TV Review: Once Upon A Time (5×08 & 5×09): ‘Birth’ and ‘The Bear King’

Sunday, because of the airing of next week’s American Music Awards, Once Upon A Time decided to treat us to two episodes back to back. While I do still question why the synchronicity of these two episodes (especially the motivation behind the second one) it did help us to discover much more about the Dark One (s) and the shadiness of King Arthur and how he fits into the Merida story. Plus it included the return of three of my favorite recurring characters – Dr. Whale, Ruby and Mulan.



This was by far the best episode of the season thus far, and it does make me wonder what could be coming next as we haven’t even reached the midseason finale. The storyline weaves between Storybrooke and Camelot as it reveals to us how Emma (Jennifer Morrison) became the Dark One completely, why she did it, and why she removed their memories fluently.

So all of you Captain Swan shippers who were complaining about lack of scenes this season, this episode made up for it, which it’s explanation that the entire reason that Emma became the Dark One was to save Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) (and give us more heartbreaking/romantic scenes), and she also created them into a Dark One duo, meaning at the moment they are both immortal, and we can expect a dark couple to battle Spike and Drusilla, or Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange, whoever you prefer. But they will first need to undergo some couples therapy, me thinks.

Basically what happened is that in Camelot, Merlin (Elliot Knight), who Zelena (Rebecca Mader) and Arthur (Liam Garrigan) tethered to Excalibur and has to do everything that Arthur tells him (remember last week) warns Emma that if she does not give Arthur the Dark One dagger and the Flame of Prometheus, Arthur will make Merlin kill Emma’s family. As her one last act of darkness, Emma tricks Arthur and co, and attempts to use her magic to free her family, which works because Merlin fights off the darkness when Arthur orders him to kill Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin). Although in a tussle with Arthur, Hook is wounded but Emma uses her magic to heal him.

Everything seems to be on an upswing when Emma eventually gets the Flame of Prometheus lit and she moves to reunite Excalibur and the Dark One dagger, but then Hook’s wound opens up again. Merlin reveals that a wound from Excalibur cannot be healed – even by dark magic – and as we get to see a heartbreaking scene as Emma holds him in her arms as he’s dying. But she cooks up a plan to free Merlin from Excalibur and instead to tether Hook to it so that he will immortal like her and the two of them will battle the darkness together. Sweet in idea, not so sweet in reality as Hook tells her that it tooks him centuries to defeat the darkness before and he does not want to go through that again. But Emma doesn’t heed his wishes, and still tethers his soul to the sword, so they became co-Dark Ones. This is why she wiped his memory.

Meanwhile in Storybrooke, Emma saved Hook from an attack from Arthur yet again and she reveals to him that the reason why she wants Excalibur is because of him – this makes Hook and the collectively audience go ‘huh?’ in unison. Hook goes on a mini adventure throughout the episode to find out what Emma’s deal is. And then though he tells her that he will forgive her no matter what she’s done because he loves her, she still puts a sleeping spell on him, to conk him out.

On the other side of town, Zelena’s pregnant belly is growing rapidly, she’s only two months pregnant and she’s already giving birth. It was great seeing the return of David Anders as Dr. Whale, maintaining the running joke that Storybrooke only has one doctor. He was also so refreshing with his humor, referring to the time Zelena tried to steal Snow’s baby from the hospital, and Regina (Lana Parrilla) commented on his hair color change (thanks to iZombie) and he said it’s okay for Emma to change her hair color but not him.

The Storybrooke gang first believe that Emma accelerated Zelena’s pregnancy because she needs the baby for her spell to remove all dark magic, but Emma arrives at the hospital after Zelena has given birth to a baby girl and takes Zelena instead of the baby.

Back at Emma’s house (which we find out via flashback that Hook picked out as a home they could move in together), she has both Hook and Zelena trapped in her cellar (also can people stop imprisoning people together, they always hatch an escape plan together) and Emma reveals that she wants to remove the darkness and transport it into Zelena (which is why she made sure the baby was out of her, she isn’t a complete monster) and then use Excalibur to kill Zelena and thus the darkness forever. Hook thinks she’s whack, Zelena obviously doesn’t want to die before her child’s christening. While Emma is upstairs defending her plan from Regina, and her gang, Hook uses his enchanted hook to remove Zelena’s magic-suppressing bracelet so that she can whoosh them free.

Zelena escapes but Hook stays behind to look amongst Emma’s things for the squid ink that she stole from Rumple. Emma comes back inside just as Hook finds it and he throws it at her which seemingly freezes her. At this moment, Zelena returns and proceeds to stab Hook in the heart which obviously doesn’t affect him as she pulls out the dreamcatcher with his memories from Camelot that she found and she shows him how Emma turned him into the Dark One as well.

The episode ends on a cliffhanger with us guessing as to what will happen now that Hook knows that the darkness is inside of him. Will Emma and Hook rule as the dark couple most of us have secretly hoping for? Or will they fight each other until the darkness is removed from both of them? Either way this episode caught me off guard, I figured there was something fishy as to Emma’s reasoning behind reconnecting Excalibur, but I did not expect the Dark Hook. I’m extremely curious as to how they will resolve this storyline. Which brings us to the anticlimax…


The Bear King

‘The Bear King’ was not a bad episode but the placement of it did not make much sense with how ‘Birth’ ended. Much like the other back to back episodes, we expected the next episode to carry on with the story told in 5×08 but this was completely displaced and was a story on it’s own, with the only connection being Arthur and Zelena. There were not even framing scenes showing where the episode belongs with regards to the ongoing plot. It just served to tell more of the Merida story, make Arthur seem even more shady and give Ruby and Mulan a vehicle with which to return.

The episode begins with a flashback to a couple of years ago when King Fergus (Glenn Keogh) went to the woods witch (Lily Knight) to get something to defeat an invading army and she gives him a special helm. The same witch interrupts Merida’s (Amy Manson) coronation two years later, and asks for payment for the helm or the helm back or she will curse the entire kingdom to become bears.


Merida knows what happened to the helm, the knight who killed her father took it when he vacated the battlefield. So she recruits the help of Mulan (Jamie Chung), who helped to teach her how to fight, two years ago, and they go searching for the man that killed Merida’s father. Mulan is not the same though, the heartbreak over Aurora choosing Philip weighed down on her, even though she never told Aurora how she felt.

Always up to nefarious activities, after Emma got Excalibur from Arthur and he lost control of Merlin, Arthur and Zelena went to Dunbroch because apparently what he needs to save his kingdom is King Fergus’ helm, so they chase after Merida and Mulan. They take Merida’s bow as it belonged to Fergus and can apparently track the helm because it also belonged to him. They also reveal what the helm does, it makes other men fight your battles for you even if they don’t believe in it. It’s what Fergus used to unite the clans, and fight against the invaders, which goes against everything that Merida believed about her father. Merida wants to give up after this, and Mulan can’t do much to convince her otherwise.


Feeling guilty, Mulan goes to the witch for help (I still wonder where the witch was when Belle and Merida spent an extended amount of time in her cottage, using her ingredients and equipment) and the witch isn’t at home, but her guard wolf is. Through some convincing Mulan gets the wolf to turn back to human – and it’s Ruby! As Ruby (Meghan Ory) was kind of a regular in the earlier seasons her presence was missed when Meghan Ory left the show. They explain her absence by saying that at the end of Season 3 after Zelena was ‘defeated’ she was feeling a bit forlorn and so she spoke to Snow about going off to find others like her, namely werewolves, which led her back to the Enchanted Forest. After she couldn’t find others like her, she went to the witch for help, who trapped her as a wolf and made her work as her guard dog.

Once Upon a Time - Episode 5.09 - The Bear King - Promotional Photo

Ruby uses her special tracking skills to sniff out Merida’s father’s killer, which leads them to a river bank where Zelena and Arthur are fishing the helm out of the water. Ruby tells them that the scent leads to Arthur that he is the one who killed Fergus. Arthur explains that he was on a quest to find the dagger which lead to futile means. Merida points out that she saw her father’s killer take the helm, why then was it in the river. But Arthur said that the helm that Fergus wore in battle was a fake, so when he tried to use it to rally the Camelot troops it didn’t work. Merida realizes that her father threw the charmed helm into the river instead of using, and he lead his troops by his own means.

Arthur and Merida battle for the helm while Mulan takes on Zelena and Ruby helps her by putting sleeping powder on her. The head of the other three clans also come to Merida’s aid, and in the end Arthur and Zelena are forced to yield and they go back to Camelot.

At Merida’s coronation, the witch interrupts again demanding payment but Merida tells her that even though she retrieved the helm, she’s going to destroy it as no one should that power. The witch was like ‘jk that’s what I wanted all along’ apparently the whole quest was supposed to make Merida a better leader, as she was willing to give up the crown to protect the kingdom, and that’s what makes her a good ruler. The witch gives her the coronation gift of ale that lets her talk to the spirit of her dead father and then joins in the celebration (so the witch is good now and everyone seems to forget that she kept a girl trapped as a wolf as her guard dog…okay…)

Merida goes to her father’s grave and has one last conversation with him, where he tells her why he got the helm, and how it was a conversation with her that made him decide not to use it. After this Merida chats with her gal pals – Ruby and Mulan. Mulan tells her about the reasoning behind the change in her (Aurora), which I’m so glad that they are addressing instead of just leaving it to the pretext, you see guys they do listen to the audience. Ruby encourages Mulan to come with her and help her find werewolves, as a way to find herself again.

As I said above, I probably would have enjoyed this episode a lot more if it was shown before ‘Birth’ even just swapped around. ‘Birth’ had too much movement in the plot for it just to be left alone for an episode, one could barely concentrate on this episode with the aftermath of the double Dark Ones still on our minds.

However I did enjoy Once Upon A Time’s version of the Brave story, and I was so happy to see the return of Mulan and Ruby. The acknowledgement of Mulan’s feelings for Aurora which most of us just guessed at, was refreshing as well, and I really hope that they will go the Mulan/Ruby romance even if Meghan Ory and Jamie Chung cannot be in the show regularly. The Arthur/Zelena addition to this episode just seemed like a weak attempt at looping it in with the rest of the storyline, as David said in ‘Birth’, Arthur is inconsequential at this point, he’s just a King without a kingdom, so I don’t see him as a legitimate threat or even as a character of interest at this point. So his shadiness and villainous behavior in this episode was no shock.


Some lingering questions from both episodes:

  • What happened to Merlin? Did he die after Emma untethered him from Excalibur?
  • Will Emma and Hook be like the Dark One power couple?
  • Will they get hold of Nimue now that their other options have run off?
  • Can we get more Dr. Whale please?
  • Will Robin Hood and Zelena share custody, or is Regina taking over mummy duties?
  • How does Merida get to Storybrooke?
  • Who rules Dunbroch in her absence?
  • What was the point of ‘The Bear King’



Birth: 9/10

The Bear King: 6/10

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.