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SEASON PREMIERE REVIEW: Once Upon a Time 5×01 “The Dark Swan”


Once Upon a Time is finally back! About damn time! Okay, maybe I can’t complain so much since I just binge-watched the entire series in the past month. But who cares? I’m glad we finally got to catch the premiere of Season 5! According to some people, it seems that last night’s episode, “The Dark Swan”, was a little less than extraordinary. However, I personally enjoyed it, and I think it was a great way to kick off the fifth season. (spoilers ahead).

The beginning of the episode is a flashback (shocker) with a young Emma attending a movie. After nabbing a candy bar from an unsuspecting patron, she sits down and is joined by a mysterious usher who tells her “not to do it”. The usher says that when Emma has the chance to pull Excalibur from the stone, she should not go through with it. Then he disappears. Wtf?

Anyway, recapping from last season, Emma has absorbed the powers of the Dark One, which has transported her back to the Enchanted Forest. Remembering her mission to find Merlin, she immediately sets off on her search. Along the way, Emma discovers that her mind is now inhabited by Rumplestiltskin’s “Dark One” persona. Throughout the episode, she constantly argues with this aspect of her personality as it tells her to use her dark magic and to embrace the Dark Swan. I liked that we finally got to explore the actual mindset of the Dark One. Now, we’re seeing exactly what it’s like to have that curse over your head.

Emma runs into a young woman named Merida (from Disney’s Brave), an archer with a keen eye and heavy Scottish accent. I love what Once Upon a Time has been doing by introducing these Disney characters throughout its seasons, and watching Merida make an appearance was delightful. I can say that the character was perfectly portrayed, but I’m disappointed that she left so quickly! She’s around for the entirety of the episode, but then disappears in the last few minutes. I hope that’s not the last we’ve seen of her. Something tells me she might show up again sometime soon…

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The rest of the protagonists in Storybrooke are struggling to find Emma, except they’re having trouble getting to the Enchanted Forest. They seek out the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, who gives them a wand and tells them what to do just before he dies (how convenient that he held off on dying long enough to explain crucial information). Long story short, they need Zelena, the Wicked Witch, to help them out. I knew that wasn’t the last we’ve seen of her, which is good, because I was not happy with her lack of closure last season.

I also thought that this call-back to the previous season’s finale was a good idea since it helps us remember exactly what’s been happening. I’ll admit that I slightly forgot what happened during the last finale, so a little refresher was welcome.

The gang manages to turn Granny’s diner into a vessel of sorts and travels to the Enchanted Forest, where they encounter Emma and Merida. After Merida sets off on her own quest, the Knights of the Round Table show up, telling the protagonists that they’re going to usher them to Camelot and help them find Merlin.

I think this season will mostly revolve around Camelot lore with a bit of Brave sprinkled in. We’ve already got King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, Camelot, Merlin, Excalibur, and other aspects of the mythology. All we need is the Black Knight and the Holy Grail. Whoops, did I just guess the rest of the season? Let me guess: the team has to find the Holy Grail and defeat the Black Knight in order to rescue Merlin, right?

Speaking of Excalibur, there’s a scene at the beginning of the episode that blew my mind wide open. In the distant past, the Knights of the Round Table encounter the Sword in the Stone. King Arthur yanks the sword out, but discovers that the top part of the blade is missing. We quickly realize that the point of the blade is actually the dagger of the Dark One.

Mind. Blown.

As this season progresses, I’m very curious to find out how Excalibur and the Dark One are intertwined. The sword obviously has some dark magic, seeing as it turned one of the knights into dust when he was not worthy enough to yank it from the stone.

The episode ends with a caption saying “six weeks later” and Granny’s diner landing back in Storybrooke. It looks like nobody remembers the past six weeks in Camelot. Oh, great – another memory spell. Right before the credits roll, Emma barges into the diner, now fully transformed into the Dark Swan.

Seeing the Dark Swan make an appearance was breath-taking. Emma has always had this calm, approachable, witty demeanor. Now, she’s very frigid and intimidating; a complete reversal of her original personality. I’m excited to learn how much the character has changed since her first arrival in Camelot. Let’s see if the Dark Swan can be darker than both Regina and Rumplestiltskin.

“The Dark Swan” was a great first episode. I don’t see why people want to complain unless they’re just tired of the memory wipes and time-jumps (which is understandable). Other than that, the performances were top-notch, the introduction of the new story was entertaining, and the episode gave us enough to keep us engaged while still leaving us wanting more.

Final Grade: A –

+ Amy Manson does a wonderful Merida.

+ The part with Rumplestiltskin’s Dark One acting as Emma’s subconscious was neat.

+ Seeing Emma as the Dark Swan at the very end was awesome; Jennifer Morrison has proven her acting capabilities by doing a complete 180 from her typical Emma persona.

– I hope that’s not ALL we saw of Merida; you can’t tease the hell out of a character and then have her leave so quickly. Then again, The Flash is pretty notorious for that…

– Another time-jump into the future? I’m guessing the rest of the season (or at least the first half) will consist of flashbacks to those six weeks spent in the Enchanted Forest?

– And yet another memory-wipe?

Extra Thoughts:

– I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s super curious about that mysterious usher at the beginning of the episode. What if he’s Merlin?!

How did you feel about Once Upon a Time‘s Season 5 premiere? Did you enjoy it? Let us know what you think in the comments or on Twitter!

About the author

Alex Reale

From a young age, Alex knew he was destined to be a writer. He also harbored a deep infatuation with superheroes and comics. Luckily, he was able to combine these two passions through his role with A Place to Hang Your Cape, where he works as Junior Sidekick and Social Media Hero.

When he’s not writing for AP2HYC or working full-time as a content manager for a small business website, Alex is diligently at work on other creative projects including a fantasy novel collection and an independent comic series.

You can find Alex's first book, Dodger's Doorway, on Amazon!