This Sunday on ABC’s Once Upon a Time, we learned more about how Merlin originally got trapped inside the tree — as well as the lengths to which Emma went to get him out.
IN CAMELOT…. | It turns out that “many years ago in Camelot,” Merlin faced off against a masked Dark One, accusing the Big Bad of destroying “the only woman I ever loved.” When Merlin goes to vanquish the Dark One yet can’t, the masked figure uses the lovelorn magician’s tear to cast a spell that traps him inside a tree.
The producers have said they won’t be introducing Morgan Le Fay, but could she have been that Dark One? Is that why Merlin couldn’t bring himself to kill her? Withdrawn! Those better-versed in things Camelot note that Nimue — as in the title of Episode 7 — is a far more likely candidate. Carry on.
Emma lays witness to the long-ago event by way of a dreamcatcher. After saving Regina from handing the dagger over to the spelled Charmings, Emma reiterates her intention to free Merlin from the tree, even if it requires dark magic. Seeing that Merlin wept for a lost love, Regina deduces that a similar teardrop might undo the spell.
At first, the thought is to have Regina relive her own great loss — Cora’s plucking and crushing of Daniel’s heart — via her own dreamcatcher session. But once the ladies go to mix the potion with Regina’s tear, it peters out. (Regina, Emma surmises, has healed too much from that loss, by meeting Robin.) “Luckily,” Henry then shows up, his teenage heart freshly shattered by Violet, who in the middle of a dinner-and-an-iPhone movie at Granny’s gave the lad the “just friends” speech. (And just like that, my memories of Sonya choosing Doug as her prom date over me are dug up anew. Sigh.)
The silver lining? Gut-punched Henry’s tear is powerful enough to activate the counter-spell, and Merlin is freed. Arthur and his knights show up to talk some smack to the sorcerer, but Merlin scoffs in the royal’s general direction, expressing his “disappointment” in “the boy who would be king.”
Later, Merlin frees the Charmings from Guinevere’s spell. (“You’re… not an older white dude,” Charming pretty much remarks.) Hook then asks if the sorcerer can rid Emma of the Darkness, and he says he can — provided that Emma’s heart is truly ready to be free….
IN STORYBROOKE…. | This one was a stretch, but… whatshisname’s vanishing from the jail cell is apparently cause for a town carnival. (Henry plants the idea in Snow’s dome, wanting to invite Violet. So, sure. OK.) Thing is, Violet’s horse, Nicodemus, has run away, so she’s in no mood for festivities. Henry thus makes it his plan to find the horse, with help from his super-powerful (if super-dark) mom.
Meanwhile, Belle notifies the others that Rumple vanished two episodes ago, and they of course suspect Emma. When Regina, Robin, Hook and Belle sneak into Emma’s house while Henry is out with his other mom, they find the sword in the stone in the basement, and note its similarity to the Dark One’s dagger. Hmmm….
Having been asked by Henry to prove that “the Mom I know is still in there” by resuming Operation Cobra, Emma look for Nicodemus (in the name of giving Violet her “happy ending”). Along the way, Emma learns that Henry used one of Neal’s moves — Yaz’s “Only You” — to pique the girl’s interest. When they find the horse at Peter Peter’s pumpkin stand (heh), the animal is spooked by the Dark One, but Henry is able to win it over. Later, he gallops the horse into the carnival, delighting Violet and impressing her father. Violet rewards Henry with a kiss, making us wonder: Exactly why did she so harshly blow him off back in Camelot…?
Regina uncovers that answer upon inspecting a dreamcatcher Hook found inside Emma’s house, one that
ostensibly has Henry’s memories yet shows a moment in the Camelot stables he was not present for has Violet’s memories and shows a moment where Emma approached the lass, ripped her heart out and compelled her to break Henry’s heart!
While an eavesdropping Henry processes the shocker, Regina confronts Emma, asking what her endgame is with the memory wipe, kidnapping Gold and such. Emma insists, “It’s for the best, trust me,” to which Regina presents Exhibit A, the fact that Emma ripped out a 13-year-old girl‘s heart! Emma says she tried to make that up to Henry by helping with the horse, but Regina (probably correctly) speculates that Emma set the horse loose to begin with. “If I’m the one with the moral high ground, you’ve fallen quite a ways, Miss Swan,” Regina observes. Emma blurts out, “It was for a good reason” — to free Merlin. Regina is taken aback by this bombshell, then asks the million-dollar Q: If they were able to free Merlin back in Camelot, why is Emma still the Dark One?
Meanwhile, the Charmings and Hook clue in Arthur to their discovery in Emma’s cellar, and the king confirms that once reunited with its other half, the Dark One’s dagger, Excalibur can snuff out the Darkness… or the light.
Elsewhere in the episode: Doing Dark Emma’s bidding, Merida struggled to turn a cowardly, limping Rumple into any kind of a hero, until she retrieved something he’d find “worth fighting for” — Chip! Threatening to do more harm to the fragile li’l cup, Merida succeeded in mobilizing Rumple into sword-swinging action — though they have a long ways to go, she says, if he is to vanquish the Dark One!
What did you think of “Dreamcatcher” and the many Neal callbacks?