Once Upon a Time, S5 Ep1 – The Dark Swan

“There’s no savior in this town anymore.”

One Upon a Time‘s fifth season opens with an action-packed episode that takes us from Storybrooke to the Enchanted Forest and then to Camelot, as Emma’s family and friends try to help her fight the darkness threatening to consume her. It was an exciting episode filled with strong performances from the regular cast as well as the new members. True to Once Upon a Time fashion, a lot of magic was involved (which by now we know always comes with a price!) and certain characters had to make difficult decisions that will surely cause trouble for them in the future.

Once Upon a Time, S5 Ep1 - The Dark SwanWhile the newly “darkened” Emma Swan (who inexplicably lands in the Enchanted Forest) tries to find Merlin to get rid of the darkness consuming her, her family and friends back in Storybrooke join forces to try and find her, even if it means making deals with people they can’t trust. During her journey, Emma has to contend with the manifestation of the Dark One in Rumpelstiltskin, who constantly tempts her to join the dark side. She also crosses paths with Merida while both chase the Will O’ the Wisp, and even after a tricky situation where Emma literally holds Merida’s heart in her hand, the two share mutual admiration and end up friends.

[Jaime Lannister screaming in the distance]

[Jaime Lannister screaming in the distance]

Meanwhile, Regina is forced to allow Zelena to use her powers to build them a portal that can cross realms. They reunite in the Enchanted Forest, in an awesome scene where Granny’s Diner gets whisked away in a twister a la Wizard Of Oz, and are soon invited to Camelot by King Arthur himself. But after a time jump of six weeks, the diner is back in town and everyone has no memory of what happened to them. All except for Emma, who has truly become what they all feared and who, sinister, declares herself the Dark One.

Maybe don't go Gollum when someone can hear you

Maybe don’t go Gollum when someone can hear you

It was an intriguing opening episode, filled with fun moments with the main cast as well as the introduction of several new characters who will undoubtedly play a crucial part of this season’s Dark Swan arc. There were big, magical moments like Zelena summoning the twister-portal and Granny’s diner being spirited away and back. But there were also smaller and quieter scenes which were no less important, such as the interactions between characters like Hook and Henry; Regina and Snow; and Emma and Rumpelstiltskin.

Hello, dearie. I'm here to guide you on the road to EVIL

Hello, dearie. I’m here to guide you on the road to EVIL

One of the show’s strengths has always been its excellent cast, and they continued to shine in this episode. It was a delight to still see a lot of Robert Carlyle’s gleefully mischievous performance as the manifestation of the Dark One even while his Storybrooke counterpart remained in a coma. His playing the devil on Emma’s shoulder was an effective way to show her internal struggles and to bring out a strong performance from Jennifer Morrison as well.



It was also great to see some of the side characters getting involved in the main story for once. I punched the air when Leroy burst into Granny’s and demanded that they join the adventure (much to Happy’s chagrin). Shows with large ensemble casts like Once always need to strike a tricky balance between developing their existing characters and their new ones. And the show has not always succeeded in doing this, with so many minor characters being neglected in favor of more scenes of the Charmings or of new characters. It looks like this is being remedied somewhat this season, and I hope that this is a trend that continues.

Once Upon a Time, S5 Ep1 - The Dark SwanSeveral new characters were introduced for the season including King Arthur, Merida, and a brief, mysterious glimpse of Merlin at the beginning. There wasn’t a lot of time to devote to them in this episode, but we are surely going to learn more about their stories during the course of the season. And even from the limited time spent with the new characters, Amy Manson’s Merida stood out as an engaging and intriguing addition to the cast. She embodied the courage and determination of the young princess in the Pixar film, while making a relatable connection with Emma.

We don’t know much yet about the Camelot characters, though the development that Excalibur and the Dark One’s dagger are connected is a creative way of weaving together literary references with the mythos of the show.

Once Upon a Time, S5 Ep1 - The Dark SwanOnce Upon a Time is also at its best when it has its main cast rallying around a common cause (such as the quest to rescue Henry back in Season 3). This happened when the Charmings, Regina, Hook, Robin, and even Belle worked together to find Emma. The first episode clearly established that the main conflict will be Emma’s succumbing (or not) to the darkness inside of her. And the way the whole thing has been set up, integrating elements like Camelot and Excalibur was interesting.

You have one job, Regina.

You have one job, Regina.

However, the episode was too crowded at times, with the writers trying to set up too many moving parts for the rest of the season. While I understand that they wanted to open with a bang and to introduce many new twists and characters to keep the viewers hooked, sometimes this only made the episode too convoluted. And while Once has always played with timelines, the structure of the episode was needlessly complicated and felt like a hodgepodge of temporal devices with both flashbacks and flash-forwards in addition to the shifting of realms. Hopefully, the show will settle into a more relaxed and organized structure in the coming weeks.

Well, she's mastered the art of dramatically poofing out of sight

Well, she’s mastered the art of dramatically poofing out of sight

As enjoyable as it was to see Emma going full Dark One at the very end, the whole memory loss angle was frustrating to see. (“Again,” Snow said with a sigh, and I sighed with her.) They already did this back in Season 3 so I don’t see why we need to retread that tedious path. This being the first episode, I’m going to give the writers the benefit of the doubt. As always, the explanations will come later but hopefully they will be satisfying enough for us to make sense of Storybrooke’s increasingly complicated history.

Anyway, Once Upon a Time is back and here’s to another season of elaborate backstories, noble quests, realm-jumping, Regina-sassing, and costly magical adventures!

P.S. : Too bad for everyone else in Storybrooke, their peace only lasted six weeks. I’m sure we all agree that the chaos and suffering endured by everyone in town is always caused by the Charmings and their ever-extending family tree. So when they’re off in another realm (like the Enchanted Forest or Neverland), things settle down and the rest of the town can live quiet, stable lives not under constant threat of curses or death. But alas, to be a citizen in Storybrooke is to resign oneself to the reality that one’s life is unjustly governed by the consequences of a handful of powerful individuals’ actions.