Once Upon A Time's Merlin Gets A Bummer Of A Backstory
Also: Emma continues to struggle with her dark side, Zelena makes funny faces, and Jesus Christ enters the OUAT mythology.
Arthur knows the group freed Merlin and "he's really not happy about it." Merlin told the gang the only way to kill the Dark One in with the help of someone named Nimue. In present-day Storybrooke, now-brave Mr. Gold pulled the sword from the stone and gave it to Emma.
A Wizard Did It
And That Wizard's Name Was JESUS CHRIST!
"1000 years before the Age of Arthur" (give or take a few years, probably), Merlin and a chum of his flee through the desert from some villains, desperate for water. They happen upon a lone chalice on a stone, which Merlin is smart enough to realize is a trick. His chum? Not so smart. He grabs the cup to sip from it but disintegrates into smoke. Merlin recovers from the shock of his buddy exploding quickly enough, and pleads to the sky to allow him to take a sip without suffering the other dude's fate. The sky (or God, I guess) grants his wish, and Merlin sips from the cup, which you've probably guessed by now is the Holy Grail. Considering this season's Arthurian focus, this development was to be expected, but I wonder what Biblical implications this has in the OUAT-verse.
The Grail gives Merlin immortality (more on that in a second) and the magics, in addition to the ability to create whole lands. When his hand touches the dunes beneath him, the sand turns to grass and Camelot is formed. Hurrah!
So, About This Whole Sword Thing…
Who called the meeting? Merlin.
What's it about? Merlin knows how to reform Excalibur using Emma and the flame of Prometheus. The conflation of Arthurian and Greek mythology shouldn't bother me so much considering this is a show in which Captain Hook and Snow White are friends, but it does.
How'd it go? Hook is skeptical on Emma's behalf; she's outside playing with dream catchers and, in his opinion, in no condition to face another journey. Ultimately, Merlin earnests everyone into storming Arthur's castle so they can steal his sword half, while he and Emma travel to procure the flame.
Outside, Merlin lets Emma in on the catch: in order to acquire the fire, they will need to face off against the first Dark One, the very same who killed his lady love. Emma is wary, having just vanished Dark One Rumple from her brain, but agrees to go along with his plan. Knowing that Merlin can foresee some versions of the future, she asks how his plan will pan out. He sees two possibilities: either Emma resists the darkness within her and they succeed, or she succumbs, Merlin dies, and she becomes the most powerful Dark One evah. "Even immortality has its exceptions," Merlin tells her. It literally doesn't, but whatever.
Before they leave, Hook slips Emma a ring that he keeps on a rope around his neck. Emma's all "whoa there, buddy," but Hook assures her he does not intend it as an engagement ring. "It's kept me alive all these years or, at least, I think it has." Add that to your magical-item Wiki page, OUAT enthusiasts! Emma reminds him that, as a Dark One, she is immortal, which, if she had been paying attention to anything Merlin was just saying, she'd know is apparently not true.
The Seeds Of Revenge
Name: Nimue (rhymes with "Wimoweh," as in "The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)"). Age: 20s. Occupation: Traveler; last surviving citizen of her village which was razed by a scary masked dude named Vortigan. Goal: TO SEEK REVEEEENNNNGGEEE!!! (by having Merlin plant some flower seeds only found in her village in his village, thereby spiting Mask Dude) Sample Dialogue: "If the flowers survive, at least something other than me lives on."
Love, Hate & Everything In Between
Will You Marry Me (Assuming We Don't Have To Spend Eternity With Each Other)?
Sometime between the previous "200 Years Ago" flashback and this vaguer "Years Ago" flashback, Merlin and Nimue started dating. Now Merlin wants to make her his wife, but he faces an obstacle: the Holy Grail made him immortal (but did it?), and he does not wish to live on into eternity while Nimue gets all old and crusty. Nimue suggests that she too sip from the Grail, thereby allowing the pair to live together forever and reeeaallly test the bounds of matrimony. Merlin says something poetic to distract her from the fact that he'd rather not go that route. Instead, he wants to cut his own immortality short; he believes he can reform the Grail into a sword, which he can then use to tear away his magical powers. This solution is fine with Nimue, who then accepts his impromptu grass engagement ring, even though he's fucking magic and could at least conjure up a fucking cubic zirconia. Judging them both alongside me is this lurking dude:
"If Sir Castic Will Let Me Speak…"
With Merlin and Emma off to grab the Prometheus fire, the rest of the group plans their B&E of Arthur's castle. The dudes are like, "Let's just run in there and fucking do it," while Regina thinks she should magic-poof her way in. Zelena thinks everyone is a moron (I'm on her side), and makes this known by mugging as much as possible. When Regina asks what her bright idea is, Zelena, whom Regina has magically muted, responds thusly:
Zelena for President of all the fairytale people! Regina give Zelena her voice back so she can explain that, while she was playing Regina's silent handmaiden when they were all still on Arthur's good side, she plotted an escape from the castle that never came to fruition. They just have to take that plan and run it in reverse. No one thinks Zelena wants to help them just to help them, and they're right; if the plan succeeds, she wants Regina to give her magic back.
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Place Of Interest
It's The Site Of A Genocide, But It's Home!
Back to "Years Ago," Merlin and Nimue return to Nimue's old trashed village (for some undisclosed reason) and find cups and chalices aplenty strewn across the place. They figure out Vortigan must have been looking for the Grail, and is still on the hunt. Merlin does some magic to see if Vortigan is still in the area and good thing he did because Vortigan is definitely lurking around somewhere nearby. Nimue asks why Merlin, being God-like and all, doesn't just kill Vortigan, but Merlin explains that using magic to kill would lead to him literally losing his soul. Pretty good reason if I do say so myself.
J. Walter Weatherman Lesson
They Call Her Wicked For A Reason
While the rest of the group sneaks in through the side-castle door Zelena showed them (which is pretty much the entirety of her plan, turns out), Mary is left to play babysitter to Zelena, who's suddenly very woe-is-me, sobbing about everyone not trusting her just because of her general untrustworthiness. When Zelena appears to be in pain, Mary, a human with feelings, motions to comfort her…which is when Zelena kicks her in the stomach and knocks her unconscious. "There's no rest for the wicked," Zelena sneers to her invisible audience as she ties Mary up.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
Nimue vs. Vortigan
Merlin and Nimue arrive at the Prometheus fire (which is pretty unextraordinary; just sayin') and Merlin uses it to transform the Grail into Excalibur. Immediately after doing so, Vortigan appears to fuck shit up. He grabs for Nimue, who tells Merlin to stand still and let her take care of things herself. And he…does? Nimue and the Dark One scuffle for a bit before Nimue pulls off his mask to reveal so pretty gnarly scars, and he stabs her in the stomach. Merlin (the very, very magic dude who just watched this all go down) grabs Nimue so she can die in his arms properly.
Emma and Merlin arrive at the Prometheus fire pit in their timeline. The fire has gone out, but Merlin tells Emma that the Dark One stole the last ember, so she'll have to use her powers to summon him. He hands Emma her own dagger, which he lifted from the group, and which she really shouldn't be in possession of. Using the dagger, Emma summons the Dark One in the mask, but it turns out not to be Vortigan at all.
It's Nimue! And she's got an avocado for a face!!
Years Ago timeline: Vortigan turns to flee from Merlin, who magic-clouds himself into his path. But it isn't Merlin who puts an end to Vortigan. Back at her village, Nimue took a secret sip from the Grail and made herself immortal, going against Merlin's wishes. Being immortal-ish, Nimue rises from her presumed death and rips Vortigan's heart out through his back. Merlin pleads with her not to kill him, turning herself into the next Dark One. But you know what Yoda says about revenge: "It's not great."
Nimue crushes Vortigan's heart, he falls to his death, and Nimue's skin becomes the color of evil. The she grabs the sword, which Merlin left sitting on the ground like an idiot, and smashes it against the fire pit. Now we know how Excalibur came to be split in two and why Merlin is such a downer.
Wrap It Up
Back to the main timeline: With the assumed-dead Nimue standing in front of her, Emma asks Merlin why he lied to her. "The woman over there is the first Dark One," he tells her. "It's not the woman I loved." Merlin is significantly older than a third-grader, so he should know what a lie of omission is. Regardless, Nimue uses her Dark One connection to Emma to force her to attack Merlin. With Emma's hand throttling Merlin's neck, Nimue encourages her to destroy everyone who would stifle her newfound power. Basically she's like, "Non-Dark Ones just don't understand." Emma is eventually able to wrestle herself out of Nimue's spell, and, wielding the dagger, scoops Nimue's heart right out of her chest. Serves her right. Nimue tells Emma, "The sword you will make has more than one use," and then that she'll be waiting in Emma's head for when she chooses to summon her again.
Walking back, Merlin explains to Emma how he put the hilt-half of the sword into the stone and then created the dagger with the sharp end. Emma tells him that she can feel Nimue inside of her, which is how she knows Nimue still cares for him. She also asks whether a Dark One could ever use her dark magic for good, and Merlin's all, "It's called dark magic, so no." Good talk!
Back at the castle, the group corners Arthur in the round table room. Regina freezes Arthur in place, but luckily for him, Zelena chooses that exact moment to enter with a tied-up Mary and unfreeze him. Arthur undid her magic-canceling bracelets earlier (even though he can't do magic, as Regina explained literally eight seconds earlier). Regina makes to fireball Zelena, but Robin stops her for Zelena's baby's sake. Zelena takes the opportunity to use one of Merlin's spell books to make Arthur's half of the sword truly his. Confused? I'll let Zelena explain: "Cookies are done, and by cookies, I mean that Arty hear might have a shorter sword than a man would like, but he can control the world's greatest wizard." That's a sentence that a person wrote.
The bottom half of the sword now has Arthur's name inscribed on it, which means he can summon Merlin with it and force him to do his bidding. The only upside for Merlin here is that he gets zapped back to the castle right as Emma starts to talk about how Henry is growing up so fast. At least we didn't have to see that little shit in this episode.
Arthur has Merlin prevent everyone else from attacking him, and then turns on him. Merlin asks Arthur to hand over the sword (might as well give it a shot), but Arthur refuses to hand over his ticket to "glory." Merlin is dismayed that he spent most of Arthur's youth as a tree and wasn't around to prevent him from becoming such a douche. Arthur is pissed that Merlin lied to him about the sword being cut in half and now wants to make him suffer for it, but before he can he has Merlin zap his friends out of the castle.
(Side note: I can't stop looking at that shot of Arthur with the sword. It's the douchiest thing. It's the Guy Fieri of Once Upon A Time screengrabs.)
Back in present-time Storybrooke, Dark Emma, with the help of Grumple, Nimue, and a host of other hooded Dark Ones, uses the Prometheus ember to finally merge the two halves of the sword. It floats in the air before her, but she hesitates to grab it. Emma flashes back to that time when she was a little girl watching Disney's The Sword In The Stone in the theater and Merlin showed up to warn her against taking up the sword. All Nimue has to do to convince her is to say, "You're a woman now." Dark Emma suffers from some major peer-pressure issues.