Dec 31, 2015

Tragic Merlin on Once Upon a Time

Every version of the Arthurian Legend has its own version of each of the legendary figures, and Once Upon a Time is no different. After several episodes in which we've gotten to know these versions of Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, in episodes 505 & 507 we finally learn Merlin's story.

Warning: Spoilers for Season 5 of Once Upon a Time from here on out!

Episode 505 "Dreamcatcher" opens with Merlin being trapped in a tree by the first Dark One after he fails to kill her. And there he remains for centuries (although he somehow was able to deliver prophecies from the tree to Arthur, guiding him to Excalibur), until in present day Camelot Regina and Emma are able to release Merlin from the tree by using a tear of a lost first love (Henry's), as that's how Merlin was originally trapped, with his own tear at the loss of the only woman he'd ever loved, Nimüe, who became the first Dark one.

"I've been waiting for you, Emma."

Merlin and Arthur are definitely NOT happy to see each other on the other hand...

"- And you, the boy who would be king. My great hope. How you've disappointed me.
- I disappointed you?! You gave me false prophecies! Sent me on an impossible quest. You ruined my life!"

Merlin breaks Arthur's enchantment on Charming and Snow, and then helps release Lancelot and Merida from Camelot's dungeon.

Merlin's origin story begins 1000 years before the age of Arthur. In episode 507 "Nimue" we meet a mortal Merlin trying to survive a desert crossing (escaped soldier/prisoner?), who comes upon a silver chalice with water in it set upon a stone. The Holy Grail! When his friend goes to drink he turns into dust. When Merlin does... (after first asking permission - from God? -) he doesn't. Instead it gifts him with magic (and Immortality), and he turns the dessert into field and woods. With a very familiar looking stone in the centre.

200 years before the Age of Arthur, Merlin is healing people in a village, accompanied by his young apprentice. A young women approaches him looking for help, asking him to help her achieve revenge against Vortigern who destroyed her village. She asks that this revenge be the rebirth of some flowers whose seeds survived her fires. Merlin can see the future, but for some reason he can't see hers. Merlin falls in love with Nimüe, but fears he can't be with her as he is immortal (because he would watch her grow old). When Nimüe finds out he still has the Grail she asks him to maker her immortal as well so they can live forever together. But he says immortality has too high a cost and wouldn't wish it on her. He suggests instead melting down the Grail and forging it into a sword that could cut away his magic so they could live mortal lives together. But once there, and after Excalibur has been forged, Vortigern finds them (he's searching for the Grail) and kills Nimüe leaving Merlin completely bereft.

Nimüe - having previously drunk from the Grail - is only playing dead and rips out Vortigern's heart. The act of crushing that heart turns her into the first Dark One. She next breaks the sword into two parts so Merlin can't use it to take her magic: broken Excalibur and the Dagger. Merlin and his apprentice secure Excalibur into the original stone and then Merlin forges the tip into the Dark One Dagger to control her. But as we know she eventually gets hold of the dagger and traps him in the tree.

In "present day" (Camelot flashbacks), Merlin and Emma go to search for the spark of the first flame Prometheus gave humanity, to use it to forge Excalibur whole again and with it vanquish the Darkness forever. The first Dark One kept a spark of the Original Flame, and Emma needs to use the Dagger to contact her (Nimüe) spirit to claim that spark. She almost gives in to the Darkness and nearly kills Merlin before choosing to ignore the Nimüe inside of her and getting the ember.

In the meantime Zelena uses Merlin's own spell to transform Excalibur into a weapon that allows Arthur to control Merlin and summons him. Arthur accuses Merlin of deceiving him, giving him false hope and prophecies.

"Glory? You seek Glory? Is that really what you've become? I am so sorry I was not there to guide you Arthur, this isn't the man you were supposed to become."  
"You lied. You told me Legend would speak of the great King Arthur using Excalibur to strike Darkness from the realm."

Arthur refuses to listen to Merlin's claims that he will be known for defeating the Darkness, that they are doing that right now and he is a part of it. Arthur just wants the glory for himself

"This is my charge and my right. I will be known for more than defeating a stone!"

In a face off against Arthur and an Excalibur-controlled Merlin (in episode 508 "Birth"), Emma is able to help Merlin fight against the Darkness within (and Arthur's orders) and get hold of both sword and dagger. However she fails to unite the two, instead choosing to release Merlin from the control of the sword and tethering a mortally injured (by Excalibur) Hook's life to it in his place, resulting in the creation of a second Dark One! Whoops.

This seals Merlin's fate, as Hook gives in to the Darkness rather quickly in episode 510 , under the temptation of finally getting his revenge on Rumplestiltskin. In order to do so he needs to cast a Dark Curse to return to Storybrooke, the main ingredient of which is the crushed heart of the person he loves most. As Dark Nimüe, that would be Merlin.

And so dies the greatest wizard ever to live. As a result of the curse they are all transported back to Storybrooke (minus their memories courtesy of Emma trying to fix things). Inevitably Hook gets his memories back, becomes a Dark One and opens a portal to the Underworld leading ALL the previous Dark Ones to the land of the living, with Nimüe at their head.

Elements from Arthurian Legend

  • Merlin - No mention of his natural origin (so no "son of no man" or "son of a demon"), but we do witness him becoming an immortal wizard, and witness his imprisonment in the tree at Nimüe's hand (similar to his fate in the original tales)
  • Arthur - Merlin's chosen protégé, not at all happy with his mentor! They are mutually disappointed in each other.
  • Camelot - City of legend that grew up around Merlin's tower thanks to magic and legend.
  • Nimüe -  The woman Merlin falls in love with, who ends up "stealing" his magic (in this case by drinking from the Grail against his wishes), betraying him and sealing him in a tree.
  • The Holy Grail - Here also a true Grail, and it gives immortal life. Reforged into Excalibur.
  • Excalibur - Magical sword whose wounds are always mortal.
  • Horse named Nicodemus - Reference to Merlin's companion (the owl) in the Disney movie "The Sword in the Stone".

All photos are either screen-captures or found using Google images search function.

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