That isn’t to say that other versions of Arthur aren’t also dicks. But this Arthur is the kind of dick that Once Upon a Time specializes in: one whose dickness is completely unrelated to the story he originally came from. Welcome to “The Broken Kingdom.”

Spoilers...

We spent pretty much all of last night’s episode of OUaT back in Camelot. Of course, we also jumped around that place’s timeline so much that one of the subtitles said “five years later,” and meant five years from the flashback with young Arthur, but it was placed right after one with Snow White in it, so I thought for a moment we were five years in the future of the present. Goddammit, it isn’t even time travel. Just sloppy writing and editing.

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I really hate it when I have to think that hard about what’s going on in Once Upon a Time, is all I’m saying.

Because of all that, I am going to recap this chronologically, not by the way the episode unfolded.

Anyway, last night’s central theme was, as I have subtly hinted above, “King Arthur is a dick.” But he does get results.

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We see little, unloved Arthur talking about how a man in a tree told him he’d be king. Which seems like a great way to completely screw up a kid’s mental health, but whatever. Eventually, that kid grows up to marry his childhood sweetheart Guinevere and pull the sword from the stone.

Except—as we already know because it has been the focus of every other episode—Excalibur is only half of a sword. The other half is the Dark One’s dagger. So a very obsessed with his birthright Arthur spends all his time trying to decipher Merlin’s notes so he can find the dagger.

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I’m pretty sure this translates to “In Latin, Jehovah begins with an ‘I.’”

In this version of Camelot, Guinevere strays because Arthur loves his puzzles more than her. And when he skips her birthday to stare at parchment, Lancelot steps up to throw her a party in Arthur’s name. Arthur leaves Lancelot in charge of Guinevere to go find the dagger—but Guinevere uses Merlin’s Magic GauntletTM to find Arthur’s greatest weakness. She drags Lancelot along to the vault of the dark one, which appears to be locate in a video game from 1998:

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Of course, Rumplestiltskin stops them from making off with his dagger. But he does trade them mystical Avalon sand which makes things appear whole again. Neither Lancelot nor Guinevere thinks one bit about how that can be abused. Once Upon a Time is the embodiment of Dark Helmet’s maxim: Evil will always triumph because good is dumb.

Guinevere tries to confront Arthur (stupid), lies about having the dagger (stupider), and then tells him exactly what the magic sand does (stupidest). So of course Arthur uses it to fix their broken marriage. And to make Camelot appear whole, hale, and hearty. I will admit, this show is doing interesting things with the “ruined glory of Camelot” and the “weak and useless Arthur” parts of the Camelot story. We haven’t seen shitty Camelot and moronic Arthur done in live-action in a long time.

Meanwhile, back in the present-of-six-weeks-ago, Snow and Charming are fighting about whether to trust Arthur or Lancelot. It doesn’t actually matter, except they ask Regina to leave and she peaces out like:

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David tells Arthur everything about Lancelot and his daughter being the Dark One. Snow and Lancelot go to hide the dagger back in Rumplestiltskin’s impenetrable vault. But Arthur follows them there, and takes the dagger, commanding the Dark One to unite it with Excalibur.

Of course, it’s all a fake out because David and Snow are perfect people with a perfect marriage who decided to do a little test to figure out who was really trustworthy. I’m still not sure why David told Arthur the whole truth for that, but good is dumb, I guess.

Arthur’s knights and queen surround the Charmings and Lancelot, who still thinks Guinevere will be on his side. Instead, the power of the sand holds —which is a development Lancelot instantly guesses—and he’s hauled off to the dungeon. There, he meets fellow prisoner Merida. This might be interesting, except the last scene of this episode makes all of this pointless. Snow and Charming are dosed with the sand, and return to Regina all “Let’s give the dagger to Arthur!” Good thing Regina hid it without telling them where, because Arthur’s latest converts are creepy. Also, I think Snow’s headgear came from the Camelot equivalent of Claire’s:

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I swear I saw a preteen wear this exact outfit at a music festival.

While all this is going on, Regina’s diagnosed Emma with “crazy evil-itis,” so Hook and Henry have taken her somewhere to rest. That place is a field of flowers, where Emma’s surrender to Hook’s love means she’s temporarily free of the Rumplevoice in her head.

In the present-present (I HATE THIS NESTED FLASHBACK STRUCTURE), Emma wants to make Rumple into a hero so he can deliver her Excalibur. Her secret weapon is Merida, whose heart Emma pulls out so she can command her to teach Rumple how to be brave. What’s that? I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over the clank that title drop made.

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I guess whatever Lancelot and Merida get up to in the past doesn’t amount to much, since it ends with Merida tied to Emma’s VW Bug. I also think the episode implied that Arthur did get the dagger, since Emma’s pretty much doing what he tried to order her to do in the flashback. As big a dick as Arthur is—and, oh my god, at no point is he sympathetic—our heroes are morons for not being able to outwit him at any turn.


Contact the author at katharine@io9.com.

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