ByJordan Conner, writer at Creators.co

We get flashback on flashback on flashback this week, making my typical recap format nearly impossible. Hey, just like Arthur’s quest! I’m just going to wing-it and hope that it ends up more cohesive than 90% of the plot lines on this show.

In Storybrooke, Dark Emma is unfortunately plagued by her inner Rumple again. She has both Excalibur and the Dark One’s dagger and is contemplating the task of forging them back together. One can only assume that we’ll discover this very episode how that task is to be completed.

First, we go back 1000 years to a fugitive Merlin and his friend. The two are running through a desert, hands bound by rope. The thirsty men are scouring the sand for water when Merlin spots something in the distance. His friend insists it is only a mirage but upon closer inspection it’s a random goblet just hanging out on a boulder. That doesn’t seem suspicious at all.

Merlin hesitates, believing it to be a test from the gods. His friend throws caution to the wind, however, and drinks from the goblet. It appears that Merlin was onto something because his friend explodes into ashes. I guess that means he failed the test.

Merlin realizes that he will either die from thirst or die from combustion and decides that he might as well be slightly hydrated while facing his end. The gods must find Merlin worthy, however, and instead of dying he gains magic powers! He DID ask for permission first. ONCE is giving us a lesson in manners tonight.

His first task is touching sand and transforming the wasteland into a beautiful forest. Hey Merlin, want to come replenish all of our rain forests? Help fix the global warming issue? So many things could be helped with magic.

Fast forward 1000 years and Merlin finds himself in Granny’s Diner, surrounded by people demanding that he help save Emma from darkness. Hook is concerned with Emma’s recent obsession with making dreamcatchers. We’re all concerned, buddy. The bright side of this new hobby is that once she’s saved from darkness she can probably make a bit of side cash selling those suckers on Etsy.

In order to help Emma, Merlin needs Excalibur to be whole and the only way to do that is to travel back to the place where the sword was forged. He needs Emma’s assistance and power to acquire a spark that will help reunite the blades. He says that they will face the original Dark One and that Emma will have the chance to kill Merlin. It is up to her to resist the darkness.

Before Emma leaves, Hook gives her his ring. He assures her it is not a proposal but a means of protection. She notes that being the Dark One comes with the side effect of immortality. He knows that the Dark One is immortal but Emma Swan is not and he wants her back in one piece. He says he loves her and Emma gives him a blinding smile, returning the sentiment. This may be the biggest smile I’ve ever seen grace Emma’s face. It’s sweet. They’re sweet. I LOVE THEM, OKAY?

Merlin and Emma begin their journey to the Flame of Prometheus, the first fire known to man. Also, the fire that forged Excalibur. Emma confesses that she used her powers to hurt Henry and Merlin looks disappointed. I would never want to disappoint Merlin. It’s like disappointing a puppy. A really powerful puppy.

Merlin continues to prove his puppiness in a flashback to 200 years ago. He is using his magic to help people in his village. A young woman that he does not recognize asks for help with her own village. A wicked man burned all of her people’s land and slaughtered everyone. She escaped and wants revenge. The woman, named Nimue, has the only remaining flower seeds from her village and wants to plant them. She wants the flowers to live in spite of the man who tried to destroy everything in her life. This will be her revenge. What an adorable revenge.

Merlin thinks it’s adorable too. He is so smitten. He takes the flower seeds and makes them instantly grow. He slyly asks Nimue to stay in the village. We see in another flashback a bit later that Nimue not only stays but she and Merlin are in love. I bet they call it courting. He wants to propose but confesses that he received his powers by drinking water from a mysterious goblet, or you know, THE HOLY GRAIL. He is immortal and Nimue is not. He does not want to live forever only to watch her age and die.

Nimue wants to drink from the cup so that she can have magic and be immortal with him. Merlin insists that that is no way to live. He says that life’s best moments are like diamonds, precious and rare. If one lives for too long, they acquire so many moments that the preciousness of their memories can be lost in a sea of diamonds. I got a little lost with his metaphor because I was too busy committing his beautiful face to my own memory. Let me have my own moment, OKAY?

Merlin wants to cut away his magic so that he can live a mortal life with Nimue. That is some insane commitment from Merlin. The pair travels to Nimue’s old village where they take the Holy Grail to the Flame of Prometheus. Nimue becomes angry at the reminder of what happened to her people. She believes that having magic will give her the ability to give power to those who need help or need to help themselves.

Merlin thinks magic is a slippery slope if not handled responsibly and then proceeds to use some magic in front of her. Way to rub it in, dude. He uses the flame to melt the Grail. He forms many weird CGI blobs until the shape of a sword appears. It’s Excalibur!

Just as he finishes displaying his blacksmith skills, a masked figure appears. Nimue says that it’s the man who destroyed her village. He wants the sword and quickly grabs Nimue as leverage. Merlin is hesitant to kill because killing someone instantly makes your magic dark. At least that’s what I gathered from that scene. When Nimue tries to fight back the masked man stabs her with a claw hand. Also, something I gathered from that scene. I spend too much time staring at Merlin’s face and not enough time paying attention to anything else. It’s a real problem.

Flashforward to Emma and Merlin walking up to the now-extinguished Flame of Prometheus. The fire is out because the first Dark One took it. It still possesses a single ember however, the necessary ingredient for reuniting the two Excalibur pieces.

Merlin gives Emma the Dark One’s dagger. He asks that she call on the power of the first Dark One. She obliges and the name on the dagger rapidly changes until it settles on NIMUE. OH SNAP.

A quick flashback reveals that a previously thought to be dead Nimue pops back up and rips out the heart of her would-be murderer. Turns out, she drank from the Holy Grail earlier when Merlin wasn’t looking. This relationship is not built on trust, y’all.

Merlin begs her to not kill the man because it will turn her magic dark. She is blinded by her desire for real revenge however. I guess the cute flower revenge just didn't cut it. Nimue doesn’t listen and crushes the heart, thus turning her new magic dark. She instantly turns greenish-blue and scaly. Ew. Nimue is the first Dark One. I guess there were no other magic-wielding people back in the day, and in ALL the land, besides Merlin? Or at least none that decided to murder thus turning dark? Whatever. I’ll allow it.

In present day Camelot, Dark One Nimue removes her mask and hood and greets Emma as her sister. Not literal sister, although this show would go there, but as a Dark One sister. This isn’t the kind of sorority you want to be in. Nimue is apparently also in Emma’s head, like her inner Rumple. Or maybe she’s more of an actual entity but has the ability to connect with Emma on a deeper Dark One level and can appear as if only a figment of Emma’s imagination? Whatever it is, Nimue encourages Emma to kill Merlin. Apparently it’s totes important to kill your loved ones if they try to stop you from being you, even as a Dark One. This can’t bode well for Hook in future episodes. Or her parents. Or Henry. Or anyone really.

Emma is able to resist because she is Emma Swan and her lingering Savior birthright probably squanders some really evil Dark One potential. She is able to get the spark needed to reforge Excalibur before Nimue disappears. But Nimue manages to tell Emma that she will be there if Emma ever needs her.

Merlin is happy that Emma was able to resist and asks Emma how it feels to choose good. Emma says it feels “damn good.” SO WHY DID YOU EVENTUALLY GO BAD, EMMA?

Back in Camelot, less exciting things are happening. They rest of the crew uses Zelena’s breaking and entering advice to get into Arthur’s castle. They are close to retrieving Excalibur’s pieces when Arthur stops them. Turns out Zelena double crossed them and is on team Arthur. He did take the cuff that was keeping her from using her magic off. So, I can’t blame her. Also, WHY WOULD THEY EVER TRUST THE WICKED WITCH? They are all making terrible choices.

Emma and Merlin are giddy from their successful adventure. Emma asks what happened after Nimue turned into the first Dark One. Merlin tells her that Nimue purposefully broke Excalibur into two because no one should ever be able to use it to cut their magic away. Magic is a gift. Merlin placed the lager piece in the stone for his future prophecy and made the dagger out of the other. He tethered Nimue’s soul to the dagger so that he could retain some sort of control over her Darkness. Nimue was the one who eventually turned him into a tree however.

Emma tells Merlin that she could sense that Nimue still loves Merlin, even if she tried to kill him or whatever. Love is weird. Again, I’m afraid for Hook.

Emma asks if it’s possible for a Dark One to use their powers for good. Merlin says that it’s possible and maybe someone will be able to one day in the future but it’s a lot to ask of one person. Basically, Merlin doesn’t believe you can do it, Emma. Sorry!

Before they can turn their conversation into something a bit more happy, Merlin disappears. Back in Arthur’s castle, Zelena tethered the top half of Excalibur to Merlin, giving Arthur the ability to call upon him whenever. He commands Merlin to rid the room of its intruders and Merlin has to oblige.

Merlin tries to convince Arthur that his quest was never a failure, just simply not completed yet. All of this is still his path to greatness. Arthur, however, no longer wants only greatness. He wants to be more than a legend and he wants to be known as more than just the man who pulled the sword from the stone.

Merlin silently regrets ever getting involved with this crazy person, at least that’s what I think he was doing while staring at Arthur.

The end of the episode brings us back to present day Storybrooke. Dark Emma and her inner Rumple are joined by her inner Nimue down in her cave. Both encourage her to use the spark that she still has from Camelot to reunite Exclaibur’s pieces. Once she does she hesitates to hold it, remembering Merlin’s words to her as a child. Do not mess with Excalibur. Her Darkness sister, Nimue, basically rolls her eyes and summons all of the former Dark Ones into the cave. They all stare at Emma and demand that she take the sword.

I choose to believe that Emma is still Dark One-lite especially since she questions her decision to even grab the sword. Merlin’s words still fuel that sliver of light in her soul. But also, the creepiness factor of all the Dark Ones chanting at you is enough to make you want to do whatever it is they are chanting just so they stop. So, she grabs the sword. The End.

A few thoughts:

1. How did Merlin learn how to use his magic? Did he have a teacher? Did he just mess around until he figured stuff out? Was there a manual and if so, who wrote it? Give me all of the details, show. Please.

2. WHY IS ZELENA STILL ON THIS SHOW? She has zero purpose. Unless her purpose is to make all of the heroes look super dumb.

3. Can I get a detailed timeline for the events on this show? You can tell me 1000 years, 500 years, 2 years and I blindly accept it. There has to be some continuity issues after 5 seasons. I just don't have the patience or desire to figure it out myself. Unless Merlin shows up and tells me that it's my destiny to do so. I would accept in a second. But only if he stayed, helped me and also brought me Chipotle. I do have SOME standards.

Once Upon a Time season 5 continues Sundays on ABC.

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