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)[pagebreak]
Merida is really, REALLY not having Rumple’s unwillingness to fight and his constant self-deprecation of the fact he’ll never be brave enough, especially because she has no interest in being in Storybrooke. She just wants to go home, save her family, and the sooner she takes care of this, the sooner she can get her heart back and get on with her life. She finds the storybook with Rumple’s story and then breaks into his things, stealing the chipped cup and using it as a way to remind him what he has to fight for. It works, at least enough to get him to take a few healthy sword swings, but as Merida notes, “We’ve got a long way to go before you’re ready to take on Emma.” So will the final showdown of the first half of the season be an Emma/Rumple war? Or will it be Emma against all of Storybrooke and Camelot? I’m still trying to figure out how this story line is going to weave together, but we’ve got a few more weeks to tie everything up.
Regina, Hook, Belle, and Robin attempt to break into Emma’s house to see what she’s hiding, though it’s protected by a spell, so no one can enter (except Henry, and thanks to Belle’s idea, Regina conjures up her son’s scarf to get inside). They find the sword downstairs, realizing that the dagger and the sword are one, and Belle finds ropes on the ground that signify Rumple was there. Before they can get anywhere, however, Regina gets a text from Henry that Emma’s on her way back, and the group makes their escape — though not before Hook notices the dreamcatcher Emma had been staring at earlier, which Regina realizes could be the key to unlocking the mysteries of their missing time in Camelot.
Back in Camelot, Regina and Emma come across Henry in the forest, and find him practicing with a sword. For what reason? So Violet will think of him as worthy, of course. The two mothers gently try to give advice to their son, with Regina telling him to just be himself — after all, that’s the reason she initially fell for Daniel. Henry takes their advice and leaves a note for Violet asking her to meet him at Granny’s, where he sets the table all nice and impresses her with soda for their Very First Date. Violet is happy and into this whole thing, until she realizes what Henry is trying to do — and, sorry, Henry. Even though you brought Harold and Maude for a good time, Violet’s just not that into you. Understandably, this breaks Henry’s heart… and certainly seems to drive home the fact that he definitely is not a hero.
Meanwhile, Regina has realized that they can get the antivenom from her and her memories of Daniel’s death. She willingly allows herself to use the dreamcatcher to relive the worst moment of her life all over again (which also subjects viewers to it, reminding them how terrible this whole thing was when it happened). Emma gets her tear, and also a new perspective on her former enemy: She never knew that Regina’s life had been turned upside down so horribly, and from her mother, no less. It’s safe to say that Emma’s now seeing Regina in a new light, and it’s about time.
There’s just one problem with Regina’s memory: It still hurts, but it’s also been so long since Daniel, and now she has Robin, and she’s pretty much healed, so her pain isn’t strong enough. (Poor Regina: First she’s not powerful enough anymore as the Dark One, now even her memories have gone soft.) They’re interrupted by Henry, who admits tearfully that he acted like himself and got rejected by his first love. While Regina comforts him, Emma sees an opportunity and uses Henry’s tear, which works — even though Arthur arrives with his knights to attempt to stop the spell, Regina fends him off with magic, and Emma works up enough dark power to save Merlin from the tree. Huzzah! Merlin tells Emma he’s been waiting for her. (Sorry, Arthur. You’re just a disappointment.)
NEXT: Henry, the Hero[pagebreak]
Charming and the gang go talk to Guinevere and Arthur, telling them what they found in Emma’s basement. They learn what we learned earlier: that the sword can eradicate all dark magic forever, but in the wrong hands, it can also destroy all light magic, too. And it bothers everyone, but especially Snow and Charming, that no one can remember how Emma fell so far. Especially since they freed Merlin, who, back in Camelot, met all the Storybrooke folk after Emma freed her parents from Arthur’s spell. According to Merlin, he can free Emma from the darkness, though there’s a caveat: Is her heart ready to be free? Is she ready? She has to be the one to make the decision, as much as Merlin does, and the fact that Emma seems hesitant to respond should tell us just how far she’s fallen.
Violet feels like she can’t go to the party while her precious horse is missing, so Henry, still trying to see the optimistic hope in his mother, attempts to ask for Emma’s help. Surprisingly, Emma agrees to Henry’s quest, and even seems a little softened by the time they get in the car together, asking about Henry’s attraction to Violet. As far as Dark Ones go, Emma is definitely a different kind of Dark One, with qualities more like Regina (manipulation and pretend kindness) than Rumple (wholly evil and heartless). Violet’s horse likes pumpkins, so Emma takes them to Peter Peter’s Pumpkin Patch, because, well, Violet’s horse loves pumpkins. And viola! Operation: Save Violet’s Horse = success! Henry gets to be a hero in this story, complete with a kiss, a swanky hero entrance, AND dad approval.
But, this is Once, and all is not as it seems. When Robin and Regina attempt to use the dreamcatcher from Emma’s house to learn what happened to her in Camelot, we see a different memory: one that looks like Henry’s. In fact, it is Emma’s, because she visited Violet in the stables right after she found the note about meeting Henry for dinner. Emma takes her heart out and forces her to break Henry’s during the date, much to Regina’s horror. If that’s not bad enough, Henry manages to overhear the whole thing, and his newly renewed perception of his reformed mom is shoved aside. Now, at least, we know why Emma picked up that dreamcatcher in the beginning of the episode and cried. While this was a terrible ulterior motive that Regina rightfully called out as being very similar to how Cora would have acted, I fully believe that Emma, like Regina, really does care for her son and wants the best for him, no matter how far gone she is.
Which makes their fight at the end all the more intense, and one of the strongest points of the episode. I’ve always loved the dichotomy between Regina and Emma, and I missed a lot of that when Regina started to lean more to the good side. Despite their differences, the one universal thing that always bound both characters was their love for Henry, and that’s something that’s continued in their new roles. But Regina is now smarter — she’s been there, on both ends. She’s been the one who has been manipulated, and the one who has done the manipulation. And she’s not going to stand for Emma’s actions anymore if it keeps hurting her son. (Seriously, poor Henry. Can’t he catch a break with having a mother that doesn’t always get in trouble for something?)
Stray Odds & Ends:
- During their fight, Emma lets it slip that they freed Merlin in Camelot, and Regina is confused. If they saved Merlin, who was the only one who could save Emma, why is she still dark? This is obviously the question we’re going to be looking at in upcoming episodes, and I’m intrigued.
- I’m glad Granny’s is literally the one-stop shop for people’s dating lives.
- “Let’s just say that being a tree is good for your skin.” Merlin, please tell me your secrets. Actually, don’t, I don’t want to get stuck in a tree, but I’d appreciate the advice.
- I’ve said this over and over, but one of my favorite things this season are the Camelot outfits. I also love how Regina is dressed routinely in red while Emma is dressed in white: similar to how their wardrobe choices reflected their intentions back in the first season.