I knew Killian Jones, AKA Captain Hook, was a tortured hero after watching "Tallahassee."
In the prior two episodes, the side of Killian Jones that the audience saw was that of a scoundrel, a ladies' man, and a ruthless pirate. He'd stolen Rumplestiltskin's wife and attempted to goad him into a duel. While charming, his likability level was low, yet Colin O'Donoghue's meticulous acting made the viewer want to know more, particularly after the Dark One himself chopped off the pirate's hand after murdering his adulterous wife. It was apparent that "Captain Hook" was now on a mission to get revenge on "the Crocodile," and the audience couldn't wait to see that.
"Tallahassee" altered the view on the character of Killian in a drastic way. Easily his most vulnerable episode in the character's debut season, "Tallahassee" reveals that Killian is much more than an irresistible, swashbuckling pirate. A tattoo on his forearm reveals how deeply the murder of his first love gutted him. When pressed by Emma Swan on the subject, he clams up and answers with vague words. He uses flirting as his defense; sexual innuendos serve as his specialty. The viewer can't help but be drawn in by Killian Jones' magnetism, yet knowing somehow that there is a sad story behind those blue eyes.
Killian's backstory is still in the process of being revealed to the audience, and the sporadic pieces of the puzzle have been three seasons in the making. The structure of it is very similar to that of any romantic hero. Killian's mother died when he was a young child, leaving him and his older brother, Liam, in the care of their father. One night, he awakens to find out that his father is a fugutive and that he and his brother have been sold into servitude. The two of them spent their formative years in the service of cruel masters who drove him to drinking early on. After a fateful voyage to the Eye of the Storm to retrieve a precious gem, the Brothers Jones were recruited to the Royal Navy, where they excelled in service to the king. A trip to Neverland forever changes the lives of the Brothers, when Liam, a captain, is poisoned and killed because of the voyage. Killian, driven by anger and grief, takes his brother's ship and becomes a pirate. The life is for him, one full of treasure and women. That is, until he meet Milah, a married woman desperate for a life more exciting than her own. She begs to go with him, and he obliges. They fall in love upon the high seas, but as Killian discovers, there is a price to be paid. Many years later, Milah's husband, now the Dark One, appears, killing Milah and taking his hand. The trauma leaves Killian angry and full of vengeance, willing to do whatever it takes to get it, including killing his own father.
Everything appeared to shift, even if it was only slightly at first, when he met Emma Swan. In her, he saw a lot of himself: the abandonment and loss. He is drawn to her and pursues her at first with his innuendos, to which she rolls her eyes and keeps walking. Over time, it is obvious in the longing looks that he wishes for her to see beyond his pirate exterior. The first glimpse of it is in their journey to Neverland, when she discovers he has saved her father's life. While it was prompted by teasing and goading, Emma throws herself into a kiss with him, one that he thinks means more than it actually does. That kiss heavily impacts his decisions over the course of the rest of the season, as he keeps trying to hold on to hope that it meant something despite her "one time thing" comment. It leads him to reveal that Emma's former lover Neal is alive and in Neverland despite the fact that they are competing for her affections. It makes him go after her, traveling across realms and trading his ships to get to her even when she didn't know who it was. It forced him to make a choice in an effort to save her son. All of these contributed to Emma finally seeing the man beneath the leather and faux confidence.
Since making their relationship official at the conclusion of season three, Emma and Killian have been on an entirely new journey to discover how to navigate romance. Both of them have spent many years alone, their nights filled with meaningless one-night stands to ease the emptiness inside them. Therefore, in the midst of all of the crises in Storybrooke, they've had to steal "quiet moments." A date at an Italian restaurant, lunches on the now-recovered Jolly Roger, and dinner at Granny's. He respects her, treating her like all women deserve to be treated.
More than that, though, it's in the little moments, like when Emma showed him the box that contained the contents of her childhood or when Killian revealed that she was his happy ending. It is in those moments that the audience see that vulnerability is the core of this relationship. Both of them feel safe revealing the difficult things to one another, and those are the times when we see the growth in their relationship. For a man like Killian, who is adjusting to a modern world with new standards, it is growth that is truly a gift to see.
The first arc of season five was heavy for Killian and Emma's relationship. With Emma taking on the darkness, Killian was forced to resist her and push her away, not realizing that he is also a Dark One capable of massive destruction. His biting words when he embraces his new persona are a sharp contrast to the man who reveals he wants a future with Emma, to take a step forward and move in together. Ultimately, that arc ended with Killian sacrificing himself, ending up the Underworld tortured by Hades. Emma wasted no time going to find him, and while he felt undeserving initially, it took a reunion with his brother to realize that he did deserve saving and wanted to pursue a future with Emma, no matter how difficult the journey might be.
Over the course of nearly four seasons on the show, Killian Jones has emerged as the man of honor he so desperately wanted to be. It has included some of the most heroic sacrifices of all, including dying for the woman he loves. That journey has not been without its errors and returns to the darkness, as many critics of his character stress. What many people forget is that mistakes are a major part of a hero's journey. Like anyone else, these characters are not perfect, one of the many reasons we connect to them.
The worst part of the criticisms of Killian's character is that despite some of the ugly things posted on social media, no one hates Killian Jones more than Killian Jones. The amount of self-loathing he has is visible often in small moments usually shared with Emma. In his eyes, he will never be a good enough man to deserve her love. He has taken steps forward in learning to love himself, but it has taken the love of another for him to see the good parts of himself. I have a feeling that the audience will continue to see these insecurities, so often hidden behind a facade of smooth arrogance and flirtatious remarks, until the conclusion of Once.
Words cannot express how brilliantly Killian Jones has been created as a romantic hero. It was never about Emma changing him. Instead, it was about her helping him to open his heart and rediscover feelings he had long since repressed, an observation I saw on Tumblr. In some ways, that has changed him, but the writers and producers did not go with the overused good girl trying to tame a bad boy trope. In fact, the beauty of Killian and Emma's love is that it has given each of them room to grow without one pushing the other to do so. There is a sense of realism in it, which is what one would least expect from a show about fairy tales.
Young girls spend their childhoods dreaming about the prince who will sweep them off of their feet. I, for one, would much rather have the flawed pirate willing to do anything for the woman he loves and will never stop fighting for her, forever willing to go to the end of the world (or time) to make that happen.
Thank you for reading this series! I will be returning soon with new blog posts!