October 2, 2015 Once Upon a Time – The Dark Swan (Season 5/ Episode 1 Review)
At the conclusion of the fourth season of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, Storybrooke residents shook with reaction when a swirling cyclone of blackness swept up their savior Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison: House M.D. 2004, How I Met Your Mother 2010). In her place rested the dagger which controlled the Dark One, bearing Emma’s name. The fifth season of the fairy tale-infused drama began on Sunday September 27th on ABC with the episode titled The Dark Swan. Commencing with a flashback to 1989 Minneapolis, a young Emma attends a showing of Disney’s “Once and Future King.” After a lapse of moral judgement, Emma settles in to watch the white-bearded cartoon Merlin on the screen. A mysterious usher somehow knows her name and warns, “When you do something you shouldn’t, even if it’s for the right reasons, bad things happen. One day you’ll have the opportunity to remove Excaliber from its stone. Leave the sword alone.” The mysterious stranger (who may be Merlin himself) disappears.
As the scene transitions to Fairy Tale Land, a group of knights headed by Arthur ride with purpose through beautiful scenery. They reach their destination to find a jewel-hilted sword within a stone. The Once and Future King grips the hilt and removes his birthright, the symbol of British kingship and rallying point of Camelot. However, they notice a problem and ask “Where’s the rest of it?”. Their new quest is now to make Excaliber whole. Whoever holds the dagger can summon the Dark One from any corner of the world. The dagger is the tip of Arthur’s famous sword. In Storybrooke, Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue: The Rite 2001) calls upon Emma. When she doesn’t appear, it is evident she’s not in their world.
The once glistening Ms. Swan emerges from a well of tar-like goop, clad like a sullied and bedraggled witch. Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle: Full Monty 1997 and Angela’s Ashes 1999) takes the guise of temptation, which is an impish guide to encourage her to embrace her dark power. His excellent, mischievous performance as her invisible inner voice adds tension. Emma declares her intentions to find Merlin and free herself of the curse of being the Dark One and disavows dark magic. Rumple cackles, steepling his glittery green fingers and proclaims “The only way to stop is to be stopped.” Avoiding the use of power proves problematic for Emma, who seems to have forgotten her bail bondsman tracking skills and becomes lost.
Back in Storybrooke, Maine, Emma’s family and loved ones ask the Sorcerer’s Apprentice for assistance. He gifts them with Merlin’s wand, saying it needed to be wielded with a balance of light and dark. Hook points out Regina’s goodness and seeks freedom for her deranged sister, Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, Zelena (Rebecca Mader: All My Children and Fringe). Zelena is held prisoner under the watchful eye of Nurse Ratched (Ingrid Torrence: Supernatural 2008) and claims pregnancy has changed her. However Regina proves being good does not mean being stupid. Granny’s entire diner, peopled by a good portion of the town, journeys to the land of Chivalry.
Meanwhile, Emma struggles to maintain herself after meeting Merida (Amy Manson: Torchwood 2008). Both women seek the aid of a captured Will O’ the Wisp. Rumple assures Emma the only way to achieve her purpose is to kill the young clanswoman. In a misguided attempt to defend herself, the brave Merida loses several arrows at Emma instead of simply giving directions to Camelot, Emma’s desired destination. Emma yields to the darkness within. At this pivotal moment, Emma’s rescuers appear. Hook serves as the “good angel” while the invisible Rumple provides a conflicting voice. Hook says, “If we can overcome our demons, so can you.” and Merida speaks of mercy. Emma’s aspect improves once she decides to give Regina (Lana Parrilla: Spin City 2000) control of the Dark One’s dagger/broken tip of Excaliber. “It is too much power. Someone needs to watch me. If you can’t save me, do what no one else will willingly do.” The group reunites at Granny’s magically transported diner and Arthur escorts them to a CGI Camelot. He explains that their arrival was foretold and there is another destiny for Emma, which is to reunite Merlin with Camelot.
Six weeks later, new Storybrooke sheriff Sneezy (Gabe Khouth: Fringe 2012 and It 1990) finds that the rescue diner and its vanished crew have mysteriously returned clad in medieval clothing. Once again, the characters experience partial amnesia. Their last recollection is of their entry into Camelot. Suddenly Emma, dressed all in black with stark alabaster makeup and whitened hair enters and declares, “For what you all did to me, you’re about to be punished…I am the Dark One.”
Created by Edward Kitsis (Tron: Legacy) and Adam Horowitz (Lost series), Once Upon a Time includes a primary story with flashbacks (and in this case, flash forwards.) Mark Isham provides atmospheric music and the season premier continued to layer the plot. Although many of the characters served only as background, clever dialogue such as Hook’s quote to Regina, “…can’t be a surprise your family’s troubled…” kept things moving. An unfortunate bit of dialogue found Regina unkindly declare, “Out dwarves, adults only,” when Grumpy (Lee Arenberg: Pirates of the Caribbean 2003) insisted on helping with the rescue mission. Yet within Granny’s diner were Snow and Prince Charming’s baby, Robin’s elementary schooler, and Henry (Jared S. Gilmore: Mad Men 2009), a teenager with the heart of a true believer. The show incorporates iconic Disney symbolism. In this episode, Belle (Emilie de Ravin: Lost 2009) is given a rose under a belle jar to tell of her beast’s continued hold on life. Next week’s episode hints that Regina may become Storybrooke’s next savior. For style and fairy-tale flare, Cryptic Rock gives Once Upon a Time’s The Dark Swan 3 out of 5 stars.