Once Upon A Time: Captain Hook or the joys of character development

A few days ago I read an article on “character underdevelopment” on Once Upon A Time. It was a truly fascinating read, especially because I agree with a lot of what was said in the piece. The more the cast has grown, the more this show has run into the kind of issues that inevitably pop up when you have more characters than time to devote to them.

That being said, the article used two particular examples to support its theory – Belle and Hook. And though this theory might find in Belle a good exponent (her screen time has been reduced, most of her choices left unexplained), in my opinion, it has nothing to do with Hook.

In fact, I’d even go ahead and call Hook one of the better developed characters in Once Upon A Time.

When Killian Jones was first introduced, back in Season 2, he was a pirate with only one goal – revenge. We learned later that he was once an honorable man, and that disappointment and loss turned him into the Captain Hook we first met. And when I say we learned that, I mean we saw it. We didn’t hear about it, we got the requisite flashbacks to see the man he once was.

His “change of heart” didn’t come overnight. In fact, he betrayed the heroes more than once before he finally decided another path was possible. And he did that not because he was in love with Emma, but because she spoke to the part of him that was once Lieutenant Killian Jones.

That’s what the season two finale is all about, isn’t it? About making the right choice, even when you have nothing to gain from it. Hook made the wrong choice, and then, he made the right one. A romantic might say it was because of Emma, and yes, there was certainly a connection there from the beginning, but it wasn’t love, not yet. It was a possibility. A reason to try to break through three-hundred years of bitterness.

A reason to try to be better.

In Season 3 we saw him actually fall. We saw him struggle, and ultimately, make the right decisions. We saw everyone struggle with the notion that he could ever be a good guy – in fact, we’ve seen the whole of Storybrooke except Emma struggle with this all the way up to season 5. And that’s okay. That’s understandable. He was a villain.

When he came back at the end of season 2, was he a hero then or just a man who made a right choice for once? When he made that declaration in the Echo Cave, was he changed then? What about when he came back for Emma, or when he got tricked by Regina? Did Hook become a hero overnight?

The answer to that is clearly no. He stumbled along the way. He made wrong choices over and over again. The difference between him and Rumple, however, is that he kept trying to make the right ones. He did it for Emma, yes, but mostly, he did it for himself. To be the man that she deserved. She was his inspiration, not his reason.

And those words might sound alike but they are not the same thing.

Hero’s journeys are about choices. Killian Jones had to choose to leave Captain Hook behind just as much as Regina had to choose to leave the Evil Queen behind. Both these journeys have been explored ad nauseam on screen, and they will probably continue to be, because being a hero is not just about making the right choice once, but about making it over and over again.

It’s hard to do that with “underdeveloped” characters.

This leads me to the part of the original article I disagree with the most – the notion that Hook went from being “in lust” to being “in love” with Emma in the blink of an eye.

Captain Hook was never just “in lust” – seeing a pretty woman (or man, or anything, really) and being attracted to her doesn’t mean that’s the only thing you appreciate. Ever since he and Emma climbed that beanstalk together, his interest in her has been much more than physical.

From the beginning, Emma and Hook were kindred spirits. It was obvious from the way Emma left him with a Giant that it wasn’t just him. She saw it too. Had it been only attraction, would she have run the way she did?

I don’t think so.

By the season two finale, the idea that Emma Swan could come to be the most important person in his life was firmly cemented in Captain Hook’s brain. But she didn’t offer him romance, not then, and he didn’t demand it. She offered him a chance to do something good, and that’s what he took. The rest just grew from that.

And it grew slowly. It took almost two seasons for Hook, even more for Emma.  That’s pretty much the opposite of underdeveloped. In fact, the most common complaint I’ve heard from people who aren’t big fans of him is that there’s too much Hook, never the opposite.

Sometimes shows get characters wrong. Sometimes, even when the progression is what they want it to be, we don’t connect to one person like we do to another. That’s normal. It’s expected, even. We can’t all like the same things. We won’t. But we shouldn’t allow our preferences to blind us to the achievements and faults of a particular TV show.

Once Upon A Time doesn’t do everything right. It has pacing issues, too many characters and it’s unbalanced even on its best days. But one of the things they have gotten right is the development of Killian Jones. Even for those who don’t like him that should be pretty hard to deny.

Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC. It’s currently on hiatus.

3 Comments

  1. He is my favourite male character on tv. I think his development has been great, none like we see on any tv show. And the love between Emma and Hook, that progression and build up.

  2. This is a fantasic article about Killian, it articulates his motivations and his journey perfectly.

  3. I read that “underdeveloped character” essay and when I read that section about Captain Hook, being an example of this, it riled me up so hard and made me a double-take, because seriously, to the writer of that article, I had to say, ‘Are you kidding me?’

    Belle, I can understand as underdeveloped because she doesn’t get enough story/screen time away from Rumple to really develop as her own person.

    I love Killian Jones and Colin’s performance, but he is definitely not the least developed character on this show. I know that because when you compare the amount of backstory we get for him, and compare how the show treated Robin Hood, Robin is definitely the most under developed character. (The sad thing is, we’re never going to see Robin develop as a character in the future because the writer’s literally erased him from the story).

    I think if you’re a fan of Hook, you see the development and understand it; but if you’re not (you refuse to see it). But even the haters call this show, Once Upon a Hook, and I like to make of fun of that because we do a get of Hook and I’m not complaining about it, but you don’t get that angry slogan if it weren’t true.

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