Once Upon A Time season 5 episodes 8 & 9 review: Birth & The Bear King

Once Upon A Time delivers an unbalanced two-parter that unleashes yet more dark magic on the fairy tale folk...

This review contains spoilers.

5.8 Birth & 5.9 The Bear King

Tonight’s double episode was a perfect example of how great Once Upon A Time can be, and how, er, not great. These two episodes should never have been aired together, or more specifically, putting The Bear King right after Birth only made its weaknesses more noticeable. It was clearly a filler, and besides a few character moments, it’s hardly worth talking about in comparison to the big events of Birth, so let’s just get it out of the way quickly now.

Red! Mulan! Praise the Greek gods (that’s definitely the next mythology the show is about to tackle, right?), we finally see them back on our screens. This was the only redeeming feature of the Brave plot line. Merida is a cool character, but such a long-winded episode set in Dunbroch with a large cast of new (but unimportant) characters just felt unnecessary. The mini quest for the magical helmet was pointless, as was Zelena and Arthur’s involvement. A token effort of trying to connect the two episodes together that sadly didn’t work. With Merida now the uncontested ruler, it’s a little unclear how Merida ends up in Storybrooke, but it seems like she’s set on getting revenge against Arthur. Girl, you just got your kingdom back, why not hang around a little and rule it?

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The episode ends with Mulan pairing up with Ruby to look for more people like her. You know, where wolfing out is kind of their thing? I’m a fan of this development, but only if it means we’re going to see more of them. They haven’t been spotted back in Storybrooke, but it would be too cruel to re-introduce them to only have them disappear again for another season. What with the showrunners confirming there will be a LGBT plot line this season, and Mulan basically admitting her love for Aurora, it seems pretty certain we will be seeing them again soon. If Aurora is happy with boring Philip, then maybe Ruby and Mulan are set to become the next new couple. (I already ship it.)

Now, let’s talk about the big revelations that came out of one of Once’s best episodes so far this season. We finally learn Emma’s secret plan with Excalibur, and oh, Hook is also the Dark One. He has been ever since they got back to Storybrooke. Although I have a slight quibble over how Hook wouldn’t know, which I’m hoping will be explained next episode, this was a “whaaaa-!?” turn of events. It was previously speculated that Emma turning dark would be because of her protecting someone else, which was true, but this pushed it so much further in the best possible way. Emma turns Hook into another Dark One in order to save him from Excalibur’s cut, even when Hook tells her not to. Emma can’t accept his death though, as she’s finally admitted to wanting a future with him. If only they could be a happy Dark One couple, but it seems from Hook’s voiced betrayal, “How could you do this to me?” things aren’t going to be smooth sailing (my first pirate pun!).   

Emma’s plan this whole time was to reunite Excalibur with the dagger, not to snuff out all light magic as we originally thought, but to put all the dark magic into a new vessel and then destroy it with the sword. As far as plans go, it’s pretty solid. Well, except for the fact that the vessel has to be another person. Yes, Zelena is evil, but it’s a sign of how much the darkness has taken over that Emma is okay with murdering someone in cold blood. The Hook reveal and learning Emma’s twisted plan makes it almost okay that the writers recycled the amnesia plot line again. Almost. I’m still on the fence about it.

With Zelena free (again) and two Dark Ones roaming the streets, the approaching mid-season finale is gearing up to be just one giant convergence of dark magic. With so many villains – Zelena’s a loose cannon, Hook looks like he’s already half turned, and Emma was about ready to kill someone – it will be interesting to see who the town will ally with. This is more exciting than a Brave plot line any day.  

Read Alyce’s review of the previous episode, Nimue, here.