Once Upon a Time Recap: “Swan Song”

So far this season, our heroes and villains have been to Camelot and back. Emma remains the Dark One, while her friends and family try desperately to regain their memories and help her turn away from the path of Darkness. In a twist of fate, Regina and Rumple are the heroes they never thought they would be, while the former savior and the famed King of Camelot have both fallen to evil and conniving thoughts. Merida is kicking ass and taking names, while the fate of the town may yet rest again on Henry’s young shoulders.

Spoilers ahead, dearies.

Many Years Ago


Liam and Killian Jones are just children when their father, Brennan, sells them into servitude in order to save his own skin. Hundreds of years later, Captain Hook is hired by the Evil Queen to kill her mother, Cora. But before he can carry out the deed, she puts his bravado to the test by asking him to kill a man working at a tavern—to Hook’s shock, the man is none other than Brennan, who looks the same age as when his son last saw him. Much as Hook escaped aging by living in Neverland, Brennan was put under a sleeping curse that also kept him young. The elder Jones insists that the woman who woke him from the slumber changed him, and that he’s a better man now.

Hook decides to spare his father’s life and lie to Regina. But just before he provides Brennan and Brennan’s son with letters of transit, he overhears him giving a piece of advice to the young boy, also named Liam. Recognizing the words from his own childhood, he lets decades of anger take over, and goes through with the murder.


 (ABC/Jack Rowand)
(ABC/Jack Rowand)

As Emma and the gang are trying to figure out how to defeat Dark Two, the formerly deceased Dark Ones are roaming the town. They locate Emma’s family and friends, placing strange marks on their wrists. Rumple identifies them as the Marks of Charon, explaining that the Dark Ones have only escaped the Underworld on a temporary basis. In order to remain in the world above, they must trade places with living souls. The Mark of Charon identifies those who will be exchanged to take their spots in Hell.

Each marked person chooses to spend their last moments differently. David, Mary Margaret, and Henry decide to go to Granny’s and eat a meal together as a family; Rumple arranges for Belle (who was unmarked) to leave Storybrooke and see the world; and Regina and Robin arrange for the children to be taken care of by the fairies. Regina also takes the opportunity to summon a cyclone with Merlin’s wand and send Zelena packing back to Oz. Meanwhile, Emma remains committed to not only stopping Hook, but preventing her loved ones from being taken to the Underworld. Deciding to make the ultimate sacrifice, she asks Rumple to give her Excalibur so that she can absorb the Darkness of the other beings into herself before being killed by the magical blade. Unfortunately, Hook undermines her plan by disguising himself as Henry and taking the sword from her.

As time winds down to the marked hour, the Dark Ones take the chosen ones to the river, where they await Charon’s boat. Emma arrives and attempts to intervene, but is incapacitated by Nimue. Regina steps forward and reminds Hook about what happened with his father, and that a man can always choose what kind of person he will be. Hook seems torn for a moment before making the split decision to go against the will of the other Dark Ones. He adopts Emma’s plan and uses Excalibur to assimilate the power of the Dark Ones. He urges Emma to use the sword to kill him before the Darkness can escape its vessel, allowing him to die a hero. It was an intensely demonstrative, melodramatic scene in which we glimpse the Killian Jones beneath the exterior of Dark Two—the man who loves Emma Swan, and would die for her. Emma goes through with the ritual, and only just. As the sword goes through Hook’s body and destroys the former Dark Ones, the old wound from Camelot reopens. Emma turns back into her normal self as Hook lays dying, and Excalibur disintegrates into dust.

Belle receives a phone call and comes back to town to reconcile with Rumple. She forgives him, praising his selflessness, and they fall into bed together. The next day, however, Emma finds herself at Rumple’s shop looking for answers. She swears she can hear the dagger of the Dark One, but is confused since Excalibur was destroyed. Rumple reveals that before he gave her Excalibur, he put a potion on it to turn the sword into a channel that would send all the power of the Dark Ones into him. Regaining the status of the Dark One, Rumple now has a new dagger with his name engraved upon it. Furious that Hook died for nothing, Emma threatens to tell Belle what Rumple has done. Under the risk of blackmail, Rumple agrees to open the portal to the Underworld so that she can exchange her life for Hook’s.

Wait, what?

The mid-season finale was a roller coaster ride of emotions that left me, as a viewer, in tears. It has never been more clear to me how much Hook and Emma love each other, not to mention the love the members of the Charming family have for each other. It was beautifully written and beautifully portrayed. However, as a writer, I am angry. This episode would have been a 10/10 in my book, except for two huge, major problems.

1.) Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold

The choice to have Rumple go back to being the Dark One is poor for several reasons. Character development is a large one. We have seen that OUAT characters are capable of change. Not only is Regina a shining example, but that was the entire point of the episode. Yes, Robin pointed out that it’s difficult for a tiger to change his stripes—after all, Robin is a reformed thief just as Hook was a reformed pirate. But the entire episode was designed to lead straight to Hook’s last minute change of heart. We learned the kind of man he wanted to be, and the kind of man he became. And after all that, to have Rumple slink back to into Darkness is a slap in the face to any viewer who has rooted for him.

I have often defended Rumple in the past. He’s been called out by many viewers for his damaging relationship with Belle, and yet I stood by him. It was easy to forgive him when it was the Darkness at fault—when we knew that while he truly loved Belle, he had simply been the Dark One for too long. But now we have reached a point where I can no longer make excuses. He willfully lied to Belle while free of the Darkness, and actively pursued becoming the Dark One once again. Sure, he told Belle to leave Storybrooke back when he thought he was going to die. At the moment, it was a scene reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, when the Beast frees Belle. At the moment, it made me weep to think that finally, after all these years, Rumple was finally being selfless. He had finally learned to truly love, and his clean heart was reflecting that.

But now it is easy to realize that that scene was meant to lull the viewer into a false sense of security in order for the surprise twist. As a writer, I do understand that. Red herrings and counterfeit emotions are the cornerstone of catching people unawares. But after everything that Rumple and Belle have been through, how can the writers justify taking this path? We’ve already had twists and turns in Rumple’s storyline. We’ve watched him do unspeakable things. It was time for him to live up to his newly purified soul. By having him become the Dark One, not only have the writers cemented the fact that his relationship with Belle is based on deceit and is emotionally abusive—they have written Belle into both a metaphorical and literal corner of maltreatment and exploitation. Not to mention…doesn’t this all feel familiar?

2.) Deja Vu 

via Giphy
via Giphy

And here we are, yet again, back at square one. This is OUAT’s biggest fault, and one that they repeat on a regular basis. The more plot and character development we have, the more our heroes and villains slip back into the past. Things change, and yet nothing changes. “Swan Song” leaves us with Rumple as the Dark One and Emma as the confused yet determined Savior of Someone (this time, it happens to be Hook). This is literally where we started the show five years ago, except that a bunch of people have died, Emma now believes in magic, and the Charmings have baby Neal (who is conveniently left out of various episodes).

These faults are scars on the typically progressive show, and ones that wound me. Why can’t we have character development, plot, and plot twists that make sense in the narrative arc? I realized today that the only thing that makes me want to keep watching are my ships, and that’s just pitiful. CaptainSwan, OutlawQueen, and Snowing have become more important to me than any storyline, and I’ve often found such a personal progression leads to general disinterest in a show.

So, OUAT writers, I beg you. Don’t fall prey to the ease of familiarity. Give us something new, and then have the guts to stick with it instead of giving in to the status quo.

Yours in disappointment,

-The Collected Mutineer