultimate point of no return for a woman who used to pride herself on her pragmatism and skepticism. But here, she is at last ready, and Regina starts training her for real. I love that Regina actually tries to begin gradually, with her mother’s spell book, but it’s Emma’s impatience not her own that inspires her to take the kid gloves off and deposit her on that rope bridge over the precipitous drop. And that, in that moment of fear when the ropes snap and she begins to plummet, Emma reaches inside of herself and accomplishes a far more powerful spell than Regina had expected. She had just hoped for her to fix the rope, but instead Emma manages to assemble the broken pieces of the bridge mid-air into a sort of flotation device for herself, flying it and her along with it back up to Regina.
In the past, Regina might have been threatened by this, but now, instead, she sees the immense opportunity that their combined powers could have to stand up to Zelena. This arc has been brewing ever since the two joined hands to fix the rift that was destroying Storybrooke in the second season finale, both literally and metaphorically realizing that they–Henry’s two moms–are stronger together than at each other’s throats. And, yes, one can read romantic subtext into this if one so wishes, but it also works on the levels of family and how moving forwards and forgiving past misdeeds and slights can help people grow and accomplish more as a team.
The episode’s other subplot revolves around the Charmings’ attempts to bond with their grandson (who doesn’t know who they are), and I found it truly endearing. Charming is in danger sometimes of coming across as too much of a boy scout, and I love that his reaction to his grandson seeming to be more interested in spending time with Hook is to show him that he can be fun, too (which also reflects Hook and Charming’s rivalry). He may not be able to tell him he’s a prince and teach him to swordfight, as he did in the past, but he does decide to take him on another sort of adventure in teaching him how to drive. Which might seem dangerous and reckless, especially for such a young kid, but again, I love that it was Charming’s idea, and that Henry starts having a great deal of fun with him, not just thinking of him as the boring married guy with the pregnant wife. In some ways, I enjoyed Charming here more than in his spotlight episode a few weeks ago, because it’s great to see him being so carefree and trying to rekindle a bond with a grandson with whom he was once very close, although the boy no longer remembers it.
My only real potentially negative criticism of the episode might be that, really, given the immense threat that Zelena poses, the entire Charming family should probably stay within Regina’s protection spell at all times, but I’m also willing to handwave that, given that I can’t imagine the writers being able to successfully constrain all of the main characters to Snow’s apartment for the remainder of the season. Also, by this point, you’d think Henry would be potentially safer from Zelena if they told him at least some version of the truth, so he doesn’t just walk around town, unaware that he’s a target, but I understand why Emma hasn’t, from an emotional standpoint, and often on fantasy series–particularly this one, being a fairy tale–character psychology has to trump traditional logic.
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