Once Upon a Time Recap: The Heartbreak Kid

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.

Quick theory: 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 Withdrawn!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?

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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91 Comments
  1. Thoughts says:

    I don’t think the Dark One is Morgan, but, instead, Nimue. In the legends, she got Merlin to teach her magic and then locked him in a tree. Also, he loved her.

  2. Lydia says:

    Nice that they actually acknowledged Neal’s existence- was beginning to feel like the show had completely forgotten a character who was once the linchpin of much of the mythology. I really do miss his character.

    • anon says:

      It’s insane that Neal isn’t around for this storyline especially. I mean, to not only have him see his father not be the Dark One anymore but instead see his ex/mother of his child be the Dark One? And with Henry basically playing the role of his child self? That would be good, natural drama.

  3. So, is there any chance of seeing a live-action version of Madam Mim from Sword in the Stone now that Once is doing Camelot?

  4. Jennifer says:

    Fantastic episode from start to finish. The scene of Regina crying over Daniels death was breathtaking and further cemented that she and Emma share an understanding and bond like no other. Henry and Violet are adorable, I loved the nostalgic feel of the Emma and Henry scenes, and the Emma/Regina porch scene mirrored The Cricket Game beautifully.

    • Terry says:

      I really liked this episode too. The only big problem I had with it was Regina equating what Emma did to Henry to what Cora did to her. Not even close, imo.

  5. abz says:

    Really enjoyed this episode much more than last weeks. Didn’t care for the Henry first date stuff, but I loved the moments between Emma and Regina and their interactions with Henry.
    Anyone else find Henry’s movie choices quite odd for such a young boy? Harold and Maude?
    I hope they eventually address the fact that Emma has met Merlin before as a child.

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      Yeah, “Harold & Maude” is a farrrrr bigger stretch than Yaz (which we now have an explanation for).

    • Karen MT says:

      I wonder with Storybooke being isolated for so long, did they really have any new movies? And it sounds like he got the recommendation from someone else, with the “or so I’ve been told.”

  6. laurelnev says:

    And we’re back to the character driven OUAT that we love. But I think Regina summed it up best for us all? If they freed Merlin,why is Emma dark? Did she actually enjoy her Cora mimicry that much so as to choose the power and the darkness over being freed? Is she truly in search of Excalibur to vanquish the light? LOVED the dark/light effects of the tree-freeing, but hate the fact she broke her own true love’s heart in order to do so. Was it that act that pushed her over the edge?

    • AngieD says:

      Emma’s not ready to let the dark magic go, just as Merline stated. As she uses magic more and more, she’s enjoying the power more. Emma has abandonment issues and this level of magic that she’s able to execute is giving her a sense of control that she’s never had over her life. Rumple also made bad choices because he was afraid to be a coward and afraid of losing those he has loved (i.e. his wife, Neil, now Belle, etc) and let the power of dark magic guide his choices.

    • The Squatch says:

      Emma used Bark Magic to save Merlin from being a tree.
      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      I hate myself…

  7. Mary C says:

    Interesting that Emma knew what to do to get a real heartbreak tear prior to her & Regina tried the spell to get Merlin out of the tree. I also think that they all somehow betrayed Emma in Camelot, she is upset with how they acted, wants to reunite the sword & dagger to snuff out the darkness, not the light. She’s embraced the dark for now to get stuff done and because she felt betrayed by whatever happened in Camelot, but also put everyone’s memories in those dream catchers. They all just assume she wants to stay evil, but I don’t think Emma does.
    By the way why can’t she just get Arthur to pull the sword out again? She knows he’s in Storybrooke of course.

    • Oncer says:

      I don’t think it would work since Arthur isn’t worthy of pulling excalibur any longer and Emma knows that

    • LMNJ says:

      That’s my thought too…that Emma is working with Merlin to snuff the darkness out. Maybe there Is risk to her in doing so and they tried to stop her?

    • [“Interesting that Emma knew what to do to get a real heartbreak tear prior to her & Regina tried the spell to get Merlin out of the tree. I also think that they all somehow betrayed Emma in Camelot, she is upset with how they acted, wants to reunite the sword & dagger to snuff out the darkness, not the light. She’s embraced the dark for now to get stuff done and because she felt betrayed by whatever happened in Camelot, but also put everyone’s memories in those dream catchers. They all just assume she wants to stay evil, but I don’t think Emma does.
      By the way why can’t she just get Arthur to pull the sword out again? She knows he’s in Storybrooke of course.”]

      Is this ANOTHER EXCUSE for one of Emma’s actions? Fans have been making excuses for Emma for the past two to three years. It’s like a tradition right now, every time she does something wrong.

      It’s interesting that Maleficent is the only villain who was quickly able to move past any desire for revenge. No one else has seemed capable of what she did.

    • Lily says:

      I am starting to think, that Emma was the one who failed everyone else. Which explains why she stole their memories. She might have planned with Merlin to snuff out the Darkness, by allowing it to consume her. However, she clearly kept it a secret, and did not trust anyone to share the burden.

  8. Dean says:

    My theory is Emma pulled a Walter White. Deep down she enjoys being the darkone and whatever they do to remove the darkness backfires and gives her the gaga wannabe look.

  9. Lily says:

    That was SUCH a good episode! It finally felt like the old Once Upon A Time, the show I fell in love with! Anything focusing on Emma/Regina/Henry is usually much more interesting and emotional. The dreamcatcher scene with Emma and Regina broke my heart! And even the Rumple/Merida stuff was good, although very predictable. The actress who plays Merida is growing on me. All in all, a great episode. I wish we could get more episodes like this!

  10. CC says:

    Amazing episode of OUAT, and great recap, Mr. Mitovich. Just wanted to point out a correction is needed. You wrote “Regina uncovers that answer upon inspecting a dreamcatcher she found inside Emma’s house…” Actually, Hook found the dreamcatcher. Regina was halfway out the front door when Killian stopped to see what was on the table and picked up the dreamcatcher. Just giving credit where credit is due. Thanks for all you do for us OUAT fans! :)

  11. Katie says:

    Just LOVED the Neal callbacks. I’m surprised he got such a spotlight this episode but it was great to see his memory honored this week. Wish they could resurrect him.

  12. Grace M says:

    I’m getting tired of hearing Emma and Merida saying the Rumple needs to be “brave” every five minutes. Yes, we get the movie reference, can we please move now?

    Liked seeing Cruella’s car for sale, a little reminder last season.

  13. prish says:

    The Merida character (visiting OUAT from the movie Brave) might be appreciated by the husbands watching the show, since the husband laughed at her scene with Rumple, saying to me, “Hey, she’s just like you!” Thank you, writers, for capturing familiar dynamics.

  14. Datya says:

    Matt, I believe they realized that the dreamcatcher they found held Violet’s memories, which is why the memory of Emma ripping out her heart was there. I was confused as to why it was in the house instead of the shed outside (which is why everyone assumed it was Henry’s), but realized that was probably what Emma had gone into the shed for – to look at Violet’s memories so she could make it up to Henry.

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      That sounds right.

      • Datya says:

        Oooo, you updated the recap!! My day is now complete!!!

      • [“Matt, I believe they realized that the dreamcatcher they found held Violet’s memories, which is why the memory of Emma ripping out her heart was there. I was confused as to why it was in the house instead of the shed outside (which is why everyone assumed it was Henry’s), but realized that was probably what Emma had gone into the shed for – to look at Violet’s memories so she could make it up to Henry.”]

        I’m so sick and tired of these constant excuses for Emma’s actions. I’m tired of it. Fans made excuses for her when she made that stupid decision to change time in order to save Marian. They made excuses for her when she killed Cruella in that manner that nearly endangered Henry’s life. And now this.

        No wonder I despise Emma right now. She’s a Mary Sue whose questionable actions are always being explained or excused by this show’s fandom.

    • Terry says:

      Oh, so does that mean that shed full of dream catchers is everyone else’s memories? I couldn’t understand at first what the heck all the feather things handing from the ceiling were.

      • DarkDefender says:

        Yes. The dream catchers are their memories AND proof that she wants to curb her dark tendencies. Gold (as the dark mentor) told her a hobbie helped take the edge off- like his spinning gold.

  15. Gilly says:

    Appreciated all the Neal mentions, but episodes like this one also high light what a mistake the writers made with killing him off.
    Really enjoyed the episode though. Focus on the main characters and their relationships almost automatically makes for a good ep. Or at least a better one than last week’s. I appreciate the Camelot folks, but their role should always be to support, not take over whole eps at a time.
    Nice small moment: Regina reliving Daniel’s death and realizing it’s no longer a tragic memory that consumes her because she managed to open her heart to love again with Robin.

  16. ninergrl6 says:

    In general I enjoyed this episode — good plot and character development — but a carnival?! Thank you for pointing out how ridiculous that was. “Emma is still the Dark One & is plotting something. A dude literally vanished from his cell. Let’s have a carnival!” So stupid and completely unnecessary. Henry & Violet’s Storybrooke relationship easily could have been explored in the exact same way without the town throwing a ridiculously inappropriate party. That irked me to no end!

  17. Aly says:

    Loved this ep – best of the season so far for me. I was interested all the way through with the storyline. I really appreciated the fact that it was focusing on core characters rather than the Camelot ones again, and we had some fantastic character-driven moments. The scene on the porch between Regina and Emma was amazing! Merlin seems interesting also, and the actor so far has impressed me. I’d much rather see more of him than the Arthur mess.

  18. Edward says:

    Is it possible that Emma’s master plan is to use the sword to bring back Neal. All the mention of him seems to be heavy foreshadowing.

    • Win says:

      Oh, that is a neat theory, and I like Neal/Baelfire. If he were the one battling back through the underworld. that could be very compelling (much like the other theories out there).

    • Val says:

      Please no Neal. He was awful. And a plot device.

      • Terry says:

        Thank you! I can’t understand all the love being professed for Neal, I didn’t care for that character at all.

      • Maro says:

        You really, really don’t understand the term plot device. And that’s coming from someone who didn’t care for Neal much either. But you’re seriously misusing that word.

      • Stephon JS says:

        Plot device? He’s the reason y Rumple why Regina cast the dark curse and started a chain of events to make sure Emma was born.

      • Carol K. says:

        I agree!

        • Rebecca says:

          ‘A plot device’. Says the person/people who I see ‘loving’ Hook who has LITERALLY no actual use to any weekly adventures. Neal however…. He was Rumple’s son, Emma’s ex (and a love of hers!), Henry’s dad….. AND got actual stuff done in Neverland. Unlike Hook who all he managed to do was consistently get them lost. Who’s a plot device now?

  19. Pat says:

    This was definitely a very good episode, compared to last weeks. I Just hope that the end game will be finding out that Merlin has been guiding Emma all this time in the steps to vanquish the darkness and also was told by him that during this process you will be looked upon by your family and friends as turning dark. This will be the only way to save her and everyone, but the others cannot know or be involved in this process. Oh, I can only hope.

    • Terry says:

      That’s exactly what I was thinking by the end of the episode, Emma isn’t the dark one, she’s just pretending to be.

    • Gail says:

      I agree with you. Could be that Emma has to do this on her own to prove she doesn’t want the darkness. However since the complete Excalibur can extinguish ether the light or the darkness and the spring season has been described by the creators as “Hell” perhaps the light will be extinguished or the Dark One will leave Emma and take everyone to Hell. Maybe everyone was in Hell at the end of the six weeks and the only way to save them was for Emma to take back the darkness and wipe out everyone’s memory. So many ways for this to play out. That is what makes this good.

    • DarkDefender says:

      If that’s the case, Pat… Emma should call Kate Beckett (and Castle’s stepmom). They are all on the same path.

    • Have a feeling emma knows how to banish the darkness and that’s where the sword comes in to play. She wants to ude the sword and dagger combined to defeat the darkness. It will have to her using it but she can’t pull it which means she needs gold to pull it. Have a feeling hook will be the one to save her

  20. Shaz says:

    Anybody catch how the whole last scene with Regina and Emma was a throwback to their original confrontation at Regina’s mansion (with Henry inside) in Season 1? Except this time the roles were reversed. This time Emma was the bad guy who didn’t deserve Henry vs Season 1 when Regina was the bad guy and keeping Henry away from Emma. Then it was the Evil Queen that was keeping Henry in the mansion, now it’s a redeemed loving mother keeping him there. Like too how Regina reverted to calling her Ms Swan – which is how she referred to her when they were enemies. Brilliant writing.

    • BM says:

      Yes, I loved that, too. Probably my favorite scene of the episode though I liked it generally. Emma and Regina working together makes for great scenes.
      I’m wondering though if Emma still being the Dark One is simply about her not wanting to give up the power or if she feels she’s got a job to do that she can only achieve by being the Dark One. After all, could she get Gold to be brave/become a hero if she weren’t the Dark One? And really, that is needed for him to get his happy ending, right? Give him the confidence, so he doesn’t have to be afraid that he doesn’t have any power anymore.
      And by being the Dark One she also pushes Regina to being a leader with the goal that the town accepts her as such and believes in her.
      All very suspicious but in a good way.

    • Luli says:

      are you referring to the one at the end of the pilot?? nice catch.

      • Shaz says:

        Yes. Also, loved another throwback to early Season 1 – in Mr Gold’s “Please” to Emma. I think it was major plot point with how he set up the curse to work with Regina if I remember right.

  21. Val says:

    Didn’t enjoy this episode.
    Best thing was Emma & Henry – those season 1 feels
    Merlin was good.

    Too much forcing Neal in the show. Like it did take make sense to make him out to be some saint when he wasn’t and not himself but a douche to Emma.

    • Maro says:

      Oh geez… Whether you like him or not, Neal doesn’t need to be “forced” into the show because he was a vital part of it – as Rumple’s son, the reason the curse was cast in the first place, Emma’s first love and Henry’s father. What exactly do you expect the show to do? To act like a character with all those connections never existed and everyone who held im dear happily moved on like he never mattered too, just because you didn’t like him?

    • Lily says:

      @Val…. Emma was just manipulating Henry, whenever she mentioned Neal.

  22. Boiler says:

    Maybe for some reason more people are DVR’ing this show but it has been a fun year but ratings don’t show it

  23. Luli says:

    Jared Gilmore get bigger by the episode! He is so tall!

  24. Don’t know way but at first I though Merlin was fighting with a darker version of himself, something in the way he seemed to pause after watching his foe’s eyes.
    I enjoyed this episode, a lot more that the previous 4.

  25. Allison says:

    Is it only me who has a hard time accepting dream catchers being so easily wrapped into the OUAT lore?

    Dream catchers are from Native American culture. In the fairy tale land of Once Upon a Time it seems like a stretch to use them so significantly. Tiger Lily in peter pan is the only Native American relevant to OUAT… who they didn’t even show in Neverland.

    Other than that, this episode was great!

    • BM says:

      I don’t mind them being used; the fact that they’re supposed to catch bad dreams in Native American culture does suggest some form of magic. However, I’m not sure I like the reference of folklore, but maybe it’s a language thing and folklore isn’t as devaluing in English as it is in German.

  26. It's Delovely says:

    This was a really good episode–much more enjoyable than last week’s for me. Loved seeing the dynamic between Henry, Emma, and Regina and how Henry’s unconventional heroism paralleled the Rumple/Merida story about heroism. I loved all the mentions of Neal and the impact he had on Henry, Emma, and Rumple. And I was so happily surprised to see the return of Chip!

    Excited for next week’s episode, which looks to have a big focus on Rumple/Belle. I was wary when I heard that the show was bringing on Merida, but I like the way they’ve incorporated her so far.

  27. michelle says:

    I’m a little confused, did I miss where Henry got his memories back? Last I remember he didn’t remember his father yet he remembers a song and a move to make on a girl?

  28. Lily says:

    Emma was clearly not ready to be freed of the Darkness, and Merlin knew that. She spent the entire flashback manipulating both Henry and Regina, and reveled in every moment of it. Though, I also think Merlin wanted Emma to completely embrace the Darkness. The Sorcerer is probably a “for the greater good” type of guy. Though, one would think he would have learned his lesson, after being stuck in a tree for 1000 years.

  29. Adam says:

    In the sheriff’s office, why didn’t they check the surveillance tapes, like they’ve done before, rather than the throw-a-street-party thing ;P

  30. Oliver says:

    This season is awful. The episode was awkward.

  31. E says:

    The many “Neal callbacks”, while they made sense to have since this was a Henry-centered episode, were full of retconning. He never gave Emma a dreamcatcher, she found one in the hotel room, explained its purpose, and he kept it to keep the nightmares he had of falling through the portal away. Also that song was never mentioned prior to 5×02 and really it’s a bit creepy that a guy is telling his son back when he was in his early 20s he used it to ‘woo’ his underage girlfriend. And finally Neal was never fully “himself” around Emma – he lied to her about his name, origin, and larceny until his past caught up to him. For some reason the writers have this head-scratching tendency into trying to remember him as not a douche.

    Overall this was another in a long line of badly-done filler episodes, much like 4×05 or Enter the Dragon.

  32. Denny says:

    It was a good episode, but I have one big problem. It’s very hard for me to take the consequences of Emma’s actions as the DO seriously when other characters have done far worse things and gotten away with it.
    Rumple, Regina, Hook, even Charmings.

    Sorry I don’t buy it. Emma’s actions are lacking in weight.

  33. KravenV says:

    Ok is it me or does the hero to pull the sword from the stone Henry? Like to me it’s like so obvious that it pains me. All the easter eggs are pointing in that direction maybe I’m seeing them wrong idk. If in fact Rumple does pull the sword out I’d actually be suprise, that would actually be a twist in the show for me. Or if it was anyone else, but more so if its Rumple it’d blow my mind lol. But alas we can only dream, and wait and see when it will happen who it will be. There is a small, so small you can barley see it amount of doubt but it’s Henry….

    O_0 if I did spoil that it was an accident I’m totally just writing what I saw and have been seeing for the past few episodes that’s all.

  34. Rachelle says:

    Not sure if someone has said this but I have to put this out there. I think Emma knows exactly what she is doing. She is going to rid the world of dark magic by sacrificing herself with Excalibur before Season A is over. In Season B will be the journey to the Underworld (Hell referenced at ComicCon) to rescue Emma. Just a thought…..

  35. Gold says:

    Okay superbly tired of all the comments Bashing Baelfire/Neal. The only reason you all hate him is Because he got Emma sent to jail and that he’s Henry’s dad and not hook. Just a little reminder? Pan wanted Henry! If Emma hadn’t Gone to jail she would have been grabbed by Pans shadow and Henry stolen from her and Bae would have had an atrocious time trying to save his new girlfriend from his phsycho grandfather! In sorry plot device? Baelfire is the root of the show! Everything goes back to him ! Down to the stil possibility Bae was Hooks son all along, stop your Baelfire attacking this fandom infuriates me with it’s toxic attitude towards him and MRJ.

    I hope MRJS movie lands that oscar it was speculated to gain so he can throw dust in this fandoms face for the crap they give him on twitter.

    For the record 11 months in a minimum security facility isn’t bad at all, you have no reason to hate Bae over Emma getting a bit of character building.

  36. Alex says:

    Apparently, it’s just myself and family that thinks Merlin is a complete douche bag. Yes, Arthur has made poor choices, but it all stems from Merlin’s bidding. I was disgusted with Merlin when he expressed his disdain/alleged disappointment for Arthur. Additionally, Guinevere knew what she was getting into when she married Arthur. Excalibur is Arthur’s life’s quest via Merlin. She knew this and what does she do? Goes behind his back with Lancelot instead of supporting him and going together to obtain the dagger. And people wonder why he became so hostile. Arthur is the tragic hero doing what he thinks is best for Camelot and hopefully, Merlin will turn out to be the true villain (which I doubt they will portray happening.)