When Once Upon A Time Season 4 came to a close a few weeks back, it left us in quite a pickle, to say the least. Rumpel has been stripped of his powers to save his life and now lies in the magical equivalent of a medical coma, Emma Swan is now the Dark One, and the hunt for Merlin — the only wizard in all the world (in any world, for that matter) who has enough power to banish the darkness for good — is on. Regina, the Charmings and Hook are basically left to figure this one out on their own and only time will tell just how much power the darkness is going to have over Emma when we see her again. So much for happy endings, eh? Then again, anyone who's been watching this show from the beginning should know better than to expect anything to go smoothly — and after all, isn't Emma just succumbing to fate?
Hear me out. We discovered during Season 4 that Snow White and Prince Charming aren't as noble as they might like us to believe. In fact, about 30 years ago, before Emma was born, they forced the Apprentice to do their bidding and ensure that Emma, who was prophesied to be pretty rotten, would actually be a hero. Doing this meant taking the darkness from Emma and putting it somewhere else — in this case, into Maleficent's unborn dragon baby, which turned out to be Emma's childhood foster friend Lily. But Lily wasn't just turned evil so that Emma could be good, she was also ripped from Maleficent and sent to another world for about 30 years. I think we all know the old saying: all magic comes at a price.
Sure, Emma has proven herself as the Savior time and time again. She's saved her son with True Love, the town with her magic, and Regina with, well, her entire soul. She's no stranger to sacrifice for those she loves, and for whatever serves the greater good, but knowing what we know now, there's an important question we need to be asking ourselves: Is it real? It's not that Emma's actions have been disingenuous — she's got light magic, after all — but like most people, Emma's human. It's the yin and the yang, the trap of humanity: evil isn't all or nothing, nor is goodness. So why can't Emma have both?
With the current predicament, Once Upon A Time has, in many ways, set up the ultimate metaphor for life as it exists for each of us. In fairy tales, there are heroes and there are villains and ne'er the twain shall meet. In Storybrooke, as in the real world, humanity is a little more complicated, and we've witnessed it on multiple occasions. OUAT gives us a world in which even the Evil Queen, whose darkness was so pervasive that it cost her everything, has a chance for redemption, to find the light within. It gives us a world where Snow White, the honourable princess done wrong, was actually guilty of a cruel and selfish act. When dealing with the complexities of who we are as people, why wouldn't it make sense to realize that we all have potential for both light and dark, and that different sides win out at different times?
To better understand this dichotomy, it's worth looking at Lily, whose character we haven't yet fully examined but seems, for the time being, to be choosing good over evil. While her entire life has been ruled by bad decisions and bad luck due to the curse Snow White and Prince Charming subjected her to before she was even born, in the end it was the love of her mother, Maleficent, which quelled her desire for vengeance and allowed her, for once, to make the right choice — the good choice.
Which brings me back to Emma's new position as the Dark One. Face it: Love makes you do crazy things, and no one knows this better than the Savior herself. It helps that Emma has always had a self-destructive streak, making her unafraid to throw herself into the worst situations with abandon, regardless of whether or not she might end up paying for it with her life. Add in a threat to someone she cares deeply about and you've got a recipe for sacrifice, plain and simple. But there's another element that deserves mentioning, and that's Emma's propensity for darkness itself. Sure, her parents may have saved her soul at birth and imbued her with all the qualities we've seen so far, but you can't change fate. It always catches up with you in the end.
It was Gold's mission to turn Emma dark throughout the latter half of Season 4, and it was Regina who fought tooth and nail to ensure that didn't happen. But perhaps it wasn't up to either of them in the end, anyway. Emma was full of light, but within her there had to be a sliver — no matter how small — that remained empty from where the darkness, which was meant for her, was taken. And maybe in the end, that missing piece had to be filled, one way or another. Now it's time for Emma's biggest fight yet: figuring out which side is worth winning. I don't know about you, but my money's on the Savior.