In this episode, there was a magical spark, a cauldron of goop, and a dagger with an identity crisis!
1,000 years before Arthur, there were a couple of dirty and disheveled guys with ropes tied around their wrists roaming the desert, struggling with thirst. There was a flash of light in the distance which turned out to be the Holy Grail. One of them took hold of the cup to drink from it. He exploded into a cloud of dust. The other one, Merlin, looked to the sky and asked permission to drink from it. He drank water from the chalice. And then grass grew under him, trees sprouted up around him, and he found himself in a lush forest. Strangely, there appeared to be the top of a Medieval castle tower over the tree line in the background. Hmmm …
Fast forward about 800 years and Merlin was healing people in a village. When the people were done seeing him, he noticed a woman wandering around. She was seeking his help to get revenge on someone named Vortigan who wiped out and killed everyone in her village. The revenge she sought was to replant and save some seeds of a flower that only thrived in her village. That way, Vortigan’s efforts to wipe everything out would have failed. So they planted them in a barrel of soil and Merlin grew them magically to full size for her benefit. And they were pink flowers. That seems to be an ongoing thing throughout this season. He asked her what her name was. It was Nimue. (I try to say that name without breaking into “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in my head and fail every time.)
For those unfamiliar with the Arthurian legends, Nimue is one of many names used for either the Lady of the Lake or the ruler of Avalon, depending on the particular legend. But in this story, she appears to be neither.
Later on, when there was a lot of everyday activity in the village Nimue walked up to Arthur who was pondering over a planter full of those pink flowers. She asked what the trouble was. He told her that he drank from the Holy Grail and became a powerful and immortal wizard that way. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. She volunteered to drink from the Grail as well (which Merlin still had) so they could be immortal together. He suggested that it be forged into a sword that could cut away his magic an immortality. He then took a stem from a leaf and made a ring out of it. When he put it on Nimue’s finger, it turned to gold. As they left to get the grail, the bad man in the mask who wiped out Nimue’s village was looking on from a distance.
The two of them went to what was left of Nimue’s village. Everything was destroyed. There were cups lying all over the ground. Vortigan was looking for the Grail, which the two had with them. Merlin performed a detection spell which revealed the masked man was following them and was close by. Nimue’s hatred started to show through as she told Merlin that he could kill the villain with a word. But Merlin refused to use his magic in ways that would give in to the darkness. And they left.
The two came up on an altar with a flame, the flame of Prometheus. Merlin used a spark of fire from the altar to reforge the Grail into Excalibur. Vortigan showed up, and Merlin told him to go away since the Grail no longer existed. Vortigan grabbed Nimue. In the struggle, she tore off his mask revealing his scarred face, and he fatally stabbed her. He then picked up Excalibur and confronted Merlin. And just before he attacked, he froze and fell to the ground as Nimue was holding his heart in her hand. While Merlin was casting his detection spell earlier, she drank from the Grail. Merlin warned her about using her powers for evil. But she crushed Vortigan’s heart into dust. He died. And the fire on the altar went out. Her skin then developed the standard Dark One skin condition. She picked up Excalibur and hit it against the altar, causing the tip to break off.
Fast forward again two hundred years and Merlin was with our intrepid heroes in Granny’s Diner in the woods outside Camelot. Emma was outside making a dreamcatcher. Merlin assured them that he could reforge Excalibur if he had both parts of the blade, which means our heroes would have to go into Camelot and take it. Killian wasn’t too happy with the level of help Merlin was giving so far. Merlin told them all to be patient with Emma since her powers would weigh heavily on her, and their love would help a lot.
Merlin asked Emma to accompany him to acquire a spark from the fire of Prometheus in order to reforge Excalibur. But when they arrive they would have to face the first Dark One. There would be two possible outcomes. Either Emma resists the darkness and they succeed or she succumbs to the darkness and kills Merlin. The Dark One has the power to overcome Merlin’s immortality and kill him. Just before they left, Killian gave Emma a ring on a necklace which he believed kept him out of trouble all along. The Dark One might have been immortal, but Emma wasn’t. At the very least, it would be a reminder that he was waiting for her to return.
Our intrepid heroes were plotting a way to retrieve Excalibur. Then Zelena said she knew of a way in and she would show them in exchange for her getting her magical powers back. Outside the castle was an opening sealed off by a metal grate. Regina said that if they returned with the sword, they would talk about restoring her powers. She then magically removed the grate and they all went in without Zelena or Mary Margaret who was tasked with guarding Zelena.
In Merlin’s workshop in Camelot, Arthur was cooking up a potion in a cauldron. He then called in two guards and took the helmet of one of the guards. The cauldron and ladle had protection spells on them, but the helmet didn’t. He spooned some of the potion onto the helmet and it melted into a bubbling goo. He then ordered the guards to take the cauldron and pour it on any strangers in the castle and bring him the remains. Then he told Guinevere that this was war.
As our team of intrepid heroes penetrated the courtyard of the castle (and saw the cauldron being carried), Zelena was still being held outside. Mary Margaret was making small talk (albeit condescending small talk) when Zelena began crying about how Regina always seems to win and Zelena unfairly loses. Then she started wincing in pain. When Mary Margaret walked over to check on her, Zelena kicked her in the gut which dropped her to the ground … and somehow knocked her out. From a kick to the gut. Go figure. Then Zelena used the ropes that had bound her own wrists to tie up Mary Margaret.
Merlin and Emma arrived at the altar which hadn’t burned since the birth of the Dark One. Merlin told Emma that this is where the first Dark One killed Nimue. The spark needed to reforge Excalibur resided in an ember which was held within the Dark One. Merlin told her to reach deep within to reach out to the first Dark One. The dagger first had Emma Swan written on it, then changed to Rumpelstiltskin, then began changing names rapidly until the first Dark One showed up. Merlin informed Emma that it wasn’t a he. She looked at the dagger, and it said “Nimue”. Then Nimue took her mask off.
Nimue then tried to kill Merlin … through Emma! According to Nimue, she and Emma were one in the same. Then just before Emma finished off Merlin amid Nimue’s pushing to embrace the darkness, Emma turned, rebuked Nimue, and took the ember from her. Merlin then explained how he and his young apprentice put the sword in the stone to protect it and then created the dagger to control and prevent Nimue’s reign of terror before she trapped him in a tree.
Our intrepid heroes barged in on Arthur and Regina froze him in place. Then Zelena walked in with a bound up Mary Margaret and unfroze Arthur. Apparently, Arthur was kind enough to remove the band that inhibited Zelena’s powers. Then using one of Merlin’s magic books, Zelena cast a spell on Excalibur that allowed it to control Merlin much like the dagger can control the Dark One. Arthur then summoned Merlin into the chamber they were in, leaving Emma alone in the woods.
First, Arthur told Merlin to make sure the others couldn’t attack him in any way. With a wave of his hand, Merlin disarmed our heroes. Merlin tried to reason with Arthur and have him hand over Excalibur so it could be fixed. But Arthur was resentful that his legacy wasn’t secured. He then had Merlin make everyone else other than Zelena disappear to someplace else, which he complied.
Back in Storybrooke (yes, there was a brief bit in the “present day” in this episode), Emma was in her dungeon basement with both Excalibur and the dagger blades. imaginary Rumpelstiltskin was there to encourage her to reforge the blade. Then Nimue also showed up to provide encouragement as well, surrounded by all the other Dark ones seen as black figures in hooded robes and yellow glowing eyes.
Emma opened up a box that contained the ember, removed the spark, created a flame, and reattached the two blades into one. Then before grabbing the handle of the newly reforged Excalibur, she remembered Merlin telling her as a little girl not to wield the sword. But Nimue and Rumpelstiltskin urged her to take the power. So she did.
I’m glad to see Zelena being utilized again, especially in the villainous role. Now Arthur has control over Merlin. Though I’m still looking forward to finding out why Merlin isn’t present in Storybrooke. Maybe we’ll find out next time, which will be two hours long!