‘Once Upon a Time’ Season 5 Episode 1 Recap and Review: The Dark Swan

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Jennifer Morrison, Robert Carlyle Once Upon a Time Photo

Jennifer Morrison and Robert Carlyle in ‘Once Upon a Time’ season five (Photo by Jack Rowand / ABC)

ABC’s hit fantasy series Once Upon a Time returned for a fifth season on September 27, 2015 with an episode that found our Storybrooke heroes, and a sprinkling of former and current villains, prepared to help Emma Swan fight off the darkness. “The Dark Swan” launched a new chapter of Once Upon a Time as it set up the potential for Emma’s complete transition into the Dark Swan, making this season’s first episode one of the best season openers of Once Upon a Time’s five seasons.

If you haven’t watched the episode read no further unless you love spoilers. This is a recap and review, so all the details of the episode are about to be talked about.

“The Dark Swan” opens in Minneapolis in 1989 with a young Emma at the theater about to watch The Sword in the Stone. About to rip into a stolen candy car, an usher calls her by name and tells her not to do it. “When you do something you’re not supposed to do, even if you do it for the right reasons, bad things will happen, Emma. Bad things,” says the usher. She doesn’t understand, but he goes on to tell her that one day she’ll have the opportunity to remove Excalibur from the stone but she must not do it.

Arthur (Liam Garrigan), Lancelot (Sinqua Wells), and Percival (Andrew Jenkins) ride through the hills to the location of Merlin’s prophecy. Sir Kay (Lee Majdoub) has beat them to Excalibur and although Arthur warns him not to, Sir Kay attempts to pull it from the stone. He should have listened because as he pulls on the sword, he turns to dust and disappears. Next up is Arthur who doesn’t hesitate, grips the sword, and removes all but the end of Excalibur from the stone. They have no idea why the sword is broken but decide not to tell the people anything other than that they have a new King. A quest begins for the missing half of the sword…and the other half is shown as the Dark One’s dagger with Emma Stone’s name now on it.

Regina (Lana Parrilla), Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin), David (Josh Dallas), Robin (Sean Maguire), Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), and Henry (Jared Gilmore) stand in the middle of the street, with Regina calling Emma stupid for recklessly saving her life. Mary Margaret and David defend Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and say she’s still good, and Regina hopes that’s true. “It’s not like she rode off on a unicorn! She rode off on a vortex of evil!” says Regina, never one to mince words. Hook (who is looking even more handsome this season) picks up the dagger, tries to command Emma to return, and doesn’t understand why it doesn’t work. Regina, not so gently, explains why it didn’t. “Put that down before you hurt yourself, guyliner. I thought you knew the dagger’s rules,” says Regina. Emma is not in this world and therefore can’t be summoned.

Meanwhile, the portal opens and out pops Emma in the Enchanted Forest. Rumple (Robert Carlyle) appears and Emma’s shocked to see him because he’s supposed to be in Storybrooke in a coma. Rumple says Gold still is and that he himself is many things, including the Dark One’s powers inside all of the Dark Ones. Rumple will be Emma’s guide as she becomes dark. She says she’ll never turn to the dark and he says the only way to stop it from happening is if she’s stopped, permanently. Emma is done with this nonsense and wants to go see Merlin because he can destroy the darkness.

Hook and the gang go visit the Apprentice who tells them Emma is now where all darkness is born. He can’t take them there, but a special wand from the Sorcerer, from Merlin, could help them get to Emma. It has all the light magic but needs to be wielded by both light and dark. Regina picks it up and nothing happens. She’s no longer dark enough. Hook tells her to stop waving it around, saying, “Enough. You’re going to embarrass yourself and waste our time.” Regina and Hook argue a bit, and Hook tells her she’s done too much good. They need Zelena’s help because she’s still evil. Regina doesn’t want to turn to her sister, but Hook reminds her she owes it to Emma to return the favor and save her.

Emma gets her first taste of darkness by threatening a villager without even realizing she’s doing it.

Belle (Emilie de Ravin) doesn’t want to leave Gold’s side in case he dies, so the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy) puts a rose under glass. It’s linked to Belle’s Beast and if he goes, she’ll know. Off Belle goes to help the gang find Emma.

Zelena (Rebecca Mader) is meditating when Regina, Robin, and Hook show up and ask for her help. Zelena’s absolutely giddy over the fact they need her.

Rumple follows Emma through the forest, pointing out she’s lost. To find Merlin, she only needs to ask. There’s a magical force that can lead her where she wants to go; all she has to do is picture where she wants to go. She’s pissed he tricked her into doing magic to transport her to where a Will-o’-the-Wisp is floating around trees. He tells her to catch it.

Zelena hears them out and then she and Robin exchange unpleasantries about whose responsibility the baby she’s carrying is until Regina threatens to rip out her tongue. Hook plays peacekeeper and Zelena agrees to help out, telling them they need something of Emma’s. Regina thanks her for that info but says she’ll never remove Zelena’s bracelet that keeps her from doing magic. After Regina leaves, Zelena tells Hook she may be the only way for him to find Emma.

Amy Manson, Merida in Once Upon a Time Photo

Amy Manson as Merida (Photo by Jack Rowand / ABC)

Emma and Merida (Amy Manson) both race to get the wisp, with Merida calling Emma a witch. Merida needs the wisp for her people and says she’ll fight Emma for it. Emma won’t fight her, so Merida says she’ll let Emma use the wisp after she’s done with it. They head off together.

Hook goes to Henry and tells him to use the pen to write the darkness out of Emma. Henry can’t – he broke it. Henry won’t break the rules of the book because his mother wants him to be honorable. But, he will help Hook break Zelena out of jail.

Merida and Emma head through the woods, with Merida telling Emma she needs the wisp to get her brothers freed after they were kidnapped. Emma convinces her to rest for the night, and then creeps her out by having a conversation with Rumple (who is only visible to Emma). Rumple tells Emma she can’t use the wisp because only one person can be its owner.

Henry distracts the nurse and Hook goes into Zelena’s cell. He asks her to not do anything unexpected, and in order to guarantee she doesn’t, he uses the potion Regina gave him years ago and tries to rip out Zelena’s heart. It doesn’t work because she’s protected it. She steals his knife and cuts off her hand in order to get the bracelet off. Once it’s off, she puts her hand back and disappears in a puff of green smoke.

Hook and Henry face Regina’s wrath after letting Zelena escape, with Regina asking if he’d like another hook. Mary Margaret is this session’s peacekeeper, telling them they have to put their differences aside to find Emma. Regina thinks Zelena would first go after Robin and she rushes home to tell him Zelena’s out. Regina’s frantic when she arrives home, but Robin kisses her saying he loves it when she’s concerned about him. Immediately he realizes he just kissed Zelena who says, “Well done. You really do love her, don’t you? Funny that you couldn’t tell when I was glamoured as Marion though.”

Zelena grabs Robin and meets Regina and the gang in the middle of the intersection in front of the library. Zelena wants to trade Robin for the Apprentice’s wand because she wants to go far away over the rainbow back to Oz where they can’t get to her. Regina gives her the wand, Zelena opens the portal to Oz, and when Zelena is weakened Regina slaps the magic-restraining bracelet back on her. Now our heroes have a way to get to Emma! They’ll take the portal to Emma, not to Oz.

Merida leaves Emma behind after overhearing her talking to herself about betraying her for the wisp. Emma uses magic to get to the hill of stones in order to beat Merida to using the wisp, but Merida beats her there.


The gang gathers at Granny’s Diner which they’ll ride in through the portal to Emma. Using Emma’s baby blanket to locate her, they start to open the portal. Before it touches down, Leroy and two other dwarves arrive and demand to go with them to fetch Emma. They’re tired of being left behind and tired of never being asked to go along. The diner lifts off and up they go through the cyclone.

Rumple tells Emma she has to take Merida’s heart in order to use the wisp. Emma says she won’t as Merida fires arrow after arrow at her, all of which Emma easily catches. Finally, Emma’s had enough and rips out Merida’s beating heart. As she’s about to crush it, Hook and the gang arrive. Emma says crushing the heart is the only way to find Merlin, stop the darkness, and protect them. With the beating heart in her hand, Emma still listens to Rumple as Hook and her parents try to convince her she doesn’t have to be dark and Merida doesn’t have to die. “We can find another way together. Look at us. Heroes and villains together for you, because of you. If we can overcome, if we can overcome our demons, then so can you,” pleads Hook. Rumple vanishes from Emma’s mind as she thrusts Merida’s heart back into her body.

Emma apologizes to Merida, and Merida thanks her for showing her the darkness inside. Merida says she has darkness too and needs to find a way to show the people who took her brothers mercy rather than killing them. And off Merida goes, chasing the wisp.

Emma thanks her mom and dad for coming, and Mary Margaret tries to give Emma the dagger so no one else will be able to control her. Emma refuses it and wants Regina to hold onto it because she knows Regina will do what has to be done, should Emma completely give herself over to the darkness. They take Emma to where Granny’s Diner landed and out pops Granny, the dwarves, and Belle. As Emma’s still reeling from that shocker, in rides King Arthur, Lancelot, and a group of knights. King Arthur reveals they’ve come specifically to find the time travelers, which shocks the Storybrooke crew. Arthur says Merlin prophesied they’re arrival a long time ago. Merlin’s been missing but according to the prophesy, the Storybrooke people are destined to reunite him with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. They follow King Arthur to Camelot, with even Zelena looking a bit impressed by the castle. They go through the gates, but apparently not to a happy ending.

Flash forward six weeks later and everyone is back in Storybrooke with no idea how they got there or what they did while in Camelot. Their memories are gone. Then Emma appears but it’s obvious she’s now the Dark Swan. White hair severely back in a bun and dressed completely in black, Emma tells them they went to Camelot to get the darkness out of her and failed. She turns Sneezy to stone when he sneezes in her presence. “There’s no savior in this town anymore,” says Emma. And, Regina discovers Emma is now in possession of the dagger. Emma threatens them, telling the group that because of what they did to her in Camelot, they’re about to be punished. Emma Swan is now The Dark One.

Episode one of season five did a terrific job of focusing on the key Storybrooke players as well as finally giving the dwarves something important to do. What happened during their six week visit to Camelot will be revealed throughout the season, and it’ll be interesting to see what Zelena’s up to when they get to Camelot. She reluctantly accompanied the group in their quest to save Emma, so will she be working against the gang and pushing Emma toward the darkness? Season five kicked off with an episode that will make waiting for episode two (titled “The Price”) seem longer than just a week.

GRADE: B+

Season 5 Interviews: Colin O’Donoghue & Jennifer Morrison / Lana Parrilla / Josh Dallas & Ginnifer Goodwin / Sean Maguire & Rebecca Mader / Robert Carlyle & Emilie de Ravin

Season 5 Recap: Episode 2 “The Price”

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