The Dark Swan Review | Once Upon a Time Season 5 Premiere

There’s no saviour in this town anymore.


Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Jared S. Gilmore, Rebecca Mader, Sean Maguire, and Robert Carlyle.

Season 5
Episode 1: The Dark Swan

After last year’ s heavily Frozen-centric first half and free-for-all Disney villain second part, it’s a relief that Season 5A seems to be focussing more upon our main cast of characters. For the entire of this premiere episode, the focus is upon the characters that we already know, instead of shoehorning in any others.

The premiere kicks off right where Season 4’s finale left us, with Emma taking on the mantle of the Dark One and vanishing in a swirl of black smoke. Throughout the premiere episode, we see Emma struggling with the darkness that now exists inside her, and we discover that title of Dark One is much more than just a pretty, shiny dagger but comes with a devil on the shoulder included. In this case, it’s Rumplestiltskin, continually attempting to seduce Emma to the dark side. It’s a creative way to use Robert Carlyle to his full potential while Mr Gold is recovering in a coma, and he’s always much more delightful as the impishly devious Rumple compared to the altogether sadistic and cruel nature that Gold represents.

Emma’s internal struggle gives us new ideas about the trajectory of the plot moving forwards, and really gives Emma’s fight against the darkness much more gravity. It’s not just about being seduced by the power, but the actual entity itself seems geared towards manipulating its hosts as much as possible. Not only does this help us understand Emma’s struggle, but it also gives more depth to Rumple’s character too. It no longer seems quite so black and white in the way that he descended into darkness. How much of Rumple’s actions in the past few seasons have actually been due to “Rumplestiltskin” and how much was the Dark One? Sure, Rumple was always driven towards power but the all consuming nature of that obsession could definitely have been exacerbated by the Dark One’s machinations.

While it does give new depth to the character, it also seems like a bit of a cop out. It certainly makes Emma’s internal conflict more dramatic, but it feels like now the Dark One can just be used as a way of excusing every one of Rumple’s spurious past actions so that the show can legitimise Belle and Rumple’s reunion. Ultimately, Belle running back to Rumple is horrendously flimsy, and not terribly well explained. She really turned a corner by banishing him from Storybrooke, and while the influence of the Dark One can be blamed for his behaviour when he’s in Storybrooke, that doesn’t explain his actions before Storybrooke’s magic returned and when he was banished to New York. Both of these occasions, he was back to Rumplestiltskin and free from the Dark One’s influence, yet still planned terrible deeds.

Much as the focus of this episode wasn’t upon new characters specifically, the inclusion of Merida here was well done. Because she wasn’t the focus, and instead was included within Emma’s storyline, it was a refreshing inclusion. Portrayed by Amy Manson, who is an actual Scot, which makes the accent far more bearable than it otherwise might have been, she seems an intriguing character. She stands out wonderfully on screen, no doubt aided by her flame-red hair against the forest background. She has all of the qualities that you would expect a live-action version of the princess to have, and the show has made the wise decision, like Frozen before it, to extend and embellish the story beyond what’s already in the film. Here, Merida seeks to rescue her brother’s from the hands of the clans who have risen up against her due to her position as Queen. It’s an interesting route for the story to take, and even though Merida’s story is not the focus of the trip to Camelot, I’m excited to see where it goes next.

Elsewhere, the other cast members continue to be delightful. Regina’s snark is felt throughout, while Henry and Hook’s bonding is cute. Of particular note, however, is Rebecca Mader as Zelena. Including her as a member of the main cast is definitely a brilliant move for the show. Zelena is the epitome of chaotic energy. From her first inclusion in the episode, meditating on her bed and complaining about Regina disturbing her chi, to slicing off her own hand, Mader’s scenery chewing is always a joy to watch, and her inclusion within the Camelot storyline is bound to be brilliant. I’m not sure to what extent I want Zelena to reform, but I hope she never loses her slightly manic quality, in the same way that Regina has retained a lot of her aggressive sarcasm even if her murderous tendencies have subsided.

The decision to include Camelot is bound to be refreshing, as it’s a new element of mythology that the show hasn’t touched upon yet, as well as providing some brilliant costumes to go with it, if the end of the episode is anything to go by. Including the final scene to show our characters returned to Storybrooke in the present day is also a deft move: Season 3A really suffered from being in Neverland for too long, so it’s nice that we’ll get to experience Camelot in the flashbacks without getting fatigued by it.

Speaking of the flashforward, it certainly opens new dramatic avenues for storytelling. Not only does it once again give the flashbacks more purpose through wiping the memories of our characters, but it also gives the audience the foreknowledge that the quest to save Emma ultimately fails. It’s good that the show doesn’t hang it over our heads for too long, and makes it clear that this is how it is going to pan out, and has heaps of potential as a storytelling device. Having said that, the curse amnesia plot line has already been used in the past, so hopefully the writer’s have something spectacular up their sleeves to defy expectations.

Despite the slight plot repetition, the plot seems to be worth it if Emma’s appearance as the Dark One is anything to go by. Firstly, she looks absolutely incredible. Jennifer Morrison also performs it wonderfully, showing villainy through every movement. Her face perfectly conveys how threatening and callous the Dark Swan truly shall be. I’m intrigued to see where she goes from here, as well as the circumstances that led to Emma giving into the darkness.

Ultimately, “The Dark Swan” was a captivating start to the fifth season. The show looked gorgeous throughout, and dealing with the ramifications of one of the main cast turning fully evil is bound to give the rest of our characters something meaningful to do. While there’s no way of knowing whether or not the plot will actually resolve itself well, it’s a promising first chapter.

Once Upon an Additional Brainthought

  • Michael Socha has been quietly despatched from the series, not that he did anything much of consequence in the first place. Sean Maguire and Rebecca Mader being upgraded to series regulars does, however, make sense, considering they had plenty to do last season and continue to be brilliantly realised characters, instead of somebody who is pretty much defined by having a British accent and an odd-looking face.
  • There was a time there during the episode where I was worried that Emma’s struggle was just going to result in her hair becoming more and more greasy but somehow, miraculously, it suddenly looked divine as soon as all of the others arrived.
  • I feel bad for poor Granny. They just communally decided that they would take the diner over to Camelot and Granny just got hoiked with them. Not to mention the cringeworthy moment that Leroy decided that he was coming along for the ride. It was such a random moment, and entirely unnecessary. I feel like the dwarves are just there for cannon fodder, but Snow telling Emma “lots of people care about you” is a lie. Leroy didn’t come for Emma. He came because he didn’t want to be left out of an adventure again. Completely different. He had FOMO, that’s literally all.
  • Couldn’t the Fairy have given Belle a less cumbersome way of checking on Rumple? Like a text message alert kind of situation? Her arms are going to get tired from hoisting around yet another Disney reference.
  • I like the fact that the dagger seems to be part of Excalibur, and I wonder whether that link is what will ultimately cleave Emma from its influence. After all, that weird usher (I’m guessing probably Merlin) telling her that she can wield it is probably a sizeable clue to that effect.
  • Emma giving Regina the dagger to look after was touching, and it’s nice to know that Regina is the only one Emma trusts to do the right thing.
  • Snow and Charming still have barely anything to do in this episode, so hopefully they’re actually given something meaningful other than moping around after Emma’s seduction to evil. Also is that baby ever going to discernibly age? It’s been an entire season and it still looks freshly out of womb. Shouldn’t it like no longer be swaddled? How do babies work? It’s at least twelve weeks old by now. Speaking of which, wasn’t it crazy how Snow became mayor of Storybrooke literally right after she gave birth? She pushed a human out of her tenderest of regions and was expected to run a town straight away? And Charming couldn’t have looked after Neal? Dick move, Charming. I digress. I want the old Snow back. Season 1 Snow was the best, and she needs to get her groove back. That’s all I have to say on the matter.

You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Serena says:

    Yay, a clever idea that doesn’t contradict established continuity! I am tickled that the Dark One dagger is revealed to be the missing piece of Excalibur. I am also hugely relieved that the storylines in the Enchanted Forest and Storybrooke are intertwined with the present-day dilemma. Please no more flashbacks that undermine the characters of our heroes.

    Some of the thoughts that popped into my head as I watched this episode:

    Is this the first time that Hook and Regina have really interacted since their conversation on the deck of the Jolly Roger in the first episode of Season 3? It seems odd that they’ve been in the same town for two seasons, but avoided talking to each other all this time. The snark level just shot way up, though, and I love it! It is interesting to note that it is the two former villains (Hook and Regina) who take the lead in finding Emma.

    Confirmed: the best Gold is a comatose Gold. Belle, just let him die.

    Rumplestiltskin is a blast though. And Emma finally learned how to teleport! I don’t see why she can’t use her own light magic instead of “Dark One” magic now that she knows how.

    Loved Hook’s reaction to learning that Henry broke the Author’s quill. And poor Hook — his plan was actually pretty good. At least accidentally freeing Zelena provided a portal that Regina could hijack. Is it just me, or does Hook have really good hair this episode?

    Emma was too easily influenced by hallucination Rumple. It hardly took any time at all for her to progress from learning to teleport to grabbing Merida’s heart and being willing to kill her, and that’s just not plausible. If Dark Ones don’t need sleep, then Emma shouldn’t be sleep-deprived enough to be brainwashed like this, that she would parrot and do whatever hallucination Rumple says.

    At least the memory loss trope is being used to slowly unravel the mystery of what happened in Camelot. Maybe we’ll find out why bleaching her hair and wearing black leather defines Emma as truly evil now. I really love everyone else’s new costumes, though!

    Conclusion: this was fun! But give the Charmings something useful to do next time.

    Liked by 1 person

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