Once Upon a Time, S5 Ep7 – Nimue

“I’m not nothing! I was never nothing! The power you have, I don’t need.”

Emma comes face to face with Nimue, the very first Dark One, in an episode that explores not only the origins of the Dark One but also of magic itself in the Once Upon a Time multiverse. We get a more in-depth look into Merlin’s backstory while he and Emma go on a journey to get the final ember of Prometheus’ fire (yet another reference to Greek mythology, giving us an idea of what and who to expect in the second half of the season.) Meanwhile, Regina, the Charmings, Hook, and Robin are tasked with getting Arthur’s piece of Excalibur.

This episode was set almost entirely in the past, with only a brief scene at the end showing Dark Emma reforging Excalibur and the dagger to the delight of an assembly of past Dark Ones.  We get flashbacks as far as 1000 years ago when we get a first glimpse of Merlin, presumably a mortal man, finding and drinking from the Holy Grail. He is deemed worthy (unlike his friend; another one turns to dust!) and is granted the gift of magic.

Once Upon a Time, S5 Ep7 - NimueAfter centuries of helping people with his magic, he meets a beautiful girl named Nimue, the sole survivor of a vicious attack by the warlord Vortigen (a figure from Arthurian mythology we will never see again). Merlin is enchanted by her and, Once Upon a Time style, they fall in love. But alas, Merlin is an immortal and wants a boring, mortal life to spend with his true love, because all life is made of moments like diamonds and apparently, the more diamonds you have, the less they are worth. I don’t know, but the way I see it, you just have more diamonds. And that’s not a bad thing.

Anyway, Merlin’s brilliant plan is to find the fire of Prometheus in order to reforge the Holy Grail into a sword that can literally “cut” his immortal life-span. Just as this almighty weapon (what a pity it would be if it fell into the wrong hands, ha) is forged, Vortigen attacks Merlin and holds Nimue hostage and somehow Merlin, the most powerful sorcerer in the world, is powerless to stop a mortal warlord from murdering his beloved.

Someone forgot to moisturize.

Someone forgot to moisturize.

Luckily, Nimue just faked her death after sneaking a gulp from the Holy Grail. She is now immortal, but by murdering the man who slaughtered her entire village and attempted to kill her, she has used magic for evil and she automatically becomes the first Dark One (apparently, it takes longer for every succeeding Dark One to get all sparkly and scaly since even Dark Swan still has perfectly moisturized skin.)

Merlin’s turning out to be quite a disappointment despite Elliot Knight’s engaging performance. After all the hype of him being the most powerful wizard ever, he doesn’t do more than weird magical hand gestures and arm movements, making flowers grow immediately and healing sick people, but even needing Belle’s help to free Lancelot and Merida from Arthur’s dungeons. We’ve seen way more impressive magical acts from Rumple and Regina countless times, and even Cora and Zelena have shown more magical mojo. Anyway, he creates the dagger to keep Nimue’s evil propensities in check and sticks the rest of Excalibur into a stone until the chosen hero pulls it out.

Back in “six weeks ago Camelot,” Merlin and Emma’s nature hike (seriously? The two most powerful magical beings in the realms and they WALK all the way to their destination) brings them to the spot where Nimue stole the last ember of Prometheus’ fire. Merlin risks being killed by the Dark One, but he has enough faith that Emma will do the right thing. Emma confronts Nimue and there is a little internal tug of war with Nimue and Merlin serving as the angel and demon on Emma’s shoulders. Nimue tries to convince Emma that she needs power to protect the ones she loves, drawing on her own insecurities. Too bad, Emma’s always been capable of protecting her family so she doesn’t give in, leading to some superb acting by Jennifer Morrison as she refuses the call of darkness and takes the right path.

Once Upon a Time, S5 Ep7 - NimueMeanwhile, the others are busy trying to steal Arthur’s piece of Excalibur in the most frustrating part of the episode because for some reason, everyone has been cursed with stupidity. Seriously. That the Charmings make dumb decisions is pretty much a given by now, and I don’t really expect much of Robin or Hook since they are basically back-up muscle. But Regina is so much better than this. And yet somehow for the past few episodes, she’s been allowing the Charmings to take the lead when she, of all people, knows how much they mess up.

And in this episode, the team listens to Zelena – ZELENA – and her plan to infiltrate Arthur’s castle. Was there really no alternative? Could no one really come up with a plan? Or was this just some lame attempt at giving Zelena something to do even if it meant ruining everything?

In a twist that surprised no one, Zelena betrays them all and reveals that she has been working in league with Arthur the whole time. Regina was fairly certain that her sister would screw them over but she went along with it anyway, so the ensuing mess is on her and Snow and the three dashing Stooges. Zelena can’t be trusted. When will they ever learn?

You had one job, Mary Margaret!

You had one job, Mary Margaret!

Arthur continues to be the worst, a stark contrast to the legendary figure of rationality and justice. He keeps acting like a petulant child (even brainwashed Guinevere has begun side-eying him) and still isn’t a compelling villain. He asks Zelena to perform a tethering spell that binds Merlin to the wielder of the Excalibur fragment in the same vein as the Dark One dagger. Which leads me again to question Merlin’s powers. Because apparently, any powerful witch like Zelena can cast a tethering spell to tie the world’s most powerful wizard to a sword? Really? And now Merlin’s stuck doing Arthur’s bidding.

What’s really frustrating is that Arthur and Zelena only succeeded in their nefarious plans because the heroes weren’t paying enough attention (and Merlin is turning out to be really easy to control for some reason). Arthur and Zelena aren’t necessarily the most formidable foes our heroes have ever encountered (Zelena was already defeated once) but somehow, they still manage to outwit and overpower everyone. They really need to step up their game.

Once Upon a Time, S5 Ep7 - NimueThe final few minutes bring us back to Emma’s cave in present-day Storybrooke where, Nimue manifests herself again because she wants to watch the show. Shiny Rumple and the rest of all the previous Dark Ones (all in dark cloaks) gather around to witness Emma reuniting the dagger with Excalibur. She succeeds and Nimue excitedly waits for Emma to snuff out the light, when the latter gets a flashback of that one time when Merlin appeared to her as a cinema usher and told her not to do evil. Dark Emma hesitates as she takes the sword, and we will have to wait till next week to see what she decides to do with it.

It is worth noting that we still don’t know why exactly Emma turned dark, given that she refused Nimue earlier in the episode, but if she really has given in to the darkness, why is her skin still pale and moisturized? Are we ever going to get a glimpse of the sparkly and scaly Dark Swan?

And I know it’s useless to quibble about timelines on this show but considering that Nimue became the Dark One only several centuries ago, and we know that Rumple has been the Dark One for about 300 years (give or take some curse-frozen-in-time decades), was there really enough time in between to have all the Dark Ones that showed up at Emma’s Excalibur party? Or were they all so easily defeated that turnover was quick before Rumple got his turn? So many Dark Ones, so little time.

Anyway, next week we get to enjoy two episodes, and one I am particularly looking forward to because it will feature an adventure with Merida, Ruby, and Mulan!