ONCE UPON A TIME Recap: The Original Dark One

once upon a time

Well, that was a surprise.

Who would have thought that Merlin’s long lost love was actually the original Dark One? I definitely did not see that coming. Or maybe I did. In hindsight, when Nimue was mentioned in last week’s ONCE UPON A TIME, I had taken that as the original Dark One’s name; but then last night, when Nimue was introduced as the woman Merlin loved, I just figured that I had misunderstood and just went with it. And to my utter surprise, it turns out that Merlin’s love story was even more tragic than I had previously thought.

“Nimue” told the story of how Merlin became a sorcerer. It was actually pretty great that we got to spend a lot more in Camelot than we did in previous weeks, and got to witness out how the darkness is affecting Emma in the early stages of her becoming the Dark Swan.

Merlin is actually thousands of years old and he found the Holy Grail in the desert, when he was nearly dying of thirst. The guy he was with tried to drink the water from the Grail, but just like what happens to those unworthy of Excalibur, he turned to dust. Merlin was scared, but he figured he had two options: die of thirst or try to drink the water from the Grail and risk dying anyway. The Holy Grail deems him worthy, however, and after drinking its water he suddenly finds himself with magical powers and turns the desert into a forest.

A thousand years later, he is a well-known sorcerer in the village he lives in, and he meets a woman named Nimue. Surprisingly, he can’t see the future when it comes to her, but she tells him that a man named Vortigen burned her village to the ground and she was the only survivor. She wants revenge on him and she thinks that the best revenge would be to plant the seeds she has saved from a flower that only blossomed around her village. That way, Vortigen would know that he hadn’t killed everything and that her village lived on somewhere else.

Merlin is completely enchanted by her and they soon fall in love. He wants to propose and confesses to her that he is thousands of years old and immortal. So he doesn’t want to marry her and only have her for a brief period of time and then be left behind when she dies. Nimue suggests that maybe she could drink from the Grail and become immortal too, but Merlin doesn’t want that. He would rather lose his powers, so he can live a normal, human life by her side. In order to do that, he needs to transform the Holy Grail into a sword and that will take away his immortality. And that’s how Excalibur came to be.

All seems to go well, but Vortigen shows up and tries to take the sword. When Merlin doesn’t give it to him, he threatens Nimue and then proceeds to kill her when she struggles. Merlin is overcome with grief as he watches Nimue die and my heart totally broke for him. It turns out, however, that the sneaky woman had drunk from the Holy Grail and gained powers as well. So she surprises Merlin by ripping Vortigen’s heart out and crushing it. When she used her powers to kill someone the darkness took over and, thus, the mighty Dark One was born. She breaks Excalibur, so Merlin wouldn’t be able to take away her powers, and flees. Merlin puts Excalibur in the stone with his Apprentice’s help and performs a spell on the broken piece of the sword, forging the dagger that commands the Dark One.

How tragic is it that the original Dark One was the love of Merlin’s life, who became his mortal enemy, and trapped him inside a tree for thousands of years?

We fast forward to six weeks ago and what the heroes were up to in Camelot. Merlin enlists Emma’s help to make Excalibur whole again, but in order to do that they need to get the first spark of mankind and, lucky for them, the one who has it is the very first Dark One. So what Merlin needs her to do is to summon the original Dark One, which is not risk-free because the darkness might consume Emma and she could end up killing Merlin.

I have to say that I really, really enjoyed the Camelot part of this episode – especially Emma and Merlin. She confesses to him that she has done some dark things already and that she can feel the darkness taking over. When it’s revealed that the original Dark One is actually Nimue, Merlin’s long lost love, Emma is just as surprised as we are. Nimue is a force to be reckoned with and she nearly wins Emma over. But our Swan fights back and Jennifer Morrison was simply brilliant in that scene. It seriously looked like she was possessed; that’s how powerful her performance was. It was breathtaking. She takes the spark from Nimue and they start their journey back to Camelot with renewed hope.

But it was all for naught, because the Charmings, Hook and Regina devised a plan to rescue Excalibur, trusting Zelena’s intel. Obviously, the Wicked Witch had an ace up her sleeve and was actually working with Arthur, who has taken a trip to Looneyville and never returned. The guy is seriously bonkers and completely obsessed. Zelena performs a spell that tethers Merlin to Excalibur and now Crazy!Arthur has control over the sorcerer.

Flashforward to present day Storybrooke and Emma makes Excalibur whole again. My bet is that all hell is about to break loose.

So what did you think? Hit the comments below or come talk to me on Twitter.

ONCE UPON A TIME will air a special two-hour episode on November 15 beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

For all the latest TV news and reviews