TV Time: Once Upon a Time 5.01

Welcome (or welcome back) to our weekly Once Upon a Time discussions here at NGN! I can’t wait to watch this season unfold, and I especially can’t wait to talk about it with all of you! And remember, if you’re interested, this would be a great time to start writing a letter to Emma, Regina, Snow, and any other favorite female characters for my book!

Title The Dark Swan

Two-Sentence Summary As Emma struggles with fighting against the darkness she’s continually tempted by after becoming the Dark One, her loved ones search for the best way to get to her. However, even after they find her, it appears their mission to save her didn’t go as planned, since six weeks later, Emma is the only one who can remember what happened in Camelot—and whatever it was that led to her fully embracing the darkness.

Favorite Line “It has to be her choice.” (Hook)

My Thoughts Once Upon a Time has always been a show about belief. On the surface, it’s a show about believing in fairytales and magic. But it’s really about the power of knowing someone believes in you and how that helps you believe in yourself. From the pilot through this Season Five premiere, Once Upon a Time has showed us that belief is power and love is strength. Those themes have woven themselves through every storyline and every character’s journey, and they were at the heart of “The Dark Swan.” By taking the core themes of the show and bringing them to light in a fresh way, “The Dark Swan” became my favorite Once Upon a Time season premiere since the show’s pilot episode.

Fighting to be your best self when you feel like no one cares about you is exhausting. It’s easier to just give in to your darker impulses, and sometimes we just want to do what’s easy instead of what’s right. I think that’s been something Emma’s struggled with at different times in her life. It was something we saw right from this episode’s first moments—with little Emma (How is the casting department so good at casting younger versions of the show’s actors?) stealing the woman’s candy bar because it was easy. Emma has always had those darker impulses; she spent a formative portion of her life as a thief, and she never had anyone to encourage her to make better choices when she was younger. (She had Neal, who was also a thief.)

Emma has also struggled at times with doing wrong things for the right reasons. (Changing the timeline by bringing “Marian” back from the past is a prime example.) And in the opening flashback, we saw one person give Emma a very important bit of advice about the choices she’ll make in the future concerning this idea. I don’t know how many of you follow casting spoilers, but the shots to the movie screen while the usher was talking pretty much gave it away anyway: He’s Merlin, and he knew Emma was going to be tempted at some point to do something wrong for the right reason. I’m intrigued by the prophecy that she’ll want to pull Excalibur from the stone, because for all we know Excalibur is now with Arthur. However, he could be talking about the dagger as part of Excalibur and “pulling it from the stone” as willingly taking on its power. No matter what comes of this prophecy and advice he gave young Emma, it’s clear Merlin knew of her importance long before our present timeline. I liked the idea that the Apprentice went to see Lily and Merlin went to see Emma when they were young, because I was upset last season that the Apprentice never sought out Emma to help her as a child. That small flashback set up what I’m sure will be an interesting dynamic in the future between Merlin and Emma, and it further emphasized the idea that choice is going to play a huge role in this Dark Swan arc.

While I was excited to see the connection between Emma and Camelot established so early on in the episode, I was even more excited to see the connection between the Dark One mythology and Camelot mythology established right off the bat—and in such an intriguing way. I never would have guessed that the dagger was part of Excalibur, but it makes perfect sense. Both are connected to Merlin. Both hold incredible power. And now Arthur wants both in order to make Excalibur whole. (Did Merlin purposely break the dagger off the sword, or did something else happen to it? One of this episode’s many questions.) Discovering the connection between the dagger and Excalibur did more than just create the cool shot of the sword in Camelot joining with the dagger on the streets of Storybrooke. (But seriously, how cool was that shot?!) It created motivation for Arthur to seek out the Dark One and the dagger that controls whoever it is. And it made me immediately skeptical of Arthur and his intentions as far as Emma is concerned.

However, Arthur was the only person whose intentions regarding Emma I doubted. (Until the last scene, of course.) One of my favorite things about “The Dark Swan” was the fact that every main character was united in their desire to find and help Emma—even if they had different ideas for how to go about it. The way these incredibly different characters ultimately united to save one of their own reminded me in the best possible way of the “Save Henry” arc in Season Three. Every one of these characters brings different strengths and weaknesses to the table, and it’s always fun to watch them come together (and to watch them squabble along the way—because who doesn’t love some good Regina/Hook banter?)

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of Emma struggling without her loved ones and her loved ones struggling without her. Everyone was a mess throughout much of this episode, and that felt right—even if it was hard to watch at times. I don’t mind watching characters make bad choices and do dumb things if that feels consistent with who we know them to be. Regina covered up her emotions with snarky comments. Snow held Neal a little tighter and tried to convince herself that Emma would still be good. Henry was willing to go behind Regina’s back to find Emma. And Hook let his emotions cloud his judgment to the point of doing something incredibly dangerous just to feel like he was fighting for the woman he loves.

I’m pretty sure I called Hook an idiot more than once during his interactions with Zelena. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t understand and even appreciate his dumb choices. That’s who he is: He never thinks clearly when his heart is involved. Also, it was pretty gosh-darn attractive to see him so hell-bent on reaching the woman he loves that he was willing to do anything and risk anything to get to her. (Or maybe it was just his hair that was so gosh-darn attractive—if you’ll allow me one moment of shameless appreciation of Colin O’Donoghue’s looks.) O’Donoghue made Hook’s desperation palpable, which was what was needed in order to make us understand why he was willing to cross into dangerously dark territory with Zelena. I especially appreciated the parallel between Hook trying to take out Zelena’s heart because of his desperation and Emma taking Merida’s heart out as an act of desperation later on in the episode. It’s easier to let darkness in when you feel desperate and you don’t have love to draw strength from, and I think Hook’s actions were a great example of that.

While Hook was busy going off the deep end without Emma, Snow and Regina were the voices of reason. (Side note: How great was it to see Leroy pledge his allegiance to Snow again? It was another great example of someone believing in a person and a cause they care about.) While Snow delivered the kind of “leader speech” I’ve missed seeing her make, this was really Regina’s time to shine. Every one of her scenes in Storybrooke showcased how far she’s come and how important her level head and sense of “right vs. easy” and “head vs. heart” will be in the struggles ahead.

It’s always fun to watch Regina and Zelena play off each other. Rebecca Mader and Lana Parrilla are such great scene partners, because Mader’s gleefully demonic take on Zelena contrasts so well with the control Parrilla brings to Regina. I remember when I used to find Zelena annoying, but now I find her fun. She’s great when she’s not the main villain of a season. From giddily reattaching her hand in front of a man who’s been one-handed for 300 years to her comment about not enjoying conceiving a baby with Robin, there’s something to be said for a little bit of campy evil in an episode that also dealt with the very heavy reality of darkness. Also, Zelena constantly serves as a reminder of how far Regina has come, which is always a good thing to think about.

Regina’s ability to hijack Zelena’s tornado and recapture her sister spoke to the power of thinking clearly in a stressful situation. Although that doesn’t mean Regina didn’t have any feelings about Emma’s disappearance. Parrilla showed in small moments—such as her soft look when she told Snow they were going to Emma and her handling of the baby blanket—that Regina genuinely cared about saving Emma, too. It was especially touching to see Regina and Snow interact with each other in this episode, because it felt like a way for Regina to atone a little bit for being the first person to take Emma from her parents all those years ago. This was her chance to bring that family together instead of tearing it apart, and that was such a powerful sign of how much this character has grown.

Regina has been able to find her best self and hold on to it—even in the face of Zelena’s machinations—because she has people by her side now who believe in her and who help her believe in herself. This episode reminded us of Robin and Regina’s love, as well as Henry’s belief in his mother’s abilities. The power of a support system was the central theme of this episode, and Regina’s support system has helped her become a person who wants to save instead of destroy, and that says so much about the power love has over darkness.

The power of love over darkness was at the center of Emma’s journey in this episode, and I’m sure it will be at the center of her journey throughout this arc. While we watched Emma’s loved ones struggle to find her, we also watched her struggle to find Merlin and not lose herself in the process.

Before I go any further, I need to give kudos to Jennifer Morrison for her work in this episode. This story could lend itself to overacting, but Morrison made every single beat resonate with a heavy kind of realism I wasn’t expecting. I was floored by the physicality of her performance—from the way her hands shook when she was trying to control her dark magic to the way her body language changed as the episode went on and Emma descended into various states of darkness. The combination of fear and self-loathing I was expecting to some degree, but it was the exhaustion Morrison portrayed in Emma’s eyes, voice, and body language that really sucker-punched me on an emotional level.

We all have our own demons, our own darkness. And fighting darkness is draining. It’s so hard to be strong when your own mind seems to be telling you to just give up and give in to those demons. In Season One, Emma famously said that people are going to tell you who you are your whole life, but you have to punch back and say, “No, this is who I am.” But it’s exhausting to keep punching back, especially against the negative voices in your own head. The toughest battles we fight are against our own worst selves, and now it’s Emma’s turn to fight that fight. But it’s a battle that seems to be taking all she has already, and this is only Episode One. There were so many times throughout the episode when my heart broke because Morrison made me believe how hard it was for Emma to fight the darkness when it’s taking every ounce of strength she has to do so.

It’s especially hard for Emma to fight the darkness because it’s manifested itself in the form of the greatest manipulator we’ve ever seen on this show: Rumplestiltskin. While I thought that the Enchanted Rose given to Belle was a nice little Disney Easter Egg, this was the Rumplestiltskin story I cared the most about in this episode—and the most I’ve been entertained by this character in a long time. I love when Robert Carlyle gets to remind us just how talented he is. There’s a gleeful kind of freedom he brings to this part of his character that fits so well with playing the devil on Emma’s shoulder. (Or the Emperor to her Anakin/Luke. Someone please tell me they also saw the huge Star Wars parallels?) This was such a creative way to bring back a version of Rumplestiltskin that everyone can unanimously love to hate, and it also perfectly paralleled the way he taught Regina (and to an extent Cora and Zelena) to embrace her darkness. Whether he was telling Emma to take up a hobby to get her through her sleepless nights or narrowing his eyes and telling her to kill Merida, the swing between the amusing and terrifying sides of this character have never been put to better use. If this is how we’re going to continue to get exposition about Dark One mythology this season, I’m going to be a very happy girl.

Although I suppose “happy” might not be the right term, since there’s nothing happy about watching Emma be tormented by her own darkness and hurt others in the process. Everything involving Emma and Merida was perfect because it showed us a woman Emma wanted to relate to and bond with, and it used that to show us how easily she could descend into the darkness. Amy Manson is a great addition to the cast; she’s the perfect Merida. Like Rumplestiltskin said, I liked her spunk—even if it did feel a little ridiculous for her to shoot at Emma so many times, knowing it wouldn’t work. However, I understood why Merida had to shoot at Emma an unbelievable number of times; the tension had to be at an uncomfortably high point when Emma took her heart. And it was. I’m pretty sure I barely took a breath during that scene because I was so invested. It was the perfect example of a scene where I knew the character would live, but what mattered was how it got to its conclusion and the emotional ramifications of that scene.

How that scene reached its conclusion said so much about the message of Once Upon a Time as a whole and how that message is going to play out over the rest of the season. Once Emma’s loved ones reached her as she held Merida’s heart in her hands, a perfect triangle of tension was set up between Hook, Emma, and Rumplestiltskin. I found it incredibly poetic that Hook and Rumplestiltskin acted as the angel and devil on Emma’s shoulders in that scene, because those two characters have been set up as foils for each other since Hook’s first episode. This is a brilliant way for their conflict to continue—without Hook even knowing that his ultimate nemesis is the embodiment of darkness in Emma’s mind.

But this scene was ultimately about Emma’s ability to save herself, and that’s so important. When Snow wanted to use the dagger to get Emma to put Merida’s heart back, I bristled but I understood. Snow wants Emma to be good and do the right thing even if she doesn’t actually choose it; she’s felt that way since before Emma was born. However, Hook has always been a character deeply connected to Emma’s agency. He’s always respected Emma’s choices and has never tried to take her agency from her, and that extended to the moment when he told Snow it had to be Emma’s choice to give Merida her heart back.

Instead of forcing goodness on her, Hook helped Emma choose the right path instead of continuing down the dark one. And he did this by reminding her of the fact that she’s not alone. She has a group of people willing to join together to fight for her, because she’s worth fighting for. When Hook told her she can overcome her demons because she inspired them to overcome theirs, O’Donoghue made it clear Hook was talking from experience. He knows how tiring it is to fight against your worst self, and he knows how tempting darkness is. His ability to relate to Emma on that level is going to be a huge asset.

O’Donoghue was so good in that scene because he gave Hook a surprising softness mixed with the desperation he had earlier in the episode. He made it clear from his tone of voice and the way he stood so close to her that Hook wasn’t afraid of Emma’s darkness. He acknowledged her demons but also her ability to be stronger than them, which made it easier for her to believe in herself. Hook gave Emma a flicker of hope for her own heart in the middle of the darkest moment of her life, and it was incredible to see Emma take that flicker and use it to fuel her ability to fight for herself.

Hook didn’t save Emma; he encouraged Emma to save herself. He didn’t use the dagger or take the heart from her hands or manipulate her in any way. He simply made her feel supported, understood, accepted, and loved. And that allowed her to make the right choice. But it wasn’t easy; Morrison showed that in the way Emma collapsed against him after giving Merida her heart back. It’s taking all her strength to fight her demons, but I loved the visual symbolism of Hook being someone she can lean on when she feels like she can’t fight anymore. And that little bit of visual symbolism was elevated by the symbolism of Rumplestiltskin disappearing when Hook was holding her.

The same thing happened when Emma hugged Henry after he told her they would never need to destroy her; Rumplestiltskin went away. Both Henry and Hook love Emma unconditionally. They believe in her and want to help her believe in herself; they always have. And the power of that kind of love was enough to stop the darkness, at least for a little while. Could this be foreshadowing Hook joining Henry as one of Emma’s curse-breaking True Loves this season? Whatever it was, it reminded me that love is strength, and Hook and Henry’s love will be a source of strength for Emma at a time when she needs it the most.

Love is strength, but it can also be something that gets in the way of the greater good. Emma knows that, and she gave the dagger—and the power to destroy her if she falls into the darkness—to someone else who knows that: Regina. Both Emma and Regina are practical women, and Emma was right in saying Regina was the only one who could do what needed to be done if the situation called for it. In Storybrooke, we saw Hook and Henry letting their emotions and love for Emma cloud their judgment. And in the Enchanted Forest, we saw Snow ready to use the dagger right away to control Emma. Regina is the smart choice, the right choice. And it’s also a poetic choice, because years ago, she would have given everything to have the power to destroy Emma. Now she has that power, but Parrilla made it clear it’s a power Regina never wants to have to use.

At the time the flashbacks ended, it seemed Regina wouldn’t have to use that power for the foreseeable future. After watching Emma carry the weight of her darkness alone for much of the episode, it was beautiful to see her relax even a little bit with Hook—joking about not looking like a crocodile, swinging their arms like little kids, and walking hand-in-hand into Camelot. Morrison showed that Emma felt safer in her own skin once her support system was around her. For being the Dark One, there was a surprising sense of light and love radiating from her in those final moments of the Camelot scenes.

However, that light and love were obviously meant to contrast with the tone of the episode’s conclusion. While I rolled my eyes a little bit at use of memory loss as a plot device again, part of me loved it because—if Emma really was the one to wipe their memories as it seems right now—it solidifies her as a formidable female villain, since Regina and Zelena also wiped memories before taking people to Storybrooke.

The conclusion set up questions I can’t wait to spend months answering: How did Emma go from the woman we saw entering Camelot to the Dark Swan we saw at the end? How did her family fail her? How did she get the dagger back from Regina? (That’s my most burning question.)

I’m especially intrigued by the way Morrison played this dark version of Emma. There was a heaviness to her and a sense of resignation that’s so different from Rumplestiltskin’s giddy Dark One. I’m predicting that whatever happened stemmed from a failure of belief—or at least a perceived failure of belief. This might be Emma after giving up on punching back and defining herself; if people believed she was beyond saving, then she’d stop believing it, too, and would embrace what she saw as her new destiny. (I also think Arthur is involved somehow since he wanted the dagger so badly.)

This isn’t always going to be an easy arc to watch, but it’s going to be so rewarding if this season premiere is any indication. This is a show about hope, and it’s my hope that Emma will ultimately choose to save herself because she remembers that she does have people (especially Hook and Henry) who believe in her. Belief is power and love is strength, and I can’t wait to see those themes explored in even more depth this season.

48 thoughts on “TV Time: Once Upon a Time 5.01

  1. So excited to watch this season and as always Katie, your recaps are incredible.
    One of my favorite things about the episode was Killian and Henry’s bond and their understanding of each other. I loved the whole Wookie Prisoner gag comment, it made me laugh a lot.
    Jennifer absolutely slayed as Dark Swan, she was incredibly frightening. One of the greatest things about this show is the fact that each villain has a different persona and Dark Swan seems to be sort of cold righteous fury, very different from Rumple and Zelena who are a little (a lot) unhinged or Regina who was gleeful in her causation of pain. I can’t wait to see what changed her into the Dark One and also what pulls her out of it.

    • Thank you so much, Abby! In case you can’t tell, I’m really excited to watch this season unfold, too.

      I loved the Wookie Prisoner reference the first time around, so it made me smile to see Killian bring it up again. And I completely agree with your assessment of the different kinds of villainous personalities we’ve encountered on this show. Emma’s “Dark Swan” persona is incredibly different from all of them, and I can’t wait to find out what made her choose that path.

      • I absolutely loved that you reflected that ONCE is a show about hope and belief and the power to transform and change and that’s so rare nowadays.
        Emma’s darkness is so interesting because it’s so realistic. It stems from her fear of abandonment and being left behind, that eventually someone else will usurp her in her family’s love.
        I love that Killian and Henry seem to going on a darker path, straying from what is necessarily considered what is right and good, to get Emma back and I wonder whether we’ll end up seeing the three characters meet in the middle.

        Zelena was absolutely crazy and Bex plays her so well, I love the way Lana and Bex play off each other in those scenes. There’s such an understanding and also an hate and longing in their scenes that as a twin it’s fascinating to watch because they both want what the other has but they won’t become the other to get it.
        Speaking of Bex, I found out I get to meet her in November and I’m so so excited!!!!

  2. So happy to read your recap, Katie! This sentence, in particular, summed it up for me: “Fighting to be your best self when you feel like no one cares about you is exhausting.” <–YES. I think a lot of people can relate to this, and in those last moments of the episode, I felt connected to Dark Swan in an unexpected way–to me, she represented the demons and insecurities that make up those demons that we deal with on a daily basis. Her face, her deep voice, the way she just carried herself, was exciting and chilling at the same time. I can't wait for the rest of this season and your fantastic thoughts. Thanks!

    • Thank you for leaving this awesome comment! I also felt an unexpected connection to Emma’s story in this episode. I never really thought about this story symbolizing the fight we all have against the negative voices and demons inside of us, but that’s exactly what it seems to be about. Watching as Emma slowly became more and more exhausted as she fought against those negative voices was so sad because I feel like so many of us have been there—not having the strength to choose to be our best selves because it’s just too tiring to fight that battle on our own. It was a very relatable way to bring the darkness to life, and it made me more invested than I imagined, which is impressive. 😉

  3. Excellent review as always, Katie!!!

    Honestly I think the part of this episode that creeped me out the most wasn’t even to do with Emma’s Darkness–it had to do with Zelena’s twisted view of her new baby. “Now I have someone to love me and only me.” What a hideous and toxic way to view a child. The mother in me became ill at that point. I hope they deal with that and the fate of the child, as contrived as that plotline often seems.

    but as we discussed earlier, I’m definitely with you on Arthur not having pure intentions. I hope we see that play out quickly!

    ugh ALL THE LITTLE MOMENTS IN THIS EPISODE. I’m so looking forward to them delivering on the promise of this premiere!

    • Thanks, Ronnie! 🙂

      I can only imagine how much that line would have bothered you as a mother. I’m not a mom, but I still thought it was a terrible way to view motherhood. I’m interested to see how her story plays out this season, if only because I want to make sure that baby is loved and cared for properly once he or she is born.

      As you know, we are of one mind on Arthur. I just want some answers! But I suppose I should be patient. 😉

  4. Starting off with a shallow thought, Hook gets more attractive the more intense he gets and I just really liked looking at him this episode.

    Now on to some more substantial thoughts, this was a very confident feeling premiere. I love the way this season seems like it will shape up and it made me excited for the future while enjoying the present at the same time.

    I love that the dagger is the tip of Excalibur. It made the intertwining of the Dark Swan and Camelot storylines so much more complex and it’s a great mythology twist. I can’t wait to see where Camelot leads, especially if Arthur is actually as shady as he seems.

    I also really like the bickering dynamic between Hook and Regina. They both want the same thing but they are such different people so of course they are going to go about it in ways that drive the other crazy. Hook is so worried for Emma and feels helpless to do anything, especially when she’s not in front of him and it makes him rash and desperate. He’ll try anything just to feel like he’s doing something. He’s a man of action, he needs to keep moving. Regina, on the other hand, shows her worry by getting snarkier than usual and plotting. She’s a little more methodical and knows she needs to think a few steps ahead when dealing with her sister (side note, how great was Bex in this episode?). Those two approaches could not be more divergent so I appreciated them butting heads, especially since they don’t have any sort of relationship of their own to really fall back on.

    Not that she got the chance to hold it for very long (from our point of view) but Regina was the right choice for the dagger. I relate so much to the pragmatic side of both Regina and Emma so anything that relates to that is likely to go over very well with me. Add in the trust that Emma showed, not just in giving Regina the power to control her own life if needed but also to end it to save everyone else, and it made for a great scene. I love the little bit of “you owe me” reminder from Emma that I don’t think we would have seen from her without the influence of the Dark One. The Emma we know is still there but the darker impulses that have always been there are a little more pronounced, even before she becomes Dark Swan.

    Within the darkness and fear, I’m glad Emma had Hook and Henry to provide momentary solace. They love her and believe in her ability to fight against the darkness unconditionally and I think it was important for us to see those moments of happiness before the ending time jump and the first appearance of truly Dark Swan.

    Jennifer Morrison did such a fantastic job at simultaneously conveying power, control, and resignation in those final moments and while I do ultimately just want Emma to get back to fighting for herself and her goodness, I’m going to really enjoy watching her embrace the darkness.

    • First of all, feel free to share your shallow thoughts with us any time. I don’t think you’ll find much complaining or disagreement about that. 😉 Colin O’Donoghue’s jaw-clenching game was on-point in this premiere, and I love a man who can draw my focus away from anything else going on just because he’s clenching his jaw.

      Now onto actual, coherent thoughts… 😉

      I 100% agree that Emma’s “You owe me” comment to Regina would never have been made without the darkness bringing out parts of her she generally pushes down. Emma isn’t someone who keeps score like that usually, but I think we all have that ability to keep track of who “owes” us and to use it to manipulate those people. It’s a real-world kind of manipulation, and it fits with the fact that Jennifer Morrison has been talking about Emma’s take on the Dark One being very much based in a real-world kind of darkness.

      I also very strongly agree that the moments with Hook and Henry making the darkness disappear were important to see before the time jump. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this show’s emphasis on hope—even when things look bleak. They always try to work some small moment into even the darkest episodes that show all hope isn’t lost and happiness will be found again. And Emma’s hugs with Hook and Henry provided that in this episode. I’m so grateful for the fact that I never doubt that this show is going to make me happy in the long-run, even when it breaks my heart in the process, and this episode reminded me of that in a great way.

  5. Lovely recap on an episode full of goodies.

    Opening episodes are nearly always difficult. Until you see what the writers are setting up. it’s difficult to evaluate how good the set-up is. However, this episode didn’t have the ambiguous feel I nearly always get from opening episodes. I’m interested to see where the season goes.

    Merlin: I wasn’t familiar with this actor, so I was curious how he’d do . . . he seemed a little young to me and I was worried he wouldn’t be able to pull off the depth one would expect from Merlin. I feel better now. I know it’s just one scene, but it was a great scene. Loved his interaction with young Emma. (I am slightly suspicious that the casting director gets in the way-back machine for casting younger versions.) Cannot wait to see more of Merlin.

    The dagger is part of Excalibur. Ok, that is brilliant — and it makes sense on a certain level. Can’t wait to see how that plays out. I also may have laughed really hard at Lancelot’s “Your turn.” I want more Lancelot . . . and Percival. (I’m hoping for Galahad and Gawain, too.)

    Katie, I love your point about the consistency of stupid reactions. I loved Regina’s anger at Emma and how she snapped at Snow. Of course, Regina knows that Emma just saved her life. And of course, Regina will be testy about it. Later we get to see her being clever in manipulating Zelena (whose camptastic performance is just so much fun). *happy sigh*

    Oh, and good grief, do not get between Hook and his effort to save Emma. Loved the way he turned on Robin Hood (who had sense enough to pull back). Loved how quickly he roped in Henry (and how quickly Henry was on board with it). And yes, I, too, yelled at Hook about his stupidity . . . but loved that he cared enough to be that stupid, because Hook is smart when it counts. Hook has always let Emma make her decisions. As hard as it, he’ll let her make this one.
    (And count me in on the O’Donoghue gushing.)

    As long as we’re gushing, I know all the actors were on their “A” game, but Morrison really nailed it. I was most impressed with her cold, hard Dark One. It’s a chilling contrast to Rumple’s gleeful version.

    I must admit, though, I’d be tempted to turn Sneezy to stone for taking my jacket, too. I really want to know how he ended up with the Sheriff’s job and jacket. I also loved that they took Grumpy . . . and Granny . . . and the Diner — even though it may not be fully functional. Perhaps it was the lack of grilled cheese that turned Emma dark?

    Like Snow, I sighed at the memory loss . . . again — which is odd; I didn’t really have an issue with multiple curses, but the repeat of memory loss bugs me. (I’ll roll with it, though.) I wonder if the trolls of Arendelle were exiled to Camelot? 🙂

    Looking forward to the season and the discussion.

    • Lancelot’s “your turn” made me laugh too!
      I actually think you might be on to something with your joke about the lack of grilled cheese turning Emma dark. Well, kinda. No matter what crap life has dealt Emma she’s always been able to sleep (we’ve never seen anything to suggest she is anything but a good sleeper) and she obviously loves her food. But now, we know that she can’t sleep. And I’m going to assume that she doesn’t need to eat either – or at the very least she’s not going to take any pleasure in it. The Dark One curse reads a lot like depression in Emma’s case. If you can’t tuck into a good grilled cheese sandwich, what is life for?

      • I don’t know about you guys, but I would hate to lose both the ability to sleep and to eat. Eating is obvious but not being able to turn off my mind for at least a few hours a day? I’d go crazy. No wonder Dark Ones are so psycologically unbalanced.

        • I would absolutely hate not being able to sleep, too! Everyone needs that time away from their own conscious thoughts. I actually think the fact that they brought it up in a pretty big way in the season premiere means that Emma’s sleepless situation is going to play some kind of interesting/important role in this season.

    • I think a lack of grilled cheese would turn anyone dark. 😉

      I just want to say one big YES to this whole comment. And I am so happy to have you back with us for this season! There’s something about your comments and your sense of humor that always makes me smile.

      I loved that you described Hook as “caring enough to be stupid” because that’s what I took from that, too. It was done to show us that he in no way should handle the dagger because he is way too emotionally entangled in all of this. And it was also done to show that he is the one person who has ALWAYS said “Screw the common good—what matters is Emma.” Is that always smart? No. Is that always the right way to think? No. But I think everyone should get to be loved by someone who cares so much that it makes them stupid sometimes. 😉

      I also agree with you on the lack of uncertainty in this episode’s tone. It was confident from start to finish (as Heather said in her comment), and that’s how it should be for a show entering its fifth season. I firmly believe this is a story they’ve been planning with care for a long time, and it showed in this premiere.

  6. Fantastic recap Katie!! I can’t wait to see your insights for 5A and frankly all of season 5, we are in for a fantastic season I can feel it.

    I’m not sure I can put my thoughts together in a coherent essay, but I honestly thought this was the best opener of any show, including OUAT in a long time. It set up a season long arc for the darling Emma Swan (even if she is completely owning being the badass Dark Swan in present day Storybrooke)

    How Emma went from having her whole family support her in Camelot to the Dark Swan 6 weeks later is going to be so interesting to see in flashback while in present Day Storybrooke everyone works to regain their memories and try to help Emma.

    The Dark Swan…such a chilling amazing performance by Jmo. She embodies Emma embracing the Darkness in everything down from how she holds herself, how she walks and her speech patterns, and while it kills me to see my favorite character like this I can’t wait to see her journey and character arc for this storyline.

    I loved seeing Hook and Regina sass it off they play so well off each other since they just drive each other crazy but are equally determined to do whatever they can to help Emma. Killian especially just killed me, in his desperation to do anything even something incredibly dangerous as recruit Zelena to find the woman he loves. In the end they were able to put aside their bickering and work together to find Emma in Camelot.

    Now comes the crazy mythology twist…The Dark One’s dagger is the second piece to EXCALIBUR?? Merlin whatever you did I’m curious to see how this all comes together as I personally love digging into mythology especially since over the course of four seasons our knowledge of the Dark One has been slowly accumulated.

    Basically I want the whole season right now, haha I’m still on the fence of how everything will play out but I do think that in the end it will come down to it being Emma’s choice to overcome and face the darkness in herself, to overcome her demons as Hook so eloquently put it in the speech when he talked Emma off the ledge of killing Merida. (CAPTAIN SWAN FTW their angst this season will be amazing and painful and I can’t wait haha)

    If Emma being the Dark Swan is as amazing as it was the last few minutes of the premiere then I really can’t wait for the rest of 5A!!

    • Thank you, Sarah! I’m so excited to write about this season, because I feel like it’s going to give me so many good things to think about, analyze, and discuss with all of you!

      I really loved what you said about it all coming down to Emma saving herself, choosing to overcome these demons on her own—with the love and support of the people closest to her, naturally. I think it’s so important that whatever happens to free Emma from the darkness (and we all know she’ll be freed from it eventually) is her choice. That’s such an important part of her character, and it’s also such a great message to send to young women (and everyone watching) about choosing to rise about your own darkness and demons to become the best possible version of yourself.

  7. Yay! Its back!!! I am not sure why, but I feel like this summer hiatus was harder than most. I just really missed having this show in my life.

    I really enjoyed the premiere. After 4 seasons of this show I have gotten pretty dang good at letting go all the little ridiculous plot devices so I can just enjoy the crazy ride.

    You did a beautiful job outlining the story they have set up for Emma this season. As painful as the season 4 finale was, I thought the idea of Emma as the dark one was genius from an entire series perspective and I am so excited to see how this story plays out. I love what you said about The Dark One being a literal presentation of our own inner demons. I think what shocked me the most is just how quickly Emma was giving in. It was most likely less than 24hrs we witnessed, and if the rest of them hadnt arrived when they did, things could have been much worse. It was quite a good thing Killian has no chill.

    I loved the bickery brother/sister relationship between Hook and Regina. I am pretty sure that despite sharing many scenes, they never spoke directly to each other in all of season 4, which was disappointing for me, seeing as how similar their paths to redemption have been. The fact that this episode kept driving home the point that Emma helped save both of them from paths of darkness and revenge was everything I have been wanting to see, but I never got in Season 4. They approach things in completely different ways, neither of them necessarily the right way to go about things as a whole, but I think they balance each other out and have the potential to be a really effective team. Even if it’s just Hook instigating and Regina cleaning up his mess, in the end, they got the end result they needed (and as I mentioned before, with not a second to spare). I also love that Hook still calls Regina ‘your Majesty’. I take it as a reminder than she was never really Regina or the mayor to him. I hope they allow this relationship to grow over the season as well, and with Emma mostly removed from the group in present day, I have a feeling we will.

    I really enjoyed Regina in this episode. She is the perfect choice to hold the dagger, and I am also quite curious to learn how she lost possession of it.

    Hook’s speech to Emma was pretty close to perfect. Making sure she was given the choice to do the right thing was so important, and completely in line with their entire relationship thus far. The fact that Emma went from on the cusp of killing Merida for simply defending herself to walking away with Hook happily swinging their held hands together in the span of a few minutes really shows how much strength she gains from his support. Something seriously epic has to be coming for these two, right?! I feel like I am one of the few that doesnt really care much about a TLK between the two of them. Honestly, their love story has been great without it. At this point I am not sure how they could work a TLK in to this story that would be more fufilling than Emma overcoming this on her own. The writers might not get everything right, but they usually get these two right (at least for me), so I am just going to have faith that they know what they are doing.

    One of the things that struck me hardest about Emma’s transformation into the Dark One was her statement about her family “failing her”. Not, “I failed”. Not “we failed”. “YOU failed ME”. Placing the blame on others is classic villain behavior, and pretty much the exact opposite of “nobody saves me but me” Emma. I have to believe, like I have hoped since the second she became the Dark One, that she is going to have to overcome this herself. I think its going to take the unwavering faith of Killian and Henry in her, the love of her parents, Regina’s leadership, and the community taking ownership for their own happy endings, but its going to happen. Good will win. This is OUAT after all.

    Random Thoughts:

    -The dagger being the tip of Excalibur is one of the coolest things this show has done. It was just so smart to link Camelot to the Dark One so quickly and in such a dramatic (and perfectly cheeky) way. And that scene transition! You know I am a geek for a good OUAT scene transition!

    -Gorgon the invincible was one of the most “Buffy-esque” moments they have had on the show. Even the whole Dark One guide is very similar to “the first” from that show.

    -How many takes did Colin need before he was able to suavely grab the key for Zelena’s cell? It was so piratey! I loved it. And I have to believe that Colin insisted on doing it that way.

    -Really curious why it was necessary to erase everyone’s memory. I am hoping there is a good reason for it to make the retread a little easier to embrace (3B kinda followed the same formula with not much success). But at the same time, I am surprisingly not annoyed by it either. Yet.

    -Will Killian’s hook enchantment (surprising continuity fail there guys) come back in to play? Normally I would say absolutely, but after that “voicemail heard by no one” last season I just dont know anymore.

    -If I have a hope for Killian this season, its that he becomes a bit more established member of the community outside of Emma.

    -I CANT WAIT FOR THE COSTUMES. I need to see Emma and Henry geek out a little at the fact they are in Camelot. PLEASE. I would geek out.

    -I love Merida. I am not sure I am invested in her quest for her family, but if her mission ties into the others’ quest in a cool way it can be worth it.

    -Is Lily going to be in this season at all?

    • Like you, I love what the writers have done with the Hook and Emma relationship. I think most of us get giddy just watching them hold hands.

      I loved your point about Emma’s blaming the others for what happened. I thought it was interesting that her anger was concentrated on what she saw as the failure of those around her to save her. Her Dark One seems focused on vengeance on those who failed her. (We’ll see if that pans out.) This makes sense given her history of being abandoned.

      Given the set-up of last season’s finale, I would think Lily would be around. Her interaction with Emma as Dark One should be interesting.

    • YAY—OUAT is back and so are your comments! (This was my actual reaction; you can ask Heather since we were texting about how much we’d missed reading your comments.)

      I’m going to single out a handful of points you made that really stood out to me as being A+ observations.

      Emma giving in so quickly: While I didn’t expect to see her poised on the brink of such a dark act so soon, I loved that the show made me understand how it could happen so fast. By actually getting to see the torment Emma was going through from Dark Rumple in her mind, it helped me see just how easily the darkness could break a person. When all you’re hearing in your own head for hours upon hours—even throughout the night—is someone telling you to give in to the darkness, it’s going to lead to a mental break pretty quickly. Like you said, thank God Hook was a man on a mission. And thank God he and Henry can (at least for the time being in the flashbacks) give Emma a little respite from Rumple’s voice in her head.

      Emma, choice, and a TLK: I’m also not someone who particularly cares whether or not Emma and Hook share a TLK, but I do think we’re going to get some kind of confirmation of their “True Love” at some point because it just goes along with the direction of the show. I also share your thoughts on Emma needing to save herself. It’s what the show is all about, and I actually have no doubt that whatever happens will be her choice and her taking action to free/save herself. However, i do think that could go hand-in-hand with a TLK should the writers choose to go that route. Emma could choose to let go of the darkness by choosing to believe Hook is her True Love and kissing him. But I’m not sure that’s how it will all play out. Whatever happens, it’s going to be good. Like you said, it’s all about hope. Good will win. I don’t have a lot of concrete expectations for this season, but I expect that.

      “You failed me”: I loved what you said about this. It’s such a classic OUAT villain line—to blame the darkness on the failings of others. It’s also the polar opposite of Emma, who is incredibly forgiving toward those who’ve wronged her. It’s also exactly what Charming imagined her saying in his nightmare in Season Three, which I thought was kind of a cool callback. I definitely think she’s talking to her parents more than anyone else, and I’m curious to see what brought her to that point. (Did Charming trust Arthur—his new “bro”—over his daughter?)

      Other Thoughts: YES to being excited about the costumes! I can’t wait to see what Emma wears to the Camelot ball. I feel like Lily has to show up again at some point since they left her story hanging last season, but this is OUAT we’re talking about. 😉 I think Hook’s enchantment will definitely come into play again, because otherwise they committed a HUGE continuity fail for nothing. And I’m with you on hoping we get a good reason for the memory loss. I have a strong gut feeling that Emma isn’t the real villain of this season, and I wonder if the memory loss is connected to that.

  8. Last thought. I find it really interesting that Emma LOOKS like the Dark One in Storybrooke. What does it MEAN?! Basically I am adopting a “Trust No 1” stance for this entire half season.

    • When everyone magics back to Storybrooke they don’t usually come back wearing their fancy Enchanted Forest clothes, so I wonder if that means something too, or if it was just a side effect of the method of travel…? or if that was just to make it clearer what had happened. Gold didn’t look like Dark Rumple back in Storybrooke, but he was subject to the first curse. Emma doesn’t have a cursed version of herself so maybe that’s why she appears as the Dark One wherever she is…? I have no idea really!

    • “Trust No One” is definitely my motto, too, especially with the Camelot characters. 😉

      I also think Emma chose to look like the Dark One as a little extra intimidation. It fits with my idea that this is her essentially saying, “If you believe I’m beyond saving, then this is me beyond saving. This is me as the Dark One you believe that I am.”

  9. This was a really great start to the season.

    The dark one blade being the tip if Excalibur was definitely something I didn’t see coming. I really loved that twist and can’t wait to find out more about it.

    I loved them using Rumple as the dark one voice in Emma’s head. It kinda reminded me of Rumple and young Regina, having that voice on your shoulder constantly trying to convince you to give into your worst instincts and fighting against it until they grow tired and just start not to. I’m really curious and kinda anxious to find out what happened that got them from Emma fighting the darkness, to full out embracing it.

    Hook got on my nerves a bit during this episode. I understand that he’s desperate to save Emma, but taking Henry to help him free Zelena was definitely the dumbest & most poorly thought out idea he’s had on the show. It really could’ve (and if this wasn’t an 8pm ABC show, would’ve) ended so much worse than it did. Outside of that though, I enjoyed he and Regina going back and forth with each other & hope we have them build some form of a relationship throughout the season.

    I loved Merida. I’m interested to see how she’s gonna fit in throughout the rest of the season though.

    Zelena…is such a psycho and I have this amazing love/hate relationship with her character. Bex honestly does such a great job playing her and Bex and Lana play off each other so well. I really don’t feel sympathy for her yet, but watching her have that moment where she’s on the street screaming about how she can seem to completely destroy Regina, and now she just wants to get as far away from Regina as possible was definitely an interesting twist, especially considering she’s spent the last two seasons trying to force her way into Regina’s life as much as possible. Her wanting to keep the baby definitely wasn’t something unexpected, nor was her unhealthy view about it loving her and only her. I wanna say I’m interested to see how this all turns out but honestly, I just still hate this storyline.

    I kinda want a Robin/Archie session, I feel like he needs it. Zelena’s whole “one kiss & you automatically knew I wasn’t Regina, but all that time in NY you couldn’t tell I wasn’t Marian” I can’t imagine that didn’t really hurt and probably make him feel incredibly guilty & sick (more than he already does). I really hope his feelings aren’t just brushed away and he does get a moment to talk to someone.

    I love watching Regina plot, outsmart and get things done. It’s part of the reason she is my fav character. I think the moments I enjoyed most though were her interactions with Snow. The moment where she told Snow they were taking the twister to Emma was a really beautiful moment for them, as was the moment she pulled out Emma’s baby blanket. I love watching these two characters together, seeing how far they’ve come and how they’ve become a family again but by choice and in a healthy way this time.

    Random stuff.
    – Is Blue really gonna have Belle walking around Camelot with a big jar all season?
    – Were Hook and the Charmings really willing to let Robin die in favor of keeping the wand? Robin should unfriend them all.
    – Roland playing with Henry’s hands and then holding onto him was so cute. I really wanna see more of Roland but I understand why he’s so rarely in it.
    – I loved Grumpy and co. deciding that they’re tired of missing missions and screen time and deciding to tag along.

    • Also, I loved the scene between Emma and Regina. Emma knowing that having possession of her dagger was not wise & realizing that Regina was probably the only one in the group who would be able make the hard decision of potentially looking past her own personal feelings and putting Emma down if necessary to save everyone was a great moment too. All of my babies have grown so much since s1 😢 This has been a great journey to watch.
      – The last scene & the promo for next week made me really excited for the rest of the season.

      • I’m not sure how I feel about the whole memory loss thing again. You’d think by now one of them would be keeping a daily journal or a video diary or something knowing how often this happens. Thinking about it, that’s probably why Henry was made the Author.

        I’m done for real this time…I think.

        • I’m with you on the memory loss . . . we’ll see how it plays out. I think Regina (or someone) needs to come up with a memory protection spell — much like the one they have for protecting hearts.

          I am having fun imagining Hook and Henry’s video diary while in Camelot . . .

          • For real, everyone is so worried about their hearts, why does nobody care about their brains!? Snow/Charming/Belle at this point carry around 3 sets of memories, and have gone through 3 memory wipes. I think Belle is the worst since she also took a trip across the town line. Maybe that’s why Blue gave her such a large rose to carry, Belle needs something that isn’t easy to lose. Although if it were be I would have jus tattooed a rose on her body. Can’t lose that!

    • Welcome back, Kaydee! I’m so happy to see your awesome comments back here at NGN for another season! 🙂

      Two of your wishes for this season are very much mine as well: a more well-developed Hook/Regina relationship (or at least just more interaction), and some therapy time for poor, tormented Robin. Seriously, that guy can’t catch a break, but at least he has the cutest child ever. (I agree with you about Roland playing with Henry’s hands—too precious for words!)

      I also completely agree with you take on the Rumple/Emma dynamic being very similar to Rumple/Regina when she was young. I always found the latter disturbing and fascinating, watching him manipulate her into the worst, darkest version of herself in order to get what he wanted. And it’s happening again, but this time he’s the manifestation of Emma’s inner darkness, manipulating her the way the Dark One does to all who take on the curse in order to get what the Dark One wants—power over that person’s life and sense of self. It’s such a great way to bring back a side of Rumple that brings out the best in Robert Carlyle as an actor.

      Watching Regina get things done using her wits and her ability to stay focused was fantastic. There’s no question to me that she needed to be the one to have the dagger, because she could actually be smart and practical about it. Which is also why I am so excited to find out how Emma ended up in possession of the dagger again—there’s no way Regina was letting it go without a fight.

  10. I always want to go back and re-watch the episode after I read everyone’s thoughts here! There’s always so much more to the show than I could get in one watching.

    I loved the reveal of the dagger’s origin too, and can’t wait to see how that all plays out.
    As everyone has noted, the heaviness and weight of Emma as the Dark One was striking.
    I groaned at the memory loss but it doesn’t necessarily bother me – I trust that there’s a good reason why it has come up again. I know (I think?) these writers are not so lazy as to use it without intention. I feel like they know we’re all groaning and rolling our eyes.
    It was a crazy full episode, having so many characters on screen together. I din’t think we’ve ever heard Hook say so much in an episode! or Charming say so little. I loved all the Hook/Regina interaction. And the Hook/Henry interaction too.

    I’m excited to see what they have coming up for us!

    • These comments always make me want to go back and re-watch, too! This is the kind of show where I get something new out of an episode every time I watch it. It also helps that I have such great commenters (yourself included!) who bring up things I didn’t focus on the first time I watch. 🙂

  11. Loved the review as always Katie! This has been the longest hiatus ever so I am very happy to have the show back. This was a great episode – I loved that the Dark One dagger was made from Excalibur, I have no idea what it’s going to mean but I can’t wait to find out! Also loved that Rumple was the embodiment of the darkness talking to Emma – I can only imagine how he is going to bring up all her insecurities about being abandoned etc and he’ll drive a wedge between Emma and her family and friends. I do think that Merlin and Arthur will have a big part to play in turning Emma dark as well. I thought Jmo was amazing all through the episode – and her Dark Swan at the end was scary as hell. I can’t wait to see how all this is going to play out.

    • Thanks, Joan! I agree—this hiatus felt like it took FOREVER to end. Thank goodness it’s finally over and the fun can begin!

      I’m very interested to see what specific insecurities the darkness brings up in Emma’s mind. It’s going to break my heart, but it’s one more way for Emma to face those insecurities and ultimately come out a stronger, better version of herself for having done so.

      I also love that so many of us seem to be in agreement about the Camelot folks. I don’t trust them at all, and I think they definitely had something to do with the emergence of “Dark Swan” Emma.

  12. JMo’s performance was phenomenal as usual. Her voice as the Dark One, it’s so dark and cold. Such a huge difference from light Emma.

    I really loved the premiere and that Hook was the one to say, it has to be Emma’s choice. He’s always been a strong believer in her sense of agency. It makes me think that maybe loss of agency is something Snow couldn’t connect with in Camelot.

    Zelena was a delight as usual. I agree, she doesn’t work as a long-time villain, but the small bits of her we get here and there work perfectly. I’m also curious how else motherhood will change her this season.

    Nice to have the confirmation that the Dark One’s curse is still a curse, which gives me hope again for a true love’s kiss.

    • I love how much we’re all in agreement about how great Jennifer Morrison was. Her voice in the Storybrooke ending scene gave me chills. I can’t wait to see more of it this week, even though I know it’s going to break my heart.

      I also agree that Zelena works best in small doses, so here’s hoping they continue to do that with her this season—because it really worked for me in this premiere.

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