Once Upon A Time 5×15 “The Brothers Jones” Recap

Spoilers Ahead

It’s not enough to have others forgive you, you have to forgive yourself, too.

Episode Summary: Flashbacks reveal the terrible deal Liam took with Hades to ensure his and Killian’s place in the King’s Navy. And when Liam doesn’t choose to see the best in Emma, she needs to put her heartache aside to fight and make sure Killian forgives himself. The heroes go on a quest to find the underworld’s version of the storybook, but in order to keep his secret hidden, Liam does Hades another favor by tearing his story from the book. However, when he’s caught red-handed, sacrificing himself after revealing the truth to Killian and the crew gives him the chance to finally move on.

Review | Analysis: Once again, the series beautifully magnified the significance of forgiveness and true heroism reminding its viewers that the honorable road is the honest one. As human beings, desperate times call for desperate measures, but the secrets that are kept and the inability to forgive ourselves can haunt us in unbelievable ways. A hero isn’t someone who’s free of all sin, but rather the person who’s learned from their mistakes. “The Brothers Jones” reminded viewers of the fact that there’s a clear difference between selfishness and self-love, one dooms us, while the other frees us. And most importantly, a hero is someone who lends a hand. Once Upon A Time has continuously illuminated the idea that selflessness will lead to a far better future than constant greed.

Before Killian Jones was Captain of the Jolly Roger, he was a lieutenant in the King’s Navy, but before joining a life of honor, he was a broken slave filled with self-hatred and guilt who found comfort in alcohol. We don’t know too much about Liam other than the fact that he’s taken care of his brother every step of the way, but the guilt Killian’s been burdened with since their father’s betrayal is painfully evident at this point. And unsurprisingly, it brings up a lot of questions: when was he first introduced to alcohol? Did he do it in secrecy? When did he begin disliking himself to a point of loathing? When did he get into his first fight? When did he first learn how to gamble? When you’re an older sibling, it’s as though there’s a natural force in you that always knows how to be strong. I know this because I have a younger sibling. And without even realizing it, you’re ceaselessly trying to protect them from the world (even when they’re way taller than you). You’re always putting them first. And no matter what happens, no matter what they do, you could never leave them behind.

Every once in a while we’ll be introduced to a character whose life is one we wish we knew so much more about. And these characters, in all their glory, in the single episode they’re in manage to leave lasting impressions. Often times we’ll want to know more about certain guest stars, but it’s incredibly rare to deeply care for a character from only one episode — Liam Jones is one of those characters. Amongst Once Upon A Time fans, he’s left an irreplaceable mark, for he’s the man who’s had the greatest impact on our extraordinary hero, Killian Jones. In countless ways, Liam is the character who’s been present despite the fact that he passed decades ago. “The Brothers Jones” finally gave him the closure he deserved — the proper goodbye and the greatest gift of all, knowing his brother is free from heartache, bondages, and most importantly darkness.

However, as Emma said, Liam is a bit self-righteous and while it’s impossible to understand how a single soul isn’t capable of thinking Emma Swan is good enough, Liam’s position is understandable, too. Bernard Curry and Jennifer Morrison were excellent in the scene they were left alone holding certain frustrations back, but continuing to wear unwavering love for Killian in their expressions allowing us to see they’re actually a lot alike. We can be confident in the fact that Killian’s damaged soul hasn’t always been easy to carry for Liam, but he’s done it — time and time again, he’s chosen his brother. And that promise he made to himself to stick by Killian come hell or high water is what’s ultimately inspired the drastic measures he’s taken.

Liam wasn’t just Killian’s older brother, but he was essentially a father figure as well. He’s raised him, believed in him, and protected him, but the most beautiful characteristic in Liam is the fact that it’s clear he’s never expected a thing in return. Killian and Liam’s issues of abandonment are different. Personally, I can attest to the fact that it feels far more difficult to be taken care of than it is to be the one lending a hand. When I find myself in a state of needing someone, it’s easy to feel like a burden, but when I’m needed to be someone’s shoulder, it not only brings me a great deal of happiness, but I’m more at peace knowing I’ve made someone’s life easier.

Of course, it’s unbearably difficult watching someone suffer, but when we’re able to help, we’ve done our jobs in the world. We’re all going to suffer in life — that’s how it is, but when we have people by our side and when we fight ourselves alongside them, there’s nothing we can’t conquer. And for that reason, it seems as though Liam’s pain was in a sense lessened by the fact that he was his brother’s hope. Perhaps, he missed out on a few opportunities growing up, but at the end of the day, the fact that he did his absolute best to protect his brother is surely something he’d never regret. Liam’s wise and compassionate, but he’s also a bit stupid, too.

At least this is proof he’s human for we all have incredibly questionable moments. But c’mon, dude — everyone knows never to make deals with the devil. Literally. While it’s understandable why he agreed to take Hades’ deal, it doomed him from the beginning. And sometimes, when a person is desperate to keep something hidden, they find faults in others. Knowing he’s made such a horrendous mistake to ensure their spot in the Navy undoubtedly plagued Liam for 300+ years; therefore, when he learned his brother’s in the underworld, naturally he found a reason to be upset with Emma as opposed to choosing to see the fact that she took desperate measures as well to save Killian. Instead of choosing to see that they’d both go to the ends of the earth for Killian, Liam chose to see Emma’s act as a selfish act of love when we’re certain, he would’ve done the same exact thing if the roles were reversed. He too would’ve saved his brother and then fought alongside him to defeat the darkness. 

There’s probably nothing more difficult than the act of letting someone you love go. There’s not a single soul in the world that wouldn’t want to keep their loved ones in their life until the day they all die together. And understandably, for both Liam and Emma, it’s difficult to let go of Killian. Just as Liam would never leave him behind no matter who he became, Emma wouldn’t abandon Killian either. And that is the very definition of true love — whether romantic or platonic, the other will always be fought for.

It broke hearts to see Emma shattered by the fact that Liam doesn’t feel she’s good enough for Killian. And to see Regina be entirely empathetic of her situation was wonderful. This may have actually been my favorite scene between the two. (It used to be the goodbye in “Going Home.”)

Interestingly, we all forget that technically Regina is Emma’s step grandma and though the two are “moms” together, they’re also family in a strangely unique way. And this is one of those moments where they completely felt like one. Regina’s choice to tell Emma she’s actually too good for Hook was lovely. This is exactly what friends and family members do; those closest to us are always better than their partners, and let’s be real, with grandmas especially, no one beats their grandchildren. Bottom line is, coming from Regina especially, it must have been nice for Emma to hear this. If the person who hated her most is able to see the greatness in her than there’s hope that Liam will be able to see it as well.

However, Regina was at her absolute finest when she chose to acknowledge the fact that Killian needs to forgive himself, just as she had to. We aren’t our best selves when we make mistakes and when we come back down to reality, despite the forgiveness we’ve received, it’s even harder to forgive ourselves. And I say that about little mistakes I’ve made, if I had murdered or hurt people the way Regina has, I’d loathe myself too. If I had done the things Killian has, you best believe I’d feel the same pain. People can always find it in their hearts to forgive another person, but it’s as though our minds are programmed to believe that we can never forgive ourselves. As human beings, we’re constantly prone to believe we’ve done something wrong. We made someone do the thing they did. We weren’t good enough for the person to stay in our lives. We triggered their viciousness.

We are all deeply flawed and deeply misunderstood people, but the most important thing we can do in our lives is to take care of ourselves and take care of other people. If we find it in our hearts to always forgive others, then perhaps someday, it’ll be easier to forgive ourselves for the things that have burdened us for years. And to choose to remind Emma of the fact that she needs to help Killian forgive himself was incredibly sweet of Regina.

If we consistently try to reach a certain bar in our lives, we’ll fall — we’ll always fall. It’s great to be ambitious, and it’s great to have goals, but if we try to be someone else, we’ll fail. And while Killian hasn’t exactly tried to be Liam, he’s always strived to be as honorable, as respectable, and as immaculate unbeknownst of the fact that much like himself, Liam is also flawed. Darkness is something Killian fought for the longest time, and that darkness has been the most negative influence even when it didn’t need to.

Once Upon A Time is stories about heroes and villains, but the most impeccable entity about this series is the fact that these characters are realistic, and they give viewers the opportunity to find themselves within them. Thereby, the theme presented in “The Brothers Jones” was perhaps just as powerful as the “I am nothing” realization Emma had in “Nimue.” We all carry burdens in our lives not many can understand. What may come easy to some, is unbearable for others, but in order to live our lives to the absolute fullest, we need to overcome the crosses we carry.

Emma’s instinct for lies has always been something she’s fervently trusted in, and when she shares her hesitations about Liam with Killian, he naturally gets defensive, but later states that he won’t be coming home because he isn’t worth saving. Left with nothing more to say or do, before walking away Emma reminds him of the importance of self-love by stating that no matter how hard she or anyone tries, he’s never going to be free unless he forgives himself. Authenticating the fact that they’re the perfect scene partners once more, Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue played off one another’s emotions beautifully.

This was a scene that required their expressions to do more talking than their dialogue. O’Donoghue needed to deliver Killian’s self-hatred in a way that momentarily overshadowed his adoration for Emma, while Morrison needed to deliver Emma’s adoration cobbled with hopelessness, and the right amount of determination that’d authenticate she’s walking away for him, not from him. The frustration Morrison projected subtly mirrored her delivery of the “you’ve just got to punch back and say no, this is who I am” speech, only this time, she wore a different, profound, kind of love in her eyes that’d make the message ring much louder for Killian.

The thing is, when we keep someone on a pedestal, it blurs our vision. It takes a colossal amount of courage to love without boundaries, but part of that love requires being open and honest with ourselves, along with the person we’re dealing with. Because Killian’s felt he could never measure up to the person he always believed Liam was, over the years, it blurred his vision of himself. He lost his sense of self-worth only knowing it momentarily before losing it again. He chose to believe he was a constant failure as opposed to a man of honor. Despite his moments of confidence, Killian Jones is broken — we don’t exactly know when Killian’s insecurities and heartaches began surfacing, and we probably won’t until we get the opportunity to see his relationship with his mother, too. However, after a night where he was facing fears of darkness, to have his father leave must have been triggered his mind to blame himself.

This once again forces us to question why his father chose to name his new son Liam. Did Killian’s mother die as she gave birth to him forcing his father to eventually resent his youngest son? Did he plan on having another child and naming it Killian? Is the child’s middle name Killian? Now that we’ve learned Killian was damaged and distraught far before Liam’s death or their time in the Navy, it makes sense as to why seeing his father’s new life broke him even further. And it also makes sense as to why he believes someone like Emma deserves the chance to move on to better. Liam gave Killian another chance to redeem himself, and his death undoubtedly triggered the weaknesses to resurface. Emma gave Killian the chance to prove he’s a hero, but as the dark one, he went back to seeking revenge.

If Killian didn’t find it in his heart to forgive himself, he wouldn’t be able to forgive Liam and by extension, Emma. And to hear the one person he’s admired since he was a young boy tell him he’s a hero in a way he could never be must have been one of the most awe-inspiring moments in Killian’s life. And watching his brother move on by selflessly choosing to sacrifice his great eternity for an eternal pit of flames was the trick that landed him in “Heaven.” And it’s that kind of sacrifice that Killian’s made for his new family. It’s the kind of sacrifice that truly defines man’s character. It’s lovely, in every sense of the word, that Liam was able to see the hero Killian grew up to be. We all stumble and fall, but the important thing is that we rise. It’s important to learn from our mistakes and to be better than we were, wiser, kinder, and stronger.

O’Donoghue and Curry are an enormous reason why the siblings resonate so deeply with viewers. The men are able to project such fierce loyalty and love for one another, you feel the desperate need to protect and take care of one another along with the profound admiration they have for one another. O’Donoghue’s cry felt incredibly palpable — he’s no stranger to delivering the right amount of emotions making his desperation and heartache feel organic. Bernard Curry expressed Liam’s genuine regrets wonderfully in the underworld, and in flashbacks, but most exceptionally, you can always feel just how much he adores his brother.

Liam has always made difficult choices for Killian since they were kids, but perhaps choosing to let go of his brother was the hardest one he’s had to make thus far. It was beautiful to see Liam understand that when it comes to his brother, he doesn’t need to be sanctimonious anymore because there’s someone in his life now who’d go to the ends of the earth just as he would. And wanting Emma to know he’s sorry after their conversation is exactly the kind of person we’ve all imagined Liam to be: flawed, but understanding and willing to learn from his mistakes.

Liam was the kind of presence where even without words, Emma has always known what an impact he had on Killian. He was his hero. He was his best friend. He was his entire world. And to finally meet the person who’s essentially raised the man she’s grown to love more than anything is a beautiful stepping-stone in their journey. To know Liam, even for the briefest of moments, is to see a part of Killian she may not have otherwise been able to. In a sense, through Liam’s determination to protect his brother, she’s able to see even more value in Killian. He’s someone worth protecting and fighting for. I wish they were given the opportunity to bond on a happier note, but the experience alone to meet him is certainly something Emma will treasure.

Just as Emma needed to let her walls down, in order to love Killian with no boundaries, Killian needed to forgive himself. He needed to see himself through her eyes — the eyes that have ceaselessly seen the best in him just as he’s seen the best in her. When you truly love someone, you forgive them without question because you know what greatness they’re capable of. And in the same way that Killian tirelessly fought to remind Emma of the fact that she needs to bring down her walls, Emma’s fought to prove he’s a hero

. There’s not one person in the world free of heartaches or burdens, but despite the help of another person, we need to help ourselves. Emma needed to find a home she’d miss, and when she watched her mother die in the alternate timeline, she came to the sudden realization that this time around, her parents will never abandon her. She needs to seize her life with them because they’ve been given a second chance at it.  When she learned that Killian traded his ship for her, she came to the sudden understanding that the man sitting before her would give the world for her. And that realization is exactly what Emma needed to feel safe enough to open her heart to love again. She needed to truly understand that she is everything to Killian and that no matter what life throws at him, he wouldn’t give up on her.

Killian is immensely thankful Emma’s chosen to save him, but forgiving himself and truly understanding Liam is what allowed him to realize he needs to seize the future his brother’s fought to ensure. Everything Liam’s done would’ve been in vain if Killian didn’t move on with Emma. In love, two people are always growing and sometimes the battles that can normally be fought individually must be weaved together in order for healing, forgiving, and ardently adoring to take the route. And that’s the beauty in their love — for years they fought darkness alone.

For years, all Emma’s known is abandonment. For years, all Killian’s known is self-loathing. And by limitlessly adoring one another, Killian and Emma have brought light and hope into each other’s life making their individual battles easier to conquer. Killian could never forgive himself if Emma and Liam didn’t do it first. It may have taken him a while, but knowing there are two people who’d follow him to the ends of the earth, no matter the mistakes he’s made, gave him the okay to remove the bar he set for himself. Killian and Emma are two people who deserve to be fought for because their hearts are capable of giving so much, and when two people love one another, they bare it all. It is easy to be vulnerable enough to let someone know you’re insecure about something, but it’s easy to open up in love. It isn’t easy to forgive ourselves, but love is strength, with it, the impossible is possible. And in order to love boundlessly, you must love yourself first.  

Killian and Emma have an extraordinary future ahead of them because the profoundly ardent love they share is an everlasting light that’ll always lead them home, inspire them, and heal the scars that life has left behind. When you love someone, you’re effortlessly and gratefully anchoring the idea that they’re worth fighting for, believing in, and adored. It’s this kind of love that’s crushed the darkness Killian and Emma have been unfairly burdened with since they were kids, worlds and centuries apart, they were always meant to find one another. Unfortunately, they’ll have moments where they’re surrounded by darkness, and terrible memories and heartaches will haunt them, but because they’re together, equals, partners, and infinitely in love with one another, their burdens won’t be carried alone.

Fortifying his promise to always come home to her with a kiss was a gorgeous way of showcasing Killian’s profound gratitude and adoration. The tender happiness Morrison wore in her expressions, followed by the heartfelt intensity O’Donoghue exhibited, made for a breathtaking kiss that’s bound to leave viewers with the kind of hope that’s found in the most legendary Fairytales. Killian and Emma’s love is hope — the love story that’s just as special, if not more than the stories we’ve loved as children.

“The Brothers Jones” did an impeccable job highlighting the importance of self-love and forgiveness, but through a meticulous subplot, it reminded us of the fact that when we feel lost, we must count our blessings instead. Henry’s arc as the author is taking a turn we didn’t imagine, and it’s absolutely perfect. In a way, we don’t often realize, Henry’s the true hero of the series. It all started with his fervent belief in the fact that these stories aren’t just stories, but rather hope for a beautiful future. And as the years went on, the kid has seen some devastating losses along with twisted revelations.

Today, Henry wants to be the hero — he wants to write stories that’ll one day bring another hope. He wants to right the wrongs, and he wants to take care of the people who’ve taken care of him. Isn’t that what happens when we grow up after all? We end up taking care of our parents. We give back for what they’ve given to us and not because we have to, but because we earnestly want to. And Jared Gilmore played that final scene with incredibly hopeful sincerity grounding Henry as more than just an “emo teenager”, but a hero who’s learning how to fight with honor.

Worth Mentioning:

  • There’s nothing more hilarious on Once Upon A Time than when the men on this series get jealous. Charming rushing to the office once he found out James kissed Snow was hilarious. But Charming is a character who’s more than just comedic relief these days — he’s the voice of reason. It was wonderful to see a moment between him and Henry where he not only got to vent a little, but effortlessly turned it into a life lesson. Josh Dallas’ composed vulnerability at that moment felt so raw, you almost forgot he was talking to a child. Charming lived his entire life believing in the fact that his brother had it all when in reality, James hated him because he never knew the kind of love a child feels when a parent would give the world for them. It’s going to make for one powerful episode when the Charming brothers unite giving viewers exceptional material along with giving Dallas the opportunity to show off his skills as an actor.
  • Cruella’s admiration for James is apparently as legitimate as it gets for her? And that’s another thing we’re looking forward to seeing because Victoria Smurfit is brilliant.
  • It’s always beautiful to see how perceptive Emma and Killian are of each other, knowing just when the other’s off no matter how well they try to hide it.
  • Apparently, there was a time Hades was desperate for souls and now that he’s losing so many, it seems he’s getting weaker. Greg Germann is excellent at playing the sadistic god of the underworld, but it was wonderful to see another side of Hades’ surface as he grew frustrated watching Liam’s selfless act send him off to “Heaven” instead. We cannot wait to see his ties with Zelena and understand what’ll happen to his character if he loses all the souls. Will his powers get weaker? Will his immortality turn to mortality?


  1. What a phenomenal review, Giss! You did such a great job of exploring both Killian and Liam’s characters. I also love that we both relate to Liam as older siblings. I know I would do pretty much anything to ensure my younger sister’s future and her happiness, and I would never leave her behind. (Honestly, after college, my sister was probably one of the biggest reasons why I didn’t move to a larger city with more career opportunities. I couldn’t imagine not having her by my side.)

    I also really loved the way you broke down the comparisons between what Emma did as the Dark One to save Killian and what Liam did. I do think some of Liam’s initial disapproval of Emma was him projecting his frustrations with himself on to her for that reason. And that’s why I’m so happy that he told Killian in the end that he was sorry for judging Emma so harshly.

    Finally, I just have to say that this line was beautiful: “the honorable road is the honest one.” What a perfect summation of one of this show’s most enduring themes.

    1. Thank you so very much, Katie! And agreed. I always put my brother first. I can’t help it. He’s literally so much taller than me, but I still feel like he’s my little brother and I always need to protect him.

      I love how much this show’s taught viewers about honesty. So that’s a message I can’t help but always write about because it makes it easier for me to be honest. With myself and with others.

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