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‘Once Upon A Time’ Review: Dramatic ‘Nimue’ Illustrates the Temptation of Evil

Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 5 Episode 7 – Nimue:

Once Upon A Time loves its origin stories, and so we’re getting one centered on Merlin (Elliot Knight) this week. And you know what? It works. “Nimue” is a really solid story that not only gives us a look into the pathos that drives Merlin to be the good wizard he’s been for a thousand years, it also gives us a look into the history of the Dark One and the beginnings of dark magic in this world.

The story flashes back a thousand years, as Merlin discovers the Holy Grail, drinks from it, and acquires magic powers that heal the land — and also grant him immortality. This becomes both a blessing and a curse to Merlin, who can’t allow himself to set down roots with anyone, because he’d essentially have to watch them slowly die, while he himself would be forced to live on in their absence. However, he can’t help but fall for Nimue (Caroline Ford), a beautiful woman who seeks Merlin for help gaining revenge on Vortigan (Darren Moore), a villain who destroyed her village in search of the Holy Grail. The love story that the show tries to sell is a bit sudden, and might have worked better with a bit more time. Really, Merlin’s backstory is something that should have been filled in, little by little, over the course of the season up to this point. Of course, I get why they didn’t do it that way, since it would have necessitated countless flashbacks within flashbacks in episodes that were not Merlin-centric. In addition, Merlin was only just recently revived, so it wouldn’t have made much sense to focus on a guy about whom we knew nothing. And yet, I think it might have been better if we did know Merlin better before this point, as it would have added to the tragedy of his story. Then again, I say that, but I still thought this worked out pretty well, because it added a human element that’s been lacking from Merlin’s characterization. As a figure of magic and mystery, there hasn’t been much of a character to Merlin. But this episode gave us something to work with, in the character department.

I don’t think it ended up being any big mystery that Nimue would become the first Dark One, but it’s still a cool moment when we learn that it’s Merlin’s ex-lover who fell to the darkness and not Vortigan, as we were led to believe. In attempting to get revenge against Vortigan, Nimue drinks from the Holy Grail, gaining magic and immortality. She uses her newfound powers to rip Vortigan’s heart from his chest and crush it in front of Merlin’s eyes, giving birth to dark magic. She then splits Excalibur in two to prevent Merlin from using it to remove the darkness from her, as he planned to do for himself, so as to allow them both to live a mortal life together in harmony. And just like that, some of Merlin’s mystique is gone — but in place is humanity, the lack of which had been preventing Merlin from feeling like a truly three-dimensional character. I loved this storyline because it showed us what drives Merlin. His investment in Arthur (Liam Garrigan) wasn’t simply one of prophecy, it was how he intended to atone for his own past failings. Which is why it’s all the more tragic when Arthur fails to be the man he wanted him to be. Merlin openly blames himself for not being there to help raise Arthur into the man he should have become, and the pain of regret is there in his voice and behind his eyes, every bit as much as the rage rests comfortably behind Arthur’s. It all builds to a climax that brings the two separate flashback stories together…

In the Camelot storyline, Merlin is attempting to help Emma (Jennifer Morrison) conquer the darkness, which is easier said than done, since the temptation for her is particularly strong. Not because Emma wants to be the Dark One, but because her past as the Savior means that, if she were to become the Dark One, she’d become the most powerful Dark One in history. Merlin’s presence alone is indicative of his own bravery, since Emma has the power to kill him. And when you consider how unstable her powers are, he can’t be entirely certain that she won’t take that chance to kill him, whether purposely or inadvertently. Emma’s mission involves having her use the dagger to summon the first Dark One, which leads into the Nimue reveal. In a wonderful, high-energy performance from Morrison, Emma is able to resist Nimue’s temptations and come one step closer to potentially driving out the darkness for good. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like she’s going to be able to do this fast enough, since Arthur uses a binding spell he learned from Zelena (Rebecca Mader), who manages to trick the gang into helping her escape and regain her magic. The spell binds Merlin to Excalibur, allowing Arthur to control him in much the same way the dagger controls the Dark One. This would all be terrifying enough, but things get all the more worrisome in modern day Storybrooke, when we see that Emma has reforged Excalibur, binding it to the dagger and restoring the sword. Emma recalls that Merlin told her, as a girl, not to do this. But Emma is moving forward anyway, on the encouragement of Nimue, who is the latest hallucination plaguing Emma. And she brings along hallucinations of every other Dark One too, it appears. I still have no idea what Emma’s plan is, but what are the odds that this is all one big misdirect, and she really IS going to use it to banish darkness?

'Once Upon A Time' Review Dramatic 'Nimue' Illustrates the Temptation of Evil

Credit: ABC

Once Upon A Time served up a compelling story with “Nimue”. Granted, Merlin wasn’t the most fascinating character going into tonight’s show, but he’s far more interesting coming out of it. I’m interested to see how his character evolves, and if it evolves. I’m also far more compelled by Emma’s commitment to darkness, and whether or not it’s one big misdirect. After all, Emma has a new opponent in the form of the newly-heroic Rumplestiltskin. That’s going to be a showdown for the ages, I’d wager. Can’t wait.

But what did you think of Once Upon A Time, “Nimue”? Sound off in the comments!

And for more fairy tale news, find out which young actress has been chosen to star in Universal’s reboot of The Little Mermaid!

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