Throughout the past five seasons of “Once Upon A Time,” we’ve seen the damage caused by being the Dark One. Rumple assumed the role to escape his cowardice and gain ultimate power, while Emma did it to save her friends and family. We’ve often wondered how the Dark One’s curse began and “Nimue” finally provides the answers we’ve been waiting for. Just like the very first Dark One, Emma finds herself at an important crossroads. Merlin urges her to take the righteous path, but sometimes powerful magic is simply irresistible. Back in Camelot, our heroes try to take Excalibur from King Arthur, while Emma succumbs to temptation in the Storybrooke present.
A Thousand Years before the Age of Arthur
Young Merlin and his friend wearily travel through the desert. They stumble upon the Holy Grail, a magical chalice that appears after a sudden flash of light bolts out of the sky. Merlin’s companion turns to dust when he touches the mysterious cup. Learning from his mistake, Merlin treats the chalice with reverence. He gazes into the sky and asks for permission from the heavenly powers before taking a long, nourishing drink. Suddenly, the desert turns into a forest. Drinking from the Holy Grail has given Merlin magic powers and immortality. The young wizard uses his power for Good and spends his long life helping those in need.
Two Hundred Years Ago
Years later, Merlin is a healer and seer. He comes across a young refugee who wants revenge on the villainous Vortigan for pillaging her village. All she has left are seeds from a special plant that can only grow in her hometown, but now they are useless. Merlin makes the seeds blossom, giving the girl renewed hope. He tries to help her further, but is unable to see her future. He learns that her name is Nimue and she becomes the great love of his life.
Merlin wants to marry Nimue, but sees his power and immortality as an obstacle. He shares his story and she wants to drink from the Holy Grail so they can live together forever. Merlin doesn’t want her to, he’d prefer to live a normal life with her instead. He believes life is made of moments and living for eternity would be a curse. Merlin plans to forge the chalice into a sword so that he can cut away his immortality and magic powers. Nimue wants to know if Merlin is sure he wants to make such a sacrifice just to be with her. He gives her twig ring which turns into gold on her finger. Nimue is convinced and agrees to his plan. However, they soon find themselves on opposite sides of a grave matter.
Vortigan has caused more death, destruction and chaos. Nimue wants her beau to magically vanquish this heinous villain. Merlin refuses to use his magic for murder because that would allow Darkness to take hold of his soul. He realizes that Vortigan is trying to find the Holy Grail and he will surely use it for Evil. The time has come to ensure that no one can wield so much power. Besides, Merlin would rather live a shorter life full of love and meaning. The honorable wizard finally realizes his plan to disconnect from his source of power.
Merlin uses the first flame of mankind to magically create Excalibur. Nimue hands him the Holy Grail and he forges it into a blade over the fire. As Merlin reaches for the sword, Vortigan takes Nimue hostage and fights for Excalibur. During the struggle, Vortigan stabs Nimue and Merlin watches his beloved die before his eyes. Gasp!
Vortigan takes hold of Excalibur and is about to run it through Merlin when a resurrected Nimue shockingly grasps his cruel heart. She tells Merlin that she drank from the Holy Grail before handing it over to him. He may have wanted to live a normal life, but clearly, Nimue’s priority has always been revenge. She reminds Merlin that this is what death looks like, in hopes of changing his mind. As she holds Vortigan’s heart in her hand, Merlin begs her to spare his life and resist the Darkness that is trying to consume her soul. Nimue doesn’t listen. She crushes Vortigan’s heart and becomes the Dark One. She then breaks Excalibur, so that the sword cannot take away her newfound power. She dons Vortigan’s mask and cloak to complete the Dark One’s mysterious persona.
Wow! Poor Merlin. This was an unexpected twist. Who would’ve thought that the Dark One would have been generated from a heartbreaking love story? No matter how hard Merlin tried, Nimue refused to heed his warning. Now, Emma stands at the same crossroads. Will she finish the journey Nimue started and secure the Dark One’s power forever?
Six-ish weeks ago in Camelot
Merlin and Team Heroes set out to save Emma from a life of eternal darkness. Since the first flame of mankind (aka Flame of Prometheus) first forged Excalibur from the Holy Grail, it must be used again to fuse the Dark One’s Dagger onto the legendary sword. Merlin and Emma go to confront the first Dark One and retrieve the flame, while the rest of the gang works on getting Excalibur back from Arthur.
Before parting ways, Hook gives Emma his ring on a necklace, explaining that it has helped him survive many trials and will do the same for her. He wants Emma to return home. The Dark One may be immortal, but Emma is not. Hook does not want to lose the woman he loves to total Darkness. Hopefully, Emma won’t waiver like Nimue when faced with the ultimate temptation. Meanwhile, our Heroes begrudgingly enlist Zelena’s help in recovering Excalibur from Arthur’s crazy clutches.
Zelena leads them to the tunnels and demands to have her magic powers restored. Mary Margaret keeps watch over Zelena while the others venture into Arthur’s castle. Zelena will get her magic back if their plan works out. Meanwhile, Arthur fortifies his palace with a protection spell, the kind that can melt armor. Yikes! As he magically seals the deal, King Arthur declares, “This is war!” Luckily, the gang sees Arthur’s guards with the potion and know the nasty King has a trick up his sleeve. Unfortunately, Mary Margaret is easier to dupe and falls for Zelena’s crocodile tears when she wails at the thought of losing her baby to Regina. She knocks-out MM, ties her up and gleefully exclaims, “There’s no rest for the wicked.” Ugh! This isn’t going well for Team Heroes. Let’s hope Merlin and Emma are having better luck.
Emma admits to Merlin that the Darkness is winning, but both believe there is still hope. Approaching their destination, Merlin explains how the first Dark One took the flame and kept it as a spark. Merlin took the Dagger so they could summon the spirit of past Dark Ones, specifically, Nimue. Dark Ones’ names speedily scroll by on the Dagger until Nimue appears. The first and current Dark Ones stand as sisters before Merlin. It is going to take all of Emma’s energy to resist Nimue’s poisonous temptations. Merlin reveals to Emma that this creature killed the woman he loved. Now Nimue replaces Rumple’s evil voice in Emma’s head and tries luring her into Darkness.
Nimue argues that even when you love someone, you have to say “No.” If they stop you from being who you truly are, then you must kill them. Even if you love them. Really?! This is supposed to be a rousing argument to propel Emma into total Darkness? Nimue’s reasoning is clearly flawed. Nonetheless, Emma has a choke-hold on Merlin. He begs her not to listen to Nimue. Will Emma use her powers to kill Merlin? Will she follow in Nimue’s footsteps? Nope! Well, not yet, at least.
Emma’s will is still strong. Without the use of magic, she takes charge of herself, overpowers her dark impulses and withdraws the spark from the first Dark One’s body. Nimue’s spirit insists that she will live in Emma’s head and will be there when she’s needed. We hope Rumple enjoys some company up there in Emma’s noggin. Thankfully this battle has been won, but many more lie ahead. For now, Emma feels damn good after taking the right path.
Merlin sheds more light on his past with Nimue on their journey back to Granny’s. Merlin and his Apprentice embedded Excalibur in stone and created the Dagger so that they could control the Dark One by tethering her/his power to the blade. In a cruel act of vengeance, the masked Nimue took back the Dagger and trapped Merlin in the tree. Emma believes Nimue really did love Merlin. Perhaps if she didn’t love Merlin, she would’ve just killed him when she had the chance. Emma is searching for a silver lining and hopes some good can come from being the Dark One.
Can’t her dark powers be used for good? Basically, the answer is a resounding “No.” Using the Dark One’s power for any reason only feeds the temptation to use more and more power until one’s soul is consumed by Darkness. Perhaps someday there will be someone powerful enough to use that magic without turning Dark, but this is not that time. That gives us some hope, right? Okay, let’s see if Team Heroes has everything ready to go when Merlin and Emma return to the castle.
Brace yourselves for an upsetting showdown at the Round Table. King Arthur places Excalibur on the table when our Heroes burst in. Just when we think the gang will gain the upper hand, Zelena storms in holding Mary Margaret hostage. She reveals that Arthur removed her anti-magic bracelet, so the Wicked Witch is back in tip-top shape. Uh-oh! Regina is about to magically tussle with her half-sis when Robin stops her. They must put the baby first. Ugh! So now what? Is Team Heroes just supposed to stand there and get their butts whooped by crazy King Arthur and his abhorrent ally? Yes, it seems so.
Zelena uses the grimoire to tether Merlin’s soul to Excalibur, giving King Arthur control over the legendary wizard. He summons Merlin and commands him to send Team Heroes away. Emma passed the test, but their future rests in Arthur’s hands. Merlin pleads with the King. He always wanted Arthur to be like a son to him. Alas, the great wizard failed. King Arthur goes off on a crazy tangent blaming Merlin for the person he has become. All of the false prophecies and endless obstacles created half a man with half a sword and no glory. The time has come for King Arthur to get what he was promised. Whoa! Arthur has totally lost it and there is no turning back. Much like Nimue, he has his sights set on selfish pursuits and will use Merlin’s power to get everything he wants.
This is a sad day for Team Heroes. Surely, all hope cannot be lost. Emma still has a chance to do the right thing. She resisted Nimue’s temptation once before, so she can do it again. Right?!
Present day in Storybrooke
Dark Swan fuses the Dagger to Excalibur, making the sword whole. All previous Dark Ones surround Emma with pride as the blade suspends before her eyes. She recalls Merlin’s warning about the sword and the danger it holds. Taking Excalibur will extinguish the Light and Emma will be lost. After a pep talk from Nimue, Emma grabs the sword and irreversibly gains ultimate power as the Dark Swan. Nooooo!
What did you think of this episode, Oncers? Are you shocked by the Dark One’s origin story? How will Team Heroes undo this hot mess? Is there still hope for Emma? Can anyone come back from this level of Darkness? What happens when the Dark One has control over Excalibur? Can the blade be broken again? Is there another way to contain the Dark One’s power? How can Emma’s soul be saved? Can you believe that Emma actually followed through with her evil plot? Share your thoughts below and on Twitter (@TalkTVwTiffany).
“Once Upon A Time” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.