Woohoo, Oncers! “Once Upon A Time” Season 5 is off to another epic start with “The Dark Swan.” We get a delightful dose of nostalgia mixed with some chills and thrills as the stage is set for our heroes’ latest adventure. King Arthur, Merida and Merlin each make an enchanting first impression. Storybrooke’s finest keep us captivated with their classic cheeky banter and argumentative strategizing. And Emma keeps us on the edge of our seats as we wait to see how quickly she’ll descend into darkness. What happens when the Savior is denied salvation?
The episode opens with an intriguing flashback. The year is 1989 and Emma is going to see “The Sword in the Stone” (Awww! Way to start us off with goosebumps. Wonder if we’ll meet the wise Archimedes. He’s a hoot! Couldn’t resist.) After Emma tries stealing some snacks off of an innocent lady, Merlin suddenly appears in the seat next to her. The great wizard, disguised in usher’s garb, warns Emma that no good can come from doing the wrong thing, even if it is for the right reasons. Hmmm. He then glances toward the movie screen and instructs her to leave the sword alone. What?! What does Emma have to do with the legendary sword? King Arthur is the one who helms the extraordinary Excalibur. Cut to the realm of the Enchanted Forest…
King Arthur, Lancelot and Percival are in hot pursuit of Excalibur. They arrive at the Sword in the Stone and witness its great power. A greedy nobleman tries to take the sword, despite the warnings. As soon as he touches the sword, the man turns to stone and crumbles to dust. Whoa! That is one harsh booby-trap. Of course, King Arthur knows he’s the rightful heir to claim Excalibur and reside over Camelot, so he confidently approaches the stone. Lancelot wishes Arthur luck, fearing he too may meet a dusty fate. Arthur successfully withdraws the adorned sword and finds a shocking surprise. The tip of Excalibur is missing! The sword stretches into a familiarly engraved and wavy structure. GASP! The Dark One’s dagger is the tip of Excalibur!!! Oh, that is a brilliant twist. Well done, “OUAT.” This season is definitely off to a spectacular start. Wow, this is so exciting!
In an exceptional transition, the camera scans along Excalibur’s blade and seamlessly connects with the Dark One’s dagger still resting on Storybrooke’s Main Street seconds after Emma got whisked away in a purple cloud of magic smoke. Emma’s loved ones are left in a frenzy. Where did she go? Hook grabs the dagger and summons Emma, but she does not heed his command. The rule says that the Dark One can be summoned to appear from anywhere within this world. The problem is that Emma Swan is no longer in the “real world.” This is even over Regina’s head, so our heroes call in for some back-up.
Team Heroes reaches out to the Apprentice for help on locating Emma’s whereabouts. He gives them a magic wand, but there’s catch, naturally. It will take both light and dark magic to make the wand work. They just need something that belongs to Emma and the wand will transport them to her location. Sounds simple enough, right?
Regina takes the wand and manifests her mojo, except it doesn’t work. The Evil Queen has done too many good deeds to work dark magic. They’re going to need someone a little more Wicked…wink. So Hook and Regina squabble their way to Zelena, with Robin tagging along for some reinforcement. As expected, Zelena won’t help without wanting something in return, mainly her freedom. Ha! Like that’s going to happen. Regina says no deal and walks away, but Hook can’t let his True Love turn dark in some unknown abyss.
Captain Guyliner approaches Henry for a little assistance. The two of them run a cute little covert op to sneak Hook into Zelena’s room. Hook falls for Zelena’s gimmick. She chops off her hand (ugh, what a horrible rubber hand, come one, “Once,” you guys are better than that.) She removes the magic-proof band Regina had strapped on her, grows a new hand, snatches the wand away from Hook, and poofs away in a cloud of green smoke. Poor Hook had the right intentions, but he majorly blew it on this one. Luckily, Regina knows everyone a little too well for comfort.
Zelena is in the middle of Main Street and is opening a portal to Oz, where she can raise her baby in peace without fear of everyone turning her child against her. Ok, so it is sad that Zelena always ends up discarded and unloved, but let’s face it, that keeps happening because she’s a horrible person. Sorry, Z, there’s no sympathy here. Regina pulls a badass fake-out and let’s Zelena open the portal. Once her magic has been drained, Regina straps the band back on her wrist. Duh! Regina isn’t stupid. She had her sister pegged from the start. Now that Zelena has opened a portal, they can use it to go anywhere they please.
Team Heroes assembles at Granny’s Diner. Everyone wants to help save Emma, especially after everything she has done for all of them. Okay, so maybe it takes Belle a little convincing, but that’s only because she doesn’t want be gone when Rumple fades away. The Blue Fairy took care of that problem by giving Belle an enchanted rose, when the petals start to fall, she’ll know Rumple is starting to slip away. Sigh. Major chills! “OUAT” does an excellent job of calling back to the original movies with sweet moments like this. This Disney and ABC partnership makes this show so much better. Moving on…Even a few Dwarfs insist on going along for the ride, vowing to stay by Snow’s side. They are also taking Zelena with them to keep tabs on her and Baby Hood. Smart move.
Now for the moment of truth, Regina uses Emma’s baby blanket (aww) and the portal works its magic. Granny’s Diner get sucked up in a green tornado and we all hope it lands somewhere close to Emma. Speaking of Emma, the aspiring Dark One is facing her own battle somewhere in the Enchanted Forest.
Emma wakes-up in the middle of the forest wearing rags. Rumple appears as her guide. He was the last Dark One, so he’s the one who will show her the ropes. He’ll be her Virgil on this journey into descending levels of darkness. Boy does he excel at being the devil on her shoulder. Rumple warns, “The only way to stop is to be stopped.”
Rumple’s words are proven to be true. Emma is desperately trying to fight the darkness, but it slips out of her. She can’t help it. Unintentional strangling aside, the Dark One’s powers come with some useful perks, like transportation.
Emma needs to find Merlin so he can harness the darkness and release her from the Dark One’s curse. Rumple says that a magical whisp can lead her to Merlin. He tells Emma to visualize a specific location where one can be found and they are instantly transported there. Once they get there, Emma is in for a surprise. She’s not the only one in desperate need of a whisp and it looks like Merida has beaten her to it.
“Brave’s” warrior princess makes an invigorating debut on the show. She is everything we hoped for and more. At first these two strong-headed ladies clash, but they soon realize they’ll be better together. They set out to travel to the Hail of Stones and then they can both use the whisp to help each of them get what they need. Merida is fighting for her family, she needs to protect her brothers and will do so by taking down the enemy. Sounds like a whisp worthy cause and Emma is all about fighting for your loved ones. Unfortunately, Rumple starts whispering nasty somethings into her ear at night.
While Merida seems to be sleeping, Rumple explains to Emma that only one person can use the whisp. She’ll have to kill Merida and take the whisp if she wants to find Merlin. Merida hears Emma’s crazy talk with the voices in her head and bails. Emma asks Rumple what the Hail of Stones looks like and uses her newfound mojo to teleport over there. Unfortunately, she’s too late. Merida as already whispered to the whisp. Oh-uh, hell hath no fury like the Dark Swan scorned.
As Emma tries taking Merida out, the famed archer fires arrow after arrow at Dark Swan. After Emma caught the first few arrows, you’d think Merida would’ve found another means of attack, but the sharp-shooting continues until Dark Swan’s inherit badness kicks into high gear. Rumple eggs Emma on, provoking her into taking Merida’s heart. As tension escalates, Team Heroes arrives on the scene just in the nick of time. Phew!
Emma holds Merida’s heart in her hand. Rumple tells her to crush it, while Hook keeps her grounded. He tells Emma that if reformed villains could fight their demons, then so can she. With that, Emma comes to her senses and puts Merida’s heart back. She is so relieved and happy to see that everyone has come to save her. To make things even cooler, she still made a new friend, despite her murderous craziness.
Emma apologizes to Merida and the spunky red-head totally understands. In fact, it made the princess aware of her own darkness. She realizes that using violence isn’t the key. There are other ways of defending her kingdom and family, even if the men won’t take her seriously as a female leader. Yay! So Emma and Merida will remain gal pals. This is going to be fun to watch! Merida takes off to care of her business, but we know it won’t be the last we’ll see of her.
Now Emma regroups with her friends and family. They hand her the dagger and want her to be in charge of herself. She takes one look at Rumple and knows she can’t be trusted. Especially after all the challenges she faced in her first day as the Dark Swan. She gives the dagger to Regina saying, “I saved you, now save me.” She knows that Regina is the only one willing to do what is necessary. If Emma goes scary dark, then Regina will take her out. Gulp! Let’s hope it never comes to that. Just when Granny has supper going and the gang is about to simmer down, we’re all thrown for another loop.
King Arthur and his knights come riding in. Emma has finally arrived, just as Merlin prophesized, and they’ve been waiting for her for a very long time. According to the prophecy, Emma is supposed to reunite Merlin with Camelot, so they’re off to Arthur’s kingdom. Sweet!
Six weeks later, Team Heroes is shockingly dropped back into Storybrooke. They are in medieval dress, but have no memory of their time in Camelot. Before we have chance to groan over the repetitive narrative, Snow moans, “Again!” Seriously, what is with all the amnesia on this show? Suddenly, Dark Swan struts into Granny’s in all her platinum blonde-haired glory. Uh-oh.
She turns Sneezy to stone. Regina reaches for the dagger, but it’s gone. Dark Swan has complete and total control now. What happened?! Team Heroes were supposed to save Emma and they failed. Dark Swan declares, “There’s no savior in this town anymore. I am the Dark One.” Dun, dun, dun!
All in all, this was a fantastic episode. It nicely set the stage for a compelling new season. Once again, kudos to the writers for finding clever ways of weaving classic tales together with “OUAT” stories and characters. Who would have ever that the Dark One’s dagger was a piece of Excalibur. That’s just brilliant! The cast, new and old, were amazing. Liam Garrigan, Elliot Knight, and Amy Manson are phenomenal additions to the “OUAT” family. Manson is absolutely perfect as Merida and wonderfully brought a fan favorite character to life. Garrigan has done some stellar work in the UK and the role of King Arthur certainly suits him. It will be interesting to learn more about the King and the Knights of the Round Table. As for Merlin, he still remains a mystery. Seeing him make an appearance in the premiere was even surprising, but Knight has a commanding presence on screen. It will be fascinating to see if/how Merlin has been popping in and out of these characters’ lives over the years. In short, “The Dark Swan” had it all: action, humor, tension, and heart.
What did you think of the premier, Oncers? What were your favorite moments? What are your first impressions of Merida, Merlin and King Arthur? Do you like that “Once” is using another time-jump? Will Season 5 Part 1 be split between the missing past six weeks and present day Storybrooke? Will Dark Swan travel between both realms and times? Share your though below, on Twitter or on Facebook. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts and theories!
“Once Upon A Time” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.
I have an insatiable passion for TV, Film, Music & Entertainment news (which is really a fancy way of saying I'm a TV addicted couch potato). I'm currently a National Examiner for "Galavant," "Once Upon A Time," "Saving Hope," and "Sleepy Hollow" on Examiner.com. I provide detailed, thoughtful, witty, and occasionally saucy recaps/reviews, as well as some fun and interesting interviews. You'll frequently see me tweeting away about my favorite shows. If you love chatting about TV as much I do, then join the fun and Talk TV with Tiffany!