The moral of tonight’s Once Upon A Time might be, “Don’t play with fire.” Or perhaps it’s, “Don’t trust the man behind the curtain.” In any case, Excalibur lives! And unfortunately, so does Dark One Emma — now even more powerful and ruthless than before. For the first time since the beginning of the season, we barely spent any time in present-day Storybrooke, save for the first and last few moments of the episode. With two halves of the sword now in her possession, Emma can only see power. But Dark One Rumple claims it represents more than that — like any fairytale, it represents history. And it’s time for Excalibur’s promise, given years ago, to be fulfilled.
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Because, see, like any good story, we have to start at the beginning. The very beginning, 10 years before the age of Arthur, where we find two men running through the desert (one of which is Merlin). They see a glimmer in the sand, and while Merlin’s friend thinks it’s a mirage, Merlin’s more astute and recognizes it as a goblet (with a cross on the side), which his greedy friend claims is a “gift from the gods” and picks it up…and promptly turns to dust. Not so much with those gods, then. Merlin prepares to do the same — “drink or die” — though he at least looks to the heavens and asks permission first. Regardless of whether Merlin’s worthy or manners just go a long way in fairytale land, Merlin drinks with no problem. In fact, he realizes he’s acquired magic, as the desert changes to lush greens.
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So Merlin uses his newfound magic for good, to heal people and help them, which is how he meets the former love of his life, Nimue (Caroline Ford), 200 years ago. Nimue had come to Merlin on behalf of her village, which then-Dark One, Vortigan, destroyed. Merlin falls for Nimue because, well, why wouldn’t you? (No, seriously. Why wouldn’t you? I know a few other reviews are going to liken the actress to different famous faces, and I’m throwing my hat into the ring for Jennifer Lawrence. Maybe it’s the freckles and dark hair.)
In Camelot, Merlin tells the Storybrooke gang that they can save Emma by putting the two blades back together. He finds Emma making a dream catcher and tells her that they can make Excalibur whole again…if he can get the Flame of Prometheus, which is what forged Excalibur in the first place. The problem is that the flame was technically extinguished but still exists as an ember in the possession of the first Dark One. Emma’s all for this because it means potentially getting rid of her imminent Dark One powers, but Merlin warns her that the first Dark One is powerful and has the power to kill — even when it comes to immortal people like Merlin. Before leaving on her journey, Emma shares a goodbye moment with Hook, who gives her his ring as a kind of good-luck parting gift, because “The Dark One is immortal. Emma isn’t.” We still have a few episodes to go before we fully complete this half of the season and find out the story behind Emma’s full descent into darkness, but this exchange really does feel like it’s one of the last moments where we’ll see the two being genuine and in love with each other. (Did you catch Merlin watching from a distance? Is he spying on them for good or evil?)
NEXT: Merlin and Emma’s roadtrip