We got to learn more about Merlin in this week’s episode of Once Upon A Time; mainly about how he got his magic. As well we learn the true story of the first Dark One and the forging of Excalibur. In Camelot all our faves were working together to get the two halves of the sword together, and back in Storybrooke, Dark Emma finally had all her tools in place to snuff out the light.
The episode begins in the present time, and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) is holding the Excalibur that Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) took from the throne in last week’s episode. Head!Rumple appears to her and tells her that Excalibur represents history and it’s time for Excalibur’s promise to be fulfilled.
In the first of our Merlin’s (Elliot Knight) flashbacks we are taken to 1000 years ago and Merlin and a friend are running through a desert when he thinks he sees water in the distance. It appears to be a goblet type object on top of a rock and the goblet has water in it. Merlin’s friend sees it as a gift from the gods (it has a cross on the side) and proceeds to drink from it, however he turns to dust. When it comes to Merlin’s turn, he first ask the gods’ permission before drinking from it and he is safe. Even better than being safe, once he puts his hands on the ground, the desert sand turns into grass and he exclaims ‘I have magic’.
Back in modern day Camelot (I don’t know how modern day this Camelot is) Merlin tells the Storybrooke gang that in order to put the sword together he and Emma need to go on a special quest to get the magic ingredient to forge the sword, while the rest of them need to work together to get the other part of the sword back from Arthur (Liam Garrigan). Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) lashes out at Merlin about how much they still don’t know regarding Emma, and Merlin tells him to be patient with Emma, as he knows more than anyone what it’s like to lose someone you love to the Dark One.
The next Merlin flashback takes us back 200 years before Arthur (there’s something slightly off about this timeline, but I’ll get to that later) and Merlin is using his magic for good by helping people with the help of his apprentice (who is still a little boy at this point, and is adorable). A woman, who is Nimue (Caroline Ford), comes to him and tells him that a masked man by the name of Vortigan (Darren Moore) (spelt Vortigern in Arthurian legend) ransacked her village and killed her family and everyone else that lived there. She alone managed to escape. She tells Merlin that she wants revenge and the only revenge she can think of is to use the seeds of some flower that could only grow in a village and allow them to grow somewhere else so it would still exist despite Vortigan’s actions. Merlin allows her to plant it in Camelot and he uses his magic to speed up the growth so she could see them in bloom.
In Camelot, Emma is obsessively weaving dreamcatchers, which I assume is her version of Rumple’s gold spinning. Merlin approaches her and tells her that they need to go on a quest to find the Flame of Prometheus as that is what Excalibur was forged in. Merlin does warn her that in order to get the flame she would need to battle the Original Dark One. And it will end in one of two ways – either they succeed and they get the flame, or Emma succumbs to the darkness and kills Merlin. Just before they leave, Hook and Emma have a sweet moment where he gives her the ring that he wears around his neck, saying that helped him to survive, and he tells her that while the Dark One might be immortal, Emma isn’t and she must bring Emma back home to him. It’s bittersweet, knowing how different their relationship is after Emma fully succumbs to the darkness.
In the past, Merlin and Nimue are happy in love but he tells her that he can’t marry her because when he got his magic from the Holy Grail it made him immortal. And he would not want to marry her, knowing that she would grow old and die without him. Nimue suggests finding the Holy Grail again so she too can become immortal but he tells her that he doesn’t want that life for her (although he does casually say that the Grail is in his tower). He tells Nimue that he wants to melt the Holy Grail into a sword that he can use to cut through his immortality so that he can grow old with her. She is touched that he is willing to give up so much for her, and he makes a ring out of the leaves of her special flower and uses magic to turn it into gold. However to break away from the sweet moment (which Hook giving Emma the ring must have reminded Merlin of), we clearly see a masked person in the shadows eavesdropping on their conversation.
In ‘Granny’s in Camelot’ the Storybrooke gang are working on a plan to steal Excalibur from Arthur, however they are in open warfare and the paranoid Arthur is on his guard. The team are all workshopping ideas (but let’s be honest here the only one who ever comes up with good plots is Regina, or maybe sometimes Henry) but the ideas are so terrible that it even makes the mute Zelena (Rebecca Mader) frustrated. Tired of her ministrations, Regina (Lana Parilla) gives her back her voice and Zelena says she knows of a way that they can sneak into the castle that she discovered when she was looking for a way to escape but without magic her way was hopeless.
In the castle, Arthur is busy making a specific potion while Guinevere (Joana Metrass) watches on. When the guards come in, he tests the potion on one of their helmets and it melts. He tells the guards to use it on their visitors if they try to break into the castle and to bring him back what’s left of them, saying “this is war”.
Meanwhile as Emma and Merlin are road tripping (on foot) she tells him that Head!Rumple said that she would not see him as much once she had embraced the darkness as he is what helps lead her to it so she is wondering if it’s a bad thing that she does not see him anymore (also makes me wonder why she sees him so often in Storybrooke if she has already embraced the darkness by then). Merlin asks her if she’s done dark deeds recently and she tells him about how she hurt Henry and confesses that she fears the darkness is winning.
On a parallel trip, many moons ago, Nimue and Merlin pass through Nimue’s home village which is just a pile of rubble now. Nimue tells him about the pain of losing her family and her home and wishes that they could be avenged. They do, however, notice that there are cups lying outside all of the homes, and they conclude that Vortigan was looking for the Holy Grail. Merlin then has a vision of Vortigan closing in on them, Nimue tells Merlin that Vortigan is just a man and that with Merlin’s power he can quickly kill him in retaliation. Merlin says that he does not want to use his magic to kill as that would cause his magic to become dark.
Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) was left on Zelena babysitting duty while Regina and her male backing group – Charming (Josh Dallas), Hook and Robin Hood (Sean Maguire) infiltrate the castle through Zelena’s route. Zelena, however, distracts Snow by pretending to cry and then knocking her out and tying her up.
Nimue and Merlin reach the Flame of Prometheus and he uses it to forge Excalibur, which he would use to destroy immortality. But just as the sword is made, Vortigan attacks them and even though Merlin tells him that the Holy Grail is no more he still wants Excalibur, Merlin is unwilling to kill him. So Nimue takes it upon herself to fight Vortigan, unmasking him, she is caught off guard for a minute and Vortigan stabs her and a heartbroken Merlin watches as she dies in his arms.
In modern times, Emma and Merlin are making the same quest and Merlin tells her that the Flame of Prometheus has been extinguished but the Original Dark One still possess an ember of it. Emma would need to call on the First Dark One and fight them for the ember in order for them to use to reforge Excalibur. Emma, heeds his warnings, and uses the Dark One dagger to call upon the original Dark One. It appears, masked and solemn looking and Emma refers to it as a ‘he’, Merlin says ‘it isn’t a he’ and Emma looks down at the dagger which now bears the name ‘Nimue’. Which was a shocking moment for Emma, not so much for the audience because as per our previous recaps, most of us guessed this.
As an explanation, Merlin flashbacks to Nimue’s ‘death’ and then chases after Vortigan; but as he is confronted him, Vortigan suddenly goes stiff (we’ve seen this before) and Nimue emerges from behind him clutching his heart. Merlin is of course surprised that his girlfriend just got back up from death like it was just a scratch but Nimue explains that she drank from the Holy Grail as well when Merlin wasn’t looking (so apparently the Grail found her worthy unlike Merlin’s poor friend) and it made her immortal. She faked her death to show Merlin how unattractive death really is (cruel trick in my opinion). Merlin begs her not to kill Vortigan, to let the darkness fester within her, but she’s so blinded by revenge that she does not listen to him and crushes Vortigan’s heart. The result is instantaneous and her skin goes all scaly like Dark One Rumple used to look like. Although it does make me think, if Emma has embraced the darkness, shouldn’t her skin be funky looking? Or is it because she’s in Storybrooke, that she looks normal, like Rumple did? Will we get to see a scaly looking Emma in Camelot? Or do the scales only come after you have murdered someone? After turning into the Dark One, Nimue breaks Excalibur in half so that no one can kill immortality and snuffs out the Flame of Prometheus.
At the battle of the Dark Ones, Nimue immediately begins her influence on Emma, encouraging her to choke Merlin, while Merlin is trying to reason with her. However, Emma fights back and eventually tells Nimue that she does not need the power that Nimue has, and she is able to defeat Nimue and take the ember from her. I keep waiting for the shoe to drop when we will finally realize what was the straw that broke the camel’s back with regards to Emma embracing the darkness. But alas, another week has gone past and we still don’t know.
And interesting part of the episode, is as they are walking back to Camelot and Granny’s, Emma asks Merlin if it’s possible to have the power of the Dark One magic and use it for good. Here Merlin says maybe one day there will be someone powerful enough to hold that amount of darkness and still do good but it’s too much to ask of anyone and it’s much better to just snuff out the darkness forever. But in the land of television series, nothing is coincidental, so why would Emma ask this question? Will Emma be one Dark One that can defeat the odds?
Emma also asks Merlin what happened after Nimue became the Dark One, and Merlin says he and his apprentice first put Excalibur in the stone for protection and then he created the Dark One dagger and tethered Nimue’s soul to it so that he could control her and prevent her reign of terror. But as we saw through the dream catcher a couple of weeks ago, she got the dagger away from him when she turned him into a tree. She wore the mask of Vortigan as Merlin said my favorite line of the night, “It’s easier to live with the darkness if you can dress it up as vengeance.”
Back in Camelot, Regina and her band of UnMerry Men barge into Arthur’s throne room, and demand that Arthur give them the sword, because they have magic on their side. However, Arthur is sneakier than he looks and he already had an insurance policy – in the name of Zelena, whom he removed the magic-suppressing cuff from so she could fight on his side. Zelena uses a spell from Merlin’s spell book and tethers Merlin’s soul to Excalibur so Arthur can control him with the sword. Merlin appears by Arthur’s side when he calls (leaving poor Emma alone, mid-sentence) and begs Arthur to allow them to put Excalibur together but Arthur refuses because he doesn’t want anyone else to have the glory of snuffing out the darkness (sigh Arthur, this spoilt kid shtick is getting old).
The episode ends back in Storybrooke and we see Head!Rumple and Nimue egging Emma on as she uses the ember from the Flame of Prometheus to reconnect Excalibur and the Dark One dagger. It becomes even creepier when all the previous Dark Ones came out to watch this occasion. Emma does stop for a moment and refers to the memory of Merlin telling her to leave the sword alone when she was ‘a girl’ but Nimue counters that she’s now a woman’ and Head!Rumple encourages her to take the power as all the Dark Ones cheer as the sword is whole again.
Episode Rating: 8/10