You had ONE job, Snow....
We begin tonight at Emma's house, or should I say "under" Emma's house, where she's dealing with Dark Rumple. He discusses the history of Excalibur and tells her it's time to fulfill the promise in the blade.
And now we go back a thousand years ago. Two people are running through the desert, away from soldiers who are hunting them. One of them is Merlin but he's wearing rags. They're hot and dying of thirst when Merlin sees something glinting in the distance. They end up finding the holy grail. His companion grabs the cup and is instantly pulverized.
Merlin decides to take his chances, and takes a drink from the cup. The grail finds him worthy, giving him magic, and the desert blooms to life under his fingers becoming (I assume) the Enchanted Forest.
Flash forward to Camelot, and our cadre of major characters are at Granny's. Oh, look - Robin's back! But Belle is missing! Whatever! Merlin tells all of them to get Excalibur while he and Emma go after the magical means to unite it with the dagger, and Killian gets more than a little incensed over the vagueness of Arthur's plan. Oh, God do I love seething Killian. He's so deliciously, righteously angry.
Merlin tells him that being the Dark One is a huge burden on the soul. "Love is a great help if you can find it," he says, encouraging Killian to stay by her side as Emma navigates her way through this. Pfft. As if Killian was going anywhere.
And now we're two hundred years ago, and Merlin is healing people and using his powers for good. His young apprentice directs him toward a woman who's waiting to talk to him, and strangely enough, Edward Cullen Merlin can't see her future. She comes to him seeking revenge on the man who destroyed her village and killed all the inhabitants. To his surprise, she asks only for permission to plant the seeds of the flowers that used to grow only in her village - she'd like to see them bloom again. Merlin puts some mojo on the soil and they bloom before her eyes. He tells her to come and see them anytime and she gives him her name: Nimue.
Forward to Camelot again, and Merlin tells Emma they need a spark from mankind's original fire forged by Prometheus (and there's some nice foreshadowing for the second half of the season). He asks her to let the big Kahuna Dark One in so she can take the ember from him. He's seeing two paths - one where she's successful, and another where she kills him and becomes the most powerful Dark One in the history of ever.
"No pressure," he assures her.
Now it's time for some Captain Swan, and the writers don't disappoint. Aw, she calls Killian babe and they get to smooching. Ahhhhh. The Captain Swan feels.
Killian gives Emma the ring he wears around his neck which makes her splutter and prompts him to add, "I'm not proposing!" (Dammit) and he tells her it's the reason he's always survived everything - or could be. Guess we'll find out more about that one later, possibly when his old man shows up later in the season. They end the scene with Killian proclaiming himself to be the pirate who loves her (still not a direct "I love you, writers!) and Emma answers with an "I love you" of her own.
Back two hundred years ago once more. Merlin tells Nimue the story of how he found the Holy Grail, which gave him eternal life. He also mentions that was five hundred years ago, and I hope the writers are readying their magic timeline whiteboard to post on Twitter tomorrow.
If he's been magic for five hundred years previous to two hundred years ago, that adds up to 700 years. But we saw him drink from the grail a thousand years ago, so those missing three hundred years he just...what?
And Rumple became the Dark One three hundred years ago from present day (give or take), which would be a hundred years before the Dark One dagger was even created, according to this new information. What the hell writers? Just stick with "many years ago." It's a lot easier on the brain. Don't make me math, please. It's jarring.
Anyway, he tells her where the grail is hidden and Nimue begs him to let her drink from the grail so she can live forever and be immortal with him. Merlin tells her immortality isn't all it's cracked up to be. "Life is moments," he tells her, and when you've got an overwhelming amount of them, they lose their meaning. He suggests instead that they melt down the grail and forge it into a sword to cut away his magic, so that he can be mortal again. He then makes her a ring from one of her flower stems and says he'll do anything to live a life with her.
Unfortunately, the masked figure from last week - a.k.a. the original "Dark One," overheard their exchange, which can't be a good thing.
Forward to Camelot, where the cadre of leading characters are trying to figure out the best way to break into Camelot. Zelena offers to help them in through a secret entrance she discovered in return for removal of the cuff. Regina is skeptical, but agrees to the bargain as long as Zelena's information turns out to be solid. They leave Snow to guard Zelena and the others head in.
Zelena starts bawling and Snow comes closer to see if she's okay. Zelena kicks her in the face (per the show's guidelines, does that mean Zelena has a crush on Snow? Cue the Snicked shippers...) and ties her up.
Meanwhile, Arthur is mixing up a potion that will disintegrate anything it touches, and orders the guards to throw it on any of our beloved characters if they see them. "There won't be anything left of them but teeth and bones," he says in a really psychopathic way. Damn Arthur. You scary.
Emma and Merlin head off to the middle of the woods, and Emma tells Merlin that the darkness is winning. Merlin tells her there's still hope, provided she doesn't kill him.
Now we've changed to "years earlier" since the writers must have realized "two hundred years ago" was skewing the timeline but didn't feel like going back and adjusting that. Nimue brings Merlin to what's left of her village. She tells him that if she had magic, she'd use it to vanquish a-holes like the one who trashed her village.
As it turns out, the a-hole was looking for the Holy Grail, and he's lurking just over the hill. Nimue wants Merlin to kill the man, but Merlin warns her that if he uses his magic to take a life, it'll turn him to the darkness.
The a-hole shows up and Nimue fights him, getting herself good and stabbed. With a breathy "I'm sorry...", she dies in Merlin's arms when he was just seen healing people in an earlier scene and a straightforward stab wound shouldn't have been any big deal to a person of Merlin's power level.
Forward to Merlin and Emma in the forest. He tells her that the first Dark One took the flame and still possesses it in the form of a single ember. Merlin gives her the Dark One dagger, telling her she needs it to reach all the way back to talk to the first Dark One.
The dagger starts cycling through names as Emma tells herself "It's just in my head, it's just in my head."
Finally, it settles, revealing the original name. Wait - the Dark One is Nimue?
I figured as much before the episode even started, but they derailed that train of thought at the end there when the masked guy showed up and she didn't disappear. Nicely played.
It turns out Nimue was a big ole faker and she already drank from the grail. She wanted immortality to be with him, and wants to use it to vanquish a-holes like the one who destroyed her village. Merlin begs her to spare the evil guy lest she turn dark but she crushed the guy's heart and the flame snuffs out behind her. She starts turning glittery and grabs Excalibur, breaking the blade so Merlin can't cut away anyone's magic.
Forward to Emma facing Nimue, and I'm just going to let you watch from here because hot DAMN this was the best effing scene I've seen on this show in a hell of a long time.
That powerhouse line at the 2:00 mark...I am not nothing! I was never nothing! Holy cow. Jen Morrison, you are just killing it this season.
Merlin gives Emma some backstory on how he and the apprentice put Excalibur in the stone. He tethered Nimue to the dagger so he could control her, and she wears the mask of the former a-hole as a sign of power and vengeance. Emma tells him Nimue loves him still. She wonders if it's possible to have the darkness and use it for good. Merlin tells her that someday there may be someone good enough to hold the dagger without the darkness burning through. Someday. In this season, I'm sure.
Meanwhile, in Camelot castle, the cadre of major characters has gotten to Excalibur but Killian's not sure this is a great idea.
"Stop shivering your timbers, pirate," Regina snarks. She only gets a handful of lines lately, so they have to concentrate the snark, I suppose.
Then in strolls Zelena with bound-up Snow. Arthur is in league with her, and he's freed her from her cuff. Zelena uses Merlin's spellbook to find the tethering spell he used to tie Nimue to the dagger, and she tethers Merlin to Excalibur. Merlin poofs away from Emma to Arthur's side, where he commands Merlin to defend him. Arthur is pissed about not getting all the glory that should have come with the sword. He commands Merlin to make the cadre leave and they poof away.
Forward to Storybrooke, where Dark Rumple is haranguing Emma to reforge the dagger to Excalibur. Nimue shows up, along with all the Dark Ones, who are cheering her on as she grabs the ember and puts the dagger and Excalibur together. They tell Emma to take the power but she hesitates, remembering Merlin's words of warning. We end the scene with her taking the hilt of the completed sword in her hand, as the multitude of Dark Ones voice their approval.
I'm giving this one a solid five daggers out of five.
Despite the wonky timeline, there was a lot of great exposition, seething and romantic Killian, poor, tortured Merlin, crazy Zelena who paled in comparison to batshit psychopath Arthur, and then Jen Morrison knocked it out of the park with that impeccably delivered performance. Scenes like that remind me of all I love about this show. I am so excited for next week, and I love feeling that way again.