Once Upon a Time 5.5 – The Power of the Dark Side

If you’ve ever seen Star Wars, and I assume most of you have, you know how strong the lure of the dark side can be. The Emperor almost convinces Luke to give in to his hatred, Darth Vader goes from a Jedi to the dark side (even if it happened over 3 movies most of us probably wish we could forget), and now with its usual Once Upon a Time twist we have the savior struggling with the darkest of urges.

While I do think the comparison Regina makes between Emma and Cora is unfair (after all, Emma returned Violet’s heart safely, and only borrowed it in the first place to try to free herself from overwhelming darkness while Cora straight up murdered Daniel to make her daughter royalty), it takes a certain coldness to wilfully wish your own child’s heart broken, however temporarily.

Emma vs Rumple as The Dark One

Rumple does warn Emma at the beginning of the episode, very prophetically as always, that if she embraces the darkness “You will always lose the ones you love the most.” As a side note, can Rumple still see the future? He got that ability from the Seer, not from being the dark one, so I wonder if power remains? Anyway, Emma seem to be making some of the same mistakes as Rumple. While Rumple chose power over his son Baelfire, Emma too put her own well-being over Henry’s. However, this returns to the (in my opinion) unfair comparison between Emma and Cora. Rumple wanted power for his own personal gain. Emma arranged for Henry to have his heart broken so she could stop being the dark one. That doesn’t make what she did any less horrible or excusable, but it does differentiate her from the previous Dark One and some of the other villains we’ve seen. Yet that leads us to the unanswered question of the episode regarding why Merlin didn’t save her, but we’ll return to that in a moment. 

Like Rumple, Emma still retains her humanity to a certain extent even as the Dark One. In this episode, Emma starts crying as she holds onto that dreamcatcher (in present day Storybrooke). Rumple rarely showed that kind of vulnerability unless directly confronted by Belle. Was that the dreamcatcher Neal gave her? Or the one Regina uses later to uncover Violet’s memory of what Emma did? Is Emma crying because of what she did and the hurt she caused Henry? Anyone else confused about what that moment meant and why she was crying? It could provide better insight into her current character. 

Can Love Overcome the Darkness?

Love, as always, plays an important role. Regina went dark after losing Daniel. Rumple turned dark after losing Mina. Last week Killian helped chase away the dark voices in Emma’s head with his love for her. And Merlin was trapped with a tear he cried after losing the only woman he ever loved. True love’s kiss can help remove the darkness in the right circumstances but fails in others (I’m still not completely clear on those rules).

Henry’s love seems to still reach Emma, in spite of everything. In Storybrooke, he’s the one person she allows to access her house. And she does look genuinely thrilled  that Henry came to her for help, even if (as Regina suspects) Emma deliberately let the horse loose so Henry would be able to play the hero. When Henry tells her, “I’ve  missed this. Us. Operation Cobra,” Emma also appears sincere with her reply “Me too.” They even bond over Henry’s courtship techniques when he tells her he played “Only You” by Yaz and she asks if his dad taught him that move. Henry says, “He said it always works.” And Emma replies with a smile, “It did on me.” Henry also has to make Emma step back and let him get the horse, since she’s the dark one, and it’s nice how she trusts him to do that and looks at him with motherly pride when he succeeds. 

Back in Camelot, before Emma has given in to the darkness completely, she also gives Henry spot on advice about love – how changing to make someone like you never works, which has always been an important lesson on this show. True love is about loving someone’s true self, accepting who they are completely – the good and the bad. And while Emma may then turn around and betray her son to save herself, she does display profound compassion when watching Regina’s memory of Daniel’s death. She’s still able to empathize with the friend she’s come to care about, another form of love.

Finally, Emma has the love of her parents, and immediately accepts their apology once Merlin frees them from the spell. By the way, anyone else thrilled that didn’t go in the way I think a lot of us were expecting, with Snow and Charming betraying Emma and her not knowing why? I’m so happy she knew immediately they were under a spell, and that Merlin freed them from that spell by the end of one episode! Really didn’t want that plot line to linger too long.

So with all of that love surrounding Emma, and her clear ability to still feel love as evidenced in her interactions with Henry, Regina, her parents, and Killian, how did she end up going dark?

In the episode’s subplot, we also see the power of love as a motivation to make Rumple brave. I’m not sure what I think of Merida knocking Rumple down and taunting him at first, but while she leaves him tied up in the woods she does uncover the tea cup – the symbol of his and Belle’s love. As Merida says, “If you want a lad to fight, give him something to fight for.” That proves true, when the sight of the tea cup and Merida’s taunting does make Rumple get up and perform an act of true bravery. 

Merlin & Emma’s Choice

Once Emma does free Merlin, he confirms that he can pull the darkness from her. But as we’ve seen, she’s very much the Dark One in present day Storybrooke. So what happened? Clearly it has something to do with what Merlin said to Emma: “Darkness like this takes a hold of a person, finds its way deep inside where nobody else can see. So if I’m to free you from its grasp, I must know one thing. Emma, is your heart truly ready to be free? Because it is as much up to you as me.” I can’t imagine Emma saying no to that question, can you? So what happens?

Back in Storybrooke, even Regina is shocked to learn that they managed to free Merlin, wanting to know how Emma’s still the Dark One if they accomplished that feat. Emma did use dark magic to free Merlin, plus the dark magic involved in pulling memories from the dream catchers. Could all of that dark magic been enough to draw her deep enough into darkness’s grasp that she’d want to keep it? 

Merlin, Arthur, and Excalibur

Merlin’s first words on emerging from the tree say a lot about how much he’s aware of what’s happened while he was trapped and about the nature of his prophecies. He first turns to our savior, telling her “I’ve been waiting for you, Emma.” Then he faces Arthur. “And you. The boy who could be king. My great hope. How you’ve disappointed me.”

It’ll be interesting to see what Merlin does next, both with Emma as I’ve already mentioned and with all of the horrible things Arthur has done. Will he break the spell on Guinevere as he did on Snow and Charming? She’s still with Arthur in Storybrooke, and he’s still king, although none of them remember what happened back in Camelot. We also haven’t seen Merlin yet in Storybrooke so it’s unclear what becomes of him.

As for Excalibur, Arthur tells our heroes that the blade and the dagger were forged as one weapon and then broken in two. If the blade is reassembled, it can be used to destroy either all dark magic or all light magic forever.

With the way things are now, Emma would most likely use it to snuff out the light. As Regina rightly points out to Emma, “If I’m the one with the moral high ground, then you’ve fallen quite far.”

What do you think happened to make Emma the Dark One? Any other theories on what’s to come, or thoughts on the lure of the dark side and the power of love to fight it? As always, I welcome all your comments!


2 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time 5.5 – The Power of the Dark Side

  1. First, the dreamcatcher she is crying over in the shed is the same one she has Violet’s memory in, the one Killian finds in her house and the one Regina and Robin look in to see what Emma did to Violet. I looked at it a few times, I could tell it was all the same Dreamcatcher. Also, a lot of people think Emma took all the memories from everyone and put them into the Dreamcatchers. This doesn’t really work because Dreamcatchers don’t STEAL memories…they basically record them. The memory curse has to be part of something else…either the curse that took them back to SB…Zelena again…maybe?

    Regarding Merlin’s question to Emma about her heart being ready…I think there is a reason she’d say no. Remember she is still the Savior and she would not want to give up the darkness if it means someone else will have to take it on. She will want the Darkness to be destroyed all together, and if that can’t happen, she would rather keep it. Her main motivation is still SAVING the others. It’s just the Darkness has warped the way she goes about doing that. I do think to a certain degree the dark magic is drug like and she is enjoying it, but when push came to shove, I don’t think it is strong enough of a pull that she ultimately wouldn’t give it up if she had to…like if she had to give it up to save someone else.

    I still am clueless on how the curse was enacted…I’m not convinced it was Emma who did it because Eddie has confirmed a heart WAS crushed to enact it and I don’t think Emma would crush either Henry or Killian’s heart…and no, I don’t think she and Killian are sharing a heart. In my mind that was special to Snowing and as big of a CS shipper as I am, there is no way they are there yet.

    Anyway, that’s my .02. I am really struggling with watching this show week to week. I just started watching it over the summer and binged and it was quite enjoyable watching it that way. There is still a part of me that wishes that I didn’t watch it at all this season and just watched it all at once on Hulu when it’s over. Too late now…I’m in too deep. :-)

    • Hi, that’s an interesting take on the darkness within Emma – that she’d keep it to save someone, and the darkness is simply warping how she goes about doing things. Have you watched last night’s episode yet? The preview for next week makes me wonder if she was required to do such a dark spell to expel the darkness forever that it took her over. And I definitely agree with you on the curse – both Killian and Henry are alive in Storybrooke so clearly she didn’t crush either of their hearts. And the curse requires the person who casts it to sacrifice the thing they love the most. I almost wonder if Arthur cast the curse and is only pretending not to have his memories, or Guinevere – after all, we haven’t seen Lancelot in Storybrooke so she could have crushed his heart. She may be plotting something herself. Emma’s magic would allow her to keep her memories, just as Rumple kept his when Regina cast the first curse.

      Not sure if I’ll write about last night’s episode yet since I’m trying to get caught up on a few other shows, and it wasn’t one of my favorites this season. But as always, if you have any requests for things you’d like me to talk about please let me know and I’ll try to oblige!

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