Once Upon a Time’s main problem this season has been an over reliance on its increasingly complex mythology. Because of the nature of this season’s Dark One arc, the show has been forced to tackle the dense history of this being, which involves not just multiple characters, but a lot of rule bending and in some instances, revision of past events. While ‘Swan Song’ isn’t far removed from these problems, it succeeds in separating itself from them by focusing on the characters involved, and everything they’ve done to get to this point.
Killian is at the centre of the hour, with his motivation for revenge pushing him to some very different emotional extremities. He starts out on a path to take down Team Charming as punishment for turning him into the dark and teams up with all of the past Dark Ones in order to achieve it. This path for revenge is paralleled in flashbacks by his reunion with his father, who abandoned him when he was a child. When faced with the opportunity to let his father go and move on from the grudge he held against him he failed, instead choosing to kill him after learning that his new child was named after Killian’s now deceased brother. Some part of me wishes he didn’t actually do something as dark as this, but it is in line with what we already know about his pre-Emma past.
In present day he comes close to doing the same thing to Emma and her family, but had a last minute change of heart after seeing Emma being hurt by Nimue. Instead he sacrifices himself to destroy the darkness by letting Emma use Excaliber to kill him and return the Dark Ones back to the Underworld. I think we have Regina to thank for that, after she reminded him that he had faced a similar decision before, with his father. This was his opportunity to do the right thing, and he took it.
Emma being the one to have to kill him is heartbreaking, but it was a powerful note to close the Dark Swan arc on. Though the Camelot action hampered the plot in some respects, I feel like the characterisation here is still strong. Though Emma was taken to some dark places, the person she was remained intact. She’ll have some bruises to show for it, but here’s hoping the experience will give her the motivation she needs to save Killian, and take Rumple down.
As surprising as it was, the 180 with Rumple in this episode was where it really fell down. He’s gone from good to bad, to not so bad, to good and a million other variations of those in the last four and a half seasons, but it seemed like he was finally being stuck on a solid path. Now he’s back to his old tricks, betraying Belle again, and becoming the Dark One for the second (?) time. I hope she cuts him out completely when she finds out. There’s only so much faith she can have in him before she starts to look like a fool. Her decision to walk away from him in 'Broken Heart' is a good start. Let's hope it sticks.
Elsewhere, Regina banished Zelena back to Oz to protect her niece from the wicked witch. I hope this banishment isn’t permanent because as annoying as she is, I genuinely think she’s one of the most entertaining characters Once has right now. That being said, she’s been a bit underused so far. Let’s hope she gets more of a chance to play in the latter half of the season.
Though we saw at least a dozen of them, we only saw one face amongst the past Dark Ones: Nimue. I feel like the writers missed an opportunity here to throw some interesting characters into the mix.
If someone were to compile all of the sequences of people walking in formation down Storybrooke’s main street, how long would it be?
I love that Emma had her signature red jacket on when she transformed back into her real self.
He Said, She Said
Rumple: “Power is only as good as the one who wields it, and you’ve done nothing but parlour tricks.”
Regina: “You can’t go through with this, Killian.”
Killian: “Killian? No ‘captain guy-liner’, no ‘one-handed wonder’. Where are the bon mots tonight?”
Emma: “Mom, you're Snow White. You don't know how to give up. Hope is in your blood.”
Mary Margaret: “And I do hope, Emma, but I don't want to spend what could be my last moments with my nose in a book.”
If Once is going to survive it needs to let go of the million and one magical rules it has governing where it can take its stories. Every arc brings with it a whole new set of commandments that the writers have to follow but every time that happens, things get more and more complicated and plot holes start to form. Episodes like this one that rely more on the people at the heart of the story are stronger because they aren’t governed by these rules. Though it took one character in a questionable direction, it pulled me into the adventure a lot more than had we spent 50% of the episode hearing about who owns the dagger now, or what memory spell is in effect. With Killian’s rescue driving the show forward there’s a greater chance that we’ll see more of the emotional anchors we saw this week in the future. If that doesn’t happen I think Once will really start to lose me.
3.5 out of 5 ships to the Underworld
Originally posted at PandaTV.
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