Emma now has the Dark One Blade and Exacalibur and her inner Dark One happily mentions history – which is a dangerous thing to do in these parts! Mention the past and you’ll be flashbacked!
Yes, we’re zooming back 1,000 years with men running in a desert – one of which is Merlin. Damn he looks good for his age (what am I saying? Damn he looks good at any age). He and his fellow find the Holy Grail which promptly kills said companion and turns him to dust (as Excalibur has a habit of doing). Because Merlin is super humble about it, he gets to drink from the cup (which doesn’t contain poison which, you have to admit, would be UTTERLY HILARIOUS!) instead it gives him magic to turn the whole desert into a green plain and forest.
This leads to another flashback (confused? You will be!) 200 years ago and Merlin finding a damsel in distress who had her village destroyed by terribad evil man Vortigern who would love revenge – in the sappiest way possible. Her vengeance will be to tend a little garden. Honestly you could have cursed Voritgern with boils, haemorrhoids, televangelists before 9:00am EVERY Sunday and you go for flower garden? Damn these noble heroes and their high road. (And I don’t trust it. Sure she acts sappy now, but it’s only a matter of time before she’s sacrificing babies). Blatant love interest is called Nimue.
Unsurprisingly they fall in love but he is concerned about marrying Nimue since he’s already 500 years old and would rather not live forever when she gets old and dead which is totally not romantic. She suggests she drink from the grail as well so they can both be young and phenomenally hot for all time. He mopes because immortality and ultimate cosmic power sucks terribly, honest. Nope he wants to remake the grail into a sword (whoa, Merlin, said grail murdered someone for touching it without being humble enough and you’re going to go about reforging it) which can then remove his magic so they can be weak, scabby medieval peasants and catch rickets and die of famine or plague or some other wonderfully mortal thing.
Before they embrace a much shorter life together (what does it say about true love if you say “yeah, look, I’m going to want to be sure that ‘death till us part’ thing isn’t TOO far in the future, ‘kay?”) they decide to go look at Nimue’s ruined home and now she belatedly realises that horticulture is a totally awful revenge. They also find that the Dark One was looking for the Grail. Nimue has changed her mind, make with the magical killing already! Merlin won’t since it may turn him dark sided.
Going to the Flame of Prometheus, Merlin reforges the grail into Excalibur – which is when Vortigern appears and demands the sword – holding Nimue hostage. She fights back – and is brutally stabbed. Merlin despairs and
uses his vast powers to heal her gut wound which will probably take a while to kill her since it’s not spurting blood or anything watches Nimue die unable to do anything (hey, magic? Remember magic? Hello? Spells? Yes? No?)
Camelot Flashback and Merlin wants to take Emma on a quest to find a Spark from the Flame of Prometheus needed to put Excalibur back together again. They will have to face the First Dark One to do it which isn’t exactly a great idea for Emma right now. Also if she gives into temptation he will totally die, despite him being immortal and then lead to an all powerful super dark one. Hey, how about you leave Emma behind and take Killian? Maybe? Yes?
Instead Emma and Killian have a happy kiss and he gives her ugly jewellery to take with her – a ring on a necklace. They set off and THEN Emma chooses to say “oh, by the way, I’m totally losing to evil, Thought I’d mention that.”
Turns out that the first Dark One, stole the flame of Prometheus and they need to talk to him to get it back. This involves giving her the dagger and encourage her to delve into the very source of her darkness and all the previous dark ones. Because there is clearly not nearly enough temptation to turn evil yet. The names on the dagger cycle back through the previous Dark Ones until the first Dark One appears – Nimue.
200 years ago flashback – Merlin pouts that the power was never meant to be a weapon! Vortigern, rather reasonably, points out he did turn the grail into a sword. And Nimue pulls out Vortigern’s heart. Yup, she’s not dead – and she already drunk from the grail when he wasn’t looking (thankfully she wasn’t reduced to dust because Reasons and he probably should have warned her about that). Also partly she wanted to remind him that death isn’t all fun and shiny, oh immortal one.
Merlin begs Nimue to spare Vortigern so she doesn’t turn all dark side. Yeah that’s not going to happen. She kills him and the Dark One is born. She also snatches up the sword and breaks it so Merlin can’t cut away their magic or immortality.
Camelot Flashback Merlin is super sad and angsty in the face of Nimue – and she uses Emma to attack him. Her argument is that even if you love someone you need to fight to keep what is yours to be who you are and kill anyone who would take that from you – Merlin is a threat perhaps the only threat to all Dark Ones. She screams about power – and not going back to “being nothing”
Emma resists with an epic refusal – “I am not nothing, I was never nothing, the power you have I don’t need.” She rips the Spark from her hallucination who then disappears, albeit to warn her that she will be back
They walk home while Merlin fills in locking up the sword in the stone and hiding the dagger after using it to control the Dark One, but how she got it away from him. Emma tells him that Nimue still love him because she needs to twist that knife
Emma does wonder if she can use the darkness to protect and help people – and he accepts that, yes, it is possible but unlikely.
While they’re offer doing everything they can to send Emma to the dark side, those with only semi-cosmic powers are planning their raid for Excalibur – and Zelena offers to help if they give her her magic back. No no no no no no oh dear gods, no. NOOOOOO! NOOOO Regina is not this stupid! No!
Arthur, meanwhile, is mixing dangerous nasty spells in a cauldron to reduce them to dust and goo.
Alas while Regina is fool enough to trust Zelena, she also leaves Mary Margaret behind to guide her. Naturally the soggy one fails abysmally and is quickly tied up herself.
So when Regina & co reach Arthur and the Round table, Zelena brings in Mary Margaret as a hostage. Of course. He has removed her magic suppressing cuff and Robin won’t let Regina reduce her to dust because Zelena is pregnant. Using Merlin’s spell book, Zelena enchants Excalibur to control Merlin – etching his name on the sword the same with the Dark One’s is carved into the dagger. He uses it to summon Merlin and with Merlin onside he can now protect himself from everyone.
Merlin tries to reason with Arthur – and fails desperately. He banishes everyone from the castle.
The Present Modern Dark One sees Nimue as week as Rumple – and all the many Dark Ones – all cheering her on to reunite the sword and use it to destroy Light Magic. She reunites Excalibur – it is whole and has no names on it at all. Emma has a flashback of Merlin telling her not to take it as a girl… and despite her hesitation, she takes it.
I would like to point out that if Merlin practiced the reasonable and time honoured revenge of stabbing enemies in the face until they stopped moving rather than the very hippy-ish planting gardens of pretty pretty flowers.
Despite that and my snark, I do love the Origin Story of the Dark One and what it truly means to go dark and embrace the darkness. This did far more to tell the difference between dark and light magic than Mary Margaret Taking To Her Bed because she killed Cora. This is a pretty awesome origin story. There’s also an interesting implication that all –or most – magic may come from the Grail and Merlin or the Dark One hence the ability for it to kill all light or dark magic: after all, how many dark wizards have we seen who can claim Rumple as a mentor?
And: “I am not nothing, I was never nothing, the power you have I don’t need.” Is not just an awesome rejection of Nimue but also of Rumplestiltskin and raises some nice questions and musings. Her epic counter is a wonderful assertion of confidence – and looking at both Rumplestiltskin and Nimue we can easily see that one of the things leading them to darkness is not so much hunger for power
But it’s also a declaration of power which doesn’t quite put Emma on the same pedestal compared to the others. “the power you have, I don’t need” is true – because Emma has her own power. She has magic, she is the Saviour, she has power and skill and powerful allies and has repeatedly faced threats and overcome. Contrast that with Rumple and Nimue pre-Dark One, both were immensely weaker, facing far greater threats and suffering or likely to suffer great losses. Is Emma stronger/more confident/braver or simply not as desperate?
It also makes me wonder exactly what was it that pushed Emma over the edge? By her own arguments and by the past examples of Rumple and Nimue, embracing power to protect yourself or others is the usual pattern here. What did Emma face that her own power wasn’t sufficient to stop?