Once Upon a Time: The Brothers Jones Review


By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

There is a line from the classic film The Philadelphia Story that is ever so resonant – “You’ll never be a first-class human being until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.” This film, the characters, and the context of that quote are decidedly different than Once Upon a Time, and yet I could not help but be reminded of its essential meaning in the superb episode “The Brothers Jones.” The finest of 5B thus far, and written by David H. Goodman and Jerome Schwartz, the team who wrote the best episode of the season, “Birth,” this episode beautifully explored themes we’ve seen before but perhaps never so prescient and movingly so. So often we put people we love and admire up on pedestals, thinking they can do no wrong, and making ourselves feel as if we can never live up to that ideal. But the fact is, we are all flawed. We make mistakes and while striving to always be the best person we can is an admirable trait, trying to live up to a perfection that doesn’t exist is damaging. Loving and forgiving others is much easier than loving and forgiving ourselves. But that journey of self worth, and learning to love and forgive ourselves is part of the human condition and a crucial aspect of the road to happiness as a person. These beautiful themes are universal and were brought forth with great poignancy in “The Brothers Jones,” building upon past episodes brilliantly and adding to what was a thoroughly engaging story in its own right. The flashbacks we’ve seen so far in this half of the season have been great because they’ve revealed important pieces of the overall puzzle story and shown significant moments for the characters previously unseen. In this episode’s backstory, the strong bond between brothers Killian and Liam Jones that we first saw in “Good Form” was built upon and shed significant light onto a part of their lives that affected them forever. Fantastic entertainment value aside, these gripping flashbacks showcase pristinely the basis of Killian’s and his brother Liam’s psyches. When their father abandoned them and sold them into servitude, it is clear that Liam took on the role as both older brother and father, always trying to help Killian stay on the straight and narrow, being angry but always forgiving when Killian took to vices like drinking and gambling. It was a darkness based on loss and a feeling of hopelessness. Despite these troubles, the younger Jones was always contrite, wishing he could be the hero his brother was, inevitably feeling awful when he had a moment of weakness or failure. It is such a relatable experience. So Liam took it upon himself to be Killian’s protector, especially while working on a ship for the brutish Captain Silver. When Killian gambles away the silver that could’ve bought him his freedom off the ship, Liam tears up their naval commissions, refusing to abandon his brother. The mutual respect and deep love between siblings is as strong a relationship as any and it was not only moving to witness this significant part of their story but crucial in understanding the present. When Captain Silver sails purposefully into a hurricane to obtain that “Eye of the Storm” jewel, he puts the souls of his crew at risk. So it was inspiring to see the Jones Brothers stage a mutiny to overthrow the tyrannical captain in order to save them all. Liam was a good man and Killian’s hero. But even heroes can make grave mistakes, especially when it comes to protecting those they love. It is quite touching the ways in which Emma and Killian’s stories parallel each other and Liam makes a decision in this moment that is so reminiscent of Snow and Charming’s decision to sacrifice Maleficent’s child in order to ensure their own daughter’s goodness. When Hades appears to Liam, thirsty for the crew of fresh souls, he offers him a deal – sail the ship into the storm and sacrifice the crew, and he will allow him and Killian to survive, giving him the “Eye of the Storm” jewel as a bonus incentive which would allow them the chance to join the King’s Navy and finally live a life free from servitude. As horrific the outcome, Liam’s need and desire to save and take care of his brother was his motivator. It was a grave mistake indeed, much like the Charming’s’, but one built out of a desire to protect their family. Killian is unaware of his misdeeds, continuing to look at his brother as a great and noble hero, but from that moment on both brothers ventured on their new path determined to take advantage of the gift of life that had been given to them – Liam wanting to inspire his little brother and Killian especially wanting to make his older brother proud. No more drinking or gambling but rather living a life of honor and good form. This makes their happiness at the thought of a “hero’s journey” even more moving and heartbreaking when it took its tragic turn, and makes it even more clear why the loss of his brother led Killian back towards a darker path, and why Liam still has unfinished business in the Underworld.

So much happened in the present day Underworld, significant and light, moving and emotional. Henry decides he wants to be a hero and use his power as the author to do so, first going along with Cruella’s plan, but then taking the Apprentice’s advice. Henry’s heroic journey is just as lovely and has an interesting connection to Killian, and the quest to find the Storybook which may have information on how to destroy Hades is the catalyst for everyone’s revelations in this episode – a poignant way of mirroring how we look to stories to relate to and find hope in, while dealing with our own lives. Henry learns on his own, with a little help from Grandpa Charming, that he’s never alone, and can be the hero he wishes to be if he embraces that journey the right way with his family beside him. The scene where David offers his grandson this understanding shoulder and lesson, though as an “emo” teenager he was reluctant to hear, was so real and warm. This small but truly authentic moment was precious to watch and made more special as it came after David’s revelation that his twin brother James held a lifelong resentment and sadness that their mother had chosen to keep him over his brother. He learned this after a very amusing interlude where he had to pretend to be James to distract a very amorous Cruella, who finally admitted she knew who he really was. It was a welcome moment of levity whose purpose became clear when this revelation about his brother was brought to light. Of course many other revelations and truths were brought forth, reflecting the flashbacks between the two Jones brothers, while also driving home the significant themes of forgiveness, self-worth, and love. For as deep as the love between two people can exist, if one feels unworthy of the other, it can prove very difficult. Emma was overjoyed to find Killian and gently heals him of his wounds, so he was hurt and confused when he pulls back from her. The truth of the matter is, he feels as if he can’t measure up, having been so weak to give into the darkness. And despite Emma’s reassurance that in the end he was strong and is a man worth saving, he feels unworthy of her faith in him, especially when his brother Liam arrives, the one person besides Emma he loves and admires above all else. He shows up at their doorstep and they devise a plan to search for the Storybook. Defeating Hades means he can move on and be at peace with his brother, and the heart wrenching scenes between them all showcase perspectives that are all empathetic and understandable. Liam still trying to protect his brother feels Emma pushed Killian into the darkness and should let him move on – to think of what he wants, leaving Emma very hurt while also sensing he may be hiding something. Regina offers her a very helpful truth because she can relate to Killian in many ways. The only reason he wants to move on is because he hasn’t forgiven himself of his sins. He may have told Emma that “all sins can be forgiven when someone loves you, ” but what about loving yourself? And therein lies the prescient heart of the episode. The two people Killian loves the most were of opposing viewpoints but both empathetic. Emma wants to hold onto Killian and share her life with him, but realizes he must choose that life with true contrition of his bad deeds. Liam’s perspective, though first based on protectiveness, becomes one of subterfuge as he does what Hades requests and destroys the storybook pages including him, part self-preservation and part not wanting to disappoint or shatter his brother’s illusion of him. Emma could see Liam was lying and Killian was so torn, his brother firmly on that pedestal of honor, about to come tumbling down. Not wanting to believe his brother would lie and more importantly not willing to forgive himself, he thinks she’s making Liam out to be a villain in order to help him feel like less of one. Emma tearfully tells him that he can come home if he just forgives himself and in doing so, one of the most poignant revelations of the series was showcased. For moments later Liam’s deception is made clear as their former shipmates and Hades attempt to punish the brothers and throw them into the boiling sea. This incredibly moving scene where Hades throws Liam over a cliff and Killian holds onto him for dear life, finally realizing what’s important is to forgive oneself, was deeply profound. Liam lets go, making the ultimate sacrifice and we see a miraculous and beautiful moment that proved that forgiveness and love can overcome all. And Hades is left completely shocked and angry, clearly underestimating the brothers and the power of true love. The love between the brothers saved them because both were able to look into their hearts, forgive themselves, and see that neither is perfect but still good men. It was a moving moment full of meaning made even more beautiful by the real and gripping performances of Colin O’Donoghue and Bernard Curry. You felt the strength of their brotherly bond and weight of the meaning of the scene with great potency. Liam and his fellow crew members could finally move on – a peaceful ship waiting to sail them onto the afterlife. But Killian, now given a chance between a peaceful afterlife and a life with Emma, chose to once again give up a ship to be with the woman he loves.

As the two brothers bid each other goodbye, Liam assures Killian he doesn’t have to reach for that bar anymore – the one set so impossibly high he could only ever fail. Having put his two true loves up on a pedestal made him feel unworthy but much like Emma, who learned to embrace and accept herself when she exclaimed, “I am not nothing! I was never nothing!” Killian finally believes he is “worth saving after all” thanks to his journey with his brother. The people we love can give us strength when we feel weak, give us hope when we feel despair, and bring light back into our lives when the darkness overwhelms us. When Liam died Killian lost that light, but when he met Emma, that light was reignited. But in the end, it is our personal choices that matter. When Killian comes back to Emma and she learns of Liam’s sacrifice, she asks if he plans to come home, making it his choice. And with his entire soul, Killian once again chooses Emma. Everything Liam did was to ensure Killian had a future and plans to have one. As he passionately kisses Emma, all those feelings of unworthiness are washed away and replaced with ones of hope for a bright future. He gave up an everlasting peace for the chance of a life with Emma because his unfinished business was more than learning to forgive himself. His unfinished business is a future with Emma Swan: the flesh and blood radiant soul and embodiment of hope, who loves and believes in him as much as he does her. Together they can overcome anything, hearts and souls already entwined, profoundly learning that their imperfections and moments of frailty do not make them weak or unworthy but rather human; that their mistakes do not define them but shape the people they want to be; and that the road to true love maybe paved with many obstacles, but ones that can be overcome when we look into ourselves, forgive us our sins, and learn that we are all worth saving.

Favorite Moments: Seeing the true love that exists in both romantic and familial ways between Killian and Emma and Killian and Liam was so profound as the theme of learning to forgive yourself was showcased in truly beautiful ways, most especially in the scene when Liam’s sacrifice allows him to finally be able to move on and say goodbye to his brother, and when Emma tells Killian that the decision to forgive himself must be his own. When he returns to Emma and kisses her, their hope for a beautiful future together was so heartfelt and touching. Equally compelling were the flashbacks of the brothers Jones as well the fine performances of Colin O’Donoghue and Bernard Curry. O’Donoghue, brilliant as always, showcased a great range of emotions and brought me to tears, while Curry brought so much warmth to the older Jones brother with a deeply profound strength. Lastly, the scene between Henry and David was a lovely and quiet reminder that feeling alone and unsure is normal, but that we can find great strength from those we love.

Favorite Lines:
Liam: I’m sorry brother. Can you forgive me for what I’ve done?
Killian: Yes. But that’s not what’s important. You need to find a way to forgive yourself.

Emma: You can come home. You just have to forgive yourself. The thing is, no matter how many times I tell you, or anybody else does, you have to do it for yourself.

Killian: Everything Liam did was to ensure I had a future and I damned well intend to have one.

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