I think we all have moments when the world seems so skewed, so baffling, so upside-down that surely the much simpler solution is that we ourselves are crazy. The idea of going crazy is by no means a comforting one, but certainly it’s less terrifying than the entire world being incomprehensibly alien. All this to say: Either Emma and Regina are supposed to be the slow-burn romantic endgame of Once Upon a Time, or the show is operating from so foreign a perspective to my own I might as well spend the hour from 8pm to 9pm on Sundays with a soup pot over my head, sipping bourbon through a straw and singing Christmas Carols. Because COME ON. But anyway: "The Jolly Roger" was so great! It was fun, it was entertaining, it paid off on Emma being the savior in ways we very rarely see, and it kept the plot relatively small yet emotionally potent—just the way I like my OUAT episodes to be/do.
After a cold open with a phantom ambush, we got to enjoy the adorable tableaux of the Charmings putting together an Ikea cradle, which is as sure a recipe for SIDS as I’ve ever heard. Then Regina came in with some good news about free works she was doing for them: She’d set up a Zelena-proof protection spell around the apartment. Snow looked mildly impressed, but Emma was like, “Remember how every problem that happens, we solve it by teaming up? In my life there’s been heartache and pain/ I don’t know if I can face it again/ Can’t stop now, I’ve traveled so far/ to change this lonely life... I wanna know what love is. I want you to show me! I wanna feel what love is. I know you can sho— oh wait I mean magic. Um everybody substitute ‘love’ for ‘magic’ but you were probably doing that anyway because that’s the main message of this show, love is the greatest magic, etc.”
Regina looked positively floored that Emma was talking about the two of them doing magic with both her parents in the room but she kept her cool and reminded Emma, “This is a way of life, maybe even, shall we say, an alternative lifestyle. Don’t play with my emotions. Are you going to fully commit to it or what?” And Emma was like, “YES OH GOD YES” and Regina was like, “It’s a date! See you in my super secret vault chambers very soon,” and I just quietly shook my head because fan-fiction writers may write for fun not profit, but that doesn’t mean OUAT should just lift wholesale chapters from their works! Nuh-uh! Not that I mind! Anyway.
David and Mary Margaret BEGGED to watch Henry (who is 12, an age at which many kids actually start babysitting, but okay), but Emma was like, “Remember the last time you tried to watch him for two minutes in the mines and Tamara and Greg stole him literally out from under your noses? I wouldn't trust you with the last sip of my Starbucks, let alone a child, and also you’re boring.” Snow and David were absolutely shocked. It was crystal clear that they see themselves as Storybrooke’s Jay-Z and Beyonce.
Hook meanwhile was moodily obsessing over Emma, as is his wont. Smee was begging him to crew up and get back to the pirate life (in this dimension ???? I can only imagine him and Hook waylaying a ship on its way to Boston and finding it full of, like, hard drives) but Hook was like, “I am deeply hurting right now, NOT that it's any of your business.”
And then he gave the broodiest look to Emma, who had searched him out at the docks for some free babysitting. She didn’t sugarcoat it either, she was like, “Yo me and Regina need some alone time to make magic, watch our kid?” and he was like, “I’d rather give out free foot rubs at the old folks home. Unless you are asking me this because you secretly want my body?” and Emma was like, “Just because I’m asking you to do me a favor doesn’t mean I won’t call your thirsty ass out like the straight-up bitch I most certainly am.” So he wished her good luck and agreed to make sure Henry didn’t, like, fall down a well or whatever.
I would love to know how Hook is explaining to Henry why he’s wearing the same pleather frockcoat every time they hang out. Does he claim to be a PR guy for Captain Morgan? A steampunk lifestyle blogger? Like, why would anyone wear that ish in 2014? The mind reels. If Henry has the memories of a savvy New York City kid, he wouldn’t be placated by any amount of tabletop crap games. His one and everlasting question would be, “Dude: What is your deal?”
In Lost Year Backstory Land, we learned that Hook had trained his pirates to be 'pirates without a boat', a.k.a. a gang. He was too lovesick for Emma to even frequent whores or prevent a 90-pound redhead from cornering him in an alley. Captain Hook got jumped by Ariel, who’d been given the slip by Eric and wanted some damn answers! The two quickly came to find out their goals had mysteriously aligned: The Dread Pirate Extra had kidnapped Prince Eric and was keeping him on Hook’s stolen Jolly Roger!
Meanwhile in the gray, damp, and misery-soaked beach of present-day Storybrooke, Snow and Charming were sharing an umbrella and a midlife crisis.
One moment they had been a trendy young pair of the royals, now they were desperate for validation from a 12-year-old. Their moping was interrupted by the realization that Ariel had washed up on shore and a group of Storybrooke locals were debating whether to bring her into Granny’s or beat her to death with an oar, I guess. Nothing puts a smile on Snow’s face like someone else’s problems, so she and Charming dove right in took charge of the situation.
This led to the Charmings hunting down Hook and quickly commandeering babysitting duties. Despite their daughter’s clearly expressed wishes that they NOT look after Henry, they sent Hook packing on a wild goose chase after Prince Eric and decided to win Henry's approval back with felony grand theft auto. Great parenting, guys. Were we supposed to be laughing at Henry mowing down mailboxes in an out of control vehicle? Isn’t it enough that the people of Storybrooke live in an existential void of half-resolved identities and stunted lives without worrying about Snow and Charming setting a tween loose in a two-ton pick up? And they were doing it just to seem “cool”!!! Ugh, remember when we all rooted for Snowing? These two are now officially the lamest people in town.
Elsewhere, the least lame people in Storybrooke, Regina and Emma, were meeting up for their magic-making session. First things first, Regina got REAL about Emma's relationship with Hook. All those "yearning glances" and "doe eyes" had clearly been driving Regina up a wall! Emma gave her like the most bored shrug, and Regina was like, "Good, now that's settled I am going to teach you how to get in touch with your emotions and feel your power and then manifest it through your body." And she handed Emma a grimmoire and guys, I think Emma might be illiterate.
She took a long look at what were CLEARLY Wiccan runes and was like, “Is this Spanish?” HAHAHAHA someone doesn’t know what the alphabet looks like. Realizing reading is not Emma's strongpoint, Regina did what soulmates do: She used an uncanny knowledge of how to motivate Emma to push her past her perceived limits in a way everyone else would have been too timid to attempt. She magicked Emma out to the middle of an Indiana Jones bridge and started pulling the planks away! And it worked!
Emma used Magneto-but-with-wood-planks powers to take a crumbling bridge and reassemble it under her feet, and then quite swaggily levitate over to Regina, who was furious. “Why are you angry?! I did it!” Emma asked, and Regina was like, “I’m not angry at you for not listening, I’m angry because
we have the potential to be in beautiful character-building scenes like this on a regular basis but the show is wasting it you have so much potential in you that’s gone to waste.” I mean, I think it’s officially the nicest thing Regina’s said to anyone. Just a scene to give you shivers, whether you believe these two are future platonic co-parents or future married. Decent CGI, character growth all around, and Emma finally doing something savior-worthy.
Meanwhile: In Endless Flashback Dimension, Ariel and Hook had (quite easily!) found Blackbeard, and after 46 seconds of swordplay, Hook was about to skewer him like a barbecued shrimp but Ariel pointed out that only Blackbeard knew the location of the small desert island where Prince Eric was living! (and presumably learning some hard lessons about potable water and the mental consequences of complete isolation). But rather than keep Blackbeard alive to find Eric (and risk a mutiny), Hook made him walk the plank. It was all very Black Sails as performed by a high school drama club. Ariel told off Hook, then jumped into the ocean to search for Prince Eric via fishtail like she probably should have done in the first place.
Hook and Ariel in Storybrooke hunted down Eric’s cape at the pawn shop and magicked it with a spell that would make the cape zoom back to Eric, and hilariously it fell into the water and then started zooming down to the bottom of the ocean, suggesting that Eric was waaaaay dead. Ariel was like, “You’re a good man anyway, Hook” and Hook was like, “No, I’m terrible I’m awful you don’t remember this but I lost you your chance to find Eric sort of and I would do anything, anything to take that back!” and Ariel was like, “Oh yeah? Swear that on the name of the woman you love!”
Obviously this was the kind of set-up line Hook had been looking for all season. Finally an excuse to go full “Blood on the Dance Floor” emo. It took almost no prompting for Hook to swear by the name of the woman he loved, EMMMMMAAAAA SWAAAAN!!! Which is when Ariel hilariously turned into Zelena, complete with jaunty hat, and CURSED HIS LIPS. The TV Guide description five years from now: “Once Upon a Time (R): Pirate Hook has his lips cursed by a witch” LOL. Now if he should lay those lovin’ lips on Emma, all her magic will be gone forever, and Zelena can kill her!!!! But if he doesn't, Zelena will kill everyone Emma loves! Captain Swanners, be mad, this contrivance was designed to whip you into a frenzy.
The episode ended with Hook interrupting Emma and Regina’s cozy after-magic cocoa moment to tell Emma that he had no idea where Henry was. Good job babysitting! Then he watched awkwardly like the world's biggest third wheel as Regina taught Emma how to use the magic mirror to see what Ariel and Eric were up to (spinning around in the waves all alone on an island together, like you do), and then the Charmings came in chuckling about how they let a 12-year-old joyride up and down the streets. Nevermind this was a perfect opportunity to explain that in addition to hungry eyes, Hook now had cursed lips. I mean, he only had the two people in town with enough magic to do something about it standing right in front of him.
Hook left in an awful hurry. Will he force a kiss on her to keep her from taking more “magic lessons” with Regina? Will he tell her what's up and let her devise an "option C"? Will he start wearing an enormous pair of wax lips over his own lips to protect them both? Only time will tell.
The show left us with the unprecedented and thoroughly satisfying image of Regina joining the Charmings for dinner at Granny’s (and yes, Hook peeping through the shutters at them in the creepiest way). Aside from the pirate-peeping, the small moment was absolutely devastating. Just watching our favorites get to be normal, happy people for a single meal felt way more surreal and magical than any special effect on the show. Here’s to fleeting moments of transcendency in an ocean of confusion, on OUAT and elsewhere.
... What is Hook going to do with his cursed lips?
... Should Hook have just asked Regina to un-curse his lips, or did he know she'd refuse because why would he be kissing her girl anyway?
... Did you call Ariel being Zelena?
... So real Ariel is off on a deserted island with Eric just making out nonstop?
... What sounds more fun: an afternoon with the Charmings or an afternoon taste-testing different fat-percentage milks (1%, 2%, whole, fat-free)?