Caution: This review contains spoilers.
Intrigue builds on Once Upon a Time with an episode centered on the Camelot love triangle consisting of Arthur (Liam Garrigan), Guinevere (Joana Metrass), and Lancelot (Sinqua Walls). Arthur is obsessed with restoring the Excalibur sword, a mission that requires locating the dagger of the Dark One. His frenzied research leads him to miss his queen’s birthday party, practically throwing Guinevere into Lancelot’s arms. The queen and Lancelot go on their own search for the Dagger.
They gain entry to the vault of the Dark One and encounter Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle), who gives Guinevere a vial of the Sands of Avalon as part of a deal. “Love is a weapon, Dearie, the most dangerous weapon of all,” he warns her. The dust can make anything broken appear whole again: a quality that backfires on the queen when she admits the truth to Arthur instead of fixing Excalibur.
Switch over to future Camelot, where Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) was recently initiated into the Knights of the Round Table. He and Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) disagree whether to entrust the Dagger to Arthur. Regina’s (Lana Parrilla) brief presence at the marital spat is amusing, as she watches and then poofs out of the room on Snow’s insistence.
Emma (Jennifer Morrison) is having more trouble resisting her dark powers as the Dagger starts calling out to her. Dark Rumple continues to tempt her to leave her family and friends. Emma is prevented from taking the Dagger by one of Regina’s shield spells. Casting Robert Carlyle as the darkness or dark voice personified is still an excellent stroke by the writers. His words are entertaining and playful as ever, but his silent presence is also downright unsettling when he lurks nearby in castle corridors and the forest.
Henry and Hook take Emma away to the stables, where she finds out that Henry has a crush on Violet. Emma and Hook have some quality time together, but the former savior finds herself grasping onto the (fleeting) promise of “a white picket fence life” in Storybrooke. However, she finds a bit of respite from her tail, Dark Rumple.
Snow and Charming trick Arthur into revealing his ill intentions and capture him with Lancelot’s help. Unfortunately, Guinevere arrives at Granny’s Diner with reinforcements. Snow and Charming fall to the magic of the Sands of Avalon as well and are set on convincing Regina to hand over the Dagger. Will Regina and Robin be able to stop King Arthur’s plans? Or will the dungeon prisoners, Lancelot and Merida (Amy Manson), break out?
All of this build-up is great, but the Storybrooke issues prove to be more arresting here. There’s a sort of balance between the first minutes and the ending, wherein two Rumples (albeit one is fake) are trying to influence Emma and failing (perhaps for the moment). In Storybrooke, Emma has the upper hand for once over Rumple, a reversal that she’s relishing. The former Dark One insists he’s not a hero and she should resist the Darkness, but Emma thinks otherwise. Rumple is “Like a dull knife sitting in a drawer,” she tells him. “But I have just the thing to sharpen you up. Call it my secret weapon.”
If you need to make someone brave, apparently the solution is subjecting him/her to a crash course with Merida, whose heart is in Emma’s possession. For a moment, I nearly expected the “secret weapon” to be Belle (Emilie de Ravin), due to her mantra of “Do the brave thing and bravery will follow.” Anyway, the 100th episode is approaching and mid-season finales typically turn the tables when Rumplestiltskin and Belle are concerned. Will Emma succeed in getting Excalibur for herself?