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can sympathize with a person and still think they are at fault for their actions and have character flaws to work out.
Of course. But can you sympathize with a person who hasn’t changed from his pirate ways?
Sure. We felt bad for Hook when Milah was murdered, for example. He was still uber pirate then. He still had a lot of bad deeds we hadn’t yet been told about both in the past and in the future.
I’m not saying he hasn’t changed 100% full stop. But it comes back to that choice and what it says about him as a character–when push came to shove he chose the wrong path, made a really bad choice, a choice that was selfishly motivated (if also sympathetic) without consideration to others. Redemption isn’t supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to be hard. And he took the easy (read: not fully redeemed) route. If apologizing to Belle and offering her a safe haven was 1 step forward, choosing to not listen to two sets of advice, and burn his memories without confessing to Charming was 1 step back. And that’s why I think it’s helpful to compare him to Regina in this episode. Her not killing the EQ, offering the EQ a chance to meet with Henry, and letting Snow forgive the EQ is a series of good choices–several steps forward, if you will. Regina could have taken the easy path by killing the EQ but she didn’t. Instead she did the harder thing which was accept that side and offer love and hope.