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Once Upon A Time goes dark for season five

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The battle between good and evil has defined Once Upon A Time since its very first nanosecond, and as we enter season five, the concepts of “goodness” and “badness” still make up the vast majority of the show. OUAT does well when it mixes up these concepts in a blender: showing the softer side of evil queen Regina and legendary troublemaker Rumplestiltskin, highlighting the foibles of the holier-than-thou Charmings.

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If you’ll recall, OUAT ended season four with Emma becoming the Dark One to prevent Regina from getting swallowed up by some giant evil black cloud thingee. The special effects on this show now take Emma to a crazy inky dark pool, where she rises up and wonders where she is. Seriously? You’re in a magical wooded area, any guesses? Emma, have you never seen this show before?

As our (somewhat clueless) new Dark One, Emma is visited by the welcome voice of Rumplestiltskin, which is fortunate since his present-day self is in a coma, symbolized by the rose in the jar we’ve seen in the Disney movie. Emma needs to get to Merlin before the darkness completely overtakes her, with Rumple scoffing all the way. She runs into Braves Merida (Rumple: “What’s she saying? Accent’s a bit much, no?”) who is on a quest of her own to free her brothers. After seeing Emma’s crazy dark side, which involves ripping Merida’s heart outside of her body, Merida realizes that she has the darkness in her as well, and will limit her vengeance to a punch in the stomach. The bludgeoning moral here: Even if you do something bad for a good reason, it’s still bad. Emma can’t kill Merida to save herself from the darkness, because that in and of itself is a dark act. Anyone else feel a migraine coming on?

In the meantime, the Storybrookers try to get to Emma, in a misbegotten and convoluted plan even for them. Honestly, I am all for suspending disbelief, with the Dark One’s dagger as part of Excalibur and the wish-granting whip-poor-will or whatever, but there are limits. Like Henry and Hook deciding that using Zelena in their plan is a good idea. (OUAT writers: Less is more. We get it. When Hook says something about Regina’s least favorite person in the world, the followup dialogue—Henry: “Zelena.” Hook: “That’s right.”—is completely unnecessary.) You just know that their plan is bound to get hella fucked up, which it does in a spectacularly short period of time. Hook protests, “At least I was doing something!” Yeah, messing stuff up! It’s like putting Dumb And Dumber in charge of your rescue plan.

Luckily, crafty Regina has this all figured out with the cyclone, which she can steer with Emma’s baby blanket (sometimes, just typing a phrase like that from OUAT leads me to a simultaneous giggle/eyeroll): Okay. Using Granny’s Diner as a vessel and inviting the dwarves along because they’re feeling neglected: Fine. But if you are taking a cyclone to a potentially dangerous different realm, why would you also take your baby? (Which hasn’t appeared to grow at all in the time he’s been alive, by the way. I suspect they’re just walking around with a butternut squash in that blanket.) Even in the magical realm, little Prince Neal is going to need a frickin’ diaper bag at least. Just leave him with the Blue Fairy or something.

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But at least we’re in Camelot, which—rough estimate—is a 4,000-percent improvement over last year’s Frozen plot. It’s also a mythology we’ve touched on but haven’t really explored yet, so looking forward to yet another witch, Morgaine Le Fay, to show up any episode now. Mordred would be cool. So that’s all well and good, even with the baby and Zelena along for the ride because now that’s she’s deceptively pregnant she has maternal feelings or something. Maybe she can conjure up a diaper bag.

Then in the episode’s last minutes, Once Upon A Time pulls one of its classic switches: Granny’s Diner reappears from Camelot, with everyone in fancy castle clothes, and nobody can remember what happened. Snow unhelpfully points out, “Again,” but honestly. Fool me once, shame on you, Storybrooke; fool me twice, what the hell, I’m still here, aren’t I? But it’s really annoying that in only a few seasons the writers feel compelled to go back to this particular well, hoping that viewers will watch to find out about Emma’s transformation over those past six weeks.

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Which leads us to, far and away, the best part of the episode: The Black Swan. Emma’s darkness is magnificent (and cold, apparently), and I for one can’t wait to see how she tortures this lot. Can she start with Snow? Please? It’s a hackneyed trick to reuse this particular narrative device (group amnesia!): a bad storytelling methodology that the show is pulling for ostensibly good reasons. And the dark side appears to be working, because those last few moments ably set up OUAT for the rest of season five.

Last five minutes of the episode: A-

Rest: C+

Stray observations

  • I unabashedly love the picture at the top of this page.
  • ‘“Your turn.” Well done, show.
  • The Charmings persist in being the most pointless characters on OUAT, them and their squash baby. When Snow starts whining about Emma or whoever I just tune out. Did Charming even have any lines?
  • “Twister!” “It’s okay, we summoned it.”
  • The viewing of Sword In The Stone that opens the season appeared to be a friendly reminder that Camelot is also a Disney product.
  • People look really silly waving a wand around with no powers.
  • Was praying that Merida wouldn’t mention the whole bear thing, but I should have known that OUAT couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
  • “In our land, men don’t think women can lead.” “Not just in your land!” Feminism finally makes its way to the Enchanted Forest.
  • Who was the crazy person with the mop at the jail?
  • Welcome to Once Upon A Time season five! Not sure how often I’ll be dropping in on it this season, but if the show goes full-on Dark Emma, it will be hard to turn away.
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