Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue
We’ve written about Jennifer Morrison many times in the past three months, and frankly, we think that’s delightful. Forgive us for sounding like a broken record, but ultimately, there’s absolutely no way we can choose not to praise her impeccable work. Dear Academy, we respect (most) of your choices, but where on earth is Morrison’s Emmy? This season gave Morrison the chance to play her cards in ways we’d never expect, and not only did she astound us each step of the way, but the character of Emma Swan is now so profoundly layered, she’s incomparably admirable. The reason Morrison is constantly praised here is because this season gave her the opportunity to play three different versions of Emma — apart or weaved in together — every emotion demanded to be felt and Morrison did that phenomenally.
Emma Swan | The Lost Girl
In Camelot we watched Emma struggle with the darkness in a way most of us struggle with our own inner demons and negative thoughts. We watched her not only break free of it in a way no other dark one ever has, but we watched her walls come down in a way we’d not seen in the past. Emma’s gradually opened her heart since season three, but even though she finally feels safe enough to fall, it doesn’t change the fact that the fears of losing people still haunt her every thought. There are a ton of admirable qualities about Emma Swan, but perhaps what’s always resonated with us is the fact that she’s had the same kind of past as most noted villains, but she’s continuously made the hard choices that have deemed her heroic. Something we’ve always said in our reviews is that it really doesn’t matter if Snow and Charming believe they’ve taken all the darkness out of Emma as a child because there are moments where she exhibits frightening rage (refer to Henry’s “death” scene in the season one finale). She may have repressed some things because of what her parents have done, but ultimately, author or no author, curse or no curse, the entire purpose of this arc was to demonstrate that people are capable of choosing who they want to be.
Morrison’s had to play Emma with a full range of emotions during this arc and she’s done it all outstandingly. The woman we saw in Camelot was drained, perplexed, furious, hopeful, and broken. We watched Morrison bring each of these emotions to life in heartrending fashion, for even when Emma was finally hopeful, she was still damaged by the result of her actions.
Because we’ve already talked about our favorite scene in depth, we’ll simply add that part from our review of “Nimue” here:
“Emma’s struggles this week were perhaps what required the most work from Jennifer Morrison. Morrison was at her best, but at this point we should probably stop staying this because it’s no longer a surprise that she will constantly outdo herself with exceptional performances. When Merlin tells Emma that they’ll need to summon the first dark one on their journey, the heartbreak Morrison wears on her face as she realizes she’ll once again have to see figures she’s tried so desperately to remove from her head was brilliantly done. These are the precise hints the audience needs to understand that embracing the darkness isn’t something Emma wants. No matter how much she grows fond of the power, deep down, her heart is in a stronger place. She’s somebody special without the powers. It’s also what allows us to believe she didn’t choose the darkness but was rather forced to embrace it for the greater good?! Fundamentally, the fears and uncertainties Morrison conveys on their journey makes Emma’s confrontation with Nimue so phenomenal.
There’s no justifiable way to properly describe Jennifer Morrison’s groundbreaking performance during Emma’s confrontation with Nimue. Unfortunately, ‘dkfajlsfjasdfadakjsdf’ won’t do because that’s not an actual word so here’s a proposal: someone invent a new word to use strictly for Morrison’s outstanding performances. And now that we’ve done our gushing — Morrison does an excellent job of revealing Emma’s innermost struggles in that moment of ‘dark one possession’, but the moment Nimue says “don’t go back to being nothing”, the look in her eyes changes most evocatively. Emma’s fought so hard to create a life for herself where she was happy and honorable; thereby, having someone say she’s nothing when she herself knows she’s so much more was the trigger that’d ignite all the light within her to strike. As human beings we’re susceptible to every emotion, it isn’t feeling them that’s wrong, it’s what we do with them that determines our strength and nobility. It’s okay to feel anger, in fact sometimes it’s exactly what’s needed to stand up and fight for yourself. It isn’t okay however, to let anger perpetually take control of your being. The anger in Emma as Nimue says she’s nothing is exactly what Emma needed in order to remember who she is. She’s fought so hard to come this far, and if there’s one thing she won’t do, it’s allow another person to take away her agency. This is a moment that required baring it all, it called for conclusive rage and Morrison delivered it with the right amount of vehemence that’d reveal the inmost battle Emma’s having within. She’s at a war unlike anything she’s experienced before and sometimes, situations like this require pouring everything out. This wasn’t Emma’s war against Nimue, this was Emma’s war against the darkness that’s tethered itself onto her. This was Emma reminding viewers that the woman we know isn’t just a mere body that can serve as a puppet to some force attempting to seize her being. This was Emma Swan taking back her agency. After succeeding, Emma’s poise and cataclysmic anger is then exchanged with a wearied vulnerability that showcases immense strength and goodness. Emma states that it feels “damn good” to take the right path, and Morrison delivers the scene with a poignancy in her expression complimented with both exhaustion and relief in her posture.
In order for such a moment to leave a last impression on viewers, Morrison had to embody Emma in a way she’s never before. She had to deliver the right amount of emotions that’d not only bring out Emma’s pain and relief, but it’d feel so real, it’d inspire viewers worldwide to stand up for themselves as well. The message brought to life in “Nimue” was gold and we’re so thankful Morrison plays Emma.”
Although Emma fought and won the darkness, she lost a part of herself when Killian was breathing his final breaths. And it was in these moments where we watched Morrison exhibit a kind of desperation we’ve yet to see from her. Camelot gave Morrison the opportunity to play Emma in a more open and beautifully vulnerable state allowing the audience to truly feel the exuding happiness she experiences in moments where it feels as though the future she desires and deserves is indeed hers.
Dark Swan | The Broken Lover
For about eight episodes viewers had absolutely no idea what the Dark Swan’s plan was and because of this, Morrison had to fool us all — not just the residents of Storybrooke. She had to frighten us. She had to make us question her. Morrison had to craft an Emma Swan like we’d never seen before — a hollow gaze and a robotic voice did the trick just right. We were on the edge of our seats wondering what on earth could’ve gone wrong in the midst of the magic we’d been witnessing in Camelot to force her into a state of complete darkness. And learning the truth only helped solidify our belief that at the end of the day, Emma Swan is the most loving character we’ve known. Dark Swan tried desperately to conceal traces of humanity, and Morrison made it work.
We understand Emma’s decisions — the gut-wrenching pain Morrison exhibited when Killian was dying followed by her heartbreak and regret when he’d embraced the darkness was anything but fun to watch. It was wrong, but it was fathomable. You felt for her. You understood her. You couldn’t hate her. You couldn’t be angry with her. You just desperately wanted her make things right and that meant being brave enough to ask for help. It meant being brave enough to admit that she was wrong. It meant being brave enough to let go.
Emma Swan | The Savior
Savior Emma made appearances here and there, but she saved herself most beautifully when she bellowed “she’s nothing.” And that same Emma Swan, the one that was determined to start a future, beautifully set out to cease it. In the end, both Emma Swan and Killian Jones saved themselves. They stood up to the darkness and chose who to be instead. They chose to wholeheartedly give into love. And concluding “Swan Song” with Emma echoing her family’s “I will always find you” was immaculate. There’s no other word besides perfect. That’s what Snow and Charming do, they find each other. They never give up: they always hope and they always succeed. Killian Jones is not only a vital part of this family, but he’s an irreplaceable figure, and he deserves to be fought for. Morrison delivered the scene with such hope in her voice weaved beautifully with relief in her expression. In this breathtaking moment, Emma Swan is hopeful; she’s driven by unwavering faith, love, and strength. For the very first time, when it comes to love, she is fearless.
Colin O’Donoghue continues to prove that there’s no role he can’t take on. We write about him often on here, but truthfully, how can we not when his performances continuously make us deeply empathize with his character. Killian Jones was put through a lot this season, and the storylines gave O’Donoghue plenty of opportunities to exhibit a wide array of emotions that’d make viewers understand Killian Jones to the core. We needed to watch him fall in order to see the riveting strength that plays a vast role in making him the man that he is. Whatever we’ve seen O’Donoghue do in previous seasons has only been intensified in 5A and with the amount required out of the actor, not once was there a case of him overdoing it. O’Donoghue delivered the precise amount of emotions with each passing scene grounding his character in a way that was utterly riveting.
From the moment Emma selflessly tethered herself onto the darkness, to his final breath as he sacrificed himself to destroy it once and for all, O’Donoghue’s been on top of his game with sheer vulnerability and heartbreak to manic anger cobbled wonderfully with sincere conviction when light was doing its best to outshine the darkness. Nevertheless, O’Donoghue made sure the audience could see that throughout this entire journey, Killian is in agony — he may appear collected on the outside, falling apart just a bit at appropriate times, but it’s all a façade to hide his damaged soul. The broken spirit of a man who’s been walking around faithless, hopeless, and wrecked. For instance, because we were given the opportunity to see how unhappy and ruthless Killian was without Emma, we were able to understand just why her choice to turn him into a dark one sent him into a state of rage. When the darkness takes ahold of a person, it magnifies each of their already existing demons forcing them into a battle unlike anything they’ve faced before. Emma is everything to Killian, and the fact that he chose to admit he was weak in the face of darkness is yet another reason his act was so heroic. O’Donoghue’s meticulous acting choices also disclosed the fact that in many ways, Killian’s always been in a perpetual state of rage and in a sense, from the beginning of the season, we’ve essentially watched him play three versions of the character.
Killian Jones | Man of Honor
The season opens up with what we can safely categorize as a determined man livid with the fact that the love of his life is now the thing he hates most in the world, but even with the darkest spirit in her, Killian never once gives up trying to bring out the best in Emma. He never once stops adoring her with every fiber of his being and even when she’s making questionable decisions, he’s there reminding her of who she was. While love isn’t everything, it’s a profound part of his being — she’s the reason he’s happier. At any rate, while we’re given the chance to watch O’Donoghue bring out a much more tender and loving side of Killian at such a fragile time, we’re also able to see that at his core, Killian Jones values love above all things. He wants to help. He wants to be there for Emma in the way she’s effortlessly been there for him. He wants to plan a future. He wants to patiently adore and treasure her in the way he knows all humans deserve to be. It’s because O’Donoghue’s done such a wondrous job of exhibiting raw sincerity, where even in his darkest moment, the audience still believes Killian will find the light again. And it’s because of O’Donoghue’s masterful performances where we’re certain of the fact that deep down, Emma Swan is Killian’s number one priority.
Captain Hook | Ruthless Villain
The most riveting essence of this character is not only how different he is than Killian Jones, but how miserable he is. We’ve always assumed his notorious past involved a lot more than duels with the dark one, but in flashbacks we learn that Hook’s story with his father didn’t end when Brennan traded his sons to servitude. Even while he’s completely livid and betrayed, we’re able to see that because Hook believes in love’s power, he’s willing to forgive. He’s willing to show mercy. But that mercy doesn’t come with patience or understanding, it doesn’t even come with another chance, for the moment he feels his father’s lying, he doesn’t think twice about stabbing him. O’Donoghue’s expressiveness quickly changes into teeth gnashed rage sickened with betrayal and lacking clemency. Watching and understanding his loneliness then allows the audience to truly feel for the character when he’s been robbed of his agency and turned into thing he hates most. But that’s ultimately what makes Hook’s growth, and O’Donoghue’s performances most exceptional.
Dark Hook | Hero
Killian as the “Dark One” is anything but heroic; however, in order for man to be truly strong, he must be weak. He must fall, and he must get back up with honor. We’ve seen Killian Jones fight for his happy ending since “And Straight On Til Morning” (2×22), but the battle with the darkness is what’s brought his character immeasurable strength. O’Donoghue gave this performance everything he’s got — “Dark Hook” is completely manic and patronizing, but because Killian’s still inside somewhere, there are moments that allow the actor to do some of his best work. There are moments where it appears Killian wants to desperately break free, but he’s still repressed by the snares of darkness. O’Donoghue was phenomenal as Killian’s heart took ahold of the darkness following the realization that the harm coming to Emma is physically and emotionally hurting her and thereby, destroying him. And it’s in this moment where we’re able to see that much like Emma, Killian’s capable of fighting the darkness with honor. Just as Emma had to fight for the fact that she’s nothing, Killian had to fight for the fact that he’s capable of being the man he’s always wanted to be. They both chose to fight for the person they’ve always wanted to be and in the darkest moment of their lives, they pushed back. O’Donoghue’s brilliance is most beautifully exhibited in the way his expression changes from complete rigid wrath to regret filled sorrow.
“Dark Hook” gave O’Donoghue the opportunity to layer Killian Jones in ways we’d probably never see otherwise. We’ve said this from the very beginning of the arc, but the role that can easily be overdone is that of a villain and kudos to O’Donoghue for playing “Dark Hook” with the right amount of manic behavior cobbled exquisitely with hints of humanity. O’Donoghue made certain we could see Hook’s weakness and it’s that reveal that makes his decision in the end heroic. As stated in our episode review of “Swan Song”. “He can fight all the darkness in the world because the woman who stands before him is worth the greatest battle of his life. The kind of love that fiercely runs through his veins has always been strong enough to conquer the darkness — he just needed to believe in himself. He needed to tap into the core of his being where love ignites him in order to release that the light that could win. Killian Jones loves Emma Swan more than anything in the world, and no matter how angry and betrayed he felt by her, deep down he knew her intentions have always been in the right place. Deep down, he’d rather die than live in a world where she doesn’t exist. He’d rather die than win where she loses. O’Donoghue’s best at exhibiting vulnerability, and in the end, it all comes down to Killian’s desperation to see Emma happy and free. It comes down to ending the unbearable aches he’s faced in this trying time where he’d believed she’d given in to the darkness. It’s wrecked him in a way nothing could, but he died with complete faith in the fact that Emma’s strong enough to win any battle she faces.” He can choose who to be and he’s strong enough to choose honor in the end. He’s strong enough to be the hero he’s always wanted to be — a brave, loving, and noble man.
Morrison and O’Donoghue are featured in this review together because the two have been excellent scene partners through all this. As we’ve stated in our full episode review, “Swan Song” featured some of the most gut-wrenchingly evocative performances we’ve seen from the two. Before we begin gushing, we sincerely want to thank both actors for the incomparable work they put into this series because these scenes would not be as powerful if they didn’t embody their characters as meticulously as they do. We were able to feel every ounce of the potent poignancy that shook these characters to their core. Morrison and O’Donoghue beautifully exposed two lost little souls stripped of all the armor they’ve ever worn in an all consuming moment where only love ensnared them.
Morrison and O’Donoghue did extraordinary jobs exhibiting their characters’ battles with darkness. They did the most riveting job of not only illuminating the importance of loving someone, but the significance of loving yourself. You have to forgive yourself and you have to love yourself in order to give your heart to another. You have to be willing to make sacrifices and you have to be open to the what lies ahead. Interestingly, in the moments where they were both Dark versions of themselves, neither of them outshines the other and in this industry, that’s downright incredible. Often times when you read a critique’s review, they’re going off about how the actor playing the villain is more riveting than the hero. People are more drawn to the performer playing the villain. They’re taken aback by them to a point where they almost forget they went to watch a film about a leading hero. When Emma was the Dark Swan and Killian was attempting to get through to her, it was easy to be captivated by both their performances — you were intrigued with the Dark Swan’s plan while you felt Killian’s heartache. And when the roles were reversed, just as O’Donoghue’s theatrically manic performances were riveting, so was Morrison’s brokenness and determination to fight for what’s right. Killian and Emma’s arc was not only phenomenally performed, but it was wisely written for it gave the actors wonderful opportunities to layer their characters in a way that’s far more complex than a villain verses a hero. It was kindred spirits consumed with darkness attempting to carry out their itineraries while fighting for the other’s life when it came down it. In what’s been the most paramount arc in Once Upon A Time history, Morrison and O’Donoghue have been pristine scene partners allowing their performances to fortify the unparalleled ardent adoration that perpetually binds Killian and Emma as one.