“Nimue” – aired 11/8/2015 – *****stars
Written by Jane Espenson
Directed By Romeo Tirone
*Spoilers are contained herein*
By Joe Grodensky
The premise for season five of Once Upon a Time has been Emma (Jennifer Morrison) trying to be free of the dark powers she absorbed saving Regina (Lana Parilla). Over the course of this season, we are introduced to King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) and other characters from Camelot. The focus of this week’s episode is Merlin (Elliot Knight) and so the opening scene of “Nimue” is a 1,000 year flashback of Merlin and a companion wandering a desert in search of the Holy Grail. The companion finds it, but when he touches it, he disintegrates. However, when Merlin touches the Holy Grail nothing happens so he drinks from it. When he puts his hand on the ground, the desert turns into a green meadow and we discover that Merlin is now magical and immortal. In a second flashback only 200 years in the past, Merlin is helping the local townspeople by using his magic to heal and care for them.
One of the villagers he meets is named Nimue (Caroline Ford). Nimue asks Merlin for help in dealing with a man named Vortigan, who pillages and destroys villages searching for treasure, food or anything he deems of value. She wants to get revenge, but Merlin says he cannot use his magic in that way. Instead, Nimue plants the only thing she has of value, rare seeds, to show Vortigan he will not win. Merlin uses his magic to make the seeds bloom into flowers. Soon afterwards parks start to fly between the two and eventually they are seen talking about marriage. Nimue wants to marry Merlin, but Merlin tells her how he is immortal and would not want to endure a life knowing that he would eventually live to see her die. He comes up with a plan which is to melt the grail down and make it into a weapon so powerful, it could strip him of his powers and immortality. Unfortunately, Vortigan overhears of Merlin’s plan and uses what he knows to destroy Nimue’s village in search of the grail. Merlin sees a vision that they are not too far from where Vortigan is; despite knowing this, he decides to go ahead and melt the grail anyway using the fire of Prometheus. As soon as he’s done, Vortigan appears with deadly consequences.
Nimue tells Merlin to use magic to destroy Vortigan, but he tells her if he does, he will consume Vortigan’s dark powers and turn evil. Merlin pleads for Nimue’s life by offering Vortigan the prized Excalibur. Instead, Nimue decides to fight back, but is stabbed by Vortigan. Merlin holds her in his arms where she “dies.” Vortigan takes Excalibur and is about to kill Merlin when he shrieks in pain. It turns out Nimue drank the last of the Holy Grail’s contents before it was melted. Merlin tries to explain what she did was wrong, but she ignores him and crushes Vortigan’s heart, killing him. She then absorbs his powers and becomes the dark one. As we learn of Merlin’s past, the residents of Storybrooke are planning ways to help Emma fight the darkness and free their town.
Regina, Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), Robin (Sean Maguire), David (Josh Dallas), Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Zelena (Rebecca Mader) are in Granny’s discussing what to do about Excalibur and King Arthur. Merlin appears to them and tells them what they have to do in order to help break the curse. They are to storm Arthur’s castle while he accompanies Emma to face the first dark one. Zelena makes a suggestion to Regina that she will help them if she gets her magic back. Regina rebukes Zelena and puts Mary Margaret in charge of guarding her outside of the castle while the others infiltrate it. Arthur is ready for them; in fact, he’s so ready he prepares a cauldron of water to be dumped on Regina and the gang. This is no ordinary liquid though. It melts whatever it is poured onto and luckily for our heroes, they get in fast enough not to be melted, but Zelena does throw a monkey wrench into their plans. She overpowers Mary Margaret, turns on the group and gives Arthur Excalibur. He then commands Merlin to make the gang disappear.
The main character in all of this is course Emma. Over the course of the episode, she journeys with Merlin to face the original dark one, grab a spark from the fire of Prometheus and rebuild Excalibur to break the curse. Before she leaves on her quest, Hook gives her a ring as a visual reminder of why she has to succeed. The two kiss and go on their way to fulfill their journeys. Merlin gives her a warning – if Emma cannot defeat the dark one, he dies and she will be fully consumed by the dark one with no way out. In no time, Emma comes face to face with the dark one, who happens to be Nimue and so she attacks Merlin and pounces on him with her hands around his neck while Nimue feeds her lies as to why Emma should kill him. Rather than give in, Emma turns the dagger on Nimue and takes her heart which is composed of the flame of Prometheus. Merlin then reveals to Emma it was Nimue who trapped him in the tree and took the dagger. The episode ends with Dark Emma in the cave with Rumplestiltskin and Nimue. She rebuilds Excalibur, but remembers Merlin telling her to leave it alone. However, she takes Excalibur anyway, revealing all of the dark ones.
I was very happy with this episode as it was nice to see a human side to the magical Merlin. Here he is trying to use his new abilities for good yet everything around him was going sour. I am a fan of Zelena since she appeared in season 3 during the Oz story arc and it’s exciting to see she’s been promoted to a regular along with Robin. These two actors add a special flair to the already great original cast. The appearance of all the dark ones was a nice touch and it symbolized how Emma could be the chosen one for evil, not only good. Where it goes from here is to be seen, but Once Upon A Time has done an amazing job taking classic characters, modernizing them and reinventing them while keeping them fun and exciting.
Once Upon A Time airs Sunday nights on ABC at 8 pm ET. Check your local listings.