I’m sorry for my delay in getting this one posted, fellow Oncers. Sometimes life doesn’t understand that it needs to slow down so I can write about TV! Hopefully this post proves to be worth the wait.
Two-Sentence Summary In Camelot, Emma’s desire to get rid of the darkness in her by freeing Merlin causes her to step further into the darkness by breaking Henry’s heart. When Henry finds out the truth about what Emma did to him, it ruins the relationship they were trying to work on back in Storybrooke, while Merida works to make Rumplestiltskin brave and the heroes discover Excalibur hidden in Emma’s house.
Emma: I didn’t have a choice.
Regina: There’s always a choice, Emma. You’ve said that to me a thousand times.
My Thoughts Innocence is a precious thing, and its loss is something to be mourned. “Dreamcatcher” was all about the loss of innocence and what that does to a person. It reminded us of the intense grief we feel when first loves turn into first heartbreak, but it also touched on one of the most painful losses of innocence that comes with growing up: the discovery even the people we believe in the most are capable of letting us down and hurting us.
Henry has always been defined by his faith; he has the heart of the truest believer, after all. And that’s never been clearer than in his relationship with Emma. He was the first person to believe in her as a both a hero and a mother. He believed in her so much that he was willing to eat a poisoned apple turnover because he knew she would save him. And that act wasn’t just an act of a boy believing in a hero; it was an act of a boy believing in his mother.
But Henry isn’t a little boy anymore; he’s growing up. And—just as we saw his relationship with Regina deepen in recent seasons as he explored the complexities of his adoptive mother’s capacity for both good and evil—it was time for him to face the idea that his birth mother has both good and evil in her, too. “Dreamcatcher” brought Henry face-to-face with Emma’s dark side, and, while it devastated me, it made for incredibly compelling television.
This “Dark Swan” arc is bringing excellent performances out of all the talented members of Once Upon a Time’s cast, and now we can add Jared Gilmore to the list of actors elevated by this season’s material. It can’t be easy to essentially grow up in front of a television camera, but Gilmore has successfully gone from a cute little kid to a very realistic young teenager who managed to absolutely break my heart in this episode by showing Henry’s storm of emotions in such an unforced and honest way.
The innocence of first love and the sting of its loss were the driving forces behind much of this episode, and I loved that Emma and Regina were at the center of an episode about lost first loves. Both of Henry’s mothers were impacted in a life-altering way by their first loves, and we got to see that firsthand for both women. In case anyone had forgotten, though, this episode gave us reminders of both Regina and Emma’s first loves, just in time for their son to experience his own brush with the innocent joy of first love’s bloom—and the pain of its loss.
In Emma’s case, we were given several references to Neal. The song Henry played for Violet—Yaz’s “Only You”—was a song Neal played for Emma. (Who knew that both this show and The Americans would find Yaz to be the way to a teenage girl’s heart?) And Emma told Henry to be himself with Violet because she liked that Neal was himself with her (which initially rubbed me the wrong way because he wasn’t really himself with Emma—even his name wasn’t his real name—but I understand that she wanted to encourage Henry). And in Regina’s case, we were given that heartbreaking flashback via the dream catcher to Daniel’s death. It was beautiful to watch both Lana Parrilla and Jennifer Morrison’s performances in that scene. Both were so vulnerable, and it was such a powerful moment of empathy between those characters. However, I couldn’t have been the only person who watched that scene and knew it had to be included for more than just a reminder of Regina’s painful past. From the fact that Daniel was a stable boy and Violet has already been associated with the Camelot stables to the focus on Emma’s reaction to what Cora did, that scene left me with a feeling of dread and very genuine worry for that sweet little stable girl.
I was so worried about Violet because I have actually become quite fond of the character and her budding romance with Henry. While we watched Emma and Regina’s first loves develop with adult actors bringing those stories to life, there’s something unique about watching this kind of story play out with actual teenagers instead of adults playing teenagers. There’s a tentative, awkward, adorable charm to their interactions that feels so much closer to the actual experience of first love than anything adult actors could bring to this kind of story. And only young actors could make the “I thought we were just friends” talk feel as monumentally painful as it felt when Violet told that to Henry. I found my eyes welling up with tears during that moment because it felt so true to what it’s like to be a teenager and discover that the person you like doesn’t like you back. Both the writing and the performances came together in that moment to create something incredibly true to the experience of first heartbreak.
As we watched Henry’s heart get broken for the first time, we were also reminded through Emma and Regina that there is life after the pain of a lost first love. Regina’s tear didn’t work to free Merlin because that pain—while still very real—isn’t as strong as it was for so many years. And Emma didn’t even try to use her own tears over Neal to free Merlin, because she knew the truth: You can make the choice to let go of the pain of lost first love and let new love into your heart, and she’s done that with Killian. Regina has also done that with Robin. Both women have stopped letting the loss of their first loves define them like they did for so long. They’ve been given second chances at love, and both of them are finally in emotional places where they can take those chances to be happy again instead of mourning what they lost when they were young.
While that’s great for their characters, it’s not so great for freeing Merlin, who was imprisoned in the tree with the help of his own tear over his lost first love. (Could it be Niume, who might also be the Dark One who put him in the tree, which was why he dropped the dagger?) Emma knew that both she and Regina had moved on enough to render their tears essentially useless, but she also knew someone whose tears wouldn’t be useless: Henry.
It was beautiful at first two watch Henry’s mothers comfort him in his time of heartbreak, and it was even more beautiful to watch Henry get to be a hero and make something good come from his pain as Emma used his tears to free Merlin. But watching that scene again knowing what we know now, I was struck by the performances of both Parrilla and Morrison. They made it clear through their facial expressions and body language that one mother was simply comforting her heartbroken son, while the other was comforting her son knowing she caused his heartbreak but believing it was for the greater good.
Morrison did so many amazingly subtle things in her Camelot scenes in “Dreamcatcher” that hinted at Emma being in a far worse state than she seemed to be at the end of “Broken Kingdom.” I was especially struck by her voice, which was deeper and much closer to her tone in the current Storybrooke scenes that it had been in Camelot so far. In fact, it felt a little jarring to see Emma so much closer to her “Dark Swan” self than the version of herself we last saw in Camelot—bathed in light and wanting to fight the darkness with Killian by her side.
But Killian wasn’t by her side for much of this episode. And in his absence, the darkness grew stronger, feeding on her desire—as we saw in the last episode—to get back to a “white picket fence life” with her loved ones in Storybrooke. As Emma grew more determined to get the darkness out of her by freeing Merlin, she actually began to fall deeper into its clutches; it’s the same idea we saw in this season’s premiere: Her desperation to save herself and her loved ones from her darkness is ultimately what the darkness is feeding on.
The darkness is also feeding on her addiction to the power her new magic is giving her. The Dark One’s story has always been a story about addiction, and Emma has clearly begun to enjoy the high that using dark magic gives her. I would have liked more of her actually using the dream catchers at the start of the episode, because I feel like it would have made that point even clearer. Instead, much of the beginning of the episode felt like a big pile of telling rather than showing. (I know my parents are under a spell! I know Arthur is bad! I know how Merlin got in the tree! I’m using dark magic again!) But as the episode went on, we were able to actually see Emma exhibiting dangerous behaviors, such as claiming to be strong enough to handle using dark magic and not wanting to talk about its affects on her. Finally, when Emma actually used the fullest extent of her powers to free Merlin, it was clear that she wasn’t going to be able to easily give up that power and that ability to help people in a way she was never able to before. The seductive power of that kind of magic was written all over her face.
With Merlin freed, many pieces of the plot began to fall into place very quickly: Snow and Charming were freed from the sands’ influence (meaning we still don’t know what they did to actually “fail” Emma); Arthur and Merlin had their confrontation (I laughed at how quickly and easily Merlin shut Arthur down.); and the freeing of Emma from the darkness could begin in earnest. But Merlin (who is incredibly charming and handsome—can we keep Elliot Knight around for as long as humanly possible?) echoed what seems to be one of the most important points when it comes to the darkness: Emma has to be ready to choose to let go of it. No one can take the darkness and demons out of you; you have to choose to let them go and believe you’re better without them. And we all know Emma won’t be able to do that—no matter how much she might think that she wants to let go.
I found it interesting that Emma was able to free Merlin using both light and dark magic—because both still exist inside her; she’s both the savior and the Dark One, and neither of those things negates the other. Bringing together powerful light and dark magic also seems to be at the heart of Once Upon a Time’s take on Excalibur. Both light and darkness have to be brought together for it to work, and it can be used for both light and dark purposes. The key—once again—is choice. And for the first time, I was left wondering if maybe Emma’s choice isn’t to snuff out the light but to destroy the darkness once and for all. The Dark One never reveals their whole plan, so there has to be more to Emma’s mission than uniting the sword to destroy any last bits of light in her. There are more twists coming, and I can’t wait to see them all.
Even in Storybrooke, light and dark still exist inside Emma. There’s still a part of her that longs for the relationships she had before succumbing to the darkness; there’s still a part of her that can love. We saw those cracks in her Dark One façade with Killian, but they were even more pronounced during her “Operation Cobra” mission with Henry. Once again, Morrison’s use of her tone of voice was masterful, with her usual tone as Emma slipping through the tone she’s affected as the Dark One. It was a tangible way for us to see (or—more accurately—hear) that Henry is able to reach the Emma that exists under the darkness and bring that part of her to the surface.
However, despite Emma wanting a relationship with Henry, she is the Dark One now, and the Dark One doesn’t know how to love in a healthy way. So instead of Emma and Henry sincerely bonding, that whole “mission” was based on lies. Emma’s love for her son and her desire to make up for what happened in Camelot might not be lies, but because she’s the Dark One now, she doesn’t know how to honestly face the consequences of her actions and instead creates more manipulations to make up for her previous ones.
And those previous manipulations were incredibly sad to watch unfold through the dream catcher found in Emma’s house. (Did she want someone to find it? It seemed very convenient that it was out in the open like that after she took it down from her lair of dream catchers.) Not only did Emma take the heart of a young girl, she then manipulated her into breaking Henry’s heart so she could get his tear to free Merlin. While Morrison clearly showed that Emma was working from a place of desperation and not malice (She wasn’t enjoying it as other characters have enjoyed heart-ripping), it was still hard to watch. Was it the same was what Cora did to Daniel (as Regina later claimed)? No, because she didn’t kill Violet, and she try to help Henry and Violet reconnect in Storybrooke. But that doesn’t make it right. Could Emma justify her actions by saying Henry’s heartbreak was achieved in order to serve the greater purpose of saving everyone from the darkness? Yes. But being able to justify something as “for the greater good” doesn’t make it excusable, especially to a 13-year-old kid.
Emma knows better than anyone what losing a first love can do to a person, how it can crush their spirit and turn them into someone cold and afraid to believe again. And she did that to her son—her truest believer. Henry paid the price for Emma’s magic in this case, much like his father often paid the price when Rumplestiltskin was the Dark One. The affect dark magic has on families (once again paralleling addiction) is an important theme on this show, and it was time to see Emma and Henry learn that things can’t be the same between them until she chooses to give up being the Dark One.
As Rumplestiltskin so poignantly told Emma at the beginning of the episode, being the Dark One is a choice that will cost you everyone you love. No one knows that better than he does. I could have watched him act as Emma’s conscience (just as the Dark One version of him is acting as her dark side) forever because it’s amazing to watch this character finally have the clarity that comes from letting go of the darkness. He’s the only one who knows what’s going on in Emma’s head, and he’s the only one who can speak to her specific struggles. More than anyone, he knows that the choices she’s made won’t just affect her; they’ll poison her relationships with everyone around her. And more than anyone, he knows that the relationship she’ll hate herself the most for poisoning is the relationship she has with her son.
Two Dark Ones—both parents to sons who wanted to believe in them; both parents who let their sons down. I am in awe of the way this episode showed the sad fact that Henry is now truly walking in his father’s footsteps, and his father isn’t even there to help him through it now.
When Henry realized what Emma had done in Camelot, I understood why he wouldn’t want anything to do with her at the moment. Of course he’ll ultimately forgive her; that’s who Henry is—he forgave Regina for making him think he was crazy for 10 years. But for now, I wanted nothing more than for Henry to seek solace with the mother he truly believes will put his happiness over everything else, and right now that’s Regina. Things certainly have changed since Season One.
That was the whole point of the final scene between Emma and Regina—to show how their roles have swapped from where they were in the pilot episode. The parallels to the pilot in that scene were brilliant—from the location (Regina’s front door) to Regina’s use of “Goodbye Miss Swan.” I loved that Regina was able to acknowledge that it’s rare for her to have the moral high ground, but her past misdeeds don’t make what Emma did any less reprehensible. Because Regina isn’t that person anymore. She’s not the one making selfish choices and telling herself it’s for Henry’s best interest now; that’s Emma. She’s not the one holding secrets over people’s heads and dealing in lies and tricks now; that’s Emma. And she’s not the one Henry doesn’t want to see now; that’s Emma.
Regina—like Rumplestiltskin and Killian—is a fascinating character to watch interact with Emma as the Dark One because she speaks from a place of experience. She knows that darkness is the wrong choice, even though Emma seems to think it’s justifiable. That’s what villains do; they justify their actions. Heroes don’t make excuses; they own their mistakes and bad choices and work to be better. That’s Regina’s role now. She went from being a character who always blamed others for her lot in life and thought she had no choice in how her story was told to being a character who can say with confidence that there’s always a choice.
And that choice—the choice to continue down dark paths and deal in dark magic—always has a price. And for parents on Once Upon a Time, that price is damaging the relationship they have with their child. Regina knows that. So does Rumplestiltskin. And now Emma has to learn that, too. As Emma learned with Killian in “Siege Perilous,” she can’t have it all, and now that also includes Henry. Watching Henry turn away from the window as Emma looked up at him was such a painful pilot callback. Instead of looking at her with hope and belief, he looked at her with anger and distrust, before deciding he didn’t even want to look at her anymore.
The heart of the truest believer is broken now; the true love that was once the foundation of this show has been shaken. But all hope isn’t lost. Emma is still in there underneath the darkness, and she still loves her son with everything left in her heart. When she clutched the dream catcher to her chest and cried, Morrison made me believe that there was no Dark One to be found in that moment; it was Emma crying over what she did to her son. It was Emma crying over the lost innocence she caused. It was Emma, and the fact that Emma still exists at all gives me hope. Because without Henry by her side, she’ll know even more clearly than before that she has to make a choice: love or power. She can’t have both.
And, in the end, we all know that this show is about love being strength. We don’t know what will happen to get Emma to the point where she chooses love, but we know she will. If not, then what’s the point of this show? Even in an episode as sad as “Dreamcatcher,” we were shown in Rumplestiltskin and Merida’s interactions that love makes us our best and bravest selves, even when we don’t think we have that self in us. All Rumplestiltskin needed to stand up and fight was something to fight for, and he found that in Belle’s chipped teacup. I don’t know what it is about that cup, but it makes me an emotional wreck every time it’s used, starting all the way back in the jail cell in Season One’s “Skin Deep.”
Robert Carlyle was so good in those scenes with Rumplestiltskin fighting Merida. He made me believe Rumplestiltskin’s fear (It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to hug that character like I did in this episode.), which, in turn, made his love for Belle and the bravery it inspired even more powerful.
Rumplestiltskin was convinced that all he could be now was a coward, but his love for Belle inspired him to believe he could be more. In the same way, Emma thinks all she can be now is the Dark One, but I think her love for her son and Killian (the two people whose loss she feels most acutely) will inspire her to believe she can be more, too. Love will inspire her to get up and fight back against the darkness inside her. And by doing that, she might be able to inspire her truest believer to believe again, which is what heroes do. And—more importantly—it’s what good mothers do.
Unfortunately, I think we can all commiserate with life interfering with our plans. Pesky jobs and bosses, expecting work from us. Pesky Mondays that insist on bombarding us with all manner of chaos.
Great job, Katie, on exploring the themes of innocence, trust, and betrayal. I’m glad you did that because, really, it just hurts to think about it.
This episode felt awkward. And it hurt. I get that I was supposed to hurt. But still . . . it HURT. I think we’ve all felt the pain of “why isn’t being myself good enough?” (Poor Henry.) And then finding out that Emma did that? Ouch. I’ll just lay here . . . Did I mention this one HURTS?
This leads me to the awkward. The exposition dump felt awkward. Plus, WHERE is Killian?? Plot-wise I realize why he wasn’t there, but could we at least get a throwaway line about why he’s not there? This episode felt disconnected to the previous one . . .
Speaking of awkward, I think that’s going to characterize this post, too. It’s . . . ummm . . . a deliberate choice . . . 😉
Merlin: Yes, can we keep him? I will totally get on the Merlin-gushing train. I also wondered if the Dark One was his love and that’s why he couldn’t kill it. I’m curious to see what happens with Merlin . . .
I am also slightly suspicious that Emma doesn’t have her memories in Storybrook. So many of her responses about what happened in the past are evasive. She did know what had been done to Henry, but she could have gotten that from the dreamcatcher.
I loved the Rumple/Merida scenes. You could feel her disdain as Rumple made excuse after excuse not to fight. As a woman, she’s had to overcome any number of obstacles, so a limp isn’t going to mean a lot to her. I also loved that she was clever about how to motivate Rumple and that she does encourage him when he begins to fight. I love her determination to get back to her family.
I really need some happy (not the dwarf, although he could show up if needed) in next week’s episode.
I’m so glad I’m not the only one left wondering if there are things Dark One Emma doesn’t remember either. I can’t tell if she’s being purposely evasive or if she genuinely doesn’t remember some of it. Did she wipe some of her own memories? SO MANY QUESTIONS!
Like you, I hope there’s some happiness in the next episode to balance out how overwhelmingly heavy this one was. It needed to happen; it all made sense, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt. It’s not one I’ll be running to re-watch any time soon.
And I’m with you on wishing there was even just one line explaining where Killian was in Camelot. My theory is that the darkness taking hold of Emma made her manipulate him into leaving her alone while she enacted this plan, but it would be nice to see something more concrete than just my speculation. I know why he couldn’t have a big presence in this episode, but it was jarring to see Emma without him by her side, given the fact that he’s been reluctant to leave it ever since they found her.
I’ve seen that the line about Neal “always being himself” rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but it didn’t bother me. I understand the complaint that he wasn’t himself because he wasn’t telling the truth about his past but we have enough glimpses of her past with Neal to believe that he was his authentic self with her, even if he didn’t tell her that he was from another realm and a few hundred years older than her. In “Tallahassee”, we see Neal and Emma having an easy rapport as two thieves. We see a shared sense of humor and a mutual longing for a place to call home. In “Going Home”, we see Neal and Emma’s first date. Neal opens up about his past, telling the truth about having a home that was once good but losing it. He doesn’t tell her the full truth (and let’s be real, he’s got no reason to unless he wants to be sent to an asylum) but he is vulnerable with her about what home means to him. We can see the glint of something like hope in Emma’s eyes at that, the hope that maybe the two of them could come to be home to each other. No, Neal wasn’t 100% honest about his past, but there is nothing to hint that Neal was putting up a fake personality or changing himself to make Emma like him. He was vulnerable with her and as honest as he could be without seeming crazy. Ultimately, that’s the point Emma was trying to make, that Henry shouldn’t try to fake shared interests or try to change himself to be likable. Note that I’m not condoning Neal leaving Emma and breaking her heart; nothing about that was honest or commendable, but that’s not the point Emma was trying to make. Emma’s reminiscences about Nealfire in this episode were all about what made her fall for him and there’s nothing to suggest that she’s misremembering.
There were so many callbacks in this episode; it was a longtime fan’s dream! Operation Cobra, Henry at the windowsill, Emma and Regina talking by the door…it was all perfectly brought together to illustrate how far Emma has fallen. I am still confused about the timeline…exactly when did Emma figure out that Henry’s heart would need to be broken? We see Emma and Regina working by the tree and Henry arrives with his broken heart and fresh tears right after Regina’s tears didn’t work. Was Emma hedging her bets? Why even bother trying with Regina’s tears?
Oh well, on to next week! “The Bear and the Bow”. Here’s hoping we get some Merida backstory at last! Amy Manson is absolutely killing it and I’m ready for more!
Totally agree with what you say about Neal. I have an affection for that character because of what he did to initiate the change for the better in Hook too, but that is not relevant in this episode.
I really appreciated this overall review. When Henry looked up and said “oh no!” I almost died. The.Worst.Feeling.Ever. A lot of people defend Emma’s actions because she was doing it for the greater good, but really…taking her son’s FIRST experience with love…the very first one…and basically destroying it for ever. Don’t we all want to have fond memories of our first love? Of course, 90% of the time, they don’t last but the feelings you have, the butterflies, the excitement and the joy you feel when you realize the other person feels the same way. Done-zo for Henry. Thanks Mom! So now, she didn’t rip out Violet’s heart and kill her, no. So i agree comparing her to Cora is unfair. But she needs to know that eventually she WILL LOSE the ones she loves if she allows the DO to make decisions for her.
I am so ready for her to get rid of the Darkness. I know it will happen but I hate feeling depressed after an episode. That’s why I started watching this show because I always felt hopeful after each episode. Sigh.
Thank you! And you’ve come to the right place if you liked the Bae/Neal and Hook dynamic. We’ve talked about it a lot here over the years. It’s one that’s close to my heart, too.
I think most of us hate feeling depressed after watching this show, too, but I have a feeling next week will have some fun stuff to balance this week’s episode out. I also hold to the fact that this show has always been about hope and happiness, so even when things look dark, all that means is the payoff is going to be so good. It’s easier said than done sometimes, though.
Trying to think less about what is going to happen so could you direct me to past posts that you refer to above regarding the Neal/Bae and Hook dynamic? I still think the way they handled their friendship and their mutual love for Emma was so original and interesting and not at all annoying or frustrating. I just loved it. I don’t need links but if you could just provide instructions on how to find them? Thanks!
As far as young Bae/Hook, I talked about their relationship in my review of the Season 2 finale. I also talked a lot about the Emma/Neal/Hook dynamic in my review of Season 3’s Ariel and Quiet Minds (the episode where Neal dies). I’m sure there were more throughout Season Three, but those were probably the “Big Three” in terms of episodes in which I brought up their dynamic.
I loved everything about this comment! Thank you so much for that excellent breakdown of Emma and Neal’s relationship. It makes me feel better about that line. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I can see where that line made sense—Neal was honest with Emma about as much as he felt he could be. He didn’t pretend to be better than he was to get her to like him, which was the point Emma wanted to make for Henry. The point was also to show that Emma had moved on to the point where she can look back on that relationship fondly, which was nice to see after all she’s gone through emotionally to get to that place. I really appreciated reading your take on this point, and I hope others who were momentarily confused by that line read your interpretation, because it’s spot-on.
You’re not the only one confused by the timeline of Emma commanding Violet to break Henry’s heart. I think she did it after taking Regina’s tear and maybe thinking that the pain wouldn’t be strong enough anymore because it was from so long ago. But that was another moment when just a line or two of explanation would have helped viewers a lot.
Oh, I like what you added to that! Emma’s ability to look back on her relationship with Neal fondly is a far cry from the pain she clearly felt in season 1 when she told Snow “His father was not a good man”. She has gone through a lot to be able to acknowledge that there was some good in her relationship with Neal and it’s truly beautiful to see how much more open she is now, especially with all that Darkness threatening to snuff out the light inside of her. And thank you for the compliment! I always think your analysis is right on the money so that made me do a little happy dance!
Yes, a line or two of explanation would have helped immensely. I usually feel like I have a pretty good grasp of the timeline on this show (my roommates have made me their official Once authority ever since they discovered I’ll give them the exact same information as the Once wiki), but the Camelot timeline is really throwing me. This episode felt more disjointed than most and it may just be one of those things we have to accept as canon even though there are some logical gaps…or perhaps the writers will give us more insight in to how Emma learns things? Perhaps she inherited Rumple’s ability to see bits of the future? Do Dark One powers accumulate or does each DO start fresh? Maybe a moment explaining how she latched onto Dreamcatchers as her hobby of choice? Inquiring minds want to know!!
There were a lot of nice little moments in this episode, its just kind of a shame that the structure was all over the place. I found myself both feeling like I missed something huge with the Camelot stuff (we were given zero context for Emma’s sudden decline) and getting annoyed that the characters in current day Storybrooke were so behind. When the episode started in the Sheriff station it was just as jarring for me as Emma’s decline since all that stuff with Arthur’s squire happened two weeks ago. At this point I kinda want to take episodes 3, 4, and 5 and re-edit them to make one coherent narrative. Even within this episode the order of events got confusing. Did Emma put the whole “break Henry’s heart” scenario in Camelot into play before Regina even offered up her own tear? Or did Emma just want insurance in case Regina’s didnt work? It was kinda unclear when that whole scene took place since it seemed like Emma and Regina were together the entire time in Camelot. The way they resolved Snow and Charmings spell also seemed way too trivial…why even bother? Again I feel like we missed a scene somewhere.
But despite the structural mess, I enjoyed this Emma/Regina episode much more than the one from last season, and I am glad that Henry was given some decent screen time with his mothers. You asked if Emma left the dreamcatcher out on purpose, and I am firmly in the camp of people that believe everything that happened in present day Storybrooke was exactly what Dark Swan wanted to happen. At the beginning of the episode we see Dark Emma going and choosing that particular dreamcatcher. She breaks down crying (heartbreaking work by JMo) because she knows she has to alienate Henry, and its not something she wants to do (why, I still have no idea). It really felt like she was ashamed at how she acted in Camelot, and she is accepting that has to suffer the consequences of those actions now. She then leaves the dreamcatcher out for the others to find, knowing that somehow Henry is going to learn what happened in Camelot. I even think the entire conversation with Regina wasn’t necessarily Emma lacking self awareness or self accountability, I think she just wanted to see what Regina was going to say. I still feel like everything Dark Emma is doing is with the intention of making Regina and the others step up. I could be giving Dark Swan way too much credit here, but in an episode where the structure of everything else was a total mess, I do think the fact that Emma’s main breakdown in this episode happened BEFORE everything else with Henry tells me that pushing Henry away was her ultimate painful goal.
I wasnt really bothered about the line regarding Neal. What Neal did to her was horrible, but it doesnt change the fact that Emma loved him. And thats who Emma was talking about here, the man she fell in love with, not the part of him that left her. I think Neal’s personality with Emma was completely genuine, he just made one huge dick move in the end.
I also immediately thought that the first dark one has to be Niume. There is no way Merlin would have hesitated like that if the Dark One wasnt actually his love.
I love everything you had to say about Henry and Violet. That awkward middle school crush phase can be brutal, and both of those young actors did a great job. Makes it even more ruthless that Emma took advantage of that heightened vulnerability.
It appears from the brief Merlin/Arthur exchange that Merlin did seem to have faith in Arthur’s potential, so it was Arthur that failed him. That moment of hope on Arthur’s face that he might still get Merlin’s approval after everything was perfect. And then Arthur stomps off like a spoiled brat. It was great.
-‘Commando’ is one of my boyfriend’s favorite movies, so I got a total kick out of Henry’s movies choices. If you havent seen it, the opening father/daughter montage of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Alyssa Milano fishing, feeding a deer, and eating ice cream is one of the most ridiculously 80s things you will ever see. Seriously, go watch it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGrSEDPn0-g
-I loved team Regina/Robin/Killian/Belle!! I am enjoying seeing Killian interact with characters beyond Emma in Storybrooke.
-There has never been any doubt about Robert’s acting ability, but I am so in awe with what he is doing with cowardly Rumple. We are so familiar with Dark One Rumple / Gold, I love seeing this different side to him. Its so dramatically different but at the same time is so true to the character. I thought coward Rumple was going to be boring, but I was totally wrong. Next Sunday’s episode should be an interesting one, and I find myself actually rooting for Rumbelle now that Rumple is Dark One free.
-Merida’s intensity is kinda terrifying. But I love her, and if she cant whip Rumple into shape, I dont know who could.
-I loved the pumpkin patch and the fall carnival. I just wish we could have seen our characters happy and enjoying themselves among the festivities!
When I saw Killian actively involved with Regina/Robin/Belle, my first thought was how excited you were going to be to see him in this dynamic outside of his relationship with Emma. (And it looks like we get even more Killian teaming up with people not named Emma next week!) It’s nice to see him truly starting to feel like a part of different Storybrooke dynamics and not just Emma’s boyfriend.
I think you hit the nail on the head when you said the structure of this episode was weird from the start. There are a lot of moving pieces this season, and that often lends to there not being enough time in episodes to cover everything, which was especially true in this one. Normally, I don’t have much of an issue with it as long as it doesn’t detract from the emotional impact of the episode, but in this one it kind of did. The disconnect between last episode and this one in terms of Emma’s state of mind was noticeable. And I’m with you on having no clue when Emma decided she needed Henry’s tear and not Regina’s. The Snow/Charming resolution also felt way too easy. And if Emma knows that Arthur was up to no good in Camelot, why isn’t she going after him in Storybrooke? (Gives credence to the “Emma has missing memories” theory.)
I think your interpretation of Emma’s motivations with Henry and the dreamcatcher in Storybrooke was spot-on. She all but gift-wrapped it for them to find. And I also think her tears were tears of someone who knew she had to pay the price now—and the price was losing Henry, which the Emma still inside the Dark One facade is devastated to do. She has a plan, and having Henry find out is a part of that plan. What she did in that case wasn’t actually selfish at all but a way to pay the price now for her selfishness in Camelot. We both might be giving her too much credit, but I’m of the firm belief that there’s way more going on here than the Dark One simply wanting to snuff out the light and punish people she thinks failed her. I think there’s a part of her that’s still fighting to beat the darkness by pushing those around her to fight for her.
Finally, I am now obsessed with that opening to Commando, just so you know. 😉
Since we’re making paralells with addiction, I’d like to notice a couple of lines Emma said, both in the past and in the present: “I’m not you”, ” I’m stronger than you were “. This is exactly where people go wrong when dealing with addiction, thinking they’re better than everyone else dealing with the same struggles: ” I’m not like Peter, who died from the drugs, I’ve got everything under control, I can stop whenever I want”. Emma still has a long way to go before letting go of the darkness.
Those are such great lines to bring up! I agree; both of those lines felt like words from an addict thinking they can use a drug and still stay in control.
You did such a good job of putting into words a lot of my feelings about the episode. It was REALLY HARD to watch the first time. I love Emma and I want her to be good and make good decisions and be the savior, but the sad fact is that right now she’s not. Watching her go down that dark path, watching her hurt Henry the way she did… it makes sense – she’s the dark one, after all – but it hurt.
I think one of my biggest questions is what the hell happened in Camelot between the kissy scene and Emma actually using the dreamcatcher to see how Merlin became a tree? I know Killian keeps her in the light – where the heck was he? She’s his number one priority. For him to not be with her almost suggests to me that the darkness inside her probably had a hand in making her manipulate him to leave her alone. Which, again, upsets me greatly.
But I think your writeup has helped me think about this episode in a less upsetting way. The Neal mentions did rub me the wrong way at first, but I think the best parallel that involves Neal in that episode is Neal and Henry as sons of the Dark One. The romantic parts aren’t even that relevant! It makes me wish Neal were around to help Henry deal with the painful truths of being loved by a Dark One. The stuff with Regina, too, somewhat upset me. Not because I don’t like Regina – I’m actually very happy they have her on a redemption arc and I hope she continues to be sassy-but-helpful instead of straight up evil. But it’s hard to watch her lecture anyone – especially Emma. But she’s RIGHT. And Regina isn’t excusing or dismissing the things she’s done in the past. You wrote about their interactions in such a thoughtful, intelligent way.
This episode was basically setting up the loss of innocence, like you said, but also drawing SO MANY PARALLELS. I think it’s really setting up the rest of the season as far as who follows the same path as the people they parallel – but, more importantly, who chooses a different path and thus sees a different outcome. I think it’s all leading toward Emma’s CHOICE to rid herself of the darkness.
Oh, and I love that the fandom has found one thing to agree on: Merlin is fiiiiiine.
Thank you for this comment—I’m so glad I could help you find a way to look at this upsetting episode in a way that’s hopefully not as upsetting.
Like you, I was left wondering where Killian was and why there wasn’t a line explaining his absence. You and I are of the same mind when it comes to thinking the darkness manipulated him into leaving her alone to continue down a darker path, but I would have loved to actually see that.
And I just need to say that I 100% agree with your assessment of the one thing this fandom can agree on: Merlin is almost too pretty for words. We needed something to bring us together. Who knew it would be an ageless wizard with the most dazzling smile in all the realms? 😉
I agree with you and the other comments, I feel like we jumped ahead a lot this week and missed a lot of things in the process.
This is weirdly not the first time I’ve had a favorite character go down a magical addiction/power path. As much as I actually like s6 of Buffy, I’m liking the way they are handling Emma’s much better. The Dark One/Savior duality in Emma is what is making this story so fascinating to me. There is a level of pride/stubbornness/denial that makes her convince herself the darkness will affect her but every time she uses dark magic, she gets a little more addicted to the power it provides. Both times have been with good intentions – saving Robin and freeing Merlin – but she’s no longer weighing the costs on her because I think the darkness has convinced her that there aren’t any.
The role reversal in her final scene with Regina was perfect. Like Emma, Regina wanted to believe that Emma could somehow remained untouched, that she wouldn’t give into the darkness and hurt the people she loves. And I think the sting of being so wrong and the mama bear instinct to protect Henry made her exactly as harsh with Emma as she needed to be. The Emma and Cora situation didn’t turn out the same, but each instance of heart stealing came about because their children were used as pawns. It wasn’t fair but I think it was Emma needed to hear. Something needed to cut through the idea that actions don’t have consequences as long as your intentions were good. Merlin needed to be freed but that doesn’t justify Emma using her son, no matter how much the Dark One wants her to believe that.
I love that some people complain when OUAT moves too slowly, but NGN readers seem to always be of the “Slow down! Take you time! Give us more character moments!” camp. I’ve found my people here at NGN. 😉
I think you’re completely right when you say Emma has stopped weighing the costs of using dark magic. She’s only looking at what it can get her now instead of also looking at what she’ll have to give up in order to make it work. And you said it best when you said it’s because the darkness has her convinced she’s strong enough to not have any costs/to not have to pay a price. It’s the first instance of the darkness making her believe she’s better with it than without it, and that’s heartbreaking because we all know she was good enough and strong enough as she was. And so much of that strength came from allowing herself to be vulnerable instead of pretending she was stronger than everyone else, which is what she did in this episode with Regina.
hi Katie, love the review as always. I know I’ve got my Emma blinkers on but I am firmly in the camp that thinks that Emma knew exactly what she was doing in Storybrooke and I reckon she left the dreamcatcher on the table so Regina and co would find it, as she needed to alienate Henry (and by default Regina). Emma’s tears as she held the dreamcatcher showed her remorse at what she’d done and whatever her plan is in Storybrooke she wants to keep her loved ones well away from it, I’m guessing she’s going to do something to alienate her parents next, which I’m also not looking forward to seeing. I really loved that end scene between Regina and Emma – I didn’t realize how much I missed their antagonistic relationship until this scene!
You aren’t the only one with Emma blinders on!! I hope we get some clue as to her endgame soon, since this just keeps getting more painful each week!
As Shauna said, you know NGN is the right place to admit to your Emma blinders! 😉 I totally agree that whatever her plan is calls for her cutting herself off from all her loved ones, and it doesn’t seem like it’s because she thinks she doesn’t need them (like the darkness wants her to believe). I still think she wants to protect them somehow…But how??? I can’t wait to find out what her actual endgame is. I’m sure we’ll get more clues soon, since November sweeps is coming up, after all. 😉
Loved the review! I actually enjoyed reading it today, several days after viewing, because it helped me look at the episode with fresh eyes. Now I want to rewatch! But it was so painful!
Love the theories you and the other commenters are tossing around, re: Emma’s plan in Storybrooke to alienate her family.
Thank you! I’m always happy when I can help people see an episode from a different viewpoint. And I agree with you about it being so painful that a re-watch will be hard!
I also can’t wait to keep talking with everyone about Emma’s plans and motivations as more bits and pieces get revealed or at least hinted about in each episode.
There was a point made on the Captain Swan podcast a few weeks ago that what Emma is pulling is a long con. And I’m starting to think more and more after this episode that is exactly what Emma is doing.
Adam and Eddy could have easily dragged on Snow and David under Arthur’s thrall for five or more episodes but that was fixed pretty quickly. Emma also recognized that something was not right with her parents. However they “failed her” it wasn’t them being under Arthur’s thrall and I don’t think they would purposely fail Emma.
I think Emma felt in the end, being in Camelot that there was no other way to save her from the darkness unless she chose to accept it and in doing so, she put her plan into motion to make her loved ones believe that they failed her but really, they hadn’t. She just needed them to believe so, so they could save her in Storybrooke. But there could also be a dual purpose here, that Emma doesn’t want to snuff out the light forever but the darkness.
I mean, also think about the clues laying around. There’s the mushroom, the dreamcatcher — all of these things were out in the open. I also think Emma let her parents in on her long con in Camelot but erased their memories for whatever reason.
I also loved the main theme of the episode that is possible to heal from first love and move on. As painful as first heartbreak can be, you don’t have to be defined by it. You can also choose to let go and let love in, which is what both Emma and Regina did. But also the emphasis on choice.
This is the fourth episode this season, I believe, where it was emphasized that Emma has to choose to let go of the darkness. I loved the way Merlin phrased his question to Emma in the diner after he had been freed:
“Emma, is your heart truly ready to be free?”
I’m like, ‘Ok, Adam and Eddy wrote this episode and we all know how much they love to troll the fandom.’ Eddy does it all the time in interviews, giving subtle spoiler hints where Adam has a #nospoiler policy. Also the fact that when both Henry and Killian are around Emma in Camelot past, there’s no Dark One Rumple there. Emma again has to choose light aka love over the darkness. All of this is perfect set up for a TLK — which I truly believe we’re going to get this season.
I agree that there’s way more to Emma’s story right now than meets the eye. There’s a part of me that really does think that this might all be about her wanting to actually snuff out the darkness instead of the light. And I think she fully embraced the darkness in Camelot as a means of protection, which I’m hoping brings up the fact that she constantly feels responsible for protecting everyone, and that drove her to such an extreme place.
I think so too.
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