Once Upon a Time: Nimue Review

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by Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

Once Upon a Time has always showcased deep and poignant themes of self-worth, love, hope, the importance of choice, and redemption. And it has always implored that all magic comes with a price, but that true love is the most powerful magic of all. Magical or not, love is also strength, and just like my other favorite episode of the season “The Broken Kingdom,” “Nimue” expressed all of these themes beautifully through moving parallels and a gripping story. In quite a spiritual flashback, we see Merlin’s origins, as well as the Dark One’s, are irrevocably linked. While escaping in a vast desert, Merlin and another man see a glittering beacon of hope in the distance. It’s a cup filled with water – their salvation. The other man who simply takes it is turned to ash. But Merlin, who asks permission of the gods above, is allowed to drink, but the water also gives him magic and immortality. He drank from the Holy Grail and for 500 years, Merlin uses his immortality to help those in need. One day he meets a lovely woman named Nimue who wants revenge against the sadistic man named Vortigan who slaughtered her entire village. But her means of revenge (at least then) were pure: to plant the seeds of the Middle Mist flowers so something besides her from her village could live on. Merlin and Nimue fall deeply in love, so much so that he wants to give up his eternal life to live a mortal one with her. He reveals the origin of his magic and at first she wishes to drink from the Grail as well. But he implores that an endless life means far less than a single one filled with precious moments. He plans to transform the Grail into a sword to cut away his magic.  But their plan is thwarted when Vortigan, who had been seeking the Grail, arrives and mortally wounds Nimue, or so Merlin thought. Without his knowledge, she drank from the Grail, and now with magic, she rips out Vortigan’s heart to gain the revenge she desired and live forever with her true love. Merlin begs her not to crush his heart for it will forever taint her soul with darkness. But she succumbs and then breaks Excalibur in two. He tethers her soul the smaller dagger and the first Dark One was born. Merlin’s ultimate quest began but with a very heavy heart. And yet he does not regret or wish to change one moment.  In Camelot, Merlin and Emma embark on a mission to gain a spark from fires of Prometheus that remains inside the first Dark One, while our heroes plan to break into Arthur’s castle and steal Excalibur. Before departing, Killian gives her a ring he believes has perhaps kept him alive and tells her he loves her for the first time, something that no doubt gives her strength. Clasping his ring, she is able to make the first Dark One appear: Nimue. No longer the sweet woman who Merlin fell in love with, she is dark and twisted and taunts Emma to kill the sorcerer, saying she shouldn’t go back to being nothing. But Emma’s strength prevails. She doesn’t succumb and takes the right path, gaining the spark she needs and believing that this quest to destroy the darkness will succeed. Unfortunately, our heroes who made the mistake to trust Zelena, get double-crossed, and instead of gaining Excalibur, they have to witness the unimaginable. Zelena tethers Merlin to the broken blade allowing Arthur to control him! Flash-forward to Storybrooke and Emma, with all the former Dark Ones appearing before, has her plan now in full force. She re-forges Excalibur and despite remembering Merlin’s warning and her slight hesitation, she grasps the sword. But beyond taking the power, why she is doing this is still a mystery.

It was captivating to finally see not only how dark magic but the Dark One itself was born as it tied so well into the concept of choice and how each character on the show can relate. Is love enough to quench the desire for revenge, and the allure of glory and immortality? Do you choose to live a life of humility or selfishness? It was interesting to see similarities between Zelena and Arthur, who have now formed an alliance. Zelena’s presence in Camelot was bound to prove dangerous sooner or later because no matter what, she cannot help but have a tendency to fall back on her wicked ways. She and Arthur both act like petulant children who are angry at not getting their way and descend into a manic need to get what they think they deserve no matter the cost. Arthur especially, who was once a hopeful man with good intentions, has grown so obsessed with gaining the glory and what he feels is his birthright, has lost all signs of morality, concocting a potion that could kill people instantly, as Guinevere watches on in horror. And he takes away Merlin’s will with bitterness and disdain in his eyes. He may not be getting the same pleasure Zelena gets from their plan (she is delighted that being pregnant once again hurts and prevents Regina from hurting her – a win-win for the woman forever jealous her sister gets everything she should have), but Arthur and Zelena both chose to go down that dark path. But they place blame on others for making them the way they are. It’s a concept that is quite recurring on the show. Seeing our heroes choose to trust Zelena obviously felt like a mistake especially when Snow believes she’s actually in pain. It is not an unbelievable that Snow would show her compassion,  but Snow was a capable bandit so how did Zelena knock her out so easily? Alas, the plot had to be moved along so it is forgivable.

Similar to the flashbacks in “The Broken Kingdom,” this episode’s backstory with Merlin and Nimue was not only engaging but showcased poignant and important parallels to Emma’s journey with brilliant results. I already loved Elliot Knight’s take on the iconic character of Merlin but in “Nimue,” he brought so much gravity and realism to the character that was so wonderful. Caroline Ford was also so impressive, balancing gentle loveliness with a genuinely creepy and twisted darkness. When it comes to a character like Merlin, who is the epitome of wisdom, great power, and strength, I love how grounded he is with wisdom ringing true and lovely without being heavy-handed. Merlin tells them how life that is eternal makes moments as common as sand, but that when you are living a mortal life with someone you love, all those moments are suddenly as precious as diamonds. It was moving to see that he wanted to give up everything to be with Nimue and it was a beautiful parallel to the Lord of the Rings couple Aragorn and Arwen. The immortal elf Arwen would rather share one lifetime with the man she loves than “face all the ages of this world alone.” Love means more to Merlin than power and magic and he expresses something both David and Killian have shared with Emma: that life is made of moments that we need to cherish. The good and the bad, they all make life worth living, and the quiet ones should be enjoyed. As Merlin proposes, Nimue says she doesn’t want this moment to get lost in an endless sea of time; such a touching line as it not only expresses the depth of what they feel in that instant but also because it reflects Emma and Killian’s journey in a moving way. It is no coincidence that their proposal immediately follows the moment Killian, who doesn’t propose, but instead offers Emma a ring out of love and protection. Believing it could be the reason he is a survivor, it is so moving that he literally is placing his life in Emma’s hands, emphasizing that the Dark One may be immortal but Emma is not. He wants Emma to come home to him, reminding her that she has a “piercing eyed, smoldering pirate who loves her.” This exquisite scene is so meaningful as it is exactly the kind of precious moment that makes life worth living, and one both Killian and Emma probably never believed they could have. Killian has lived a long life, for so long his sole purpose being revenge. With nothing to live for except his vengeance, his life was indeed an endless sea of time. But falling in love with Emma changed him and he found something worth living for – the hope of a life with love and light and days that actually have meaning instead of simply marking lonely time that never ends. For Emma, who felt unloved and unwanted for most of her life, desired to find love but was so scared and jaded that opening her heart was a slow occurrence. Perhaps she never believed a man would love her so much to never give up and believe in her so truly. It is why she cried when Killian told her she is his happy ending. She understood with perfect clarity the brevity of that declaration. And it is why, now that she has fully opened her heart to him, she no longer cries at a declaration of devotion. Killian using the word love for the first time, Emma’s expression of radiant joy is as gorgeous and happy as perhaps we’ve ever seen her. And she is no longer scared to tell him she loves him back. What is so meaningful is that although Emma is in the greatest battle of her life, she is able to have this moment with the man she loves with soft kisses and promises of love and hope. It is a pristine example of one of those moments as precious as a diamond that makes a life with endless ones pale in comparison.

This was not only parallel of the episode. There are other very significant ones that are meant to showcase how where one character or couple failed, the other one is meant to prevail. In the past, Merlin and Nimue love each other but it was not enough for her to not only resist the allure of immortality but also the desire for vengeance. It broke Merlin’s heart to see his one true love succumb to temptation and crush report Vortigan’s heart and forever change her soul. But that moment was in direct contrast to the one where Emma held Merida’s heart in her hand ready to crush it, and Killian was able to give her the strength and belief she needed to resist that darkness. That moment Emma is faced with the darkness inside her once again, we see those timeless themes that love is strength both from others and from your own self-worth. As she attempts to summon the first Dark One, she holds onto Killian’s ring to give her strength. The reminder that she wants to return to him and her family proves crucial, but also so significant was the instant Nimue taunts Emma to destroy Merlin and not go back to being nothing. Emma not only resists the darkness, but also shows tremendous strength and belief in herself shouting “I am not nothing! I was never nothing! The power you have I don’t need!” In this one instant, we witnessed four seasons of growth and development for Emma Swan that was deeply moving and powerful. The little lost girl who didn’t matter and didn’t think she ever would, now knows that she does matter and that she is loved. I marvel at Jennifer Morrison’s performance on a daily basis and this scene not only showcased the strength Emma’s character but a beautiful message of hope for anyone who is ever felt unloved, weak, or hopeless. If you are feeling that kind of despair, there is always hope that you can overcome anything, and we need not go down a dark path to do so. But if we do and stumble, we can always pick ourselves up and fight for ourselves. Emma was fighting for her loved ones, finding strength from them, but significantly she’s also showcased a tremendous inner strength that only comes when you finally realize that your life, and living it in the light and to the fullest, matters more than anything else. This is why Emma Swan  is my favorite character on television.

And that powerful moment for Emma was perhaps what makes seeing her take Excalibur even more heart wrenching. And yet the reason is still a mystery. Her intentions may be good, but still no doubt showcase that it is a dangerous method and wrong path. Emma’s choice to go down this dark path will surely have consequences, but for a woman who was gone through so much and still manages to be forgiving and loving, she is strong enough to overcome this. I suspect so much of this is related to her love for Killian and although darkness may be on the horizon, just like the Middle Mist flowers that blossomed in spite of destruction with a little love and magic, I have no doubt that two people who are each other’s light will prevail in the end. True love, after all, is the most powerful magic of all.

Favorite Moments: Emma fighting against darkness exclaiming that she was never nothing was a powerful and moving moment that represented how much she has grown over the course of the series but also demonstrates that poignant lesson that no matter who you are or what you are facing , your life and your identity matters. Equally touching was seeing Killian’s give Emma his ring, a sign of fidelity and desire to keep her safe. And as he finally says that he loves her, her smile was so radiant and beautiful. Seeing Emma Swan so happy amidst such a dark struggle is potent and moving. Lastly, although their story ended in heartbreak, the way Merlin proposed to Nimue was incredibly sweet and I loved the way he expressed how life is made up of precious moments. It’s a lovely and indisputable truth.

Favorite Lines:

Emma: I am not nothing! I was never nothing! The power you have I don’t need!

Killian: The Dark One is immortal, Emma isn’t. Bring her home to me. Or the very least, it’s a reminder you’ve got a piercing eyed, smoldering pirate here who loves you.

Emma: Thank you. I love you, too.

Merlin: Life is made of little moments, precious as diamonds. But imagine there were an endless sea of diamonds. They’d all be worthless. They’d be as common as sand.

Nimue: I don’t want this moment to get lost in an endless sea of time.


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