Once Upon A Time season 5 episode 1 review: Dark Swan

Once Upon A Time welcomes Brave's Merida to its gaggle of Disney fairy tale characters in a strong season five opener...

This review contains spoilers.

5.1 Dark Swan

Flashbacks, questionable CGI, Lost easter eggs, and new Disney princesses? That’s right, Once Upon A Time is back.

The new season kicks off right where we left it; with the awesome cliffhanger of learning Emma Swan is the new Dark One. As season arcs go, this is much preferred over the Frozen storyline, which lost its popularity quicker than Olaf melting in the sun. Once can sometimes get caught up by its ‘new Disney character of the week’ and lose clarity, so refocusing back onto the core cast and exploring their characters can only make for a stronger season.

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However, it wouldn’t be Once Upon A Time without some of the episode showcasing Disney merchandise, and our first experience is with Merida, the wee lass from Pixar’s Brave. Played by Amy Manson, who is actually Scottish, the dialogue is so hammed up that I’m surprised she wasn’t eating haggis by the end of it. How natural her fiery red mane looks is also debatable. Nevertheless, she does have a certain toughness to her that makes her an enjoyable addition to the universe.

Emma is the first one to encounter Merida, and it’s her first test since becoming the Dark One. A pseudo Rumple, who represents the darkness inside, acts as Emma’s devil on the shoulder, urging her to kill Merida. These were some of the most interesting scenes of the episode, as Robert Carlyle in full-on Rumple gear is always a delight to watch, but also because we get to learn more about the mythology surrounding the Dark One. Emma never wanted this power and fights it the whole episode, yet she still nearly ends up crushing the bejesus out of Merida’s heart. It gives a lot more context to Rumple’s character; no wonder he always returns to the Dark Side.

Back in Storybrooke, we are reunited with Regina’s snark. “It’s not like she rode off on a unicorn, she got sucked off by a vortex of evil!”, “put that thing down before you hurt yourself, guyliner.” Ah, Regina. It has been too long.

They quickly realise that Emma has been transported back to the Enchanted Forest, and before the Apprentice passes out (dies? If that’s the case, RIP, because the rest of the gang barely batted an eyelid), he gives them a magic wand that can take them to Emma. I’m pretty sure they’ve gone back to the Enchanted Forest every season now, so its aura of inaccessibility is really wearing thin. Getting through customs in LA is harder than this.

For reasons that don’t quite make sense, but hey – this is Once Upon A Time, only someone with Darkness can wield the wand and open a portal. Enter Zen Zelena, who is meditating in her prison cell. She may be polarising for some fans, but in this episode Zelena is delightfully wicked. She is completely unhinged, in the most entertaining way. Her best ‘WTF?!’ moment is when she cuts off her own hand and then heals it straight back, all in front of a guy who’s had to suffer having a hook for a hand for centuries. She knows how to hurt.

Zelena is an interesting dilemma for Once. She is pure evil, arguably worse than Regina, but the show’s tagline is practically ‘redemption is possible for anyone’. Could Zelena ever be redeemed, and does she even want to be? Pregnant with Robin’s baby, I find it hard to see a primetime network killing off a new mother. On the other hand, they did go darker than I expected last season by having Emma kill Cruella de Vil, so anything is possible.

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The gang (including Granny, her diner, and the dwarves), manage to stop Emma from killing Merida just in time. I’m sure she could hear the bagpipes calling to her over Mel Gibson shouting ‘freedom!’. After witnessing Emma nearly crush a heart, Snow thinks it’s a good idea for Emma to keep the dagger. Thankfully Emma has more sense and gives it to Regina. I would just like to point out that she doesn’t give it to her parents, her son, or boyfriend, but Regina. *cough* Swan Queen *cough* There’s been a lot of hype about Once finally having a LGBTQI+ storyline, and while it’s 99% most likely to be Mulan and Aurora, it would be the best long con if Emma and Regina happened. Once you start looking out for it, it’s ridiculous how many scenes between them work as if they were a couple. This ship sails itself.

It seems like everything is going to work itself out, Arthur and his band of men show up in outfits that would fit right in at your local $2 store, taking them to Camelot (looking like all the other Once CGI sets – a little bit dodgy) for Merlin’s return. It’s all great, or that is until we get a ‘6 weeks later’ title card and Granny’s diner smashes back down into Storybrooke. They wake up, having no idea why they’re back or how long they’ve been gone. To quote Charming, “Our memories, they’re gone”, which Snow responds with, “Again.” Um, I’m sorry, but did I also lose my memory, or has this exact same storyline already been done? The show’s creators are fond of repetition – smoke monsters, curses, true love kisses, but this is just ridiculous. Was losing their memories really necessary? The flashbacks would still work if they could still remember. In its first run, I was disappointed by the memory loss plot line, so I only hope they do it better in version 2.0.

I will admit though, its worth it to see Emma completely transformed into the Dark One. She’s obviously taken fashion advice (especially in the leather department) from another great villain, The Master out of Buffy. She is also how I would imagine Voldemort to look like if he had a sex change. Like when Ginnifer Goodwin got to try her hand at being an Evil Queen, seeing Jennifer Morrison go bad is thrilling and refreshing. I anticipate some really exciting scenes as her Darkness takes over.

Overall, this was a strong opening for the new season. The pieces are in play, and now it’s up to see how they’re executed. Bring on Dark Swan. 

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