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Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Jolly" Time for ONCE UPON A TIME

Article first written for Seat42F.
In the latest installment of ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME, “The Jolly Roger,” we catch up to what Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) is doing during the Lost Year. He’s reformed his pirate band, Smee (Chris Gauthier) having turned human again when they came back to the Enchant Forest, and they’ve become land pirates, or common robbers. A chance run-in with Ariel (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) gives Hook a clue as to where his ship is, and he sets off to find it.

Hook is yet another bad guy the series is trying to redeem, at times unevenly. “The Jolly Roger” is his relapse, if you will, a return to the way he was before meeting and falling for Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison). Yet, we can tell right away that it’s a hollow existence for him. He turns away a whore and pines mightily over the hole in his heart.

Hook can be forgiven for, at first, thinking his ship might fill that void. That’s why when he and Ariel storm the deck and Black Beard (Charles Mesure, V, Desperate Housewives) tells Hook he can choose between The Jolly Roger and Ariel’s missing Prince Eric (Gil McKinney), Hook chooses the boat. He’s not trying to be cruel to the mermaid; he just wants to be happy again. He has convinced himself that he loves the vessel. Even killing Black Beard doesn’t seem so evil, despite the wasted guest star, because we know the pirate deserves to walk the plank.

However, because Hook is redeemed now, he carries a heavy guilt over not helping Ariel. This comes back up in Storybrooke when Ariel enlists the extremely reluctant Hook to help her track Eric. Hook could get away with what he’s done, but is instead moved to confess, yet another sign of his growing maturity and goodness. Hook may have done the wrong thing, but at least he owns up to it.

“The Jolly Roger” is a terrific character study episode. While it does pause the main arc of the spring run temporarily, it doesn’t feel like stalling because the writers really delve into the psyche of this man. O’Donoghue proves his acting chops, delivering his best hour to date, and the whole thing comes together nicely.

There is another missing chapter, though. We’ve now seen why being a pirate doesn’t work out for Hook in the Enchanted Forest. We don’t yet know what ultimately happened to The Jolly Roger and how Hook escaped the realm before the second curse, thus remembering what everyone else has forgotten. If the second Hook flashback this spring is as good as this one, sign me up!

The twist at the end, that Ariel is already reunited with Eric and that this is Zelena (Rebecca Mader) in disguise, using Hook to bring down Emma, whom Zelena sees as a threat, is great! ONCE UPON A TIME really keeps the secret well, Zelena playing a convincing mermaid, and thus surprises us at the end, always a good thing. Add to that the heart-breaking choice Hook is now faced with – make the woman he loves vulnerable or see those she cares most about hurt – is a rough one for the pirate, and more compelling pathos are a sure thing.

There are a couple of side stories this week, too. In one, Regina (Lana Parrilla) tries to teach Emma to harness her power without resorting to the cruel methods Rumple (Robert Carlyle) used on Regina. In the end, though, Regina gets an idea of what to do from Rumple, and helps Emma tap in through peril. This works and it proves Regina is smart, but did anyone else not buy Regina allowing Emma to actually plummet to her death. Where was Regina raising her arms, prepared for a last-minute save?

Secondly, the Charmings (Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin) are disappointed to learn their grandson-who-doesn’t-know-he’s-their-grandson, Henry (Jared Gilmore), finds them boring. While they shouldn’t try to compete with Hook for the boy’s affections, the sequence where David allows Henry to try driving, taking out a mailbox in the process, is funny. David and Mary Margaret are often the least interesting characters on the series, but give them more like this to do and they can be interesting again yet.

While some may consider “The Jolly Roger” filler, and technically it is, it is filler of the best kind, rich material that adds depth to current events and illustrates the journey of a lead character. If only all filler tasted this good, no one would have reason to complain.

ONCE UPON A TIME airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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