Congrats, Oncers! The good news is that we made it through hiatus. The bad news? It’s going to be a long while before everything is back to normal in Storybrooke, whatever that means there. This was a pretty intense premiere, even by Once‘s standards, but it has me really excited about the upcoming season, as any good premiere should. Without further ado, let’s break down our introduction to “The Dark Swan”.
- I enjoyed the structure of this episode quite a bit. We got a taste of several different time periods and places (past and present-day Camelot, Storybrooke, the Enchanted Forest, another piece of Emma’s childhood, etc), but every piece felt important to the story they were telling this episode, and really, the story they’re telling over the entire season. Pretty much all season premieres are setup episodes of sorts, providing an introduction to what we’ll explore in the coming season, and in that vein, I’m looking forward to spending more time in each of these places, especially Camelot. This episode also introduced us to several new characters while doing justice to the ones we know and love. I think all of the characters were utilized well; each person had an important role to play, while still giving us time to get to know Merida (my new favorite), as well as Arthur and Merlin to some extent.
- As expected, this was a big episode for Emma, and I think Jennifer Morrison did an amazing job. Emma’s inner turmoil was abundantly clear (at times she looked visibly pained), and it only increased the sympathy I felt for her. I also loved the idea of Rumple representing her inner darkness. Not only does it give the awesome Robert Carlyle something to do while Gold is in a coma, it also gives her darkness a tangible form, which will give us some interesting insight into where Emma’s head is at as she fights this battle. One of my favorite moments of the hour was her declaration at the beginning that she would never hurt the people that she loves and that love her. The part about being loved was especially good; season 1 Emma would have had a very hard time believing that anyone loved her, but this Emma knows it to be true.
- As I said, I think Merida is going to become one of my favorite characters. Her introduction was one of the more memorable ones we’ve had, and the immediate kindness that she showed Emma did a lot to endear her to me, as well as speaking to the strength of her character. However, I also liked that her kindness and morality wasn’t shown as stupidity; despite forgiving Emma in the end and declaring that she will show mercy to her brothers’ captors, she still ran away from Emma when she sensed her life was in danger, and she clearly still has plans to make the kidnappers pay a bit for what they did. I’m very excited to learn more about her backstory, especially how the death of her father came about.
- Back in Storybrooke, we saw a lot of interesting reactions to Emma’s decision, with Hook and Regina’s feelings about it shown the most prominently. As weird as it sounds, I kind of loved how combative those two were towards each other. I think it showed how much each of them cares about Emma and, as the EPs mentioned in their postmortem interviews, it’s appropriate that the two people Emma has grown closest to are the ones who have the most darkness in their pasts. For Regina, it’s been clear over the past couple seasons that becoming good doesn’t mean she’s lost her bite, made clear by the insults she lobbed at Hook. However, while her snark in the first seasons was about causing pain, now it’s more of a deflection technique; she was hard on Hook because it was easier than being hard on herself, easier than admitting that her friend made a huge sacrifice for her that she’ll have to live with the guilt of. Similarly, Hook insisted on calling Regina “the Queen” for most of the episode, whether as a reaction to her treatment of him, or because he too was looking for someone to blame. I have a feeling those two are going to be at each other’s throats for most of this arc, each believing that they alone know what’s best for Emma, which is going to be very interesting to see.
- Before I dive in a bit more to the role those two played, let me say how happy I was that their disagreements gave Snow a chance to shine in a great way. I love that she stepped up in Emma’s absence as the leader that the team needed. She and Charming both did a great job of keeping their emotions out of the way to do what needed to be done, but their reunion with Emma in the Enchanted Forest proved that they were just as terrified as everyone else, probably even more considering they’re her parents. I also liked the little moment of understanding we had between Snow and Regina after Regina tricked Zelena. You could see the relief Snow had that they were that much closer to finding her daughter, but I think she was also proud of Regina for making that choice. All in all, this was one of my favorite episodes for Snow in awhile, and I’m hoping that an arc so focused on her daughter will really give Snow’s fierce but kind side a chance to come out again, something I think was a bit lacking last season.
- Back to Regina for a moment…I kind of love that lately she’s been the one to remind everybody of her dark past, a kind of penance for the terrible things she did to the people she now considers family. She’s become very self-aware in the last couple seasons, so I had to laugh a little bit when she marched up to take the wand from the Apprentice, convinced she was the only one dark enough to do the job. But it was sweet that no one besides her made the suggestion, and also a bit ironic that her new-found goodness was the team’s Achilles’ heel. However, she did have a moment to shine later on, whether wanted or not, as Emma trusted her (at least temporarily) with the dagger. I loved Emma’s reasoning: “I saved you, now save me”, as well as Regina being the only one to approach Emma at the “six weeks later” mark, trying to talk her down and then realizing that something very bad happened between the two of them since she no longer has the dagger. I can already tell that this season is going to add another great facet to the unusual friendship between these two women, and I can’t wait to watch it unfold.
- In other friendships of sorts, this episode was a nice one for Hook and Henry. I thought it was really sweet that Hook trusted Henry enough to come up with the plan, and the callback to the finale’s wookie prisoner gag was especially fun. Their’s is another relationship I’m excited to see grow this season.
- But let’s be real, the best Hook relationship is always going to be his with Emma, and that took center stage in this episode. His desperation throughout the hour was equal parts romantic and heartbreaking, from repeatedly trying to use the dagger to his ill-advised Zelena plan. But it was when they finally found Emma that his love for her truly came out. I absolutely loved that he was the angel to Rumple’s devil on her shoulder, this character with previously questionable morals now the one that convinced her to do what was right, for Merida’s life yes, but also because he knew that Emma couldn’t live with any more blood on her hands, having already killed once last season. He was also a veritable treasure trove of romantic lines in that scene, from “Has anything every stopped me before?” when Emma saw him, to “It has to be her choice”, and “Heroes and villains together for you”, all of which showed how well he knows her and just what she needed to hear.
- In addition to being an important moment for Hook and Emma, and obviously Emma herself, I also think that showdown gave us a preview of what darker, “six weeks later” Emma might be like. The Emma in this episode employed a twisted sort of logic, nearly killing Merida but doing it so that she wouldn’t hurt her friends and family. That flash forward suggested that she doesn’t quite have their best interests at heart in the future (and I’m so curious to see what led her to that point), but she still did in that moment, even while battling the darkness inside of her. I also loved that even with the guidance of Hook and the others, Emma was the one to make the choice not to kill Merida. She wasn’t forced in to it, it was her choice alone, and it said so much about the strength and resolve that we all know she has, something that I think is going to be important to remember throughout this season.
- Other odds and ends: Emma collapsing into Hook’s arms (and then Henry, Snow, and Charming’s) was lovely, tangible evidence of the relief that she felt…I loved how chill Henry was throughout the episode, so used to his family being in danger that he stopped at Granny’s for a bite to eat while everyone else was in panic mode…Zelena’s desire to go back to Oz was interesting. I’m curious to see if that will come back into play later on…The Enchanted Rose was a nice touch, and a sweet gift to the Rumple/Belle fans that have had a hard time lately…It was fun to see everyone in their Enchanted Forest garb, and Camelot seems to agree with Regina especially, that hair man…I know they were supposed to be serious moments, but I couldn’t help but laugh whenever the dagger came on the screen, just because everyone insisted on holding it up in such dramatic fashion every time. Sometimes you can just pass it, guys.
On that random note, what are your thoughts on the premiere? Theories about what went down in Camelot? Let me know in the comments section!