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Once Upon a Time – The Broken Kingdom – Review

While this wasn’t my favorite Once Upon a Time episode, it was still a solid entry in the series. Discovering Arthur’s motivations and mania was essential to understand what exactly was going on in Camelot, and now that we know who to trust and who not to the plot can move on. I enjoyed the callbacks to previous episodes, reminding us that this show hasn’t forgotten its lore. Where this episode falters is the fact that it is a back story for guest characters. Once Upon a Time is always strongest and most engaging when all our heroes are on screen, and while this was an excellent outing for Snow and Charming who do need more screen time, I wish “The Broken Kingdom” would have given us more of a look into the Dark Swan and the goings-on in present day Storybrooke. Storybrooke is the heart of this show, the blending of two worlds, and when Once Upon a Time strays from that so does our attention.

The episode opens with a flashback to Camelot many years ago. Camelot doesn’t seem to be more than a small village and in it we see a young Guinevere and Arthur. The casting for Arthur as a boy is so spot on it makes me slightly uncomfortable as there is no doubt this is the future king. Young Arthur has great dreams to one day rule Camelot, turning it into a kingdom of splendor. He and young Guinevere come upon a tree, Merlin’s tree, as Arthur confirms by telling Guinevere that a great sorcerer is trapped inside, one who spoke to him and gave the prophecy of the sword in the stone. How was Merlin put into this tree the first time? Was it to protect him or to protect others from him? But Arthur is far from being king, as we see by him being bullied by a young version of Sir Kay.

Arthur is determined to be more than just a stable boy as the scene changes to that from the premiere, showing us how Arthur freed the sword from the stone. It also reminds us that like the kingdom, the sword is broken. Arthur is tricky though, and returns to the village of Camelot barely taking the sword from its sheath as he proclaims himself to be the new king. Guinevere is proud of him, but how long will his charade last?

We jump to Camelot of present day where a brooding King Arthur has summoned his newest knight, Charming, to the roundtable. Arthur is rather honest with Charming, telling him of Excalibur’s broken nature and how the dagger of the Dark One is it’s other half. Charming holds his tongue for now and points out Merlin could dispel the darkness without the use of a re-forged Excalibur. Arthur is not very pro-Merlin, speaking as though the sorcerer has lied to him in the past. We need to get Merlin on this show soon if only so the audience can decide if he is friend or foe to our heroes.

Elsewhere in the castle, Emma is up late, as Dark Ones have no need for sleep. She is working on what we soon find out to be a dreamcatcher when she hears whispering voices in the night. They seem to call to her and as Emma gets up it’s revealed that this dreamcatcher is not the first, fourth, or fifteenth she’s made. This entire scene is rather spooky as we truly begin to see Emma cracking under the stress of holding the darkness at bay. The dark vision of Rumpelstiltskin is ever present, explaining that these whispers are coming from the dagger. He goads Emma into taking it, but Regina has bewitched the dagger. An easy feat for the Dark One to break such a spell, but Emma resists, lashing out at the voices in her head, only the spell she throws nearly misses Hook, who came to investigate. It’s interesting that Rumpelstiltskin referred to the dagger calling to its “other half”. One could take that to mean Emma, but perhaps he meant Excalibur? Emma collapses against Hook, shaken from her struggle with her inner urges. She is being haunted by the darkness constantly and this is played well. Emma is slowly losing this battle and is in need of help.

A short while later Emma is surrounded by her parents and family. All are concerned that what she is struggling with is getting worse, but Emma as barely spoken, unwilling to let her family know just how much she is suffering. This is almost like a person struggling with depression, wanting to call out for help but being paralyzed from doing so. Charming thinks that the solution and best way to help Emma is to team up with Arthur and begins to explain about Excalibur, only to be interrupted by Snow White, who is adamant the king is not to be trusted. She reveals Lancelot is alive to which Charming scoffs. It’s a good thing Henry and Hook had taken Emma to a safe place to rest because Snow White and her Prince Charming begin to have a heated fight over who can be trusted and who can’t. Even the Evil Queen excuses herself from the room as Snow White accuses Charming of prioritizing joining the roundtable over their daughter and that he is playing at being a knight because it makes him feel “like a hero again”. Not that I want to say I love to see these two fight, but when they do we are reminded that in the world of Once Upon a Time, they are real people not perfect unchanging archetypes. Yes they represent hope and goodness, but as last season showed the audience, they can be selfish and make terrible mistakes like normal people.

Flashback to Camelot five years earlier and we see Arthur meticulously making notes over a pile of scrolls, books, and other parchments. There is a knock at the door and the king barely has time to conceal the broken Excalibur before Guinevere walks in. The queen wants Arthur to come out and join in the celebration, but Arthur is more excited that he has almost found the other half of Excalibur. Three symbols are the final piece to the puzzle that will lead the king to the Dark One’s dagger and he gives the “five more minutes” excuse to Guinevere when she asks him to come out and dance. We can very clearly see that competitiveness and unwillingness to lose that Arthur displayed last episode come through, only in a very negative light. He’s obsessed, so much so that he is neglecting Guinevere on her birthday, the reason for the celebration. He is also neglecting to build a kingdom with his own two hands, instead focusing solely on Merlin’s prophecy. Lancelot, Arthur’s oldest friend, does his best to make the queen feel better, even staging a birthday present on behalf of Arthur, but Guinevere knows better. The king only joins the party when he has discovered the meaning of the three symbols and proclaims what they seek is only a day’s ride away. Guinevere is still is not pleased. She knows that she won’t have her husband back until Excalibur is whole.

In Camelot of present-ish day, Charming confesses all to Arthur. He explains of Emma’s darkness and proclaims that they will restore Excalibur that very night. Charming also lets Arthur know that Lancelot is alive and well. The king wishes to keep this news from Guinevere, but the queen seems to have been waiting just outside the door to make an entrance announcing she already knew. She wants to make Lancelot pay for what he did, details of which the audience don’t get quite yet, though Guinevere assures Charming that whatever he knows of the affair, it’s the “old story”. Guinevere here is very different from the version we see in the flashbacks and Arthur seems almost afraid of her. Could he have bitten off more than he can chew with his solution to his Camelot problems? We’ll discuss that later, for now Arthur assures Charming that the dagger is not safe as long as Lancelot is within the kingdom. But the dagger isn’t with Charming. We cut to Granny’s, where Snow White is meeting in the dead of night with Lancelot. She presents the dagger stolen from Charming and tells the knight they must hide it.

In a flashback to Camelot’s past, we see more of Guinevere and Lancelot’s story. The queen attempts to sneak away and find the dagger herself when she is stopped by the knight. Guinevere broke into Merlin’s tower and procured a very familiar looking gauntlet that she claims has shown her the dagger’s true location. Arthur never used the gauntlet as he believed the dagger would be the source of his greatest strength, but Guinevere knows her husband better than he knows himself. This is the same gauntlet we saw back in season four, the one that points to person’s greatest weakness. Excellent callback to past Once Upon a Time episodes here. Guinevere wants to finish the quest once and for all so she may have her husband back and Lancelot thinks that is a fine idea.

So the pair adventure off into the woods led by the gauntlet until they come across the Dark One’s vault. This vault is similar or could very well be the same one that Emma emerged from at the beginning of this season. I’m wondering if these vaults being in different locations that the one that resurrected Rumpelstiltskin is a continuity error or a sign that there are more than one. Only digging deeper into the Dark One lore this season will reveal the answer. Guinevere notices symbols on the vault like the ones Arthur was researching and brushes her fingertips against them. To her surprise this unlocks the vault and black ooze gushes forth. The ooze dissipates, leading Lancelot and Guinevere into a deep undergrown dungeon. And they are not alone. A whirlwind of darkness engulfs Lancelot, sapping his life. Guinevere is unwilling to let the darkness have him and thrusts a torch into the whirling mass, driving away the darkness. Lancelot collapses on the ground and in her relief Guinevere rushes over and kisses him. The two break away quickly, vowing that they should never embrace like that again. I want to know where this darkness came from and why it wasn’t tethered to anyone. Emma was in a similar situation and had to sacrifice herself to quell the darkness, why did the torch do the job just as well? Could it be that Merlin had instructed his apprentice to lie, forcing the Savior to make that choice? I’m becoming more and more suspicious of the sorcerer.

We take a break from the intrigue of Camelot’s past to Emma, Henry, and Hook in Camelot’s present. Henry is leading his mother and the pirate to his “safe place”, a stable well out of the way in the woods. Henry sheepishly reveals that he came to this stable by way of Violet, his not-so-girlfriend. Hook’s reaction to Henry revealing he kind of has a girlfriend is hilarious, though Emma seems more concerned, particularly that Henry hid this from her. Perhaps it’s that Emma, who has had so much heartbreak before and is still getting used to the idea that Hook won’t disappear on her, is afraid that what happened in her past might happen to Henry as well? Changing the subject from Henry’s love life, Hook demands to know what is going on with Emma and she comes clean, explaining how she sees the imp with the limp at every turn. Hook remembers he was able to set aside his own demons when he sailed the Jolly Roger and since they are in a stable, concocts a plan give Emma a similar experience astride a horse.

Back to Guinevere and Lancelot’s adventure in the past, down in the Dark One’s dungeon they come to a door and the gauntlet shows that the dagger is behind it. They enter and are transported to a lush forest with a tropical feel. This almost looks like Neverland. Lying right out in the open is the dagger, but Lancelot and Guinevere are blasted back by magic when they try to claim it. Rumpelstiltskin appears and dissolves their swords with a puff of magical smoke. He comments about how Merlin is still stuck in a tree. It’s interesting that Arthur appears to have never met Merlin then, only heard his whispers in his dreams. Rumpelstiltskin knows that Guinevere doesn’t care if Excalibur is whole or not and he isn’t likely to give up his dagger, so the Dark One offers her a simpler fix; why not trick the king into believing his quest has been fulfilled? Rumple produces sands from the shores of Avalon, a mystical place in Arthurian lore. The sand is said to fix anything and will make it appear as if Excalibur is whole. Rumple only wants the gauntlet in return. Lancelot is not so sure, but as the Dark One states, he knows what happens when a woman’s heart is torn between duty and desire. Guinevere accepts, but Rumple has one more warning. He tells the queen that she must be careful of love, as it is a weapon and the pain of a broken heart is no match for the pain brought by a broken sword. After viewing the episode these words are very apt and I wonder if this is Rumpelstiltskin’s seer power at play.

In the more recent Camelot timeline, Snow and Lancelot approach the vault he and Guinevere journeyed into before. They enter through the enchanted door and Snow immediately recognizes the place. It’s the same forest she saw in her vision where young Emma ripped out her heart. Excellent callback, but what does it mean? This realization seems to shake Snow White, but before she can dwell on it for too long, trouble arrives in the form of King Arthur who followed the pair. Arthur is downright sinister here and demands the dagger.

Flashback to Arthur spying on Guinevere and Lancelot having a tender good bye outside. Arthur confronts Guinevere, thinking she has been unfaithful. He does not believe that she returned without the dagger. So great is his mania that he grows aggressive and frightening, demanding the dagger and rejecting Guinevere’s magic sand. He does not listen to his queen’s pleads that she only brought the sand to gain back the man she loves, focusing instead on her intention to trick him. Guinevere realizes that nothing of Camelot is real and gives Arthur an ultimatum: stop obsessing over Excalibur or everything he holds dear, his marriage and his kingdom, will remain broken. Arthur is unwilling and realizes that Guinevere’s heart belongs to Lancelot. Growing more desperate, Arthur enchants Guinevere with the sand, making her love him. This is despicable and pushes Arthur firmly into the realm of villain rather than antagonist. Guinevere simpers that she has not been supportive enough of Arthur’s quest. This explains how she seems to be in control and why Arthur is leery of her. It could be that the magic was too strong, that Guinevere has become single minded in her “support”, urging Arthur further and further in his quest to make Excalibur whole. In the end, she is the real power in Camelot. But Arthur is not done with the sand and sprinkles some outside the window of the tower, transforming the simple village of Camelot into the shining and grandiose place we know it as. So everything in Camelot is one big lie.

Back in the Dark One’s vault, Arthur demands the dagger, holding Lancelot at sword point. Snow finally relents and gives over the dagger to Arthur who goes on about his plans to have Emma reunite the sword and free Merlin so Arthur can kill him once and for all. Is Arthur sore that Merlin’s prophecy wasn’t as he imagined or is there more to this? Arthur wishes to dispel all the darkness in the realms so that he may take the title as greatest king in the land, so he raises the dagger aloft and summons Emma. Only, as Snow White so sassily puts it, she’s not coming. The dagger is a fake. Charming arrives and he and Snow admit that while their fight was real, they realized that their daughter’s well-being was the most important priority.

Elsewhere, Hook is trying his best to comfort Emma, but the horse they are meant to ride is skittish. The darkness within Emma mocks that the animal can sense her true nature, but Hook is there fighting to keep Emma’s attention away from those negative thoughts. He finally gets Emma on to the horse, telling her he will never stop fighting for her. As they ride away, Emma fearfully looks over her shoulder and a vision of Rumpelstiltskin is at every turn. However, the further they ride, the further they move from Emma’s fears until they arrive at a beautiful meadow with not a Dark One in sight. Taking advantage of the moment, they kiss. Hooks seems to have made progress with Emma, so I wonder what changed that allowed her to succumb to the darkness. It’s sad that she most likely remembers Hook saying he will never give up on her, but Hook does not, so that comment last episode about how the pirate “loved” Emma probably stung. The thing is he loved who she was without the darkness and I would bet Hook still has not given up on Emma.

Over at Granny’s of Camelot, Charming and Snow examine Excalibur. They believe that reuniting the blade with the dagger might actually help Emma, but first they must set Camelot right. Lancelot states that the true ruler of Camelot is its queen, only he doesn’t know that Arthur put the whammy on Guinevere. In fact, Arthur has been uncharacteristically quiet this whole time. It turns out that Guinevere, thanks to the magic sand, is by her husband’s side not matter what. Arthur’s knights arrive at the diner, as does the queen herself. Arthur and Guinevere are like the anti- Snow and Charming, having no remorse for their means as long as they get their ends and living in a relationship built on anything but True Love. In the lowest blow yet, Guinevere uses the sands of Avalon on Snow and Charming, turning our heroes to Arthur’s side. This spells huge trouble for our heroes as they are now set to help Arthur and to convince Regina, Robin Hood, and the rest in his cause. Meanwhile Lancelot, his heart broken when he realizes Guinevere has been bewitched by the sands of Avalon, has been taken away and thrown in the dungeon only to meet a familiar face. It’s Merida who has a bone to pick with King Arthur. Now what could that be all about, was Arthur the one who kidnapped her brothers?

Finally, we return to present day Storybrooke, where we see the Dark Swan in her underground lair. It’s a bit sad that she is contemplating a rose just like the ones seen the meadow on her ride with Hook. Our Emma is still in there. Rumple is chained up, trying to talk the Dark One out of whatever evil deeds she is plotting, but Emma assures Rumpelstiltskin that the only one who can remove the sword from the stone is him. Rumple believes he can’t be the hero she needs, but Emma isn’t worried that the pawnbroker doesn’t feel up to the task. In fact, she has a secret weapon. She brought Merida to Storybrooke. Even with the Dark One in possession of her heart, Merida is defiant. What the Dark Swan needs from the archer is her skills. While I’m not a fan of this title drop, is does interest me that Emma want’s Merida to make Rumple “brave”.

And there’s “The Broken Kingdom”. How did you feel about this episode? Leave a comment below.

Like I said, the weakness with this episode is that we only spend about two minutes in present day Storybrooke. I want to see more of the Dark Swan. We’ve gotten a taste here or there and what I’ve seen I’ve enjoyed, but I am really itching to see some pure evil come from our savior. Dark One Rumpelstiltskin didn’t think twice about crushing snails that used to be men or killing mute servants. I supposed this could all be restraint on Emma’s part. She truly is still fighting the darkness even as she’s succumbed to it, but if that’s the case I hope the writers will show this to be true soon. I think the deciding factor will be when Dark Emma finally has words with her parents, then I believe we will be able to get a real read on just what is going on in the former savior’s head.

This episode was mostly set up for far more interesting things to come. And in that it was necessary. Seeing the outcome of Snow and Charming’s bewitchment, of Lancelot and Merida’s alliance, Rumple’s role with Excalibur, and Henry’s blooming love will surely give us a roller coaster ride in the latter part of this half a season. We just need Merlin to get out of that tree and answer some questions.

Tune in next week for the intriguingly named “Dreamcatcher”!

About the Author – Ashley B
Ashley is as serious as a sleeping curse when she says television is her life. Professional event planner, avid movie viewer, convention enthusiast, and resident sass master, Ashley writes reviews for ABC's Once Upon a Time, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and Galavant, as well as Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. She looks forward each week to the weird and wonderful world her favorite television programs provide.
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