Find love, have hope, and everything will be fine. That idea drove Once Upon a Time seasons 1-4, but season 5 kicked up their storytelling by dismantling the heart of the series.
How many times can true love’s kiss and having hope save a town from near destruction? If you live in the Once Upon a Time universe, chances are at least four or five times a season. Whether it is splitting a heart in half, staring at a portal where your daughter has fallen into another dimension, or giving your son a kiss goodbye, hope and true love have blown a hole through complicated plots long enough in this fairy tale series. Once Upon a Time season 5 takes the conventional deus ex machina of true love and crushes it like a heart in the hands of a Dark One. And you know what? The show is better for it.
The Charming and Snow problem
Hope can truly only do so much when a giant snow monster is chasing you through the streets of your hometown. Hope cannot create a shield around you from an impending spell of shattered sight. Hope cannot turn a giant troll into a bug to be squashed as you flee a bridge. Yet that is always what the Charmings fall back on when the going gets tough. It is as predictable as Belle fleeing for the library whenever a crisis arises.
To be fair, hope does provide the heroes of Once Upon a Time some assistance as the world shatters around them. As Emma took to her darker roots this season, it seemed that in the Enchanted Forest, Mary Margaret and David had no other choice but to watch as Emma tried her best to stay away from her magic. Their speeches, words of encouragement, reminders of love and faith took the edge off, but did not appeal strongly enough against other forces at play. Regina’s use of the dagger, though strictly against the grain of the path David and Mary Margaret worked so hard to pave, was the right call in that situation. Regina walks the fine line between good and evil, recognizing the strengths of each. Sometimes love and hope are not enough to pull someone back to their true self.
The heart of the Hook and Emma matter
Then again, sometimes a person’s true self is masked by hope and love and it takes a cloak to reveal their heart. Just when you think Emma looking into Hook’s eyes will solve all of his Dark One woes, Once Upon a Time rips that magic carpet away and sends Hook plummeting into full-on darkness with Emma struggling to get her footing back. Not everything can be solved with a kiss and a hopeful tales of retiring their black ensembles and enjoying tea in their new home as they gaze out at the ocean. It’s complicated, it’s messy, it’s certainly not satisfying for CaptainSwan fans, but narratively speaking, this is one of the greatest plot lines in Once Upon a Time‘s tenure.
Season 5 broke the comfortable structure of a 5A and 5B storytelling method. We’re not isolated with Frozen or stranded in Neverland. After the fourth week of watching the Snow Queen sort out her plan to adopt sisters, the storyline began to drag. In season 5 we’re not focused on what comes next because right now is captivating enough. The audience watched as subtle changes in Hook’s character slowly worked their way into the light and were rewarded with the reveal of Killian Jones: Dark One. We’re not wrapping up a plot line by season’s end. Instead, we’re unpacking one. The consequences of Emma’s betrayal of Hook’s dying wish is being paid proper diligence.
The heart of their relationship is built upon two people who were once perceived as something now fighting to fit into their new molds. The bailbonds woman and the vengeful pirate took different paths to accept others into their isolated worlds. Emma has been duped by her trust in true love many times over, while Hook’s only venture into the world of commitment ended short a hand.
Loving gazes, complete trust in a matter of days, and drastic changes of heart are not things that will come easy for these two lovers. One step forward for Emma and Hook typically leads to two smaller steps back. For example, after Emma realizes Hook gave up his ship for her, instead of moving closer to him, she pulls away. Her issues with trust are put there on the table, but Hook’s concerns are never put into focus. Perhaps we are meant to believe in the power of true love from his side of the story.
Although, when the Dark One takes over his body, Hook’s transformation raises some questions we’ve had piling up in the corner of our minds. Is the lovesick puppy that took up the ruthless pirate’s form genuine? Perhaps not as much as we’d like to believe. Even if Hook comes out of the Darkness without a chip on his shoulder, the fact of the matter remains — true love is not enough to tie these two souls together. Hope for their future might ease their reconciliation, but it’s going to take some work to build a level playing field for the pirate and the swan to meet on. Will Once Upon a Time be willing to give it their best effort?
Regina and the wicked baby
One person Once Upon a Time continues to work diligently on turns out to be the guidepost of season 5, Regina Mills. Masked in witty one-liners and beautifully written short monologues, Regina seems to be the only person in both the Enchanted Forest and Storybrooke not blinded by the haze of true love or the power of hope. Both of these elements have played a large role in her life, but they are not the be-all and end-all decision makers.
The natural pull of mother’s love aside, there is no denying that Zelena is absolutely going to need more than a look at her daughter to put her insanity at bay. Regina sees the merit of sparking that flame of love, but also understands that it is not going to wipe away all of the problems that exist. Zelena killed a woman and impersonated her to get pregnant in order to deliver a child into the world to spite her sister. A combination of love and hope that one day the affects of love will guide Zelena to a “safer” headspace are at work in Regina’s plan, but she also sets other safeguards, such as her magic and supervised visits, in place as insurance.
Regina is no fool when it comes to dealing with Darkness, betrayal, and a hunger for power. She has only recently found her way out of the seemingly endless cycle of evil deeds that are paid off with small rewards. The merits of leading a life on the side of good are finally starting to pay off, but Regina is careful to tread lightly on the ideas that guide her allies.
Letting in the darkness
Love is an incredible source of power, but at the end of the day, sometimes it is not enough. Season 5 is making a hard fought effort to prove that time and time again. Snow and Charming’s love is not enough to pull Emma away from her isolation. Emma’s love for her family, especially Henry, is not enough to lure her back into their open arms. Hook’s love for Emma is not enough to combat the amount of Darkness spilling over inside of him. David’s love for his daughter and Hook took a backseat as he contemplated if life would be easier if they simply sacrificed his friend.
The villain in season 5 is not a fictional monster popping in to say hello only to bow out mid-season to make room so a new one can arrive. The Dark One takes the shape of a physical being, but it is far beyond something that can be murdered with a special sword. Whether they recognize it or not, every decision made by the characters in season 5 is executed because they tapped into their own darkness to recognize the best possible outcome. Even if the Dark One disappears forever, no amount of love or hope will close the window to darkness forever.
Watch Once Upon a Time season 5, episode 11, “Swan Song,” Sunday, December 6 at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.