We know that happy endings are all lined up for (most of) our Storybrooke heroes so long as they can conquer the obstacles laid before them, but this week's episode of Once Upon a Time raises a curious new question: Do the villains ever deserve to find that light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, too?
Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) certainly doesn't seem to think so. Even before Emma (Jennifer Morrison) accidentally stumbled onto his engagement ring for her and prompted the proposal he wasn't sure he'd make, he'd been beating himself up for having killed David (Josh Dallas)'s father in another lifetime. He's since become a different man, and he had all intentions of making Miss Swan his wife before he found out that her grandpa was on the receiving end of his sword. That's what you call a game-changer.
But now that he's gotten down on one knee, ready or not, he's got some deciding to do. Either he keeps his dirty secret to himself and lets his conscience eat away at him 'til the end of time, or he reveals the truth to her and her family and risks losing everything and everyone he cares about.
He happens upon Captain Nemo (Faran Tahir), who's always good for some solid advice and a friendly ear, and is told the seacomber's version of a "the truth will set you free" cliche. Instead of coming clean, though, Hook decides to burn his memory of the incident so that he can just rid himself of the guilt and go on about his happy life without the burden of that truth in mind. Too bad for that plan, Emma oversees the memory and recognizes David's father in the snapshot. She's angered not by what he'd done but by the fact that he opted not to tell her. She hands back over his ring and tells him that he's obviously not ready for that kind of commitment to her just yet.
Instead of rushing after her or confronting her family with his dark truth, Hook asks Nemo if he can set sail with him to clear his head in the ocean air on the Nautilus instead. The vessel's always got room for him, Nemo says, but then he gets some news that might just change his mind ...
Now that the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) has escaped her snakely body prison, she's ready to sever ties with Regina once and for all. She uses Not-Robin (Sean Maguire) as bait to lure Regina into a showdown with her after recovering the magic scissors that can cut the ties of their fates forever more. This will then give her the chance to exact a little revenge — her long-standing mission in life at large — and vanquish Regina like she once tried to do to her.
Through a series of flashbacks with her father, we get to see the exact moment when she discovers that it isn't Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) she truly hates the most, but herself. Her father, seeing how unhappy his daughter is, tricks her into thinking he's found a pathway to a device that will lead her to Snow White, but in reality, he's set her up to find Cupid's arrow, which will direct her to the person she loves most — Robin. Unfortunately, old Regina isn't interested in ooey gooey romance at the moment. She wants vengeance (as always), and uses her mother's spell book to tweak the device into leading her to gaze upon the one she hates the most. Instead of taking her to Snow, though, the arrow leads her to a mirror, which is how this whole self-hating process of splitting her personality into two began in the first place.
In present time, Regina fields offers from Emma and Snow and even young Henry (Jared Gilmore) to help her out, but she declines. She created the Evil Queen, so she should be the one who deals with her, regardless of the consequence. Besides, it's not just Robin's life at stake here; the Evil Queen would happily destroy everyone Regina loves to get back at her because her thirst for revenge will never be satisfied.
Regina shows up and decides that it's high time the Evil Queen does go ahead and use those scissors on their bond. She's just as tired of being bound to her, too. After it's done, the Evil Queen reveals her plan to do away with Regina and the two start sword-fighting and throwing apples and bowls at each other and such. (Most anti-climactic battle ever? It's up there.)
Eventually, Regina gets the upper hand on her worser half and rips out her heart with the intention of ridding Storybrooke of it's biggest bad. Seeing a shard of mirror on the floor reminds her of that revelation she had with her dad on that day so long ago, though, and she decides to try another course of action on for size.
Instead of killing the Evil Queen, she takes out her own heart and lets the two meld together a bit. She'll take some of the Queen's evilness, and, in turn, share a little of her goodness with her other half instead. It might seem like a foolish plan, but right away, the Queen is changed. She apologizes to Snow for the torment, has already sent Not-Robin back to his realm where he wanted to be, and even agrees to give Henry back the story-writing pen she stole to prevent him from writing her out of the story altogether.
Since it's not against rules to alter her future, as she's technically not a permanent resident of the Storybrooke story, Henry's able to write her a new ending and shoots her off to wherever the winds will take her. And although neither she nor Henry has control over the matter, the Queen ends up in Not-Robin's realm, sharing a pint with him in a place where she can truly get a fresh start. She even gets a hug from Henry, who's even willing to call her "Mom" for all her newfound goodness.
Snow may not have been sold on the idea that redemption was a possibility for the Queen, but now she believes it. The Evil Queen's been vanquished, perhaps for good, and with a chummy new outlook on life to boot! Huzzah! The first person she shares the good news with is Hook, whose history she's still not familiar with, but who needs to hear of such unlikely absolution all the same.
"Love can save even the darkest souls, you just have to believe in it," she says, before walking away, blissfully unaware that her daughter's engagement was called off or that Hook killed her father-in-law once upon a ... well, you know.
With that, Hook has his own change of heart, so to speak, and boards the Nautilus to tell Nemo that he's going to stay a landlubber for now, in hopes of making things right with Emma and her family. His timing couldn't be worse, though, because Gideon (Giles Matthey) shows up and starts submerging the sub with Hook still on it because he needs him out of the way for what he's got planned.
With Emma all alone and feeling abandoned like this, it looks like her pesky prophecy is that much closer to coming to fruition. If Hook can pull off this rescue from the depths, he'll certainly have his chance at undoing some of this harm, but if he can't, Emma may never know that he didn't mean to abandon her to the savior-slayer. Dun dun dun ....