Saturday , December 9 2023
The "Once Upon a Time" season premiere is a great start to Season Five, incorporating Camelot and "Brave" into the mix as Emma Swan attempts to fight off the growing darkness inside her.

TV Review: ‘Once Upon a Time’ Season Five Premiere – ‘The Dark Swan’

As you may recall from last season’s Once Upon a Time finale, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) had made the ultimate sacrifice to save a life and as a result became The Dark One, wresting that title from the dying Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle). But all that is left of Emma as we enter season five (premiering tonight on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET)  is the Dark One dagger, no longer emblazoned with “Rumplestiltskin,” and now bearing Emma’s name. Emma has vanished.

Once Upon a Time
“Once Upon a Time: An Evening with Snow White & the Evil Queen” – (ABC/Jack Rowand)
Emma’s parents (who, last year, revealed quite a dark side, themselves) Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) are beside themselves with worry, as is love-of-her-life Killian (Colin O’Donghue). And with the help of the entire town try to find a way to get to Emma before the Darkness completely takes control (if they’re not too late!)
It was great to see the Seven Dwarves, headed by Lee Arenberg’s Grumpy insert themselves into the battle, as Grumpy declares, “We’re tired of being on the sidelines!” It’s a sentiment, I’m sure, shared by lots of Once Upon a Time fans who felt that last year cheated them of the dwarves and other Storybrooke “townies.”
But how to start? Why, consult the Apprentice (Timothy Webber) as the Apprentice, of course! And then, conjure some rather “wicked” (and clever) magic to follow Emma to the place she has gone, which is not over the rainbow (although there are some visual Oz-like cues, to be sure), but to Camelot and Merlin (the only one who can cure her of the Dark One curse). All the while, Rumple’s alter ego, Mr. Gold, continues to hover between life and death in a coma as Belle watches over him.
And although Mr. Gold is still as a ghost, Rumple is far from it, and in fine form. His role, it appears, is as Emma’s muse, egging her on, encouraging her to give in to the dark side. He is like the devil on her shoulder in one of those old Disney (or Warner Brothers) cartoons. But is he real or all in her head? Or is he an effect of Emma’s taking on the Dark One mantle?
I have to say, I really loved the way series creators Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis have merged bits of Arthurian legend into the Once Upon a Time landscape. From the Sword in the Stone to the introduction of Arthur and Lancelot, I think this just might work–and be far more integrated into the series narrative than Frozen had been. And for that I cheer!!
I also liked the introduction of Brave’s Merida, which sets up Emma’s first test in her struggle against the Dark One Curse. It’s a clever set up, and a test of will for Emma especially with a very persistent muse cheering for her to make the bad choices.
There is a real contrast between how Emma is handling her early Dark One-ness and what we know of Rumple’s own struggle with becoming the Dark One. Emma has always been tough and confident (at least as an adult), while Rumple had become the Dark One from a place of being brutalized and victimized (and at the time, had the singular mission of saving his son from the certain death of conscription).
We have seen how the Dark Curse can take a mild-mannered (but admittedly weak) man and corrupt him, eat away at him. How will the curse affect the strong, and strong-willed Miss Swan? Unlike Rumple, Emma is surrounded by love. She has parents, a lover, and a son (as had Rumple) who, if they find her, can perhaps keep her from being consumed.
I’m looking forward to this season of Once Upon a Time (much more than I was this time last year). The story has great potential, and if the first episode is any gauge, season five will be a great ride!
Once Upon a Time airs Sunday nights on ABC.
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About Barbara Barnett

A Jewish mother and (young 🙃) grandmother, Barbara Barnett is an author and professional Hazzan (Cantor). A member of the Conservative Movement's Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Renewal movement's clergy association OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement. In her other life, she is a critically acclaimed fantasy/science fiction author as well as the author of a non-fiction exploration of the TV series House, M.D. and contributor to the book Spiritual Pregnancy. She Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (

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  1. It was a much better season premier than what we saw last year. Unfortunately, the ratings for the episode was terrible. While the storyline has lots of possibilities, it seems that the show is limping towards a season five series finale. It didn’t have to go down this path. They showrunners sacrificed a strong story line (and character) when they killed Neal. Rumple is almost an afterthought. The one coupling I cared about, they tried to break up (Rumple and Belle). I wonder why they didn’t go through with that dumb idea. Perhaps they received a lot of negative feedback on that move.

    Rumple, in this episode, is too one sided. A caricature. Without the humanity in Gold, Rumple is just another villain. Even a great actor like Carlyle can do little with this kind of writing.

    Still, let’s see how it goes. The gamble to appeal to shippers (Hook and Emma, Robin and Evil Queen) is not working out as well as they probably hoped. I still don’t care about Hook. My apathy towards Robin isn’t that far behind. I have to say, though, a bad Emma is a good Emma.

  2. They ruined this show for Hook, and they got the audience they deserved with Captain Swan. I’m not interested in episode after episode of his manpain, or any of the OQ garbage. That’s all this show has to offer now so I guess I’m done.

  3. Lo and behold, they have multi layered characters! This season is beginning to show a definite upturn in quality. And Mr. Gold is awake.