In the mid-season finale of "Once Upon a Time," the inevitable has happened and one of the core cast sacrifices himself for the safety of Storybrooke -- and the world. The "Swan Song" episode slows down the fighting and mystery for characters to just revel in each other for a while as they await death. But more on that later.
We start off with a flashback: A young, pre-Hook Killian on the high seas. We get to see Hook's father, who comforts him during a storm. When they wake up, Killian and his brother, Liam, find that dad has literally jumped ship. Their father apparently took off when he heard that there was law enforcement waiting for him at the next port, leaving his kids aboard and in the service of the ship's captain.
In the present, Captain Hook the Dark One is having a bit of fun with Rumplestiltskin the former Dark One, who has come to kill him with Excalibur. He can't though, and Hook verbally assaults Rumple, bringing up Belle and his dead son, Neal. He disappears.
Walking down the Storybrooke street, Emma is determined to go after Dark Hook. Snow White, Prince Charming and six of the seven dwarves ("Dopey's still a tree.") all plan to go on the hunt for Hook. They're going to split up and find him. Everyone in the group should want to be on Regina's team!
Speaking of Regina, she and Robin go back to Mayor Regina's place, and Zelena is there, making herself comfortable. The Wicked Witch says that she is going to take the baby away when Robin and Regina are dead. The two of them were probably thinking: What does that mean?
Cue the army of Dark Ones that suddenly descends upon everyone in the town. They surround and touch the dwarves, Regina, Snow and David ... and Nimue herself passes right through Henry as Emma makes a move to protect him. She's too late, and all of those touched by the Dark Ones are now marked for death.
Yeeep. The Dark Ones only have a temporary pass in this world. They have to bond with someone living so that they can stay on this side of death's door. They've been ferried through the veil of the Underworld to the land of the living by Charon, the to and fro ferryman for, basically, people going to Hell and back.
The mark of Charon means that they're marked for death and there's nothing they can do about it. Mr. Gold is pretty grim, saying, "Use this time wisely -- use it to say goodbye." Is there nothing they can do!?!?
Hook and Regina. Before the group meets, Regina implores Hook to rethink what he's doing by inviting the Dark Ones. She says that's not the man he wants to be, just like in the past. Bam! Flashback to the Enchanted Forest, and Evil Queen Regina recruiting bad guy pirate Captain Hook to kill her mother, Cora. In order for her to trust that he'll do it, Queen Regina gives Hook a test -- and she takes him to see his long-lost father. He is told to kill his father. In their present-day meeting, Hook is angry at the incident even having been mentioned, and proves his magical strength by choking Regina, and letting her go later.
"Maybe Gold's right," says semi-defeated Snow White. Since they haven't been able to find a way to rid themselves of the mark, or their fate, a downtrodden Mary Margaret wants to go with David and Henry to the diner to be with their friends in their final moments. She is resigned to the fact that they are going to cross over -- and they are leaving baby Neal with Emma!?! A teary Emma will not let that happen. Somehow she and Regina are going to get rid of the Dark Ones and put all of the darkness into Emma, per Emma's plan.
Belle goes to see Mr. Gold. Rumple gives Belle a little magic so that she can cross the town lines and still retain a bit of herself instead of being hit with magical amnesia. She, naively (Thought we were over that, Belle!), thinks that he is just being a good guy, offering her a way to travel and see the world.
As Belle leaves, Emma and Regina come into the pawn shop. Emma tells Rumple that she needs Excalibur to draw the darkness into herself and save everybody. He fetches it and gives it to her. "You're a brave woman, Emma Swan," says Rumple. Wow.
The time is approaching for all to die, and Zelena is still being wicked. She's flaunting how she's going to take the baby and Regina's house. She mentions Pistachio as a possible child's name. Oh no, she has to go. Regina takes out Merlin's wand and, now able to use it, transports Zelena to the clock tower -- then banishes her back to Oz. Feel kind of bad that she's forcibly being pulled away from her nameless newborn child, but she says they'll meet again as she's pulled away. "Somewhere over the rainbow," says Regina.
In the past, Killian comes face-to-face with the father who abandoned him on a ship. His father tells the now-grown Captain Hook that he was hit with a sleeping curse and awakened by true love's kiss. He regrets having left Killian and is a changed man after meeting his wife. She later died from the plague. Killian sympathizes with his dad and will hide him, making folks think that he is dead. But, he now has a little brother as well, so he'll have to hide him, too.
Hook watches as his dad kisses his new son, Liam, good night. He named him after Hook's brother, whom he also abandoned back on the ship when they were younger. It makes Hook very mad, and he goes through with his plan: Hook kills his dad. Dude was a pretty ruthless pirate.
In the present, Hook is still smart. He and Emma finally have a standoff, but Emma has Excalibur. She swings at him, but he teleports. She's about to swing again, but Henry appears, and she lets down her guard. Henry grabs the sword, and turns back into Hook. Dang, Emma! We all knew that. Now Hook has Excalibur once again.
Everyone's now at the shore, waiting for the ferry to the Underworld. Emma is upset because she's powerless to help. Nimue enacts the sign, and the ferry comes. Regina asks Hook to help, but he won't. Emma then tries to force the Dark Ones to stop, but she's held in place by Nimue. Nimue can't kill Emma, but she can hurt her, and begins choking her.
Hook can't stand to see Emma suffer -- so he double-crosses the Dark Ones after watching a little bit of the torture. Being a powerful Dark One himself, he takes all of the Darkness from the other Dark Ones and puts it into Excalibur. The darkness is a lot, though, and it has to go somewhere. Emma takes Excalibur and follows the path of the Season 2 finale of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," killing the one she loves for the greater good.
So sad. Hook is taken to the morgue in a body bag. Emma is heartbroken.
At Mr. Gold's shop, Belle returns after a call from Henry. Rumpbelle is back together again!
Somehow, Emma still hears the dagger/Excalibur. She follows the sound to Mr. Gold's pawn shop, where Rumple has hidden the dagger. Inscribed on it is Rumplestiltskin. After a little razzle-dazzle magic on Excalibur before Emma took it, Rumple made it so that the darkness that was drawn into the dagger came to him. Gold tricked them all once again and got back all of the darkness from all of the Dark Ones, including Emma.
"It's what I do. It's the man I am," says Rumple.
Wow. Well, things are back to status quo now. But Emma is still distraught over Hook, and hatches up a plan to go to the Underworld and rescue him. He died not knowing that he didn't really have to sacrifice himself since Gold willingly took in the darkness. Emma is going to the Underworld to get Killian back. As Gold opens a portal to the Underworld, lots of people follow Emma over to the ferry. Wait ... all of them are going? That's weird. Another world is another world to them maybe, but this is the Underworld, Hell, not a nice place to go. Be wary, folks.
According to the during-the-credits promo, the second half of the season will be an evil reunion of sorts. Cora. Peter Pan. Cruella. They're all in the Underworld, waiting for the heroes. See you in March!
In a twist, we add insight to the straight-laced recap by publishing occasional questions, concerns and observations submitted by Layla Andre, 8, a fervent fan of "Once Upon a Time" and the daughter of an L.A. Times staff member. They're probably some of the same that many viewers have.
-- I knew Hook was going to die! Now Emma is a Black Widow. Or a White Widow.
-- I think Zelena should get to keep her baby because Regina promised her.
-- Why is there STILL no name for Baby Hood???
-- I'm glad Belle and Rumple are back together, but I can't believe Rumple is the Dark One again.
-- Emma should have her parents come with her to the Underworld. And Regina too. But Robin Hood should stay home because he has the newborn.
-- I think Emma is going to meet Neal in the Underworld...