This episode goes into the backstory of King Arthur, and how he started sliding downhill. We learn that Merlin has been trapped in that tree for YEARS. At the very least, since Arthur’s boyhood days. But Merlin had managed to communicate with young Arthur in his dreams, informing him of a prophesy that said Arthur would one day pull a sword from a stone and become King of Camelot. However, no one believes that a stable boy like Arthur could ever become king. The only one who shows faith in Arthur is his childhood friend, Guinevere. When Arthur reaches adulthood and locates the fabled sword, he pulled out Excalibur and found out that the sword was incomplete. He very quickly becomes obsessed with finding the other half, the Dark One’s Dagger, in order to restore it. So much so, he began to neglect everything else, even his wife, Guinevere. Wanting her husband back, Guinevere decides to find the dagger on her own so he could put this obsession to rest, using the magical gauntlet we saw in the ‘Heroes and Villains’ flashback. With Lancelot accompanying her, they manage to locate the Vault of the Dark One. When they find the dagger by walking through a portal door that leads to a garden of some sort, they get confronted by Dark One Rumpelstiltskin. Of course, he won’t hand over the dagger, but he offers them some magic powder that would make it look like Excalibur was whole again, in exchange for the magic gauntlet (which explains how he obtained the gauntlet in the first place). So, Lancelot and Guinevere return to Camelot with the magic powder. Lancelot, realizing he’d fallen in love with Guinevere, decides to leave the kingdom in order to keep a wedge from forming between her and Arthur. But Arthur had been spying on their farewell, and when he confronts Guinevere, she explains that their quest to find the dagger for Arthur had resulted in them obtaining the magical powder. She goes on to say that she’d originally planned to use it to make Excalibur appear whole, but realized at the last minute that she no longer wanted that. Because Arthur had become too obsessed with the sword, he’d become blinded to what REALLY mattered. However, her words fail to get through to Arthur, who decides to use the magical powder to make Camelot seem like a perfect little kingdom, with Guinevere becoming the brainwashed little wife who will simply go along with whatever Arthur decides. So, our great king of Camelot is now a total psycho who has turned Camelot into this whole False Utopian style kingdom. Once again, I’m getting Avatar: The Last Airbender vibes from this show. This is very similar to what was going down in Ba Sing Se during the show’s second season. It’s even creepier that he’s now pretty much gotten Guinevere brainwashed into loving him. And I thought the Rumpelstiltskin/Belle pairing was borderline unhealthy and toxic.
Flash-forwarding a few years, now that Charming is a Knight of the Round Table, Arthur fills him in on the secret of Excalibur, and explains his intention to merge Excalibur to the Dark One’s Dagger. In his desperation to help Emma, Charming allows his judgement to become clouded and refuses to pay heed to Snow when she tries to tell him what Lancelot said, about how Arthur couldn’t be trusted. Going behind Snow’s back, Charming tries to bring the dagger to Arthur. But it turns out Snow anticipated this and took the dagger to hide it with Lancelot. They try to return it to the place where Lancelot and Guinevere found it before, in that garden dimension that could be accessed in the bowels of the Vault of the Dark One. Before they can return it to the holding pedestal thing, they find Arthur had followed them. When Arthur tries to kill Lancelot, Snow decides to surrender the dagger to save her friend’s life. Arthur then reveals his ultimate plan is to force Emma to restore Excalibur so he can use it to kill Merlin before eliminating the Darkness forever. Okay, but why does Arthur want to kill Merlin? I mean, if Arthur wants Merlin out of the way, wouldn’t the smart move be to just leave him trapped in the tree? I guess Arthur’s afraid someone might find a way to release Merlin, and the only way to be sure Merlin can’t ever come after him is to kill him, but if Merlin is supposed to be this great and powerful sorcerer, you’d think it would be all too easy for Merlin to dodge and deflect Arthur’s killing blow. So, wouldn’t it be more prudent for Arthur to just set fire to Tree Merlin and be done with it? That’s not even mentioning the obvious question of why Arthur seems to not want Merlin around to begin with. Weren’t Arthur and Merlin supposed to be buddies? Unless it’s because Arthur realizes deep down that he’s no longer worthy of wielding Excalibur because he’s let the power go to his head and doesn’t want to give Merlin the chance to take the sword away from him. Which would kinda make sense, I suppose.
Anyway, when Arthur tries to use the dagger to summon Emma, it’s revealed that the dagger was a fake. Turns out this whole thing was actually a clever ruse devised by Snow and Charming, with the latter following Arthur in secret. (And this is me, expressing my genuine apologies for doubting Charming in this episode.) With Arthur’s true nature revealed, Snow and Charming plan to use Excalibur to save Emma’s life instead of destroying her, the way Arthur had planned. But before they could begin, Guinevere, still under the effects of the magic powder, arrives with the rest of the Camelot knights. Lancelot is captured and thrown into Camelot’s dungeon, where he meets up with Merida, who was also captured off-camera. (Does this mean Arthur was the one who kidnapped her brothers?) As for Snow and Charming, they are both placed under the power of the magic powder, which brainwashes them into becoming willing allies of Arthur’s evil plan.
Yeah, so this is not looking like it’s gonna end well. Although, this could explain how the Nevengers ‘failed’ Emma in Camelot, especially since Arthur and Guinevere could just use the magic powder on anyone who suspected Snow and Charming were not acting of their own free will. If it is, it’s obvious they were not at fault- they were under magical mind control, courtesy of King Nutso. I’m now wondering if Killian and Henry will be able to figure out what’s really going on before the mind wipe occurs. After all, they’re the only two Dark One Emma doesn’t seem to be miffed at in Storybrooke. But the question remains if Snow and Charming are still under the effects of the magical powder. Unless the mind wipe counteracted the magic powder’s effects. Which would explain why the memory wipe was necessary. After all, Guinevere still seems to be affected by it, but she got blasted with the stuff before the Nevengers even made it to Camelot, so the memory wipe would not have counteracted it.
Meanwhile, while things were quickly spiraling downward into madness in the main storyline, Emma was finding it harder and harder to block out the voice of the Darkness. So much so, she was actually becoming physically ill. When Regina suggests that she could benefit from going somewhere quiet, away from prying ears, Killian and Henry decide to take Emma out on an outing so she could clear her head, with Henry deciding the perfect place would be the stables that belonged to his new friend, Violet, and her family. Of course, Henry went ‘peace out’ pretty quickly when Violet actually shows up. And I adore that whole scene and everything it stands for, especially Emma and Killian’s reactions to learning Henry now has a love interest. Emma was all ‘wait, what? But my son’s too young for this!’ And Killian was all ‘yeeeaahhh, attaboy!’ Which were such typical mother/father reactions to a boy bringing home a girl for the first time. I can’t even stand how good they’ve got the whole parental thing down, especially Killian. Who cares if he’s not Henry’s father by blood? There’s a lot more to being a real father than simply providing the sperm portion of the child in question. If this moment is any indication, Killian is Henry’s father in all the ways that actually count.
When Henry leaves with Violet, Killian gets Emma to open up to him, and she tells him all about the Dark One Rumpelstiltskin Hallucination, and how she’s struggling to block him out. Killian, remembering how he was sometimes able to block out his internal demons by sailing about aboard the Jolly Roger, decides to utilize the same method to help Emma. Of course, the Jolly Roger is currently docked at Storybrooke’s harbor, and Camelot is apparently too far inland for them to borrow a random ship for a few hours. So, Killian goes with the next best thing and borrows a horse from the stables. Emma is doubtful at first, since the horse is able to sense the Darkness that currently possesses her, and the Dark One Rumple Hallucination tries to feed on her hesitations. But Killian instructs Emma to simply put her trust in him, because he’s not going to stop fighting for them or their future together. Once again, you have to truly admire Killian’s unyielding love for Emma. He’s not fazed at all at the news that she’s being plagued by voices in her head. He just remains completely confident that they can beat this and return to Storybrooke, where they can continue their life together. Even in the opening scene, when Emma nearly hits him with a magical blast during her emotional meltdown. He barely even blinks and simply reaches out to Emma to calm and comfort her. It’s very reminiscent of that moment in ‘Snow Queen,’ when Killian barely took note of the fact that he nearly got struck with a falling lamp pole when Emma’s magic was going haywire. Instead, he remained solely focused on Emma and her obvious distress and physically reached out to her in his desire to help her. No matter what the situation, Killian always manages to put Emma’s well-being first.
With his encouragement, Emma is able to mount the horse behind him, and Killian brings them to a really beautiful clearing filled with pink roses, which were the same roses that more or less symbolized the love between Arthur and Guinevere before Arthur went off the deep end. (Well, the show calls them middlemist flowers, which are apparently a real thing, but they’re so rare, the only two known locations are a greenhouse in the UK and a New Zealand garden. So I guess they had to represent the middlemist with pink roses.) Upon reaching the clearing, Emma realizes the Dark One Rumpelstiltskin Hallucination is nowhere in sight. Because she was able to place her complete faith in Killian and his love for her, it left no room for the Darkness to take root. This revelation helps restore Emma’s hopes of becoming freed from the curse of the Dark One, and she and Killian share one of the most beautifully filmed kisses to date.
And that brings us to the million dollar question- did Emma and Killian have ‘coffee’ after the cutaway? I mean, look how the final moments of that scene played out:
Emma: Well, now that we’re alone…
[Killian does that eyebrow thing, and they initiate a very romantic kiss as the camera pans upward to show they are standing in the middle of a field of the middlemist flowers/pink roses]
I mean, come on, people! That is one of the oldest tropes in history- the couple making love for the first time while surrounded by rose petals. And there’s also the fact that we see Dark One Emma has held on to the flower Killian had given her when they reached the clearing, which might indicate that particular moment held special meaning to her. Obviously, I know we’re not going to get to actually SEE anything, since this show is on the family-friendly ABC and not the more adult-themed HBO. But if the next episode has the first Camelot scene with Emma and Killian still in that field of middlemist, I’m fairly certain there will be Captain Swan riot, especially if we see something like Killian putting his coat back on.
In the final moments of the episode, we see Dark One Emma beginning her plan to mold the revived Gold into a hero. Taking possession of Merida’s heart (because Merida was obviously brought over to Storybrooke as well), Dark One Emma tasks Merida with helping Gold learn how to be brave. All I can say is that Merida has her work cut out for her. After all, if Isaac’s twisted AU world showed us anything, it’s that it is very hard to change a person’s true nature. Even in that world, when Gold was supposed to be the hero, he still was perfectly willing to strike down a young boy like Henry to protect his cozy little existence.