When we learned that Merlin was entombed in a tree by the Dark One, it was not a great stretch of the imagination to connect the Dark One with his lost lover. The episode Nimue was less a story of suspense and more one of operatic caution and regret. Taken together with Birth, the two stories demonstrate both the origin of Excalibur and the Dark One’s dagger, but also remind us that love can lead to great tragedy. By the end of these two episodes, two relationships have been shattered all because someone wanted to hang on to romantic, earthly love. Furthermore, more than two souls have been corrupted and several hearts have been broken.
The B-plot running throughout both of these episodes involves the Charmings, along with Regina & Robin and Hook, discovering what Emma’s plan appears to be. While Hook goes off on his own to try to confront Emma, the others continue to try to figure out what happened to them during the missing six weeks. Meanwhile, Emma speeds up Zelena’s pregnancy so to rid her of an innocent child. While we have yet to find out the name, we do find out that the baby is a girl. Emma whisks away Zelena, but after she frees herself, the Wicked Witch does not immediately return to her new daughter. It stands to reason that for all her wanting to start over again with her daughter alone, Zelena also cannot resist petty villainy. It remains to be seen how much of a fight she puts up in later episodes. For now, it is safe to assume that the baby is being cared for by Robin and Regina, but I doubt that we have seen the end of that struggle. Before being kidnapped by Emma, Zelena managed to get a parting shot at her sister, calling her green with envy over the baby. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be holding your niece, fathered by your lover, when you cannot have children of your own. At least Robin has no love for Zelena herself.
In Nimue, the main plot is that of a flashback to Merlin’s past, where we meet his lover, Nimue, and where we learn the origins of Excalibur. Suffice to say, it is no surprise that the first Dark One is born because said individual wanted revenge and immortality. Merlin allowed himself to be blinded by love and failed to see that while his own idea of regaining mortality to die with his love was what he wanted, it was not what Nimue ever wanted. Their love was doomed when they embarked on their quest. Merlin is thus much wiser when he cautions Emma, but she still ignores him and succumbs to her desire to reunite the dagger with Excalibur.
What her motive is becomes clear in Birth, when it is revealed that there is more than one Dark One. Back in Camelot, Emma’s plan to rid herself of the darkness was ultimately thwarted by her own selfish desire to have her happy ending with Hook. Yes, Emma has been cheated out of happiness from birth onward, but like Merlin, she did not truly consider her lover’s own desires in carrying out her plan. Against Hook’s own wishes, she saved him from death…by turning him into the one thing that he has spent centuries seeking revenge against. Perhaps she felt that they could live happily ever after as the Dark Couple? While I think that could be an interesting story, Emma failed to listen to the fact that Hook did not want to do that! He knows what darkness is like. He has fought to reform himself from the miserable man he used to be. However, that miserable man is comfortable – I have no doubt that he will revert back to being that man now that he has supernatural powers. Hook was a dastardly villain when all he had were his wits and his sword – imagine what he will be like with power!
It is no wonder that Emma did not want Hook to remember what she did, but did she think that they could live together in immortality together and he would never figure it out? Or did she truly think that he would thank her for it? Such is the deception and delusion of darkness!
By contrast, The Bear King is a relaxing standalone episode centered on Merida, Mulan, and Red Riding Hood. While the previous episodes are primarily about romantic love, this story is all about honour, filial piety, patriotism, and loyalty. Merida is being crowned Queen, but feels unworthy to fill her father’s throne. Then she finds out that her father may have used a magical helmet to force his soldiers and subjects to do his bidding and die for him. On a quest to both find the helmet and prove her father was a good king after all, she enlists her old friend Mulan (who taught her how to swordfight) and Red Riding Hood, whom we find out returned to the Enchanted Forest to find other werewolves rather than remain in Storybrooke. She was not yet successful in finding other werewolves, but she instead finds a new comrade in Mulan and they leave Merida to embark on a new adventure once her quest is done. It was a nice visit for sure, but like having relatives home for the holidays, it was a relief to see them go, knowing that they could come back another time for another round of turkey.
King Arthur and Zelena are the villains of the episode, showing off how low Arthur has descended in his madness. He wants the magical helmet so that he can command his troops with absolute loyalty. He has no qualms about using magic to maintain the illusion of a perfect kingdom. He has no qualms about killing others just to get his hands on random magical objects. He is a greedy man with no honour, unlike Merida’s father, whom he needlessly slays (really – he could have probably just asked for the helmet!). Did we need a whole episode to tell us this? No, but it was a good story.
It was brilliant timing to air both Birth and The Bear King on the same night. The former episode was dark, operatic, and a lot to take in. The latter was one that would have been disappointing on its own, especially so late in the story arc, but was a refreshing, lighthearted tale about some of our background characters. It kept the audience entertained. It also ensured that we got to delve deeper into the character of Merida without having her detract too much from our ordinary main characters, as well as a wonderful contrast between Arthur and a good model of kingship, namely King Fergus and later Queen Merida.
One of the running themes of the entire show has been choice. Evil is not born, it is made. It is always a choice to embrace the darkness. It is always a choice to commit atrocities. It is always a choice to act on love. In all of these episodes, choice is paramount. Both Nimue and Emma choose darkness for immediate gain. Hook, by contrast, is forced into the darkness – akin to assault. Meanwhile, the clans of DunBroch follow King Fergus and then Merida out of loyalty by choice, not by force. Death is always an option. Love sometimes means letting someone go. Above all, it is selfless – something that darkness cannot comprehend.