Welcome back, dear readers, and welcome to another weekly recap of ABC’s Sunday-night fantasy drama, Once Upon A Time. If you’re looking for a reminder of what happened in the last episode in order to prepare for tomorrow’s installment, then look no further! Just be reminded, as always:
The brunt of our story begins thousands of years before the age of Arthur, where two escaped slaves are fleeing from their captors through the desert. And one of them is (no surprise) Merlin. Amongst the dunes, they follow a glint of light that leads them to a metal chalice sitting in wait.
Merlin’s not sure he trusts this fortunate circumstance, but his friend snatches up the goblet — and poof! He turns to dust.
Merlin kneels before the goblet, too exhausted or thirsty to leave, and decides he would rather drink and die than wither away of thirst. He begs permission from the heavens to drink and raises the goblet to his lips… and doesn’t die. In fact, it’s given him powerful magic; after he drinks his full and places his hand on the ground, grass springs up and transforms his surroundings into a paradise.
Meanwhile in almost-present-day Camelot, Merlin meets with the Heroes inside of Granny’s and makes plans with them to restore Excalibur. If they can retrieve the two blades, he’ll provide the magic necessary to re-forge the sword. Hook is frustrated at Merlin’s vague plan and nearly loses his temper, but Merlin assures Hook that he knows what it’s like to lose a loved on to the darkness, too*, and the thing that Emma needs most right now is patience and support.
* For those of you keeping score, remember my theory from two episodes ago: that Merlin’s lost love was the Dark One he couldn’t destroy. I still stand by that.
Two hundred years earlier, Merlin is using his magic to heal people and has even taken a young Micky under his wing (A. So cute. B. Wow, Mickey is old). Suddenly amidst his customers, he notices one woman whose mind he can’t read (a la Twilight ripoff). Gee, I wonder who this could be.
Merlin asks the girl what she wants, and she explains that a masked man named Fortigan just ransacked her village and killed everyone in it. She wants revenge — but not the type of revenge Merlin expects. She escaped with a handful of seeds, which belong to a special flower that only ever flourished around her village. If Merlin could help her keep the flowers alive, that would be a slap in Fortigan’s face and proof that he failed in his destruction.
Even though the girl just said the flowers only grew around her village, Merlin plants the flowers and makes them bloom, because magic. He asks her to come back, because since he can’t read her mind he also can’t see her future. He also asks for her name. Altogether now, people: “Nimue.”
Meanwhile in Camelot, Merlin tells Emma that he needs her help on a quest for the flame of Prometheus, which is the only fire hot enough to re-forge Excalibur. The only problem is that when they arrive, they’ll have to deal with the first Dark One: the original. The worst. The one who killed Merlin’s love.
The problem is, they’ll communicate with the Dark One through Emma, because all of the past Dark Ones are inside of her. Even worse, Merlin can’t see the future for certain: he sees a path where Emma succeeds, or a path where she succumbs to the darkness, becomes the most powerful Dark One ever, and kills Merlin.
Hook comes to see Emma off, and before she departs. he gives her his necklace with a ring on it. Not a proposal, he assures her, but a good luck charm. The Dark One may be immortal but Emma isn’t, so hopefully this necklace will keep her safe and remind her of his love.
Years earlier, Merlin sits waiting by Nimue’s flowers and meets her. He asks her what he should do for an old man who just wants to marry the woman he loves (gee, who could that be?). Nimue sees right through him and tells him he’s welcome to propose.
However, Merlin explains to her that his magic is the one obstacle to their happiness; it was a gift from the Holy Grail* and also gave him immortality.
* Historical Inaccuracy Alert: If there is only one fact that could possibly be claimed about the cup that was used at the Last Supper, it is the fact that it was almost definitely not golden. Even if you’re not that familiar with Roman or Biblical history, surely you’ve seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Good gravy.
Merlin doesn’t want to be immortal while Nimue grows old. She asks to drink from the grail, but he warns her that he’s already seen the cost of immortality. He suggests that they re-make the grail into a sword that will make him mortal. Does this mean that Excalibur really can hurt Merlin!?
Nimue agrees; Merlin twists a twig into a ring for her and then magicks it into gold, and they run off together… while a shady masked character watches from the fringes of the village.
Meanwhile in Camelot, the Heroes are trying to figure out how to get into the castle — but Zelena snorts at all their plans. When Regina returns her voice, Zelena warns them that they need to sneak into the castle without being detected, and she’ll show them one if they’ll return her magic. When she was playing the role of mute handmaiden, she had also been looking for a way to travel from the inside of the castle to the outside… and she found one.
This way into Camelot turns out to be an extremely visible tunnel less than half a mile from the castle. The only reason why Zelena never used it herself was because she couldn’t get past the lock. Regina dissolves said lock with magic and agrees that, if they make it out with the blades, then they’ll remove Zelena’s magic-supressing cuff. They leave Snow on guard with her and head into Camelot.
Up in Merlin’s tower, Arthur finishes concocting a powerful potion for his guards to use on any intruders: it’s so powerful that it will dissolve a human being into nothing but teeth and bones. Even Guinevere actually looks concerned by it.
Miles away by a ruined stone sign that reads, “Orleigh,” Emma tells Merlin that she feels uneasy. Before he left her head, Gold warned her that he wouldn’t return until she embraced the darkness. However, Emma has still done some bad stuff (like what she did to Violet and Henry). Deep down she feels like the darkness might be winning, but Merlin assures her that there is hope just up this hill.
Years earlier, before the sign leading to Orleigh was in ruins, Merlin and Nimue reach the ruins of her former hometown. The destruction makes Nimue so angry that she wishes she could have magic; she can’t even recognize the remains of her own house.
Merlin spots cups lying on the ground everywhere and realizes that Fortigan must have forced all of the villagers to bring him their cups in a hunt for the grail. Merlin suggests that Nimue get out the grail while he performs a detection spell (instead of, I dunno, after he performs the spell) to make sure they’re not being followed.
But when Merlin uses his magic, he realizes they’re being followed by the masked raider, and he tells Nimue they must hurry. Nimue wants Merlin to use his magic to kill Fortigan, but Merlin warns her that if he uses magic to kill, then the darkness will take root inside of him and that’s not worth risking.
Outside of almost-modern-day Camelot, Zelena begins to sob about losing her baby (because of course Regina didn’t mute her before they left) while Snow looks on without concern… but then when Zelena fakes a stomach cramp, Snow gets too close and BAMMO! Zelena knocks her out with a well-aimed kick.
A few hundred years earlier, Nimue and Merlin reach the first flame of Prometheus. She’s hesitant to hand the grail over to him, but it will give him the mortal life that he wants, and so he places it before the fire, conjures the flames onto the cup, and forges it into a sword that’s metal from hilt to tip.
But suddenly Fortigan arrives! They tell him to leave since the grail is no more, but when he attacks Nimue fights back out of rage — and he stabs her.
Nimue falls into Merlin’s arms and he (for some ridiculous and never-explained reason) doesn’t try to heal her with magic, and she dies a horridly pointless death.
Meanwhile in the present, Merlin shows Emma where the sword was forged and broken (hint hint). The fire has long gone out, but the Dark One stole the fire and kept a single ember, which is now inside of Emma. Merlin gives her the dagger (which he took from the other Heroes without permission), and Emma, clutching Hook’s necklace, summons the first Dark One. The masked one appears, and Merlin can see him, too… except it’s not a him. It’s a ‘her.’ Nimue.
Years earlier in this same place, Fortigan steals Excalibur and tries to run, but Merlin blocks his path. With her enemy distracted, Nimue suddenly rises to her feet and steals his heart! Nimue has magic. She must have drank from the grail. We all know what this means.
Nimue pretended to die to remind Merlin what death looks like and insists that she needs immortality. But Merlin begs her not to kill Fortigan, for her own sake; the magic will turn her dark if she does… but Nimue crushes the heart. Her skin turns glittering green as she steals the last ember of the eternal flame, then takes Excalibur and breaks it on the altar to prevent Merlin from using it against her.
Back in the almost-present, Merlin explains that he didn’t tell Emma that Nimue was the first Dark One because the figure before them isn’t the woman that he loved anymore. Nimue warns Merlin that this is his last day and blasts him with magic through Emma. She insists that even if you love someone, you have to tell them, “this is mine,” and if people try to stop her from being herself, they should die. Suddenly Emma finds herself choking Merlin. Nimue shouts for her to kill him instead of going back to being nothing, but Emma’s grip on Hook’s ring reminds her and she screams out, “I’m not nothing! I was never nothing!”
Emma steals the ember from Nimue and brings it to Merlin, but not before Nimue threatens to return, since she’ll be in Emma’s head, just waiting.
On the way back, Merlin explains that he and Mickey put Excalibur into the stone to keep it safe, then channeled Nimue’s spirit into the broken tip of the sword to control her while they could (until she took it and turned him to a tree). And even though Mickey wished that Merlin could have seen Nimue’s future and avoided it, Merlin didn’t (and still doesn’t) regret meeting her. Emma admits that despite all the pain, deep down inside she could sense that Nimue still loves him.
Meanwhile, the heroes sneak through Camelot with a stupid amount of luck to keep from getting spotted by all the guards with cauldrons of death-potion. They find Arthur at the round table with Excalibur covered in strange magical bindings. They freeze him with magic and prepare to take the sword, but then Zelena arrives with Snow held hostage; it would seem that Arthur removed her cuff.
Regina prepares to fight, but Robin protests for the sake of the baby. While the Heroes hesitate, Arthur shows Zelena one of Merlin’s tethering potions, and she performs it on Excalibur. When Arthur draws the blade out, Merlin’s name is on it, and now he has the power to command Merlin.
Arthur summons Merlin from Emma’s side. Merlin tries to explain that Emma passed her test and they could unite Excalibur for the good of all, but Arthur doesn’t believe him. He thinks Merlin’s prophesies about the great King Arthur who would strike down all darkness were nothing but lies. However, Merlin tells him it wasn’t a lie; Arthur is doing it now. They can repair everything… but Arthur refuses and orders Merlin to poof the Heroes away.
Meanwhile in present-day Storybrook, Emma prepares to reunite the sword and dagger. Nimue appears, as do all the Dark Ones. They prevented Emma from re-forging the Excalibur in Camelot because she might have tried to snuff out all darkness, but now she can snuff out all light instead. Emma takes the ember from the eternal flame, which she has kept safe all this time, and forces the blades together. The restored weapon hangs in the air. Emma remembers Merlin’s warning to her as a child, to leave the sword alone… but she grabs it anyway.
Tune in Tomorrow…
…when Arthur faces down Emma in Camelot, Zelena returns to Storybrooke, and Emma prepares to tell Hook the whole horrible truth about what happened in those six forgotten weeks.
Quote of the Episode:
"You need to sneak in so quietly, no one knows you're there."
"How? Hanglider? Ooh, giant slingshot!"
"If Sir Sarcastic would let me finish..."
1. Should I even bother wondering about Lillith at this point?
2. It may not matter, but was Zelena in league with Arthur before or after he and the Heroes became arch-enemies? I guess she brought Snow to him as a sign of good faith and explained everything since Regina didn’t think to mute her before they invaded Camelot.
3. I still want to know how Lancelot recognized Merlin in the last episode.
1. I still think Violet might be the daughter of Morgan Le Fay.