TV Review: Once Upon A Time (5×01) “The Dark Swan”

Since the series began, Once Upon A Time has had us questioning the concept of heroes and villains. Captain Hook is now the romantic lead, the Evil Queen and Snow White are friends, and the Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood are the same person. And with Season 5, they gave us the biggest challenge yet, by turning the hero of the series, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) into the ultimate villain, the Dark One. Let’s look at how they made one of our most beloved heroines transform into a believable villain:

The weaving of Camelot into the big story

The episode begins with a flashback to Minneapolis 1989, where a young Emma Swan (McKenna Grace) is sneaking into a movie theater to watch the Disney film about King Arthur, The Sword in the Stone. While in the movies, she’s approached by Merlin (Elliot Knight) dressed as an usher, who warns her that when she gets the opportunity she must not remove Excalibur from the stone, which I’m sure must have confused 9-year-old Emma plenty.

We are then transported to what we believe is Camelot and we see King Arthur (Liam Garrigan), Percival (Andrew Jenkins) and Lancelot (Sinqua Walls) following Merlin’s prophecy to where Arthur will remove Excalibur from the stone, once he removes the sword he discovers that only half the sword is present, and we find out that the other half is the Dark One dagger.

Image Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

Image Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

At the end of the episode, King Arthur appears to the Storybrooke crew and leads them into Camelot, revealing to them that their arrival was prophesied by Merlin, and that they would be the ones to bring Merlin back to Arthur and the Camelot knights.

Image Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

Image Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

The integration of the Camelot plotline into the series worked extremely well, I liked that they weaved it into Emma’s destiny, similarly with what they did with August, and Maleficient’s daughter, creating this interconnectivity between the realms. In the words of Barney Stinson, ‘new is better’ and I always enjoy it when we are able visit new realms each season (there is only so much of Storybrooke and the Enchanted Forest that one can take, and especially when there are characters we already met there, like Lancelot. The story of the knights of Camelot and King Arthur has been done many times onscreen from the Clive Owen/Keira Knightley film, to the Disney film that was featured in this episode, to the BBC series – even Monty Python took a stab at it, and I’m extremely interested to see how Once will tackle this classic tale.

The Storybrooke gang and their rescue mission

Back in Storybrooke, Emma has disappeared and Regina (Lana Parrilla), Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin), David (Josh Dallas), Robin (Sean Maguire) and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) as well as some miscellaneous town folk such as Mother Superior (Keegan Connor Tracy), Belle (Emilie de Ravin), Granny (Beverley Elliot) and Leroy (Lee Arenberg), attempt to find a way to Emma.

The team goes to the Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Timothy Webber) who is on his deathbed, but he gives them the sorcerer’s wand which would be able to open a portal to the Enchanted Forest, where apparently all Dark Ones are born. The wand can only be yielded by someone who is dark, which means they have to call in some help from the Wicked Witch herself, Zelena (Rebecca Mader) to open the portal for them.

Zelena’s terms, of course, are for freedom from the magic suppressing bracelet that Regina put her in when she locked her up. Regina refuses, clearly not trusting Zelena. However, in a rare stepdad/son situation Hook and Henry team up to free Zelena and get her to help them find Emma, and this backfires as Zelena just uses them to get free so she can use the power for her own benefit, while saying a very apt line, “You should have listened to my sister.”

In order to get the sorcerer’s wand, Zelena kidnaps Robin and tells Regina she would trade him for the wand as she wants to use it to create a portal back to Oz for her and her unborn child (sigh, so much wrong with this). Regina agrees to the terms but just as Zelena casts the spell she is weakened enough for David to clamp the power suppressing bracelet back onto her, and they could tie her up again.

Regina uses Emma’s baby blanket in order to cast the summoning spell and it transports everyone who is in Granny’s as well as the building itself to Emma’s location.

This section of the episode was the weaker part to me. We have seen the characters struggle throughout the season to create portals into other realms, with magic beans being the most common method, but in this episode, alas! all they need to do is swish a magic wand and they’re there.

Also they kept referring to the extremely awkward relationship between Robin and Zelena where Zelena posed as his wife Marian to keep him and Regina apart and in turn fell pregnant. That entire situation was messed up enough without the constant references to it.

Another thing that was constantly grating is that Hook can never pull off a scheme, he is starting to make his Disney counterpart look smart. Zelena was able to thwart even his most creative of plans, and he just wasted his heart-ripping potion. Sigh, Hook.

Emma’s progression into Dark Swan

One of the most poignant parts of the episode was Emma’s progression into her role as the Dark One. She wakes up in the Enchanted Forest to Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) waiting for her. We quickly discover that it is not the actual Rumple, as he is in a coma back in Storybrooke, but it’s the manifestation of the Dark One in Emma’s mind. Throughout the episode Mind!Rumple keeps challenging Emma to make dark decisions, to kill, to manipulate in order to embrace her role as the Dark One.

Image Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

Image Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

Emma wanders around the Enchanted Forest attempting to find Merlin, who she was told would be able to remove the Dark One curse from her. Mind!Rumple teaches her a trick where if she thinks of a particular place, she can appear there, which is apparently one of the perks of being the Dark One, and also explains how Rumplestiltskin could always appear in different places throughout the series.


Jack Rowand, ABC

Emma appears in a different forest, where Mind!Rumple reveals to her that she would have to find a particular wisp by the hill stones and that would take her to Merlin. On the way, she meets Merida (Amy Manson)  from the Pixar film, Brave, who was also trying to find the wisp in order to get it to help her save her brothers from rival clansmen who kidnapped them because they were opposed to her rule after her father’s death.

Image Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

Image Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

The two work together until Merida overhears Emma discussing the fact that she would have to kill Merida in order to give control over the wisp to Mind!Rumple, and Merida becomes scared and runs off to find the hillstones by herself.

Image Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

Image Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

Emma then uses her Dark One trick to appear at the hill stones just as Merida is catching the wisp, and egged on by Mind!Rumple she pulls out Merida’s heart and she’s just about to crush it when Hook stops her, apparently the portal has perfect timing as well.


Image Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

Hook gestures to the crowd that came out to find and help Emma and tells her, “Heroes and villains together, because of you. If we can overcome our demons so can you.” And with that Emma returns Merida’s heart to her body and the two have a lovely chat.

All seems well by the time that King Arthur comes to guide them into Camelot, until the end of the episode which takes place 6 weeks later. ‘Granny’s’ with everyone inside lands back in Storybrooke, all of whom are wearing traditional Camelot clothing but cannot remember the past six weeks of their life, until Emma appears at the door, decked out in her Dark One clothing, indicating that what took place in Camelot actually helped to turn her dark not the other way around as they hoped.

I am glad that instead of automatically turning Emma dark, we got to see the progression, we were able to watch her battle with herself. Emma is a character that we’ve been with from day one, and she should be allowed the space to see her jump over to the dark side, and because we saw her beat back the darkness and chose to not kill Merida, it would be even more interesting to see what in Camelot made her tip the scales and become the Dark One for real. Jennifer Morrison must be commended for her acting in this episode, she did a stellar job showing the warring sides of Emma’s personality. The writers were also playing to their strengths by giving Robert Carlyle, one of their best actors, the part of the dark aspect of Emma’s mind, as it would be unrealistic for Rumpelstiltskin to be already out of his coma.

The translation of Merida from the Pixar film to Once was one of the better translations that they have done recently (last season’s Anna, really lowered the bar) and Amy Manson really seemed to encapsulate the character from the film as well as make her appear realistic and relevant in live-action.

In all, I believe that even though narratively there were some problems in this episode, a lot of it was remnants of the problematic aspects of last season, and hopefully they will iron them out in later episodes, I think this was one of the stronger season premieres that Once has had. The new characters worked well, and the introduction of Camelot was intriguing. I cannot wait to see what happens next!

Tell us what you thought about the episode and Camelot below!

Episode rating: 8/10

Caryn is a 26-year-old journalist from Cape Town, South Africa. She believes people will be more tolerable if they just watched more TV. Otherwise she's obsessed with movies, literally any book, comedy, Marvel, Harry Potter, and Halsey. Her dream is to one day marry Tom Hiddleston, or take over the world, whatever comes first.