Once Upon A Time S05E01 “The Dark Swan” REVIEW

Once Upon A Time S05E01 “The Dark Swan” REVIEW


stars 4

Airing in the UK on Netflix

Writers: Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Director: Ron Underwood

Essential Plot Points:

  • In the Enchanted Forest Emma tries to fight against her new dark nature.
  • The Storybrooke crew travel to the Enchanted Forest to save Emma.
  • Emma and Brave’s Merida cross swords (or arrows).
  • King Arthur and Camelot introduced.
  • Suddenly it’s six weeks later and the Storybrooke crew find themselves inexplicably back in the town with no memory of what happened after they entered Camelot. Oh, also…
  • …Emma is the Dark Swan.



Once Upon A Time is back! Ever since the end of season four we’ve all been on the edge of our seats wondering what Dark Emma was going to be like. We weren’t going to find out straight away. This was not to be an instant transition

Emma is sent back to Enchanted Forest where the Darkness – in the form of Rumplestiltskin – constantly tempts the reluctant Emma to use her dark powers. (It doesn’t have to take Rumplestiltskin’s form, but Robert Carlyle is under contract and not doing anything because the real Rumplestiltskin is in a coma, so, the producers may as well get their money’s worth). This is where she comes across Merida, or rather the grown-up Merida, as they both fight for possession of a  blue wisp that will help them locate the missing people they’re looking for; Merida is searching for her brothers while Emma seeks Merlin, who can allegedly cure her of the Darkness.

Brave fans may be disappointed with the introduction of Merida, however. When incorporating with the worlds of Frozen and Peter Pan into the show, Once Upon A Time really expanded the characters. Here, though, Merida just blurts out exposition about life back in Scotland then disappears again near the end. Amy Manson was a lot of fun but she doesn’t have anywhere near enough to do.

Meanwhile in Storybrooke the gang need to find a way to get to the Enchanted Forest. The only available method requires the Apprentice’s wand which needs an evil touch to make it work. With Regina apparently now too “good” to suffice these days, they are forced to turn to the Wicked Witch for help. 

Consequently the episode wastes a fair bit of time with Zelena in a limp plot of double-cross and out-double-cross. There’s a short touching moment of sympathy when she reveals all she wants to do is run away with her baby, other than which the whole Zelena plot feels like so much padding.

Anyway, the Storybrookers finally reach the Enchanted Forest and everyone is reunited just as Emma has to make a choice about using her dark powers, with Rumplestiltskin in the background egging her on. It looks like the heroes have saved Emma’s soul but then the Knight of Camelot arrive and… things go a bit wonky.

After everyone reaches Camelot, suddenly time skips forward six weeks, and the Storybrookers are back in their home town having lost any memories (again) of what happened since they entered Arthur’s castle. Even worse, Emma in now the full-fledged Dark Swan, turning a dwarf to stone to prove it. She comes across a little cartoony but there’s definitely potential here for Dark Emma to become a formidable villain.

Sadly, like Merida, King Arthur and co felt a little underused so hopefully there’ll be more and better for them to do in future episodes. You can’t help wishing there’d been less Zelena nonsense, though, and more time spent introducing the new characters.


The Good:

  • Merida was great in this episode, she’s grown up and still retains that Scottish feistiness.
  • An interesting set-up with King Arthur and Merlin – fans should have a lot to look forward to seeing where the show can take this legend.
  • We are introduced to Dark Emma with a rather strange get-up going on. If anything she is certainly unique.
  • Both Granny and (some of) the dwarves tag along for this adventure this time giving some much-needed new blood to the formula.
  • Once_upon_a_time_s05e01_the_dark_swan_zelena

The Bad:

  • Not another bout of amnesia! This is the third time it’s been done on the show and doesn’t offer anything new.
  • While it’s always a pleasure to see Robert Carlyle as Rumplestiltskin, it seems a bit of a waste of a good character just to have him as the mouthpiece of the Darkness.   
  • Dark Emma came across a little silly when first introduced but she still has time to come into the role. (Yes Dark Emma makes both the good and bad list).


And The Random:

  • The title card features Granny’s Dinner in the woods
  • There’s a good use of Disney’s The Sword In The Stone (1963) at the beginning of the episode, continuing the trend of referring openly the Disney movies that inspire the show.
  • One of the previous Dark Ones was called Gorgon the Invincible, a bore that breathes fire. We’re unsure how a bore could claim the dragger but it certainly made for a cool moment.
  • The Nurse at the underground mental institution is revealed to be named “Nurse Ratched” a rather clever wink to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975 – not Disney, is that allowed?).
  • Rumplestiltskin complains that he can’t understand Merida’s Scottish accent – which is a bit rich coming from a character played by a Scottish actor. An in-joke, we presume.

Reviewed by Sam Halford



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