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Once Upon a Time: The Dark Swan

“There’s no saviour in this town anymore.”

Another season, another attempt to capitalise on an established Disney brand. Unlike last season’s Frozen takeover, it looks like this one won’t be as all consuming. It also looks like it will bring with it a new variation on the long standing flashback structure, and a few deviations away from Camelot, the backdrop of the moment. Unfortunately, the premiere brought into question the longevity of the series, which is starting to get less feasible in the face of tired plot devices, and a penchant for cheap drama.

Last year, I was one of the few who actually found the majority of the Frozen antics entertaining. Elsa was incorporated into Storybrooke really well, but it would be fair to say that the core cast ended up fading to the background as a result of how much the series bowed to the influence of such a massive Disney powerhouse. What I like about this arc is that it seems as though Regina, Emma and everyone else are very much at the centre of the plot, with the new arrivals simply adding more to the dynamic, and driving the story forward where necessary.

This premiere wasn’t without its flaws, though. While I like the idea of making Emma the big bad, and the new Camelot journey might be a lot of fun to play around with initially, I’m not sure I’m all for these guys going through yet another bout of memory loss. Watching this happen for the third/fourth (?) time just makes it all the more obvious how late we are into Once’s run, and there are only so many times you can re-use a device like this before it becomes lazy and more than a little silly.

There were a few other moments that had me rolling my eyes as well. Belle’s rose that lets her know if Rumple still lives was the most blatant attempt yet to shoehorn in a recognisable Disney movie staple for no reason at all. Merida’s introduction seemed a little unnecessary too, but it’s a relief that she’s only going to appear in doses, not all at once. It’s also nice to see that she’s being incorporated into the on-going Dark Swan arc, rather than dominating the show in a Scottish takeover all her own. I’m curious to see how she’ll play into this story later on.

I knew going into this season that the Regina/Robin/Zelena triangle would be milked for all its soapy worth, and I wasn’t wrong. It’s trashy, and all those shaded jibes really hinder Once’s family appeal, but because Lana Parilla and Rebecca Mader sell the shit out of the script I think I kind of love it. There’s also room for yet another redemption plot with the Wicked Witch, and I never get tired of watching those. And who could say no to more of Mader’s trademark manic facial expressions?


Michael Socha is no longer a part of the cast, as is the mystery surrounding his appearance in Storybrooke. It ruins the ending that the writers gave us in Wonderland. And I still don’t understand the timing of it all.

Emma giving Regina the dagger was a highlight of this episode for me.

Merida’s father has died since the events in Brave, and her three little brothers have been kidnapped. We also got a not at all subtle nod to her mother’s transformation into a bear. No mention of her fate though.

Snow and Charming have become so irrelevant to this show. They need something juicy this season, preferably something that will make Snow as interesting as she was in the season one flashbacks. I liked that Snow.

It doesn’t look like Jennifer Morrison’s dark one will be as fun as Robert Carlyle's, but we haven’t seen enough of her to make a full judgement on that yet.

He Said, She Said

Regina: “Put that thing down before you hurt yourself, guyliner.”

Right now I’m on the fence about this arc and where it might go. There’s potential for it to be either really dark and exciting or repetitive and stupid. I’m not going to lean one way or the other yet; I think I’ll just stay optimistic and hopeful that the series will remember what characters and stories are important, and which are just passing fads to draw in more viewers.

3 out of 5 wisps

Originally posted at PandaTV.


  1. I actually really liked dark emma..normal emma is sooo boring. I really hope the show tuffens up a bit. its been so damn insufferably fluffy minus well introduce the care bears as new characters and they would fit right in..

  2. First off, I really like the twist they introduced that the Dark One's dagger was created from the tip of Excalibur, even if the purist in me is annoyed that like many people they conflated Excalibur with the Sword In The Stone(few accounts have them as one in the same, in most versions Excalibur was given to him by the Lady Of The Lake after he became king). Even so, given that we already know Merlin's connection to the origin of the Dark One & the dagger, this was a neat new element.

    I enjoyed Merida's introduction, it doesn't look like she'll be overshadowing our main characters as much as the Frozen folks did last season(though admittedly that storyline worked out fairly well). I wonder what role she'll play going forward.

    I don't mind that there's a new chunk of missing time & memory loss, not really. There's always been a fanciful quality to this show, so I'm willing to cut them a little more slack on such things. When the 2nd curse happened during the Wicked Witch arc, it brought a nice twist towards the end when we learned who actually cast it & why, so they've definitely got me curious. What happened during that time in Camelot that caused things to go so wrong for Emma?

    Speaking of Emma, I must say I'm not a huge fan of the "Dark Emma" look so far. Who knows, maybe it'll grow on me. Now, "Gray Emma" on the other hand? That look I loved. I thought Jennifer Morrison looked incredible in that long gray hooded ensemble. And by the time she somehow found a way to condition her hair in the Enchanted Forest(I'll just go with "because magic" so I don't get a headache), she looked absolutely gorgeous. Not only that, but I thought it was some Jennifer's best acting on the show so far. Her struggles with the temptation of the Dark One's power, the fear in her eyes at what she's now capable of, and the hints of evil starting to show on her face when she almost gives in. And two of the scenes at the end definitely have me hooked to find out more: Emma giving the dagger to Regina(she's right, Regina's the only one who'd be willing to destroy Emma if it became necessary, though how she'd do it is another question), and that last scene back in Storybrooke, revealing that somehow things all went very, very wrong. Or did it? Given this show's penchant for twists, I'm not taking anything at face value just yet.

  3. At this point I'll watch anything that Once throws at me, even if only because of my super girl crush on Lana Parrilla, but dare I say it? I actually have hopes for this season.

    I thought season 4 was a hot mess with a couple highlights here and there (basically Kristen Bauer's acting, Cruella's surprising Dexter-like origin story and everything Emma/Regina/Henry), but this one seems a bit more focused. I do wish they could get rid of Robin Hood, somehow, and keep the storyline centered on some sisterly team building with Regina/Zelena, but I have no hopes for the team behind the show to dispose of the boring men. Honestly, at this point I could do without Hook as well, but I'm pretty sure they're not letting go of that Captain Swan ship ever. Perhaps dark!Emma will bring some interesting themes to the table of that snooze-fest of a relationship (I mean, honestly, Hook was interesting when he appeared, and then he became a puppy dog following Emma around while she kind of helf-heartedly pretended to care).

    I like the twist of dark!Emma, because there's always something powerful in one of your leads being the big bad (think dark!Willow in Buffy), and I hope we get moments ala Regina and the dagger, and heaps of family goodness. That could be a solution for Snow and Charming's chronic boredom... As a matter of fact, I would love nothing more than a Charmings/Regina team up with lots of Snow and Regina interaction. Lana Parrilla and Ginnifer Goodwin are so good together after all, and it will be awesome to see them fight truly side by side in a twist of their earlier season 1 dynamic.

    So, high hopes. Can't weight for them to be crushed.


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