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Once Upon a Time – Dreamcatcher – Review

Now this is what I’m talking about. I can confidently say this was the best Once Upon a Time episode in season five so far. Not only is Merlin finally on the scene, but the amount of references to Once Upon a Time history are a sure treat for long time viewers and provided some groundwork for what we can expect to see in the rest of this half of the season. The foreshadowing in this episode alone made me think I knew where the story was going, but the reveal of Emma’s actions caught me off guard and deepened the layers of the Dark Swan. I loved that Emma was so heavily featured in this episode, both in present day Storybrooke and in flashbacks, along with seeing more of our hero’s brigade and the whole town. The lore of the Dark One and how this curse of darkness ties into Merlin is starting to be explored and I believe there are some interesting things in store for the audience when it comes to the sorcerer. “Dreamcatcher” felt very much like a Once Upon a Time episode of old and all of the set up from the previous episode paid off in a big way.

The episode opens with a flashback far into the past where we see the un-arboreal Merlin chasing after the Dark One in the woods. We don’t know who this Dark One is, mostly likely the first of their kind, but Merlin wields the dagger and commands the dark entity to stop whizzing through the trees. The sorcerer is emotional, pointing the dagger in the Dark One’s masked face as he accuses the entity of destroying the only woman he loved. He raises the dagger to destroy the Dark One, but can’t go through the act. It seems the Dark One has some thrall over him for it raises its hand and causes the sorcerer to fall to the ground. Whispering that he misses his lost love, Merlin sheds a tear which the Dark One collects on their dagger, using it to transform Merlin into a tree. Well, at least one mystery is solved, we now know how Merlin was trapped. But that opens up a new set of questions. Who is Merlin’s lost love, who is this Dark One, and is it possible they are the same person? The flashback is actually revealed to be a memory that Emma Swan is observing during their time in Camelot via a dreamcatcher. The savior seems rather stoic at learning this new information and one has to wonder if her ties to the darkness hinted that she should take this route to learn more.

Elsewhere in Camelot during the missing time, Regina is leading Snow White and Charming, still bewitched by King Arthur, to her hiding place for the true dagger. Regina is understandably skeptical, and Snow and Charming’s aggressive attitudes don’t do much to help their cause. The audience doesn’t have to worry about this for long for Emma appears, freezing her parents and explaining that Arthur had cast a spell on the two of them. She also reveals to Regina that the Dark One dagger and Excalibur were once one blade. Now, more than ever, our heroes must work to free Merlin from his tree and stop King Arthur.

This conflict was resolved rather quickly and I would have liked to see more of Snow and Charming sneaking around and working against the rest of the heroes before the treachery was discovered. However, this means that Emma and Regina are clued in to the shadiness of Camelot and now the pair are working together to solve their problems, which is always nice to see. I emphasize this so much in my reviews because for three season Emma and Regina have been at each other’s throats, so seeing them work as allies more than ever before in this episode is a great show of character development and juxtaposes just how far the Dark Swan has moved away from her allies and friends, as we will see later in “Dreamcatcher”.

Present day Storybrooke and our heroes, Arthur, and Guinevere are at the sheriff’s station, having just discovered that Arthur’s squire is missing from his cell. Arthur is playing dumb and Guinevere mentions how the denizens of Camelot are in low spirits. Snow White remarks that people need hope and Henry comes up with a plan to calm everyone, suggesting they throw a town-wide ball, though he is keen on the idea simply so he can get closer to Violet, the girl he fancies. I have wanted to see such a ball take place in Storybrooke for seasons and this is a great treat and wonderful way to showcase the entire town of Storybrooke, which is truly the heart of the show. It would have been nice to get more of this ball in the episode, but the glimpses we get are still fun to watch. The reaction of Henry’s extended family to the idea that the Truest Believer might have a girlfriend and Snow and Regina’s expressions as they go off to plan the ball are the lighter character moments that caused fans to fall in love with Once Upon a Time and are always welcome in an episode. The merriment is cut short when Belle rushes up to our heroes on the street, explaining that Rumpelstiltskin is missing.

Jump to the Dark Swan’s underground lair, where she rouses Rumple, commenting that he needs his strength for the next task at hand. Rumple once again tries to persuade Emma to let him go. The pawnbroker questions why Emma needs the sword, but the Dark One isn’t willing to advertise her plans. Rumple, having been under the sway of the darkness for so long, comments that while his plans were always hidden, his goals were not. He did everything he did because in some twisted way he thought it would reunite him with his lost son. He cautions Emma that going down the path she is already on will actually push her further from those she loves. Emma resists his words, summoning Merida to take the limping Rumple away for bravery training, but we see flickers of regret in the Dark Swan as she goes to a shed on her property, one littered with hundreds of dreamcatchers. Here she gives in to her emotions and we begin to see that perhaps there is more to the Dark Swan that darkness. It’s starting to become clear that whatever made Emma choose to succumb to these dark powers might have been a last resort and part of an overarching plan that we are not privy to just yet. These scenes are very powerful, emphasizing the humanity and loss there of when it comes to being the Dark One.

Back in Camelot, Emma and Regina are trying to find ways of using Emma’s Dark magic in conjunction with the potion Regina had been crafting to get Merlin out of his tree. Regina insists on learning just how Emma knows how much about their current situation. Emma reveals she used the dreamcatcher, but due to her dark magic she can bend the rules and see memories through the object without having to wave it over someone. As Emma recounts what she saw, Regina realizes that they can use the spell that trapped Merlin to free him. All they need is another tear of lost love.

Over to the Camelot stables, where Henry is spending time with Violet. They bond over lost parents. This is the second in many mentions of the lost Neal in this episode, I believe is foreshadowing for Rumpelstiltskin’s son to play a bigger role later on in the season. As Violet goes to put her horse’s saddle away, Henry play acts as a hero with a rather heavy sword. Do to his lack of knowledge in the knightly arts, he accidently breaks part of the stable, gaining the attention of Violet’s father. Unimpressed that the boy is a writer not a squire, he warns Henry to stay away from his daughter, insisting that she belongs with someone of their world, not a stranger.

In present day Storybrooke, Henry comes across Violet and asks her if she is going to the block party/ball. Violet is distracted though as her horse is missing and isn’t keen on the idea of a party. Henry vows to find her horse and we soon see him knocking on the door of the Dark Swan. Henry reminds his mother why he brought her to Storybrooke in the first place, to bring back the happy endings, and tells Emma that there is a young girl in need of her happy ending returned. The Dark Swan is surprisingly gentle with Henry, agreeing to help find the lost horse. It goes to show how much faith Henry has in his mother that he is willing to go off alone with her even in her darkened state. Henry clues Emma into the fact that Violet’s horse loves pumpkin, which gives the Dark Swan an idea to where he might be. Before they drive off, Emma and Henry share a moment in the yellow bug. Henry comments how he misses the two of them and Operation Cobra. He also brags that he played music for Violet and Emma reveals that this is a move from Neal’s playbook and the same smooth moves worked on her. The Dark Swan grows introspective as she comments that Neal loved that song, and again Rumple’s lost son is brought up. There are too many instances of this in one episode not to mean something for the future of our characters.

In the missing weeks in Camelot, Emma and Regina come across Henry clumsily practicing his swordsmanship. He shyly admits he wants to be good at this “knight stuff” for the sake of Violet (and her father), and here is one of my favorite scenes from the episode. We get motherly advice for Henry from both Emma and Regina. Emma tells Henry that he shouldn’t change to impress anyone and while Regina admits that she did change her ways and that lead her to Robin Hood, the former Evil Queen emphasizes that it’s Henry’s uniqueness that should appeal to Violet. He is a mysterious stranger from a strange land and he is one of a kind, something he should be proud of. This gives Henry a boost of confidence and he goes off to make some plans.

Their talk with Henry also gives Regina an idea as to where they can get a tear of lost love. Regina had mentioned Daniel, her first love, when talking to her son, and the pair of mothers use a dreamcatcher to show Regina the heartbreaking moment that Cora, the Mother of All Evil, ripped the stable boy’s heart out and killed him. This shakes Regina to the very core as she relives the moment like it had just happened. Emma is shocked; she never knew exactly what Regina had gone through. It’s not all in vain, as reliving this memory grants Emma and Regina the tear they need to complete the spell. This is a moment where I believe Emma and Regina are solidified as friends now. I wasn’t initially eager to see these two women being more than begrudging allies as their past together has been rocky to say the least, but it’s taken over a season to get to this moment and it felt very natural. People can change and this moment of bonding is even more important when compared to the final scene on Regina’s porch where it seems like these women are almost back to square one.

In present day Storybrooke, Henry’s desire for Emma’s help has an ulterior motive. We see Belle, Robin, Regina, and Hook stride up the steps to the Dark Swan’s home while she is away with her son. But getting in isn’t as easy as it would appear. Emma has enchanted the house with a protection spell to keep her nosy family out of her dark business. Fortunate for our heroes they realize there is one person Emma wouldn’t want to keep out and Regina conjures up Henry’s iconic scarf, using it to protect her hand as the finally open the door and enter the house. Inside, they quickly make their way to the underground lair, discovering Excalibur buried in the stone. The re-discover that Excalibur and the Dark One dagger were once the same. Belle finds evidence for Rumple’s entrapment and the heroes make to search the rest of the house when they get a text from Henry that he and Emma are on their way back. On their way out, Hook discovers a dreamcatcher on Emma’s end table. Regina is interested, realizing that this must be how their memories were taken.

Flashback to Granny’s in Camelot where we see Henry putting his plan into action. He’s invited Violet for a romantic dinner of Granny’s lasagna, wooing her with the wonders of soda pop and downloaded movies. Henry is actually quite charming even if he is a bit awkward. It’s very cute but unfortunately short lived. When Violet realizes Henry is “courting” her, she reveals that she doesn’t have feelings for the Truest Believer. Henry attributes this to his “not being a hero” and this rejection hits him hard.

Back in Storybrooke, we see Operation Find Violet’s Horse is in full swing. It’s rather sad to see Henry so gung-ho to help Violet now that we know their relationship ended before it started. Emma takes Henry to a remote pumpkin farm in Storybrooke, known to the Dark Swan thanks to numerous noise complaints. Apparently Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater was a party-er and that’s perhaps why he had a wife and couldn’t keep her. Sure enough the horse is in the pumpkin patch, though skittish as the Dark Swan approaches. Emma tries to warn Henry to stay away, but the Truest Believer is determined to bring Violet her happiness and manages to retrieve the horse, displaying some knightly qualities. It also shows how independent of his mother Henry has become. I think this all points to the greater role Henry will be playing in future episodes.

While all this has been going on, Merida is running into problems training Rumpelstiltskin. Rumple can barely stand with his limp and Merida’s patience is running thin as the pawnbroker is unwilling to fight. Merida is driven to help Rumple learn to be brave for the sake of her returning home and back to her brothers and land. Growing frustrated with Rumple, the archer knocks him out and goes off to find some motivation to help the pawnbroker participate in his training. Surprisingly astute, Merida sneaks in to the mayor’s office and finds The Book, reading Rumpelstiltskin’s story. She learns of Belle, so her next stop is the pawn shop where she unearths the chipped cup, the symbol of Rumple and Belle’s love. Holding the object hostage she goads Rumple into attacking, bringing out a stronger side in the former Dark One by reminding him what he has to fight for. Merida’s methods in discovering what she needs to motivate Rumple and her drive to get home are refreshingly direct and clever. She isn’t training Rumpelstiltskin to pull Excalibur from the stone, she wants Rumple to take on the Dark Swan herself. I didn’t want to like Merida, an obvious Disney transplant, as much as I do, but I find myself wishing more and more for this character to stay on in Storybrooke after this half of the season ends. She’s well-acted and fits in perfectly with our established characters.

We return to Camelot and see Emma and Regina under Merlin’s tree, putting the final touches on the potion that will release the sorcerer. Arthur is due to arrive any second, so the pair have to hurry. But the magic fizzles out; the spell isn’t enough. Emma reasons that while Regina’s memory of her lost love is powerful, she’s moved on and has Robin Hood now. Her heartbreak is strong but not potent enough for the spell. Very clever of the writers to indirectly state that Regina has been so changed. We’ve seen it in her actions in the past few season, but now we know for sure that while Regina’s past still stings, the former Evil Queen is certainly no longer ruled by it.

That’s when Henry arrives and I have to say this is a great scene for Jared Gilmore who plays Henry. The young actor has come a long way in his craft and the emotion he displays as he explains his fresh heart break to his mothers is powerful. Regina wipes away Henry’s tear and assures her son that while he may not seem to be a hero to Violet, he can be their hero and become the key to releasing Merlin. Arthur and his knights arrive and the king is furious, demanding the dagger. Regina runs interference via her fireballs and Emma drops Henry’s tear into the potion. Brilliant tendrils of both light and dark magic burst forth from Emma as the music swells and the tree transforms into the man it once was. Merlin is free. The sorcerer doesn’t hide that he knows who Emma is, saying he’s been waiting for her. I’d like to know how Merlin was able to visit Emma in her past when he’s been a tree this whole time. Arthur and Merlin have a confrontation, the former angry and frustrated that Merlin appeared to lie to him, sending him false prophecies, while Merlin doesn’t seem to think much of Arthur, saying how the king was a disappointment. Merlin is confident here; he is in control knowing his power to too great to be matched.

Jump to Storybrooke of present day where the block party ball is in full swing. The townsfolk are enjoying a peaceful moment, but our heroes are having anything but. Hook, Belle, Snow White and company still don’t remember Arthur’s treachery and reveal to him that Emma has Excalibur. As our heroes wonder what Emma could need the sword for, Arthur explains that if the dagger and the sword are re-forged as one, the weapon has the ability to snuff out all the darkness in the land. However, it can also snuff out the light, which is what our heroes believe is Emma’s goal. I don’t think they are correct in this assumption, but we can’t speculate further until we discover why Merlin, who was released from his tree, is not present in Storybrooke. The more we see the more I tend to believe that Emma is working for good, but had to make the sacrifice and embrace the darkness to save everyone else. The mood is lightened a bit as Henry rides in on Violet’s horse, triumphant. He receives a warm welcome from Violet’s father who is more impressed with Henry now that he was in the stables of Camelot. Henry and Violet share a moment and go off to enjoy the block party together.

While the block party is still going on, Regina and Robin Hood are at home contemplating the dreamcatcher stolen from the Dark Swan’s lair. Regina is reluctant to learn what happened in Camelot knowing Emma had good reason for her actions but something bad must have happened. However, they press on. And the reveal as to whose memories are contained in the dreamcatcher are shocking. It turns out Emma met Violet in the stables and pulled a Cora, removing her heart and commanding the young girl to break Henry’s heart in order to produce the tear needed for their potion. Emma’s voice quakes with emotion as she makes this request but the fact is she is holding Violet’s heart in her hand. Her methods are extreme and the ends do not justify the means. This is the real start of darkness for Emma as evil thoughts seem to be slithering in to her subconscious. She feels she had to do this for the greater good, but really it’s a violation of her son’s trust. When we first saw the flashback to Regina’s memory of Daniel, I was certain it was foreshadowing to the Dark Swan pulling out Violet’s heart and crushing it for revenge on our heroes breaking in to her house in the present day, but this is so much worse. It’s not a cold act of revenge but a calculated manipulation of a loved one’s emotions. And unfortunately Henry walked in right as Regina and Robin were viewing this through the dreamcatcher, learning the shocking truth.

In a final flashback to Camelot, we see Merlin restoring Snow White and Charming, lifting Arthur’s bewitchment. Charming is shocked to see that Merlin is a young man not a wizen old sorcerer. Merlin reveals that he can release Emma from the darkness but she must be willing and ready to be free. Darkness of this caliber has a way of sinking its claws in deep and it is up to Emma as much as it is to Merlin that she wants to be free. I don’t know if it’s my own bias against Camelot, but I’m suspicious of Merlin. I think he has his own agenda and isn’t as much of an ally as our heroes want to believe.

The final scene of this episode is an interesting call back to the pilot. We see Emma and Regina once again on Regina’s porch with Emma wishing to see her son and Regina denying her that privilege. Only the tables are turned and it is Emma who holds dark secrets and plans in her heart and Regina who is shielding their son from a believed evil. I appreciate and enjoy that this has come full circle and we are seeing this situation play out once again only with the roles reversed. Emma appears like she wants to tell Regina everything, but is holding back. The Dark Swan insists she has good reason but Regina compares Emma to her mother Cora and goes as far to refer to her as “Miss Swan”. As Emma leaves, she stops and sees Henry watching her from the upstairs window, just like in the pilot, only this time Henry is feeling anything but longing.

And that was “Dreamcatcher”. What an episode! Leave a comment below!

I enjoy and appreciate the fact that much of the action in “Dreamcatcher” took place in present day Storybrooke. The flashbacks were just supplemental to the current story and show just what was lacking in the last episode. We got so many needed character interactions between our main players in “Dreamcatcher” and not only did they deepen the relationships our heroes have with each other, they advanced the plot by answering questions we’ve had since the season five premiere, yet they pose new ones as we learn more of the mystery behind the Dark Swan.

The attention given to past Once Upon a Time events in “Dreamcatcher” are welcome. With such a long and twisting history these past five seasons it’s satisfying to see that Once Upon a Time still knows where it came from and what makes it so enjoyable for the audience. I thoroughly enjoyed this episode and its emphasis on calling up the past, especially since the conflict with the Dark Swan is an internal one. Sure, you have Merlin and Arthur running around but this week they took a back seat to the conflict going on with Emma. It grows tiresome when new villains pop up every season and this season’s villain being a person our heroes know and love ups the stakes and tests the familial bond that as grown in Storybrooke. I’m eager to find out now more than ever just what happened between them all in Camelot.

Tune in Sunday for “The Bear and the Bow”. I can bear-ly contain myself!

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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