The following things happened tonight on Once Upon a Time, a Disney-approved program about fairy tale characters that airs during the family-friendly 8 p.m. hour:
– A bunch of pirates bought their captain a night with a very friendly prostitute.
– A mermaid held a knife to that captain’s throat, then dared him to kill her once he turned the tables.
– The captain murdered a man in cold blood by pushing him off a ship and into a school of hungry sharks.
– A 12-year-old drove a truck, causing major property damage; the local sherif, who has absolutely no training in the field of law enforcement, simply laughed it off.
– A wicked witch threatened mass murder.
– This sentence: “The number of spells involving baby parts would surprise you.”
– Oh, and this one: “The only thing soft will be your guts, spilling on this deck!”
The takeaway: When it’s a Captain Hook episode, maybe plop the kids in front of Liv and Maddie instead.
For the rest of us, “The Jolly Roger” was an appropriately exciting hour of television — complete with the sort of confounding, frustrating final twist that Once should consider having trademarked. All that, plus the return of JoAnna Garcia Swisher’s delightfully daffy Ariel? Batten down the hatches; we’ve got a lot of recappin’ to do.
As you can tell from the list above, tonight’s Once was all about Hook — or Killian, as more than one member of the Charming family has taken to calling him. Let’s begin with our fairyback, which checks in on Hook during everyone else’s lost year in the Enchanted Forest. All things considered, he’s having a gay old time stealing treasure, further corroding his liver, and gallantly turning down Ye Olde Escorte Service. (Major missed opportunity: At no point does a pirate point to the hooker and yell, “Yo, ho!”) Evidently, in this millieu, one needn’t have a ship to be a pirate — though if we’re going to split hairs, what Hook’s fallen into seems more like good, old-fashioned thievery. (Maybe he also sells sketchy DVDs of new releases or something?)
Anyhow, everything changes for Hook when he’s assaulted by history’s greatest fork enthusiast: none other than Little Mermaid/Regular Person Ariel, who thinks the captain has something to do with the disappearance of her Prince Eric. (Eric always needs rescuing! Ariel totally wears the breeches in this relationship.) This is one crime that Hook can’t take credit for… until he learns 1. that Eric is being held captive on his old ship, the Jolly Roger, and 2. that the vessel has fallen into the hands of the dastardly buccaneer Blackbeard. Spoiler: Blackbeard is not played by John Malkovich.
NEXT: Black is the color of my true love’s soul patch
Hook has a whole crew of hardened baddies under his command — but just to keep things interesting, he decides to win back the Jolly Roger with only William “Wormtail” Smee and Ariel in tow. (And Ariel’s only there because of a technicality in the Pirate Code, which evidently has more to it than Parlay.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s all too easy for the trio to (barely) fight their way onboard — where we’re introduced to Once‘s take on Blackbeard, who might more accurately be called Black Soul Patch. He is the Smash Mouth of pirates, only with Jack Sparrow’s hair, Adam Lambert’s makeup artist, and some admittedly badass moves with a blade.
There are swords; there is fighting. And when Hook manages to get Soul Patch stuck in the gap left by a loose board, there is victory. Well, at least until Ariel comes running up and informs her new pal that Prince Eric is actually nowhere to be found. Where could he be? Soul Patch knows, but he’s not telling; in fact, he says, he’ll only spill the prince’s location if Hook hands over the Jolly Roger for good, thereby proving that his love for an icky, cootie-ridden girl has transformed him into a decent human being.
So of course Hook lets Soul Patch have the ship — at least for now — and goes with Ariel to find her blue-eyed number one babe, right? Wrong! Next thing you know, Hook’s celebrating Shark Week by putting Soul Patch on the menu. Ariel is understandably peeved. She tells Hook that he’s a
shellfish selfish, heartless meanie who doesn’t even look that good without his Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil, then dives straight into Shark City to search for Eric herself.
The femme fishtale resurfaces — literally — in present-day Storybrooke, where we learn that she either lost track of Eric once more or never found him again in the first place. Thankfully, Snow and Charming have the perfect solution: Just take Ariel to Hook, who isn’t suffering from memory loss and may be able to help her locate her beau. The pirate lies that he hasn’t seen Eric, acting so carefully nonchalant that he’s practically sticking his hands in his pockets and whistling a devil-may-care tune.
NEXT: When Once met Heathers
Of course, nobody sees through his act. The Charmings enthusiastically volunteer Hook for a trip to the pawn shop, where he and Ariel may be able to find an object of Eric’s to use in a locator spell. And, lo and behold, Eric’s fetching Ursula-clasp cape is ready and willing to take them princeward. You know, to Eric — not Prince. Although if that happened, this would automatically be history’s greatest OUAT.
As Ariel and Hook follow the ghostly torso of Eric’s cloak, Regina is finally giving Emma some much-needed (and long overdue) magical training. They begin in Regina’s crypt, where it seems like we’re in for a heart-pounding afternoon of book-learnin’; when that proves not nearly exciting enough, Regina transports the two of them to an undisclosed woodsy location. The queen stands on a cliff; she’s thrown Emma onto one of those incredibly dangerous rope bridges that only seem to exist in adventure stories. It seems Regina has decided to ape the teaching philosophy of Rumpelstiltskin, and also Heather Chandler: If you want to f— with the eagles, you have to learn to fly.
So Regina starts destroying the bridge, urging Emma to save herself via magic. Emma fails, falling to her death.
Obviously, that doesn’t happen (though wouldn’t Once be a more interesting show if it had?). At the very, very last moment, the savior manages to cobble together a sort of floating Huck Finn raft out of the bridge’s debris, floating herself safely to the other side of the chasm. The danger is over!
No, wait: The danger has just begun. Because Charming has decided that in order to trick his grandson into thinking David’s fun and cool, he’s going to teach the little scamp how to drive. Can Henry’s feet even reach the pedals? Oy, this may be the dumbest idea Charming has ever had — although I do feel a little bad ragging on the guy the day after Josh Dallas’s real-life wedding to Ginnifer Goodwin. Okay, resolution: Instead of paying attention during this scene, please spend its duration looking at cute pictures of Josh and Ginny.
Ready to tune back in? You’d better be, because Prince Eric’s ghost cloak has just led Ariel and Hook to the harbor… where it disappears into the water. Is Eric just watching the newt play the flute and the carp play the harp under the sea? Nope; it appears that after all this, he’s taken a one-way trip to Davy Jones’s Locker.
NEXT: A kiss is just a kiss. Unless it’s a cursed kiss. Then it’s a cuiss.
Ariel is distraught, but thanks Hook for helping her find closure. Finally, her innocent kindness makes him feel so overwhelmed with guilt that the pirate confesses what he did to her in Fairy Land. Ariel… doesn’t take it very well, even after Hook says he’d do anything to undo the past, and claims to still believe in love. Which leads Ariel to ask if he still loves the woman who broke his heart… then demand that he swear by his lost love’s name. Then, after Hook admits aloud that he’s got a major thing for Emma, “Ariel” transforms into the wicked being she’s been all along.
That’s right — Zelena took Ariel’s form specifically to trick Hook into giving up Emma’s name. By doing so, he’s given the witch the power to curse him. Now the next time Hook kisses Emma, he’ll pull a Rogue and suck out all her special powers. (Except her ability to tell when people are lying, because that is fake fake fake.) At first, Hook refuses to play along, correctly guessing that Zelena can’t hurt Emma because she needs those powers — but Zelena simply tells him that if he doesn’t do the suck, she’ll go ahead and kill everyone Emma loves. That’s dark, Once. And it’s also basically where the episode ends. Bum bum buuuumm!
– Eric and Ariel, incidentally, get their happily ever after on a remote beach, where they’re always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.
– Okay: According to this episode, present-day Henry is 12. Which means that the events of seasons 1, 2, and the first half of 3 all took place over the course of one very eventful year. Which means that currently, it’s 2013 on Once. That said, the timeline’s still a bit of a mess.
– The only problem with Zelena’s plan: The show just established that Regina can cast a protection spell that can’t be undone via blood magic. So why can’t Hook go ahead and make everyone who’s close to Emma come over to Charming and Snow’s, then just tell them about the curse Zelena cast upon him?
– Also, True Love’s Kiss has the ability to break any curse. So if Hook and Emma’s feelings are mutual by the time they smooch, will Zelena’s power-sucking curse even work?
– Smee, conceding that there are a few good things about the real world: “I have never tried anything quite like frozen yogurt before.”
– Emma is still convinced that she’s going to take Henry back to New York City when all this witch nonsense has been taken care of. At least there he won’t be able to get behind the wheel.
– Ariel, proving she’s never seen a Disney movie: “I have legs, and I fell in love with a human. I don’t think anyone saw that coming.”
– So Hook regained the Jolly Roger, then lost it again. Where could it be?
– Raise your hand if you thought Soul Patch was going to turn out to be Prince Eric. [raises hand]
– Fun facts about New England: There is an actual Hangman Island in Boston Harbor, and the legal driving age in Maine is 15 and a half. The more you know!