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‘Once Upon A Time’ Season 5 Premiere Review: ‘The Dark Swan’

ONCE UPON A TIME - "The Dark Swan" - Immediately after becoming the Dark One, Emma disappears and the heroes must band together to save her, but first they have to find her, which will require the help of an unlikely ally. Meanwhile, in the Enchanted Forest, Emma struggles to resist her dark urges as she searches for Merlin in the hope that he can stop her transformation. Along the way to Camelot, she gets help from the plucky and brave warrior princess Merida, as well as King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, in the adventure-filled season five premiere of "Once Upon a Time," SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Jack Rowand)
JENNIFER MORRISON, ROBERT CARLYLE
ONCE UPON A TIME - "The Dark Swan" - Immediately after becoming the Dark One, Emma disappears and the heroes must band together to save her, but first they have to find her, which will require the help of an unlikely ally. Meanwhile, in the Enchanted Forest, Emma struggles to resist her dark urges as she searches for Merlin in the hope that he can stop her transformation. Along the way to Camelot, she gets help from the plucky and brave warrior princess Merida, as well as King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, in the adventure-filled season five premiere of "Once Upon a Time," SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Jack Rowand) JENNIFER MORRISON, ROBERT CARLYLE

What does Storybrooke look like without the savior? Chaotic. Leaderless. Lost. Pick your choice adjective, but fear not. There’s still hope for the town of fairy tale heroes and villains. At least until Dark Swan has her say…

Once Upon A Time returned for its fifth season with a fantastic episode centered on Emma’s journey to becoming the new Dark One better known as “The Dark Swan.” While she received an education in darkness from a manifestation of Rumple, Emma’s friends and family set out to get her back – no matter what the price.

Hook led the charge to demand answers from the apprentice, who had just enough strength left to produce a wand that would take them to Camelot. But it needed dark magic to balance out the light and Regina came up short now that she’s been batting for Team Hero. Since Rumple remained in a coma, that left only one witch wicked enough to complete the task.

Before getting into the specifics of what made the episode so great, I want to commend the writers on an engaging premiere. Even with the introduction of three new characters and the return of a familiar face (Welcome back, Lancelot!), the episode kept its focus on the core cast and we got to see them have reactions to successes and failures. New mysteries and twists on mythologies were introduced and I’m looking forward to finding out exactly what went down over those six weeks to lead our heroes to such an epic failure.

Top 5 Moments from “The Dark Swan”

5. Camelot’s Secrets

The Dark One’s dagger is part of Excalibur! That reveal came early in the episode and it instantly raised my excitement for the season. Having Merlin meet a young Emma at a showing of The Sword and the Stone made me cringe a little because last season had so many contrived moments when it came to Emma’s past. I’m willing to give them a pass on this one because I’m so impressed with the dagger revelation. Also, I loved that Arthur and his crew were prepared to welcome the gang since Merlin gave them a heads up instead of wasting precious screen time with a ‘we promise we’re the good guys’ tense back and forth between the two groups. Well done, Show.

ONCE UPON A TIME - "The Dark Swan" - Immediately after becoming the Dark One, Emma disappears and the heroes must band together to save her, but first they have to find her, which will require the help of an unlikely ally. Meanwhile, in the Enchanted Forest, Emma struggles to resist her dark urges as she searches for Merlin in the hope that he can stop her transformation. Along the way to Camelot, she gets help from the plucky and brave warrior princess Merida, as well as King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, in the adventure-filled season five premiere of "Once Upon a Time," SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Jack Rowand) AMY MANSON

4. Meeting Merida

Speaking of well done, I’ve never seen Brave so I didn’t have any expectations for Merida. I immediately loved her because the world always needs more fearless, strong female characters with sarcastic senses of humor. She recognized Emma as a witch, but still gave her the benefit of the doubt after an impassioned plea that she wanted to get rid of the darkness. We got little pieces of Merida’s backstory and what her mission is and she held her own the best she could against the former savior. She also seemed pretty understanding about the whole ‘you tried to crush my heart’ thing so extra points for being chill. I look forward to getting to know Merida even better.

3. Regina vs. Zelena Round: 777

My favorite casting news of the summer: Sean Maguire and Rebecca Mader are now series regulars and I just want to jump up and down with excitement. Even though Zelena’s infamous trick is done a little too often, I appreciated that Robin knew the second their lips touched that she was not Regina. Zelena recognized his love for her sister and added a quip about how he never noticed she wasn’t Marian (Can we put the Robin doesn’t really love Regina argument to rest now?). Regina also dipped into their mother’s bag of tricks when Zelena held Robin hostage in exchange for the wand. She wanted to take her baby and go to Oz. It’s sort of sweet that Zelena loves her baby, I guess, but as always, her idea of love is twisted. Regina not only saved her love, she tricked Zelena into opening the portal and then captured her again so they could take it to Camelot. I loved the look exchanged between Regina and Snow when she said they were going to get Emma (their friendship is SO important). This round goes to Regina.

2. Hook’s belief in Emma

From the second the dagger fell to the ground, Hook’s one and only goal was finding Emma He had zero tolerance for anyone wasting time. Colin O’Donoghue portrayed the pirate’s desperation as palpable to the point it felt as if he was vibrating with barely concealed rage and fear. But he kept all of that hidden when he went to Henry for help and even though their plan backfired, their scenes added some comic relief to the tense moments (as did Hook and Regina’s childish sass fights). Hook’s shining hero moment came when the group found Emma with Merida’s heart in her hand. Snow held the dagger and they could have used it to control her, but Hook stepped in and reminded Emma that she was stronger than this and it needed to be her choice. Like Henry, Hook’s belief in Emma never wavers and that faith and love brought Emma back from the brink.

1. The Dark Swan Arrives in Storybrooke

Emma struggling with her dark urges throughout the hour gave Jennifer Morrison a lot of wonderful opportunities to show off different sides of the character. My heart broke for Emma when she convinced Merida she wanted to get rid of the darkness. At first, Emma had an easy time shutting down Rumple’s suggestions, but as she started to use magic more and more, Morrison let Emma’s surprise and sadness mix together with determination until Emma’s control over her actions felt murky. For a few tense seconds, it seemed like she would crush Merida’s heart.

Her good side may have won that battle, but six weeks later, our heroes return to Storybrooke with different clothes and no memory of their time away. Emma appears on the scene in full Dark Swan attire and Morrison speaks with a cool, calculated, emotionless tone as she tells her family that they failed to save her from the darkness. Sheriff Sneezy is turned to stone and the audience is left wondering how things got this bad in six weeks.

About the author

Mandy Treccia

Mandy Treccia has served as TVSource Magazine’s Executive Editor since 2016, formerly as Editorial Director from 2012-2016. She is an avid TV watcher and card carrying fan girl prone to sudden bursts of emotion, ranging from extreme excitement to blind rage during her favorite shows and has on more than once occasion considered having a paper bag on hand to get her through some tough TV moments. Her taste in TV tends to rival that of a thirteen-year-old girl, but she’s okay with that. Follow her on Twitter at @SourceMandy.