We begin in Camelot (say it with me now) "Many years ago..."
Merlin is seeking the Dark One, whom he commands with the dagger. The Dark One appears (wearing a mask for some nefarious, yet-to-be-revealed reason) and Merlin screams "You destroyed her - the only woman I ever loved!" He raises the dagger, but drops it before completing his action and striking a killing blow. The Dark One is quick to pick it up. He takes one of Merlin's tears, imbuing the dagger with it before he turns Merlin into a tree.
Emma, it turns out, is seeing this through a dreamcatcher while she stands in front of Merlin's tree.
Forward now to pre-curse Camelot and Regina is questioning Snow and David, who are still looped out on magic fixy dust. David tells Regina to turn over the dagger because he trusts Arthur "implicitly," prompting Regina to retort:
"Did you learn those big words at shepherd school?"
She's not so quick to jump on the Arthur train, and just as Snow's getting bitchy about it, Emma shows up and freezes them in place. She knows all about Arthur's plan and how he used the fixing dust on them.
Forward to Storybrooke, where most of the major characters are at the jail where they're all questioning the disappearance of Arthur's squire (but nobody thinks to check the betamax security tapes - go figure). Guinevere suggests something to raise the town's spirits since the squire obviously took off with the magic bean. Well...okay. Most people would suggest...Oh, I don't know...looking for the guy in a small town with a barrier around it, but Henry suggests a dance and that sounds like a better idea.
They head off to Granny's, where David asks if Henry isn't trying to set up some time with his girlfriend by suggesting the dance.
Hook adorably offers to give Henry dating tips and Regina retorts "Over your dead body." Just then, Belle rushes up to tell them Rumple's missing.
Rumple, meantime is down in Emma's basement, tied up and begging her to let him go. (Note to writers: can we please see this scene re-enacted with naked Hook? Thank you.)
Rumple reminds Emma that the more she justifies her dark actions, the more she's doomed to drive everyone away. "You will always lose the ones you love the most," he cautions. Emma is unmoved and orders Merida to take him to the woods and make him brave.
Emma then heads out to a shed filled with dreamcatchers, where she pulls one down, holding it close and tearing up.
Hey, she's in there. Emma's really in there!
Back to Camelot and Emma tells Regina that she learned about Arthur's plans from a dreamcatcher. Regina cautions her that dreamcatchers are dark magic and they capture more than dreams - they capture memories as well. Emma shares Merlin's story and Regina tells Emma they need a tear of lost love to get Merlin free.
On the other side of the village, Henry is talking to Violet at the horse stables, and he learns that she lost her mother. They share a sad moment talking about their departed parents and how hard it is to be a child in a Disney-owned franchise. Violet gives him a dewy-eyed look and tells him, "I've never met anyone I could talk to aboat this before," in her sweet Canadian accent.
Henry lets her wander off, then he pretends to pull Excalibur in a really cheesy moment, and makes an ass of himself with a sword. He meets Sir Morgan, Violet's father. Daddy's suitably unimpressed with Henry being a writer (synonymous with "wimp" in his book) and tells Henry to clear out.
Forward to Storybrooke, where Violet is mourning her missing horse. She can't possibly go to the dance with her horse missing, so Henry seeks out Mommy Dark One to help him find Violet's happy ending and hopefully get him closer to one of his own. (Wait. Didn't mean for that to come out dirty. Oh well.)
Off in the forest, Rumple's limp is making things problematic for Merida. She fashions him a walking stick and starts training him on swordplay.
"I can never be brave," he whines. She vows to find a way to motivate him just before she knocks him over the head. Then she heads off into town where she manages to break into Regina's office and find the storybook (wow, how convenient!) and gets some intel on Rumple and his motivations. Then she easily and conveniently breaks into his shop and takes something.
Emma and Henry team up and share a really warm moment in the bug, "just like old times," and it turns out the song Henry shared with Violet was one of his dad's favorites - one that Neal used to woo Emma back in the day.
Back to Camelot where Henry is caught by his moms (and in an awesome moment, he greets them with "Hi Moms!) attempting to learn to handle a sword. He tells them he wants to learn to be a hero so he can win Violet's affection, and Regina reminds him that she fell for Daniel even though he was a stable boy - and he should always be himself. Emma reminds him that she fell for his dad because of who he really was and advises him to play the mysterious stranger from an exotic land card. Henry is inspired.
Regina is inspired as well. They head to the castle where Emma gives her a dreamcatcher that shows her Daniel's death again, Regina starts crying and Emma takes her tears, which should be the missing ingredient to the potion that will wake Merlin from the tree.
Forward to Storybrooke - Regina and the others break into Emma's house while Henry's got her occupied (smart thinking, Henry!). Emma has a protection spell on the house, but Regina poofs up Henry's scarf to cover her hand and in they go. [I have to give a special shout-out to Redditor boofire, who made me spit iced tea on my keyboard with this outstanding snark: "God, that was a dangerous game Regina. You have no idea what you could summon from a teenage boy's room."]
Now we're back in Camelot, and here's that happy poppy song again. It's growing on me. Henry's got Granny's set up for a dinner date and Violet is suitably impressed. He asks her if Pepsi is okay and she makes that face we all make when a waiter asks that (okay, I'm kidding - she thinks soda is magic), and then he fills her wineglass with Pepsi and she's amazed. "Like a carnival in a can!" she squeals, and oh my god this is just the cutest thing ever.
He plans to feed her reheated lasagna and show her a movie on his phone (Netflix and chill?). Violet asks if he's courting her and she's...not thrilled with that. She doesn't feel the same way aboat him as he does for her. She just wants to be friends.
Oooooh. Friendzoned. The darkest magic of all.
Over at the castle, Emma mixes the potion to free Merlin, but it doesn't work. Regina's heartbreak isn't strong enough. Henry shows up, all sad from his friendzone catastrophe, and he sheds a tear because he'll never be a hero. Regina and Emma are duly sympathetic for six or seven seconds before Emma mops up his face to get his sweet, sweet, agonizing tears. Before she can use them, Arthur shows up with his knights.
Regina holds them off with a fireball and Emma activates the spell. It pours through her, activating light and dark as she aims it all at the tree. Merlin emerges, and she's a little woozy, and more than a little shocked that he knows her name. We're all more than a little woozy, because Merlin is serious man-candy. Dayum.
He tells Arthur how disappointed he is in him. Arthur rants right back, and then he storms off like the whiny, conniving sissypants he is.
Forward to Storybrooke, where the group finds Excalibur in the basement of Emma's house and realize that the dagger goes with Excalibur somehow. Hook starts to pull it out, (and those of us who've seen certain spoiler photos hold our breath) but Regina stops him in case it's booby trapped. Belle finds the ropes and decides Rumple was there because....ropes. Hook sees a box sitting on the table as they start to exit, and inside is a conveniently important dreamcatcher.
Regina knows it has magical properties and determines that's where their memories are. Hook also mentions Neal for the fourth time in one episode.
Emma, meanwhile, has taken Henry to Peter and his pumpkin emporium - which is where Nicodemus the pumpkin-loving horse went. Henry leads the horse off, calling the others to warn them that his Mom was on her way back.
Later, at the carnival, Hook tells Arthur that Emma has Excalibur. Arthur lets them know that the dagger is part of the sword and that it can destroy all darkness forever.
"That's a good thing?" Season Four David says. Go back to Season Four, idiot. We want Season Five badass David back again. Anyway, Arthur tells them the dagger can also be used to destroy all the light, too. And is it just me, or does Hook seem like he sees right through Arthur?
Henry comes riding into the carnival on Violet's horse and suddenly her Daddy likes him. He takes the horse and leaves them to to have some fun. Violet gives Henry the Disney teen kiss on the cheek and off they go. Awww.
Over in the woods, Merida releases Rumple from the tree she'd tied him to.
"I can't fight," he tells her again.
"You will fight," she assures him, because she's going to give him something to fight for. She's got the chipped cup and she's going to drop it if he doesn't fight her for it. He finally picks up the sword, freaks on her and gets in one good shot.
Across town, Robin finally has a line. He tells Regina to use the dreamcatcher, and she activates it. This dreamcatcher holds Violet's memories, and through it we see that Emma took Violet's heart to manipulate her into breaking Henry's heart in Camelot. This, of course, doesn't go over so well with Regina or Henry, who was watching, too.
Flashback to Granny's in Camelot, and Merlin removes the fixing spell Arthur put on David and Snow. They ask if Merlin can free Emma from the darkness and his reply (after a faint but telling moment of hesitation) is "Sure." Of course, this comes with a caveat: Emma has to truly want to be free of the darkness. The camera goes to Emma's very unsure face.
Forward to Storybrooke again, and Emma shows up at Regina's door to see Henry. Regina once again demands to know what Emma is doing and Emma responds by once again telling Regina to trust her. Regina pulls out the dreamcatcher and lets Emma know that they saw her take Violet's heart. She also gets Emma to admit that she set the whole thing up with Violet's horse, manipulating Henry's romance again in Storybrooke.
Emma lets it slip that she freed Merlin but won't tell anything else. Regina shuts the door in her face with a great "Goodbye Miss Swan" callback to Season One, letting her know that Henry doesn't want to see her. Emma looks up to Henry's window, and he shuts the curtains. We fade out on sad, dark Emma.
- Okay, so the dreamcatchers hold everyone's memories - whose dreamcatcher was Emma crying over? Who?? Odds are it's either Henry or Hook, and either way we're due to get emotionally eviscerated.
- When Emma freed Merlin, both light and dark were pouring out of her. That had to be by design, and Merlin knew she'd be the one to free him. Where is this leading?
- Who is the original Dark One and why is he/she masked? Obviously, it's someone we'll recognize (hence the mask). Hmmmm.
- I hope all these mentions of Neal mean something. As much as I love my Hook and Emma, I do wish they'd have let Michael Raymond James hang around a little longer. Maybe give him somebody new to love. And with whispers about the location of the second half of the season....well, you never know in this show.
- Henry's determined to be a hero... wouldn't it be cool if Mulan introduced him to her buddy Shang, who's determined to make a man out of Henry? Work in a training montage and everything (maybe with Mulan's beloved three sidekicks?). Just an item on the wishlist and an opportunity for some more mancandy. I nominate this guy to play Shang.
There were a couple of blatant plot conveniences, but Jennifer Morrison, you are just nailing it this season. I am loving the hell out of Dark Emma. So much shading. So many nuances. I can't wait for what else they have in store.