At the start of the season, I couldn't wait to explore more of Hook's backstory on "Once Upon A Time." Now that we're in the dreary monotony of Neverland, it seems even more important to dig into his -- or, really, anyone's -- story just to get us out of the jungle. While what we learn about Hook isn't all that twisty or particularly insightful (there's still a lot of Hook to unravel, I'm sure), it's a reminder of what worked in the first season and what has been largely missing in this one.
We kick things off with the Lost Boys doing what they usually do -- playing. This looks like the least enjoyable play time ever, and Henry seems to fit in about as well as the nerdy kid on the football team. I would think the Lost Boys would eventually get bored with hitting one another with sticks, but I guess Peter Pan's magic helps with that. Too bad it doesn't work on viewers, as I think I'm feeling bored for them.
Because Peter Pan is all about the True Believer thing, he urges Henry to imagine his wooden sword is real, which he promptly does -- and proceeds to chop up the sword of the kid he's fighting. When he scratches the kid's cheek, he apologizes -- and Pan chastises him. "The best thing about being a Lost Boy? Never apologize," Pan says. If that's the best thing about being a Lost Boy, I think Henry should just move on right now. It's like saying the best thing about being a rock star is getting free M&Ms at the venue.
The core of the story is really Hook's increasingly ardent crush on Emma and Charming's resistance to his daughter dating a pirate. As much as I appreciate Hook's romantic side (le sigh, le sigh), it's hard to believe someone so hot (and who wears such awesome leather pants) would have to work this hard to win over anyone. Yes, he symbolizes her bad girl side, but if we're going for any attempt at believability, Hook would have moved on from Emma ages ago.
Still, his admiration for Emma gives him something to fight about with Charming -- and from there, we get to see how little Charming understands the true Hook thanks to flashbacks. Once, Hook was a perfectly respectable lieutenant, sailing with his brother to far away lands at the King's behest. In case we're not entirely clear about what a good guy he is, he admonishes the ship's sailors that "bad form" won't be tolerated upon the ship (in other words, one guy doesn't hide his rum very well) and wears his bangs very tidily.
What follows feels like a Cliff's Notes attempt to bring us up to speed on Hook -- his brother believes that dreamshade is a potent healing plant, Pan tries to convince him otherwise, and finally Hook's brother decides to show his faith in the master plan by scraping himself with the stuff. This is when we find out what the cure for dreamshade is -- a sip from a waterfall tucked behind the place where the poisonous plant grows will do the trick, but if you drink the stuff, you have to stay in Neverland forever.
There's a bit of nonsense about a sextant that will probably become more important in future episodes but is little more than a MacGuffin in this one. We also get a strange magical element to Hook's backstory when his brother unfurls a sail made from Pegasus' feathers, allowing the ship to fly.
I realize that yes, the Jolly Roger does fly (although, after he burns the sail, maybe not), and this ties this story to what we know from the fairy tale. Still, it seems awkward to me. The King of England just happens to outfit his military boats with a flying option? Why couldn't this element have come in later, when Hook has crossed over into pirate behavior and would be likely to stumble across all kind of magical doodads? Threading together elements on this show must be a bear, but this one just didn't work for me.
Of course, Hook's sad story with his brother is to Charming's benefit, because we learn that Hook has a plan to save his nemesis. While Charming is running around tearfully hugging and kissing everyone, Hook is probably rolling his eyes and trying to get on with dragging the guy up a mountain on the pretense of finding the sextant. For some reason we're supposed to believe that Hook is up to no good, but I don't know why. We've seen plenty of evidence that Hook has a soft side, and the idea that he'd let Charming die -- or kill him, as Pan suggests, after dangling the carrot of Hook being able to run away with Emma as a trade-off -- isn't one we're likely to buy. Charming dying from poisoning, sure, but Hook killing him? Nah.
The ladies left behind continue to work on their plan to get a message to Henry. They capture a Lost Boy and try to convince him they can help him, but no dice -- he's not eating Regina's magic candy bar and he doesn't want to go home, either. Regina finally suggests she just rip out his heart, and Emma reluctantly goes along with the idea. Snow thinks this is terrible! It's so mean! They have to win fair and square! Shut up, Snow. Emma holds her back as Regina rips the kid's heart out and uses him as a puppet to talk to Henry. Emma may be many things, but one of the good ones is that she's pragmatic.
Unfortunately, it's not entirely clear whether or not Henry buys it when he sees his two moms and Grandma in a magic mirror. I guess growing up with Regina would make you a skeptic, but we'll find out next week if the message had the intended effect, or whether it will just get Henry in trouble with Pan.
Even though Charming has overheard Pan's offer to Hook (kill Charming, get a free cruise with a hot chick!), Hook manages to prove himself (after knocking out the guy) and gives him a cup of the magic water to drink. He cautions him that he can never leave Neverland, but that's fine by Charming. He can't bear the thought of abandoning his family! I'm wondering if his family will have to abandon him at some point, as living on Neverland seems like the world's worst camping vacation ever and there's clearly no Trader Joe's around, but we'll cross that bridge when we have to.
Finally, Hook and Charming return to camp, Charming sings Hook's praises to everyone (albeit through a white lie about marauding Lost Boys, as God forbid anyone just tell the truth the first time around on this show), and Hook gets Emma alone. She tells him she's showing him gratitude when she grabs him for a passionate kiss, but I'm not buying and neither is Hook. Once and done? No way. These two make a cute couple, or would if Emma would stop grumping around camp and wearing seemingly sweaty sleeveless T-shirts, but it may not matter anyway.
Pan, who has far too much time to zip around the island and bother people, comes to Hook with something else -- a secret. He has Neal in a cage, and it's up to Hook whether or not he shares that with the rest of the gang. Knowing that Emma is mourning Neal, he may want to end her suffering -- but it's also likely his fledgling relationship with her will end immediately. I'm guessing Hook will keep this information to himself for a while, or at least long enough for Emma to resent him for not telling her about it. I'm hoping this doesn't play out in the predictable fashion I'm expecting it to, however.
This season of "Once Upon A Time" hasn't delivered as many surprises as I hoped (although some have been very memorable -- you go, Mulan!). I have high hopes for next week, though -- bring on Ariel and the mean mermaids!