One episode was provided prior to broadcast.
Picking up mere moments after last year’s cliffhanger – well, after the usual tangential reference to Emma’s childhood acting as a foreshadowing of events to come – Once Upon A Time‘s fifth season does one thing exceedingly well right out of the gate: it wastes no time. A lot of people had issues with the Frozen story arc from season 4A, and, although I don’t speak for Oncers at large, I’d say a lot of that had to do with Anna and Elsa’s large stranglehold over the A plot that season.
Co-creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz seem to be addressing that concern head-on in the season five premiere, which whisks Emma (Jennifer Morrison) off to the Enchanted Forest for a lesson in the ways of the Dark One – courtesy of a figment of her imagination, in the form of Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle). The rest of the gang are stuck to pick up the pieces in Storybrooke, attempting to figure out where the newly minted Dark One escaped to, and, more importantly, how to get to her.
One of the most interesting aspects of Emma’s “Dark Swan” turn this season, so far anyway, is that she isn’t immediately donning high-necked dresses and threatening the livelihood of princesses. When she reappears through a mass of black ooze from a shrine in the Enchanted Forest, she’s still Emma, just mangier. The introduction of the manifestation of that evil in the form of Rumpelstiltskin as a voice in her head may grow tired as the season progresses, but it easily fuels some of the premiere’s more excitingly dark moments.
One of those comes when we’re introduced to the first Pixar character on the show, Merida (Amy Manson), who’s trotting around the Enchanted Forest in the quest for an elusive will o’ the wisp, which she believes will grant her the ability to find her kidnapped trio of brothers. Her brief catch-up story acts as a sort-of-sequel to Brave (King Fergus has died, unrest in the kingdom emerged at the thought of her ascension to the throne, her twin brothers were kidnapped in the aftermath), and leads to Emma’s first taste of evil: will she sacrifice Merida in hopes of using the will o’ the wisp for her own purposes, or let the princess go?