Once Upon A Time “The Dark Swan” Season 5 Premiere Review


Attention “Oncers”, Once Upon A Time is back for it’s fifth season. After visiting Neverland, Oz and everywhere in between, the show will visit Camelot this season. I’m getting a little ahead of myself here but I’m very excited about the idea of some of those characters coming into the show. Mix in an evil Emma Swan and Merida from Brave and you’ve got the recipe for an exciting season. However the season premiere ends up being a mixed bag overall by relying on a major plot point we’ve seen before. Be warned, this review has spoilers.

The episode begins with a flashback to Emma’s childhood. Young Emma is going to a showing of The Sword in the Stone (of course) and once she steals a candy bar she’s confronted by an usher who tells her not to pick up Excalibur when she’s given the chance. Immediately after we see King Arthur find the sword but it’s torn in half. The other half is revealed to be what the Dark One’s dagger is made out of. Emma, swept up in a tornado ends up in Camelot where she meets the incarnation of the Dark One. She sees Rumpelstiltskin and he spends the episode trying to get her to give into the dark side. Think of him as an evil version of Obi Wan Kenobi in the prequels. Meanwhile in Storybrooke, everyone is trying to figure out how to get Emma back before she gives in to the darkness. The Apprentice gives Regina, Snow, Charming and Hook a wand that can only summon the portal they need if they combine goodness and wickedness so they have to pay Zelena a visit. After many shenanigans, Zelena gets out and half of Storybrooke (a.k.a. the characters that matter) end up in Camelot where they stop Emma from killing Merida in order to gain power over the whisp that will help her find Merlin. And then we get to the kicker. After meeting Arthur, the gang gets to Camelot to try and get the darkness out of Emma when we suddenly get flash forward six weeks back in Storybrooke and no one remembers what happened. AGAIN. The episode ends with Emma fully taken over by darkness, vowing revenge on everyone.


One of the best things about a show this far into it’s run is that if you did your job right, the core characters are fully developed. There were some great moments between Regina and Hook that were both hilarious and endearing to what will definitely become a friendship. What also helped this episode was the focus on said core characters. Emma is the focus this year and after a very long Frozen themed storyline and the addition of even more new characters in the “Queens of Darkness” storyline, this is a breath of fresh air. The best Once Upon A Time stories have been those that involved the core cast trying to get back together or banding together to defeat a villain. Merida, who makes her debut in this episode, doesn’t steal the show the way Elsa and Anna did. She was brought into the show in a way that keeps Emma in the forefront. Merida gets a nice twist of an age increase and new position ruling her homelands. She’s still the same bold, brave and tough woman from Brave but she’s inserted into this story in a nice way. Camelot is a much better use for her than just throwing her into Storybrooke. Merida will undoubtedly get the chance to be a hero here and be important to the bigger plot without needing to come back to Storybrooke. The use of Rumpelstiltskin as Emma’s bad conscious is a perfect way to remedy having Mr. Gold in a coma. I can’t imagine this show without Robert Carlyle and when he’s being the Dark One, he’s at his very best.

Emma becoming a villain is something that’s been teased for quite some time now and the show is going to have to do a lot to make this feel like something different. So many of the villains (aside from Cruella) weren’t always “evil”. They came from a more neutral or heroic place and circumstances with some bad luck forced them over that line. Emma, at this moment, is in that same arc even after the twist ending so hopefully something new will be added to her story. She’s going to start hurting the people she loves and it’s very obvious she will do something that she can’t come back from. Who she ends up hurting is the question and how far she’s going to go down her dark path is something to be intrigued by. With that said, it’s not exactly a hopeful situation since we’re yet again watching the characters return from another land without their memories. Even with the joke by Snow White, it’s a tiring twist. The moment Granny’s landed I immediately groaned because it was painfully obvious what was happening.

The effects in this episode were just as low budget as they’ve always been. The whisp however looked very good. Zelena’s hand cutting was a low point of the series as far as visual effects go and I wish we could go back to forget that. Zelena in general is not a character I’ve ever grown to like. It seemed heartless to kill her off the way we assumed she died but the way she’s been brought back is not clicking with this viewer. Her pregnancy is a complication that will never ever be dealt with in a good way and that baby’s existence is very problematic. It’s not so much that she has a rivalry with Regina but more of a hatred that becomes uncomfortable to watch. She basically raped Robin Hood by pretending to be his wife in order to have sex with him. This is obviously ignored frequently  and while I’m glad that Regina is the star of this show and really the most developed character, it would be nice to have Robin Hood be a little less boring. It’s a little tough at times to believe that this is the guy Regina has fallen for given her leadership skills, bravery, confidence and power. This episode also didn’t do quite enough to get us acquainted with the Camelot crew. Merida wasn’t in every scene but she felt like someone we could connect with. Arthur, Lancelot and company felt a bit too flat.

Once Upon A Time delivered a good enough season premiere but falling backwards on it’s same old tropes hurt it. There’s a lot here though that can become something very enjoyable and this far into the show, I wouldn’t be entirely shocked to end up really liking what this season delivers.


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Bottom Line

Once Upon A Time returns with a possibly great arc for Emma but an all too familiar twist.

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