In Camelot, many years ago, there was a man named Merlin. He was looking for the Dark One, in retaliation for destroying the only woman he ever loved.
And then he became a tree.
Okay, that’s obviously not the whole story. But Once Upon A Time’s cold open tonight was a quick flashback to how Merlin ended up trapped in the first place, after cornering the current Dark One (who looks more like one of Voldemort’s Death Eaters, complete with the silver mask) and attempting to kill him. Obviously, that doesn’t go over so well, and the Dark One decides to take care of Merlin once and for all: He uses his heartbreaking tear to turn him into a tree. (I do hope at some point we get a full Merlin flashback about his time with the Dark One because I would be so interested in that story.)
Emma sees this whole thing happen through a Dreamcatcher, which also apparently has shown her the spell Arthur put on her parents, thanks to dark magic. Regina still doesn’t know what’s going on with the Charmings, but she’s more than a little suspicious that they’re both suddenly super into supporting Arthur and all his ideas, to the point of beating the point to death. Just as Regina is about to hand over the dagger, Emma shows up and freezes her parents with a spell, alerting Regina of Arthur’s plan to kill Merlin. Emma wants to keep taking the risk of using dark magic to free the sorcerer, even though Regina is hesitant. “With all due respect, I’m no you,” Emma points out harshly in response. Ouch. Once Regina learns that Merlin was trapped due to his sadness over lost love, she realizes that they might be able to save him: Sometimes you can use the venom to create an antivenom. If only they could get the tear from another heartbreaking lost love…
Henry and Violet, meanwhile, are in the stable bonding over her horse and dead parents, as one does. When Violet leaves Henry alone, he gets distracted by some swords and attempts to be a hero. You know, like Arthur. (No one should want to be like Arthur.) Sir Morgan, Violet’s father, finds him and basically realizes he has no skills with a sword or a horse, and of course he doesn’t, because Henry’s from the modern world and not Camelot. Nonetheless, Henry’s proud of who he is — a writer — and Sir Morgan is less than thrilled at this fact, because he’s just a writer. (Thanks for the boost of career confidence, Once!)
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Back in Storybrooke, Regina and Company are trying to figure out how the squire vanished. Obviously, Arthur isn’t giving up the truth, and Guinevere points out her people are getting worried and anxious that they’re not going to go home. They need something to raise their spirits — how about a dance, suggests Henry? Obviously, Snow’s on board with this, at least, until Belle shows up to alert them to the fact Rumple is missing. (Hey, someone finally noticed!) Rumple is still with Emma, who asks him to pull the sword. Rumple says he can’t and tries to talk former Dark One reasoning into Emma, who has no intention of listening. She calls in her secret weapon, a.k.a. Merida, and uses her heart to control her to take Rumple to the forest in order to force him to “be brave” and make him the hero that he needs to be in order to pull the sword from the stone. I know what the show is trying to do with this, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I feel slightly grumpy that we’re going this route with Merida when the point of her story (and most heroes stories) is that bravery doesn’t have to be defined by weaponry or strength in a physical fight.
NEXT: A dream is a wish your heart makes (before it breaks)