Once Upon A Time S05E04 “The Broken Kingdom” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Netflix
Writers: David H, Goodman, Jerome Schwartz
Director: Alrick Riley
Essential Plot Points
- We learn the story of King Arthur’s rise to power through magic and subterfuge.
- Lancelot’s story unfolds.
- David and Arthur try to reunite the Excalibur with the dagger.
- Merdia returns!
Although this episode is an improvement on the last two, it still suffers with the same continuing problems: Emma is barely featured and King Arthur leaves no impact. Which isn’t to say that they haven’t done anything with Arthur, but when compared to villains like Rumplestiltskin and The Wicked Witch he comes across as a little lacklustre. Saying that, the writers did expand a lot on his character in this episode and we’re shown how a once noble man became corrupted by greed.
The episode takes place almost entirely in Camelot, exploring King Arthur’s rise to power. We begin with Arthur as a child trying to show off to young Guinevere about how he’s the chosen one and that’s he’s going to pull the sword from the stone in the future. He tells her when they’re alone and mentions that it’s a secret, which is why it’s surprising to see generic bullies have put a fake sword in a bunch of rocks and then proceed to make fun of Arthur. Don’t think it’s the safest secret. Furthermore we learn that Merlin was a tree even back then and apparently the wizard reveals these prophecies in Arthur’s dreams, which probably isn’t the most effective form of communication.
Cut to the scene we’ve seen at least three times now of Arthur removing the sword to discover it’s broken, followed by his return to townspeople to announce that the sword has been removed. To avoid any distress he keeps the sword mostly sheathed to hide the secret that the infamous sword is incomplete. Then the kingdom declares him king, just like that. They don’t question how or why a sword qualifies him as a king, or even have anyone inspect the sword; they just take his word for it. Have they not seen Monty Python?
Adult Arthur decides to tell David about the sword. David knows exactly where the missing piece of sword is and so runs straight to Mary-Margret to tell her that they can complete Excalibur and destroy the darkness inside Emma. Snow seems less than convinced with the idea. Considering that her trusted friend Lancelot has just returned from being dead and warns her that King Arthur isn’t all he appears, it’s safe to say that she’s against the idea of putting her daughter’s life in Arthur’s hands. But what’s this? David goes behind her back to give Arthur the dagger! Yet in another twist the box that David thinks contains the dagger is empty. Mary-Margret has it and gives it to Lancelot!
Back five ago, Arthur has become obsessed with searching for the dagger, even missing his wife’s birthday festival to go through old scrolls. Understandably, Guin is rather annoyed at him and Lancelot swoops in to have a moment with her. The two share a touching dance but is interrupted when Arthur declares he knows where the dagger is and must leave at once! Unfortunately he’s completely wrong and Guinevere decides to find the dagger herself using the Merlin Gauntlet, a metal glove that guides the wearer to their greatest weakness (never used by Arthur because he doesn’t believe the dagger his weakness). Lancelot tags along to protect her (perhaps not the only reason he had in mind) and they are lead to The Dark One’s vault.
Inside Lancelot is attacked by the same dark cloud that turned Emma into the Dark One, however he’s saved by a… fire touch. Okay sure, darkness vs light, yadda, yadda, yadda, but that seemed a really easy solution for trap left by The Dark One.
Soon after they reach the inner garden where the dagger awaits for them inside an altar of some kind, possibly made out of tree roots. Not ones to check if there’s a booby trap by, say, poking a stick at it, they decide to just go right ahead and grab the dagger. Shocker – it doesn’t turn out well. A huge blast of light knocks them backwards and Rumplestiltskin appears. Rather than kill them, Rumple proves himself as a grand host and instead offers them a deal. Though he’d never part with the dagger that controls him, he does offer the next best thing in exchange for the gauntlet: the Sands of Avalon – magical sand that fixes broken things. Which Guinevere accepts, but to be fair it was probably either that or die.
When she arrives back in Camelot, Guinevere finds that she can’t lie to Arthur and offers Arthur the choice to leave his quest or she’ll leave him. Arthur isn’t having any of it though! He steals the sand and “fixes” her broken heart so that she becomes devoted to him. He also uses the sand to his “Broken Kingdom” and the sparkling castle of Camelot appears.
Back in a-few-weeks-ago Camelot, Lancelot leads Snow to the inner garden of the Dark One’s vault where he tells her that the dagger will be safe from Arthur inside the protective altar. Lancelot asks for the dagger to place inside the altar in a particularly suspenseful scene in which Snow must question if she really trusts him. Before she can decide in comes Arthur wielding a sword, demanding the dagger. Snow has no choice and hands it over. It seems Arthur has everything he wanted and tries to summons The Dark One, to no avail. Oh snap – it was a fake! Double snap – in comes David holding a sword against Arthur’s back! David and Mary-Margaret were playing the long game, to see who they could trust: Lancelot or Arthur. David you sly fox.
Taking Arthur back to Granny’s Diner it seems our heroes have won the day, but Arthur has a few tricks of his own up his sleeve. Knights surround the diner, and Guinevere enters only to break Lancelot’s heart by declaring her “love” for Arthur. She also kicks him while he’s down and throws him into the dungeon. Arthur – now freed – gets the magical sand out once again and turns David and Snow to his side (in a very bizarre interpretation of the whole “making broken things whole” shtick).
In a final twist Lancelot we learn that Lancelot has been locked up in the next cell to Merida! Oh yeah! She’s back! We then have another reveal to discover that Merida is also in present-day Storybrooke when Emma (blimey, her screen time gets less and less) takes her heart and has full control over her.
- The episode keeps you guessing about who will betray who. Both Arthur and Lancelot could be either a good guy or a bad guy.
- Even Arthur’s still one of the show’s least memorable villains, learning his backstory was interesting.
- There felt like a more actual story in this episode, after a few episodes of mostly-filler.
- Using the sand to fix the so-called Broken Kingdom was a nice touch.
- Having seen Arthur steal the magic Mario Mushroom in the previous episode, that kinda tips you off about who the betrayer will be. I mean sure, we don’t truly know whether his actions were done out of good intentions or not until this episode and the show could have thrown another twist in the works. But wanting to be surprised and being surprised are two different things.
- The workings of the magical sand are a little too vague; it seems to do whatever Arthur deems fit. The heart and castle I’ll grant but turning people on his side is pushing it. Plus it never looks any emptier.
- Rumple talks about Guinevere choosing between desire and duty, which makes me question the whole romance between her and Lancelot. Guinevere married Arthur out of love rather than duty and while Lancelot did always love her, there didn’t seem to be much reason for Guinevere to fall for him.
- Why couldn’t Merida just pull the sword out? She’s already a pretty cool hero.
- We desperately need to see more of Dark Emma.
- The title card features Merlin’s Tower.
- The wishing well in Storybrooke is the same well in Arthur’s village .
- Violet has a horse named Nicodemus, who was a saint in the Gospel of John.
- The scroll that Arthur translates is called the Carmarthen Scroll. In some versions of the legend, Carmarthen is the place where Merlin was born. Which would make Merlin a Welshman.
Reviewed by Sam Halford