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!