Once Upon A Time S05E07 “Nimue” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Netflix, new episodes every Wednesday
Writer: Jane Espenson
Director: Romeo Tirone
Essential Plot Points
- Merlin’s origins.
- Nimue is revealed .
- How Excalibur, the Dark Ones and the Dagger came to be .
- Arthur has Merlin under his control.
- Excalibur is forged back to its original glory.
In the previous episode review we expresses hesitation about bringing in an important character like Nimue so late in the season, and that her appearance could have been built up better through use of flashbacks. Well, this episode shows that the writers knew what they were doing. They were being subtle. We’re given so many answers to questions that have not only been around since the start of the season: How was Excalibur forged? How did Merlin’s love die? But most importantly, how DID the Dark Ones actually come about?
The origin of Merlin’s powers is one of convenience rather than through training but nevertheless still interesting. Merlin and an unnamed fellow escapee (it’s rather unclear what they’re escaping) come across The Holy Grail while searching for water in the desert – as you do. The unnamed guy dies upon touching the cup which suggests that he wasn’t worthy; it’s similar to how Excalibur can only be removed by a hero. Merlin does what many may do in that situation and says, “Well, I’m going to die anyway, I may as well try to take a sip,” and is granted a drink. Thus Merlin’s power is born, first revealing itself when he turns the sandy dunes into a lustrous green meadow. Which if you think about it is probably the most powerful magic in the series, considering it would require a completely different climate and a new ecosystem.
The majority of this episode concentrates on Merlin’s past, but we’re also treated to a side-plot of Dark Emma (Camelot flashback Emma) and Merlin traveling to obtain the embers of Prometheus’s fire from the original Dark One (who semi-exists in Emma’s head). It’s suggested that this is the critical moment when Emma submits to the darkness inside of her. Merlin predicts that Emma will either overcome or fall to the power which will ultimately kill him, leading Emma to be terrified of her future actions. Watching Emma worry over how strong-willed she is makes for great character development; this isn’t a monster that she has to defeat or outsmart , she simply has to keep control of herself and not fall to temptation.
Before the age of Arthur, Merlin spent his days traveling from village to village healing people and training his young apprentice. That’s until he comes across a young woman whose future he cannot see: her name is Nimue. Nimue has escaped the pillage and burning of her village. It’s here that the first major problem of the episode lies. Merlin and Nimue fall in love but it’s so rushed that it doesn’t leave any chemistry between the characters. Merlin offers to sacrifice his immortally as he can’t bare the idea of marrying her and watching her die while he lives on. It’s nice gesture, but maybe train up your apprentice some more? Perhaps even offer him a drink from the cup so there’s someone to take your place? To be fair, Nimue does offer to drink from it but Merlin is insistent that no one should live forever and have that kind of power as it becomes more of a curse.
In order for Merlin to remove his powers they must travel to where Prometheus’s fire is kept in order to forge the Holy Grail from a cup to a sword. En route, however, they discover that someone else is searching for the Grail. Unfortunately it’s not Graham Chapman, but rather the dark rider who burnt down Nimue’s village, dressed exactly like The Dark One who imprisoned Merlin in the tree. It’s at this point that a lot of us can see the twist coming, but what’s great about this episode is despite being able to see it coming, the reveal is still thrilling.
After Merlin forges the grail into a sword, the dark rider shows up and kills Nimue. However, Nimue has already drunk from the grail when Merlin wasn’t looking thus granting her the same level of magic – and immortality. With her new-found powers she proceeds to murder The Dark Rider, thus corrupting her soul as Merlin warned her against.
This is the second major problem. It’s a great twist and makes a lot of sense for the story, but there was no indication that she could become a killer. The only hint that we get is when she pleads with Merlin to kill the man, but that’s only been a few momentss before. Previous to that she’d come across as fairly non-psychotic. You can’t help wishing the writers had spent little bit more time foreshadowing he inner darkness.
Nimue’s soul is now corrupt. She breaks the sword in two and leaves Merlin. To prevent her from doing too much harm to others he turns the end piece of the sword into a dagger and tethers her soul to it. It’s a good origin to The Dark Ones and fits well with the series as a whole.
When Emma comes across Nimue at the spot where Excalibur was forged it doesn’t run so smoothly. She has to fight Nimue for control of her body before she kills Merlin. It’s an intense scene and we truly don’t know if Emma will win. Luckily she gains control and takes the amber from Nimue (which shouldn’t work because she’s a figment but we’ll go ahead and say, “magic”).
There is a second subplot with Hook, David, Mary-Margret, Regina and Zelena sneaking into Arthur’s castle to reclaim Excalibur. He’s been such an underwhelming villain this whole season, you’d expect our heroes to complete their task with ease, especially as Arthur’s first response is to create a hugely impractical potion weapon for his guards to carry around and spill all over the place. So it’s a bit of a surprise when Arthur wins the day, with the help of Zelena, who betrays the group once again. He manages to tether Merlin’s soul to the remains of Excalibur and have full control over the powerful wizard.
The final scene shows present-day Dark Emma crafting the Excalibur to be whole again as Nimue cheers her on. There is a moment where Emma hesitates to take the sword, hinting that there is small part of her good self still left inside.
Overall this is a great episode. It explains a lot and the answers it gives were worth waiting for. It develops characters and turns the situation from. “Well the heroes have pretty much won now,” to, “How do they get out of that?!”
- Merlin’s origins and how he became trapped in the tree is brilliantly well-written and thoroughly entertaining.
- Emma’s struggle feels real, seeing her battle the darkness within her doesn’t feel forced or contrived.
- How Excalibur and The Dark one came about is very clever and links in with the other episodes. Though some of the twists are guessable, it’s the details about how they come about that leaves you guessing.
- The show turns around the win from the previous episode into an epic loss, also making King Arthur a better villain in the process.
- Why did the first guy die when he touched The Holy Grail? At first it was suggested that he wasn’t worthy but Nimue drank from it and she used it for revenge.
- Nimue’s sudden conversion to the Dark Side was very rushed, almost instant. In fact, the whole Merlin/Nimue romance felt very rushed. This is unfortunately what happens when you try to condense a lot of story into a single episode.
- Could Merlin not see that his soul would be tethered to the sword? Yeah he sees bit and pieces of the future – even alternate paths – but it feels like it’s a power dependant on what’s most dramatically pleasing.
- Arthur’s cauldron and potion makes for an incredibly impractical weapon on the fly.
And The Random:
- The title card features a bed of Middlemist flowers.
- Merlin’s apprentice wears a red cape similar to Arthur’s in The Sword In The Stone .
- Merlin states, “Not all wizards have long white beards,” which is a reference to the majority of wise, powerful wizards as depicted in TV and film, including Merlin in The Sword In The Stone.
- Nimue’s village was named Oxleigh.
- There’s a joke that Emma keeps quoting song lyrics to Hook because he’ll never get them. The lyrics she was quoting was, “Working My Way Back To You” by the Four Seasons.
- When Zelena tricks Mary-Margret she says, “No rest for the wicked”, a clear nod to The Wizard Of Oz.
Review by Sam Halford