The secret to how Merlin became trapped inside a tree was finally revealed in the fifth episode of ABC’s Once Upon a Time’s fifth season. The episode also found Merida attempting to make Gold into a hero as well as the discovery of something which may have helped Emma take away all of their memories of Camelot. Airing on October 25, 2015 and titled “Dreamcatcher,” the fifth episode provided more details on what actually went down in Camelot before Emma wiped their memories clean.
Many, many years ago in Camelot the Dark One is commanded to stop by Merlin (you’ll remember him as the usher in the theater who warned Emma to stay away from Excalibur). He prepares to use the dagger to destroy the Dark One but he can’t. The Dark One steals the dagger and takes one of Merlin’s tears into its blade. That tear allows the Dark One to turn Merlin into a tree, and many years later Emma (Jennifer Morrison) watches how this all played out via a dreamcatcher.
Regina (Lana Parrilla) wants to know why Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) and David (Josh Dallas) think they should give the dagger to Arthur (Liam Garrigan) against Lancelot’s advice, as she’s still not convinced it’s the right idea. As she’s about to hand it over, Emma freezes her parents and tells Regina Arthur has them under a spell. She explains that the dagger is part of Excalibur which Arthur wants to reunite in order to kill Merlin. Regina asks where she got this info and how they’re going to help Merlin. Emma says they’ll use dark magic to free Merlin because it’s their only hope.
In Storybrooke, the squire’s cell is empty and Arthur lies to the group, telling them he must have used the bean to go home. Guinevere (Joana Metrass) says they need to raise the spirits of the villagers and Henry suggests a dance. David jokes Henry (Jared Gilmore) wants to throw a party because then he can ask his girlfriend out on a date. Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) pipes up that he’ll give Henry dating tips, and Regina’s going crazy trying to find out about this mysterious girlfriend. Before Regina can get the juicy scoop, Belle (Emilie de Ravin) rushes up to tell them Gold (Robert Carlyle) is missing.
In her basement Emma frees Gold’s hands and he just wants to leave. She won’t let him go until he frees Excalibur, but she won’t tell him why she needs it freed. “The more you justify what you’re doing, the more you push them away,” says Gold, telling Emma she’s jeopardizing her family. “You will always lose the ones you love the most.”
Emma instructs Merida (Amy Manson) to go to the woods with Gold, and Merida is desperate to get her heart back so she has to obey. She takes him to the woods and tries to make him a hero.
Emma leaves her house and goes into the garage which is full of dreamcatchers. She clutches one and cries.
Back in Camelot, Regina refuses to help Emma until she tells her how she knew her parents were under a spell. Emma says she saw it in a dreamcatcher and Regina warns her those things capture more than just dreams. Emma reveals that it was one of Merlin’s tears of lost love that was used to trap him in the tree, and Regina figures out another tear may get him out.
Henry and Violet clean the horses and flirt, and also bond over the fact they both have parents who have died. When Violet goes to put away the saddle, Henry plays with a sword pretending it’s Excalibur. In walks Violet’s dad who questions Henry about his skills and tells him Violet belongs with someone who will become a knight, a hero, someone more like her.
In Storybrooke, Violet’s sad because her horse ran off and she’s not in the mood for a dance. Henry promises to find her horse.
Henry visits Emma and tells her the mission she accepted when she first came to Storybrooke isn’t over yet. “Show me that the mom I know is still in there somewhere,” says Henry, asking her to help him return his friend’s happy ending.
Out in the woods, Merida is teaching Gold how to fight with a sword but he can barely walk let alone fight. She makes him a cane and he’s still horrible at sword fighting. He says he can never be brave and that it’s no use, but Merida tells him he has to because she wants to see her family again. She knocks him out and takes off to find a way to force him to be brave.
Henry and Emma take off in her VW to try and find Violet’s beloved horse.
Back in Camelot, Henry’s in the woods swinging a sword when Regina and Emma walk up. He says he wants to fit in and Emma tells him he shouldn’t change into someone else. Regina reminds him of Daniel, her first love, and how she loved him because he was different and unique. Emma reminds Henry he’s a mysterious stranger from an exotic land, and Henry runs off much happier and less in need of sword fighting lessons. That makes Regina think that maybe she can supply the missing ingredient.
They’re preparing the spell and Emma gives her a chance to back out but Regina wants to go through with it. Emma hands Regina the dreamcatcher and she looks back at the time she told her mother she was in love with Daniel. Her mother took Daniel aside and stabbed him to death in front of Regina. Regina cries watching the memory and Emma collects her tears.
In Storybrooke, Regina, Hook, Robin, and Belle go to Emma’s while she’s out with Henry but she has a protection spell on her door. Regina can’t get in and Hook says there’s no way Emma would let him in, but Belle suggests Henry would be allowed in. Regina uses magic to retrieve one of Henry’s scarves and opens the door using it.
Back in Camelot, Henry lays out a romantic dinner at Granny’s Diner, setting a table for two. In walks Violet looking gorgeous, and she’s happy to be with Henry. Henry’s stumbling over his words and Violent’s impressed when he pours a soda. She says it tastes like “a carnival in a can.” He’s going to heat up lasagna and then they’ll watch a movie on his phone. He has it all planned but then Violet questions whether he’s courting her. She doesn’t feel the same way about him as he feels about her, and it has nothing to do with her dad. She put him in the friend zone and wants to keep him there, which leaves Henry devastated.
In Storybrooke, Merida looks through the book and sees what it is that makes Gold happy: Belle. She shoots her way into Gold’s shop and finds something that will make Gold act like a hero.
Emma and Henry go to a pumpkin patch where they find Violet’s horse. It’s his love of pumpkins that’s drawn him there, but because she’s the Dark One the horse won’t come near Emma. Henry goes to feed it pumpkins and the horse willingly takes it from his hand. Place a checkmark in the ‘one horse needs to be rescued’ box.
In Emma’s basement they find Excalibur and realize the design on it is the same as the dagger. They wonder what Emma’s up to with Gold and Hook reaches for the sword but Regina yells at him to stop. “I can’t believe I’m about to say this but it could be boobytrapped and you could get killed,” says Regina. “Oh, I didn’t know you cared,” answers Hook. “I don’t but right now you’re useful-ish,” she responds. Henry texts them to let them know Emma’s on her way back. As they’re about to leave, Hook sees a box with a dreamcatcher similar to the one Baelfire gave her. Regina knows they can be powerful and thinks that might be how Emma took their memories.
Back in Camelot, Emma and Regina prepare the spell outside in the dark under the tree. Regina’s tear is the final ingredient but it doesn’t work. Emma says Regina’s heartbreak wasn’t strong enough. Henry strolls up and they’re both concerned because he’s obviously heartbroken. He tells them about his date and starts crying. Regina takes his tear and says he’s a hero, even if Violet doesn’t think so. Just then Arthur and his knights appear and order them to stay away from the tree. Regina threatens him and Arthur yells at her for bringing the Dark One into his kingdom. As she holds them off, Emma works the spell using Henry’s tears. Regina shoots fireballs at Arthur while Emma aims the magic at Merlin and the tree. It works! Merlin is free. He smiles and says, “I’ve been waiting for you, Emma.”
Merlin faces Arthur and tells him he’s disappointed in him. Arthur’s equally angry, telling Merlin he gave him false prophecies, sent him on an impossible quest, and ruined his life.
In Storybrooke, Hook, David, Mary Margaret, and Belle let Arthur and Guinevere know that Emma has Excalibur in her basement. Hook also says it bears a striking resemblance to the Dark One’s dagger. Arthur wants to know how Hook knows about the dagger and Hook tells him he has a lot of experience with it, but doesn’t know why it looks like Excalibur. Arthur reveals they were forged together as one weapon and then broken in two. The restored weapon can eradicate all dark magic forever. It can also snuff out all light magic, which is what they believe Emma is going to do.
There’s partying in the streets of Storybrooke and in rides Henry on Violet’s horse. Even her father approves of his rescue and tells him they owe him thanks and that he’ll make a fine knight someday. He gives them his blessing to enjoy the festivities which leads to Violet planting a kiss on Henry’s check.
Merida is back with Gold and he’s still claiming he can’t fight. But Merida now has something to fight for, pulling out the teacup she took from the shop. He still won’t fight and she threatens to drop it. Finally, she gets him going when she talks about Belle. Merida is happy he’s fighting but he’s got a long way to go before he can take on Emma.
Regina and David examine the dreamcatcher and Regina thinks they can use it to find out what happened to them in Camelot. But she hesitates, and Robin says it’s because she’s afraid of what she might see. Henry’s watching from the doorway but neither Regina nor Robin notice him. Regina brings up the memories via the dreamcatcher and they seem to be Violet’s. They see Emma ripping out Violet’s heart and telling her she needs the tear of a lost first love – she needs Violet to break Henry’s heart! Henry is, once again, devastated.
In Camelot, Merlin works his magic on Mary Margaret and David and takes away Arthur’s spell. The gang is assembled in Granny’s Diner and those who haven’t met him yet are introduced to Merlin. David expects someone older and Merlin jokes that being trapped in a tree has been good for his skin. Hook wants to know if he can free Emma from the darkness and Merlin can…but with a caveat. “Darkness like this takes a hold of a person and finds its way deep inside where nobody else can see,” says Merlin. “So if I’m to free you from its grasp I must know one thing. Emma, is your heart truly ready to be free because it is as much up to you as me?”
In Storybrooke, Emma knocks on Regina’s door and says she’s there to see Henry. Regina demands to know what Emma’s trying to do. Emma keeps saying what she’s doing is for the best. Regina holds up the dreamcatcher and says she knows Emma ripped a 13 year old girl’s heart out. Emma is pissed about the breaking and entering, but Regina tells her she can’t be self-righteous after what she’s done. Regina knows Emma let the horse out in the first place, and Emma keeps trying to justify everything. Emma says she wouldn’t have done it to Henry if she didn’t have good reason. What she did in Camelot she did to protect Henry. “There’s always a choice, Emma,” says Regina. Emma says it was the only way they could free Merlin in Camelot, but Regina doesn’t remember any of that. Regina tells her Henry doesn’t want to see her, and as she leaves Henry glares at her from his upstairs bedroom window.
Review of Episode Five:
Five episodes in and Merlin’s finally released from the tree, but the reveal as to why Emma wasn’t saved by the wizard is still yet to come. The episode also shifted some of its focus to Henry’s storyline, something which doesn’t happen often as most episodes devote the majority of their running time to the adults. And although Henry’s not the most popular character on the show, it’s actually been fun watching him mature and experience his first crush.
“Dreamcatcher” also served up a few scenes of Regina and Hook trading insults (one of the best parts of any episode), and Emma’s lighter side was seen once again in a quiet scene with Henry in her VW bug. And speaking of Emma, up until this episode her darkness has manifested less as evil and more as anger at her friends and family. With “Dreamcatcher,” the Dark Swan displayed a few more layers and for the first time this season Emma’s embrace of the darkness felt complete.