This review contains spoilers! Proceed with caution.
This week’s two-episode special of Once Upon a Time was a mixed bag. The first hour was very fast-paced and heavy on the main storyline, while the second slowed things down with some subplot. Although there were some issues with pacing, each episode was enjoyable in its own right.
With such an obvious title, it was easy to assume that ‘Birth’ would be about Zelena having her child. It turned out to be much more metaphorical than that, foreshadowing the creation of a new Dark One.
Emma and Killian’s connection was emphasised (for reasons which have now become apparent). Last week I discussed Hook’s insistence that Dark!Emma is an entirely different person to Saviour!Emma. As predicted, all his talk about no longer loving her was just that – talk. His words to Emma – ‘you’re more than the Dark One, you’re still you’ – make it clear that he still loves her (well, duh! It’s Captain Swan. Not even the darkness can come between them). We also learned the meaning behind Killian’s rings: each one belonged to a man he killed. Now, they’re ‘a reminder that all sins can be forgiven when someone loves you’. I found this conversation particularly moving. Killian always knows just what to say to Emma, and that comes from understanding her so well. Part of what makes Captain Swan a great ship is that these two fit together like puzzle pieces, and this week reminded us of that.
There wasn’t too much focus on Zelena’s pregnancy, except to show that Emma had used dark magic to put a rush on it. The Wicked Witch went from being two months along to giving birth in a matter of minutes. Dr. Whale made a long-overdue reappearance to deliver Zelena’s baby. It was hilarious when Regina commented on his hair colour (a reference to his current role as Blaine on iZombie). This comic relief was short-lived, though, as Emma soon whisked Zelena away. And here she finally revealed her plan: to contain the darkness within Zelena and use Excalibur to rid the world of it forever. She’s been trying to accomplish a heroic deed after all, but her methods are incredibly twisted.
And speaking of twists, the episode ended with the mother of all plot twists: Killian Jones is the Dark One…and so is Emma. I’m not going to lie, part of me wants them to join forces and revel in their dark powers. I don’t think that plotline is in the cards, though Hook’s coldness in those last moments made it look like he’s already embraced his new role.
All the suspense from the previous episode came to a halt with ‘The Bear King’. We saw nothing more of Emma and Killian, but instead were treated to Merida’s latest adventure. The sudden change in pace was jarring and it took me a while to adjust to it. However, once I did I found myself thoroughly engrossed in this storyline.
Merida previously teamed up with Belle, and this time around she was reunited with Mulan and introduced to Ruby. Present-day Mulan was very different to the proud warrior we last saw in season three. Her values of honour had been replaced by a desire for money. Depicting the deterioration of Mulan’s moral code was a nice way to show how heartbroken she still is over Aurora. Ruby has also been through a lot since we last saw her. She apparently returned to the Enchanted Forest some time ago to search for fellow werewolves. This explains her absence in the past few seasons, but I wish the writers had taken more time to explore her identity crisis. It would have made for an immensely interesting character arc.
Overall, I loved seeing this unlikely trio in action (and they totally need a spin-off). Even though they parted ways at the end of the episode, they’ll definitely make appearances in the future. Merida is likely to be instrumental in the fight to defeat Arthur, while Ruby and Mulan’s adventures together will be shown in months to come. On that note, I think the two are a great choice for Once’s first same-sex pairing. Meghan Ory and Jamie Chung have the chemistry it takes to make a ship sail, and I can’t wait for more of their characters’ interactions as this romance unfolds.
Though ‘Birth’ and ‘The Bear King’ were both excellent episodes, the decision to air the former before the latter is questionable. The plot of ‘The Bear King’ had nothing to do with the events of the previous episode. A Merida-centric episode felt out of place after the giant cliff-hanger at the end of ‘Birth’. This season has had some problems with pacing, which stem from there being too many storylines overall. Once Upon a Time’s writers are usually masters at weaving their subplots together, but trying to tell too many stories at once has negatively affected the show. With so much new information being introduced, I have no idea how they’re going to wrap it all up in a few weeks’ time.