by Samantha Lee - @samsjag
In this episode of Once Upon a Time we learn about Merlin's tragic love story and how it is related to the origin of the Dark One. In Camelot, Emma continues to battle against the Darkness inside her, while in present day Storybrooke the Dark Swan finally manages to reunite Excalibur and the Dagger.
In the Beginning, or 1000 years before the Age of Arthur anyway, two men are racing across the barren desert. It's Merlin and a companion. They have escaped from someone. A flash of light draws them on with the hope of water. What they find is nothing less than the Holy Grail. The companion chooses poorly and ends up as dust, but Merlin knows to be humble and asks the gods' permission before drinking. In return, he is granted powerful magic and the desert is transformed into an enchanted forest when he touches the ground. So Merlin's story begins.
In Camelot, Merlin tells Regina, Robin, Hook and the Charmings that he can save Emma, but he needs her help obtaining a certain object. Hook is frustrated with Merlin, but they have little choice except to follow his directions as Emma is seen furiously weaving dreamcatchers. Merlin tells Emma that he needs her help finding Prometheus' Spark to reunite the sword and dagger. The problem is they will have to face the Original Dark One. Merlin sees two possible outcomes for this encounter: in the first they succeed, and in the second one he dies and it's Emma who kills him! "No pressure" he tells Emma. Emma says her farewells to Hook, who gives her a ring to remind her that he loves her and is waiting for her to return.
Flashback to Merlin's story. He has settled into a comfortable life where he uses his magic and power of foresight to help people in need. He has even recruited a young apprentice who appropriately wears a red robe. One day a young woman comes to him seeking revenge on a man called Vortigan who destroyed her town. Nimue is her name. She wants to plant the last seeds of the Middlemist flower that she saved. Strangely enough, Merlin is unable to read her future. He helps her plant the seeds and uses magic to make the flowers grow. Nimue decides to stay.
Sometime later, Merlin has reached a difficult decision. He has fallen in love with Nimue, but he's afraid to marry her as he is immortal and she will grow old and die. He tells Nimue how he came to his power by drinking from the Holy Grail and admits that he still has it stored in an old trunk in their house. Nimue immediately sees the easy solution to this problem: she will also drink from the Grail and become immortal herself! But Merlin insists that this is the wrong idea. Being immortal is not all it's cracked up to be. A mortal life is more precious he explains. His idea is to make himself mortal again by turning the Grail into a sword that will 'cut away his magic and immortality' so they can live a normal life together.
While Emma and Merlin are on their quest, the rest of the gang are on a mission to steal Excalibur from Arthur. This will be difficult as he has it locked in the castle. As they debate strategies, Zelena chimes in that she knows a way to sneak into the Castle. She wants to trade her plan in exchange for getting her magic back. Even though making a deal with Zelena is a terrible idea, they do it. They enter the castle following Zelena's plan. Snow stays behind to guard her. Inside, Arthur is frantic to protect Excalibur. He's mixing up an acid potion for the guards to use on anyone who tries to break into the castle. While the others are rather conspicuously skulking around the castle, Zelena tricks Snow with some fake crying and knocks her out.
During their stroll through the woods, Emma confides in Merlin that she's afraid the Darkness is taking root in her. She tells him that she hurt Henry. They arrive at the sight of Prometheus' Flame. Merlin gives Emma the Dagger and tells her she must use it to summon the original Dark One. The Dagger scrolls through all the names of previous Dark Ones until finally a masked figure appears. It's the same Dark One that Emma saw turn Merlin into a tree through her dreamcatcher vision. Emma looks at the name on the Dagger: Nimue.
Nimue tries to convince Emma to kill Merlin. As a former Dark One she is connected to Emma and "lives" through her. Nimue does not want Merlin to kill her by destroying the Darkness. She tries to posses Emma and make her kill Merlin. Nimue tells Emma that she must destroy anyone who wants to take away the Darkness which is now part of her. Even those she loves must die if they won't let Emma be "who she is" which is the Dark One. Merlin begs Emma not to choose the dark path. Nimue tells Emma she will go back to being "nothing" if they remove her power. At this remark, Emma finds the strength to overcome Nimue's control and she shouts, "I'm not nothing! I was never nothing!" She takes Prometheus' Spark from Nimue who tells Emma that she is still right inside her. Emma is relieved and happy to have won her battle with Nimue.
Back in The Past, Merlin and Nimue are on their mission to transform the Grail. Nimue tries to convince Merlin that being immortal and being able to stand-up against evil people like Vortigan would be a good life. Merlin insists that using magic to kill anyone, even someone like Vortigan, would corrupt his magic with Darkness and he's not willing to let that happen. Using Prometheus' Fire, Merlin transforms the Grail into Excalibur. Before he can use the sword to rid himself of magic, Vortigan finds them. There is a fight. Nimue struggles with Vortigan who stabs her and she dies in Merlin's arms. Vortigan takes the sword and prepares to attack Merlin when suddenly Nimue rises and yanks his heart out. She admits to Merlin that earlier she snuck a drink from the Grail and she faked her death. Merlin tries to convince her not to kill Vortigan because if she uses magic to kill she will turn her magic Dark. She crushes Vortigan's heart and then she breaks Excalibur. Nimue chose power and immortality over love.
As they walk back to Camelot, Merlin tells Emma how after Nimue became the Dark One, he and his apprentice put Excalibur in the stone. Then he created the Dagger and tethered Nimue and her Dark power to it so he could control her, but eventually she took the Dagger from him and that's how she trapped him as a tree. Emma wants to know if it's possible for someone to have the Dark Power and use it for Good. Merlin insists such thoughts are a trap. The Dark power is too hard to resist. The best bet is to fix Excalibur and use it to destroy the Darkness forever.
Regina and the gang finally find Arthur, but Zelena is there too. Arthur has removed the cuff and she has her power back. Charming tries to convince him to let them use Excalibur to help Emma, but Arthur is in no mood to listen. Zelena uses Merlin's spell to tether him to Excalibur, then Arthur summons him by calling out his name three times. Merlin tells them that Emma passed the test and she has what's needed to fix the sword. Arthur is quite mad and angry. He feels that Merlin lied to him and used him. Arthur wants to be known for more than just pulling a sword from a stone. He orders Merlin to send the others away.
In Storybrooke Present, Emma is ready to reunite Excalibur and the Dagger. With both Rumplestiltskin and Nimue egging her on, she uses the spark to fix the sword. She hesitates for a moment, remembering the time Merlin came to her when she was a little girl and told her not to take the sword. Emma cannot resist the voices in her head and, against every warning and instinct, she grabs the sword.
I like how Merlin's story and the mythology of the Dark One were explained. You can see how the power of the Dark One was always colored with revenge. Even if it was a righteous revenge, it still created great evil. Now, I'm not the person to delve into Biblical theory, but that does have a ring of Original Sin to me.
In this episode we saw Emma take a step forward in her battle over Darkness during their time in Camelot, but we know something bad happens to make her become the Dark Swan in Storybrooke. There is much speculation among Once fans about who Emma has to kill to cast the Dark Curse and send everyone back to Storybrooke, since traditionally the spell caster must sacrifice the heart of the thing they love most. One interesting theory out there is that Emma is taken over by Nimue who still loves Merlin and then it's Merlin's heart that is sacrificed to create the Dark Curse. I did not come up with this theory, but it feels right to me.
One thing that has really bothered me this season is how completely unlikable the character of Arthur is on Once Upon a Time. Seriously, not since King George have we had such an unredeemable villain. So I'm going to give you this little analogy and see if it makes you even a little sympathetic to this version of Arthur. Once there was a wide-eyed, innocent boy who hungered for tales of Magic and Adventure. He met someone who told him a fine story of Love, Glory and Hope. The boy fell in love with the story. Over time he was given promises and teases of what was to come, but he grew frustrated with the pacing and plot twists as the story unfolded. As he grew up, his frustration mounted until he decided to take the story into his own hands. He decided to re-write the story to meet his own expectations. As his version of the story continued to diverge from reality, he became more desperate and began to lose hope in the story he was living. He became a crazed character looking for a way to justify his existence. Even as he sank into despair, the storyteller continued to tell him, "Hold on. There is always Hope." If you look at it from Arthur's point of view, maybe he had a reason to go crazy.