Once Upon A Time 5×08 “Birth” and 5×09 “The Bear King” Recap

Spoilers Ahead

Still haven’t caught our breaths enough to write something creative here.

Episode Summary: In “Birth” we learn the truth about what transformed Emma into the Dark One, but we also learn that she’s not the only one in Storybrooke. Because Emma refuses to lose Killian, she tethers his soul onto Excalibur making him the Dark One as well. After she speeds up Zelena’s pregnancy in order to keep the baby away from her plot to give Zelena all the darkness, Killian learns the truth about what’s happened to him through the dream catcher meant for him. In “The Bear King” we learn more about the day Merida’s father passed and her fight to rightfully earn the title of Queen. Mulan (Jamie Chung) and Ruby (Meghan Ory) return to help Merida in her quest.

Review | Analysis: It’s a bit unfortunate that “The Bear King” came after such a heavy episode because we wish we could’ve had it cool off next week instead. However, we do understand that because of the AMAs, they had to air tonight, but truthfully, it’s a little difficult to try to combine both episodes into one review. And the reasoning is not only due to intense emotions (lol!), but the fact that there’s been so many past/present storylines, it almost feels foreign though we’re so used to it. Ultimately, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be on hiatus because nothing’s ever been as intense as this season thereby, stick with us as we attempt to cohesively put our thoughts and feelings together without spiraling out of control into a novel about how we’ve been emotionally compromised.

While both episodes focused beautifully on the importance of inner strength, “Birth” exhibited the significance of romantic love, and “The Bear King” tackled the prominence of friendships.

It’s always fun to watch our favorite Disney classics be portrayed so realistically and thus, “The Bear King” was so enjoyable because it brought the magic of Brave to life. Primarily, we’re thrilled with the fact that Merida’s trainer was Mulan because it’s not often you see women helping one another the way they did on TV. When it comes down to moments of learning how to actually fight, we’re more exposed to males and females, but it was great to see such a powerful example of women helping one another physically and emotionally. Mulan was there to show Merida the significance of being smart — it’s not about vengeance, it’s about honor, and in order for people to follow their ruler, they must be someone worthy of following.

The thing is, while the adventures of Mulan, Merida, and Ruby were entertaining, Arthur and Zelena felt out of place. It makes sense for the series to tie them into the storyline, but nothing about their adventures gripped us — especially since they ended up failing anyway. That said, we hope readers don’t mind if we focus solely on the three heroic females as opposed to the whole story.

Mulan states that the most important thing necessary to fight is honor, and her right to honor’s what determines character. There are fights that need to be walked away from, but once a person determines what they’re fighting for and goes towards it with honor, there’s absolutely no way they won’t succeed. It’s essentially what Killian’s done and undoubtedly will do too. Although Mulan teaches Merida the importance of honor in the past, in present-day DunBrogh she’s not exactly the noble warrior we’ve known all along. Mulan’s heartbroken and as we’ve seen numerous times throughout the series, oftentimes a broken heart leads to misguided decisions — it’s human nature. And one thing we’re always so fond of discussing is how real the characters on Once Upon A Time are. Just because Mulan’s the fiercest female fighter in all the realms, it doesn’t mean she’s closed off to the emotions in her heart. It doesn’t mean she’s incapable of falling. We all fall and succumb to our emotions sometimes, but the best thing we can do is fight through them before it’s too late. And sometimes, in order to fight, we need a reason good enough to give us courage. Thankfully, one thing leads to another and she comes to find Ruby in wolf form who then transforms back to a woman embarking on an adventure with Mulan to help Merida.

During a conversation with Merida, Mulan states that “a true warrior would never let anything hurt them”, but what we come to learn towards the end is that a true warrior is someone who breaks and heals. A true warrior endures all that comes toward them with honor and humility. At the end of the day, all three ladies come to find that the greatest strength lies within them, but every so often we need a little push to remind us of the immeasurable capabilities within us.

Merida needed to learn the importance of what it takes to be a true ruler, and it was in her quest to find the helm that she realized that her father threw the enchanted one away and fought with honor. A true warrior isn’t someone who doesn’t get hurt, but rather a woman who fights even when they’re afraid. Merida may not know how to rule a kingdom the way her father did, but she knows enough to understand that as long as she stands up to whatever’s ahead of them, the clans will follow in her footsteps. It takes a single match to ignite a fire just as it takes one leap of faith to embark on something life-changing. It was beautiful to see Dingwall, Macintosh, and MacGuffin proudly commend Merida at her crowning after she stood up to the witch for their kingdom. And what was even more gorgeous was the poignant gratitude Manson wore as Merida tearfully stood with her kingdom ready to take on whatever the future holds.

Mulan needed to be reminded of the fact that she’s an honorable warrior who helps people in need — she doesn’t take. And a small little adventure is needed to show Ruby that she isn’t alone in all of this, just because there aren’t people who transform the way she does, it doesn’t mean she can’t find something wonderful in another being.

“The Bear King” was an exceptional adventure and watching it the second time around made it that much more enjoyable. Once Upon A Time is currently the one series out there that continues to evoke hope in viewers, and it truly does the best job of reminding us of the importance of teamwork. If man was created to be alone, we wouldn’t all be here. While we each have prodigious strength running through our veins, at times, it is through the help of our loved ones that we learn just how to channel them. Friendship and love are power.

It was incredible to have Jamie Chung and Meghan Ory back, and even though they’re not regulars, the two are so beloved by Once Upon A Time fans, we can only hope we’ll see more of them together. It did appear as though there’s a special bond with them, and we’re hoping the series gives us the opportunity to watch it evolve.

Once again, Amy Manson was brilliant in her work as Merida. Switching gears for a moment to talk about something personal, but the scene where she spoke to her father broke me. When you lose the person you’re often compared to, there’s an emptiness in you unlike anything else in the world. Kudos to Manson for truly selling the scene through Merida’s eyes — through the eyes of all those who’ve lost someone they’d give anything to get back. I often say that grief is the hardest emotion to sell because it’s not so much the drastic delivery that matters, it’s the look in the eyes that reveals a heartache unlike anything else. When Merida states that she wishes her father was here, Manson not only brought profound grief to life but incomparable love

You felt Merida’s love for her father, and you felt the deep cuts that his death left in her life. Most importantly, around our parents, we’re always their little girl/boy, and when Merida says she only wishes to make her dad proud, we didn’t see a fierce Queen at that moment, we saw a little girl. The vulnerability in Manson’s delivery communicated a kind of pain I hope not many people know until they’re old and gray. It felt raw and honest, but more importantly, it felt sincere. It was easy for me to understand just where she was coming from, but even if it weren’t, the scene was delivered in such a way that it brought to life all the aches and desires of those who’ve lost someone. If only it were that simple to communicate with our loved ones in the real world.

Lastly, though it was a brief scene, we really appreciated seeing the friendship between Snow and Red again. It’s always been one of our favorite friendships on Once Upon A Time thereby, seeing Snow support Ruby’s decision to go back to the Enchanted Forest was lovely. They’ve always been the kind of friends that have accepted one another through every flaw, and the moment was yet another lovely reminder of the importance of friendships.

Speaking of Snow, in Camelot, she was the first victim Arthur pries on through Merlin in order to get the spark, but through patience, Emma convinces Merlin to fight through the darkness. The scene was a phenomenal homage to last week where the roles were reversed, and Merlin got to remind Emma of the fact that she’s more powerful than any darkness that’s within. And that same drive is what gave Merlin to courage to break free from Excalibur in order to release Snow.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of “Birth” was Regina’s attempt to once again rid Emma of her agency. While we can understand where she’s coming from, pressuring her and using the dagger isn’t the right way to go about it. And what was most off-putting is the fact that she didn’t even believe her when she admitted to being afraid of not being able to protect her family, for, at the end of the day, Killian is her family. You can’t get answers by pressuring someone cruelly, and we really appreciate the fact that Snow stood up for that because she’s one of the people who knows that the way to get to Emma is through gentleness and trust. She’s done in Neverland. She’s helped her bring down her walls by making her feel safe enough to talk about her days as an orphan. And in Storybrooke she’s continued to fight to remind Regina of the fact that she and Charming would not let harm come to Emma. She’s still their daughter no matter what.

Prior to this, as Emma’s trying to ignite the spark, she fails because as the dark voice says, she’s not ready to let go of the darkness. Henceforth, in an attempt to motivate her, Henry reveals a special project he and Killian have been working on called Operation Light Swan: the quest to find the perfect home that promises a beautiful future. Besides the fact that this is Killian’s way of promising Emma forever — proving to her once again that he’ll never abandon her, but instead welcome her home all their lives, is the fact that Killian and Henry have never bonded over something so sacred. Storybrooke’s become both their homes, but to actually have a place of their own where they can live with one another and learn new things every day is an enormous step. It’s about settling down and unwinding in ways that’ll reveal all parts of their being thereby, Henry being a part showcases his ability to welcome Killian into the family as well. Steps like this are often harder for kids, but Henry’s openness to it is remarkable because he’s always been wise enough to see what’s best for both his moms.

Just as “The Bear King” illuminated the importance of friendship igniting sparks within, “Birth” showcased the strength found in love through the lighting of a literal spark. We don’t say it nearly enough, but we really appreciate the fact that Once Upon A Time always tells the most epic love stories and Killian and Emma’s has transcended pretty much everything with this episode. After Emma storms off, Killian finds her and apologizes for the fact that he couldn’t stop Regina from using the dagger. He then asks her what she’s afraid of and Emma admits to being afraid of the future with him. Because Killian still doesn’t see just how precious he is to her, he believes her concerns are because she doesn’t want a future with him. Hence, Emma finally admits the one thing we’ve all seen in her since day one. She’s afraid of having something good because it’ll be taken from her. When you grow up alone and in a place where everything’s constantly taken from you, you’re prone to believe that you cannot keep anything good. And all her life it’s the reason Emma’s walls have been so high — she’s capable of giving so much love, but she’s afraid of it being taken from her. It’s taken her so long to tell Killian she loves him because admitting that to herself makes it real, and if it becomes real, the fears of losing him subsequently grow louder. And this was it — this was Emma Swan finally baring it all for Killian to see because what she says goes deeper than anything she’s ever said to anyone else. Because she wants it all with him, it intensifies the fears that have always been inside of her from the moment she’s let him into her heart. And the choice to finally bare ultimately sets her free. And with the utmost sincerity, Killian assures her that the future’s nothing to be afraid of, and in doing so, he not only revives hope, but their kiss ignites flame. It’s always been evident that their love’s powerful, but what this moment reveals is that love has the ability to annihilate even the deepest fears. It isn’t easy for someone like Emma to bare it all, but Killian’s love is enough to give her all the hope she needsLove is worth more than any form of magical freedom or power. Much like in “Lost Girl,” when Emma admitted to being an orphan, the map revealed itself. In order to establish a profound connection with someone, we must find the courage to share the agonizing burdens that cobblestone the walls we hide behind, and for Emma, her fears have always been the most tremendous hindrances.

Thereafter, just as Emma’s about to forge Excalibur, Killian’s wound from earlier resurfaces and results in his death leaving a distraught Emma with no choice. As Jim Halpert’s once said:

“All I know is that every time I’ve been faced with a tough decision, there is only one thing that outweighs every other concern. One thing that will make you give up on everything you thought you knew, every instinct, every rational calculation. […] Love. No matter what happens, you’ve got to forget about all the other stuff. You’ve got to forget about logic and fear and doubt. You just got to do everything you can to get to the one woman who is going to make all this worth it. At the end of the day, you got to jump” (A.A.R.M. s9e22/23).

In this case, let’s substitute woman for man, but to be precise, when love is real, you fight for it, protect it, and hold on for dear life. From the moment Killian hits the floor to the second he dies, Emma’s cataclysmic state of distress is bared extraordinarily. Morrison made you feel fears and misery that have always been there but never as painfully evident. You could feel complete and utter brokenness because this is a woman who’s come too far — she’s lost too much in the past, but losing her other half is impossible. It’s a fate she refuses to accept because that kind of adoration comes only once in a lifetime. Killian is Emma’s person — the anchor and keeper of her heart whose love is an immaculate gift she never believed she’d have. And this is the first time in her life where Emma’s truly selfish because she cannot be anything else. She can fight through the darkness, taunting voices, and painful memories, but losing her anchor means losing the love that fills her entire being and world with light. Some may argue that losing love is endurable when one’s surrounded by family, but at the same time, we feel that occasionally, when love is as strong as Killian and Emma’s, losing it is far too unimaginable and intolerable. There’s beauty in all relationships (father/daughter, mother/daughter, mother/son, friendships), but the bond two people create through unwavering adoration and faith in one another holds a different kind of power. Physically, spiritually, and emotionally love weaves two souls into one, and losing that can break a person in a way where completion is no longer possible. And the reality is, there’s also great strength in the admittance that there’s inexpressible pain in the loss of romantic love.

Although Charming too was willing to die before he let Snow’s heart fill with darkness, she wasn’t willing to lose him when they needed to cast the curse. True love will consider all options — it’ll be the force that drives one party to literally split their heart into two pieces in order to keep the other alive. Like mother, like daughter. True love is enough, and Morrison makes it painfully evident that for Emma — a life without Killian isn’t enough. His love is everything, and you could hear the horror in her voice as she refused to give up on him.

In a recent interview, Morrison states:

“I thought it was a cool idea,” Morrison tells EW. “There’s something really romantic about it. She doesn’t want him to die. She doesn’t want to lose this man. She’s lost all the people that she’s loved in different ways. She wants to put her foot down and say, ‘No, this is the guy, I don’t want to lose this one. Even if we have to make some crazy choices to fight to overcome the Darkness, I’m going to do whatever it takes.’ It’s a really romantic gesture.” (Source

That desperation to keep him alive, and the refusal to accept a life without him is what Morrison bares breathtakingly through her poignant expressiveness and voice all throughout Emma’s moments with Killian as he’s dying. You could feel her pain in the way she clenched his hand and stroked his face. You could see she was doing everything in her power to keep him with her, so when it was too late, it was anything but bearable for her. His motionless body broke her. There’s probably never been a scene on the series this painful; henceforth, kudos to both Morrison and O’Donoghue for projecting agony masterfully. O’Donoghue’s strength is in the deliverance of sincere vulnerability, and when he admits that he’s afraid of succumbing to the darkness, we’re able to see that once again, his primary concerns are Emma. He needs to see her happiness because giving in to the darkness means hurting her. Killian’s changed because of her, he’s given up vengeance and a 200-year-old quest to become a man worthy of captivating her heart, but now he’s genuinely afraid that if he’s tethered to darkness, he won’t be able to control its temptations. He’ll give in and turn to a villainous being who’s not worthy of Emma. Although at the moment Emma has faith in both of them, for the first time, Killian’s fears are the ones consuming him.

Camelot memories, aside, let’s take it back to Storybrooke for a moment. As Arthur’s about to kill the man she loves, Emma disarms him with Excalibur, which then leads to a brilliant confrontation between Killian and Emma where she finally reveals why she’s doing all this. Although he couldn’t actually die, Emma tried to save him from the darkness as she promised. We could always appreciate moments of humor right before things are about to blow up thereby, Killian’s comment about misplacing his sword was pretty fun to watch. And that’s probably, strike that, definitely because O’Donoghue does the best job of manifesting the right amount of sass. Sorry, Arthur — you don’t get to win this time.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll probably say it again multiple times before the series ends, but Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue are extraordinary scene partners, and “Birth” was only further proof of that. The way the two of them worked off each other in the woods was just what viewers needed in order to understand how deep Killian and Emma’s feelings go for one another. When Killian says “I know you’re still in there, Emma, and despite everything you always have your reasons” was heart-shattering — you could feel the terror and desperation in O’Donoghue’s voice as Killian bellows after Emma. And Morrison responds to this exceptionally well as her entire demeanor becomes that of a woman with a dark secret that rattles her entire being because everything has been for the man she loves. It’s all been for Killian. It’s all come down to saving him — a price she’s willing to pay. When she exhibits the truth, Morrison’s less enraged but even though the methodic tone of voice remains, her expression briefly softens as she illuminates the fact that she had no other choice. She needs to keep the façade alive, but when it comes to Killian, it’s not as easy.

Before we get into Killian’s realization of what’s happened to him, it’s been pointed out already that the immediate reaction which follows Emma’s declaration in the woods, mirrors her realization of how important she is to him in “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” It’s interesting that after everything they’ve been through, both Killian and Emma still can’t grasp just how deeply the other adores them. And Jim Halpert said it best in “A.A.R.M” when he declares that Pam’s everything to him. Oftentimes there’s a misconception that being completely in love weakens strong figures, but the reality is that it takes great courage to give someone your all. It takes great strength to love someone with every part of you — to be someone’s best friend and armor at the same time; to be selfless and brave for someone else. Love only helps people grow, and when you become one with someone, they are indeed everything to you. This is Killian’s moment to realize that just as he’d do anything to protect Emma, she’d do the exact same thing for him. He then later learns that she does want a future with him. She wants the white picket fence home with a view of the sea because true love is selfless. He’s found the house, and she’s agreed to it. She too will fight for him as long as necessary because the love they have for one another is unparalleled by anything they’ve ever known.

And when the truth is later revealed in its entirety through the dream catcher, we’re able to once again see some unbelievably fantastic work by both actors. It’s always been clear that whatever Emma’s reason was, it was absolutely necessary. True love only comes once in a lifetimeand when you find it, evidently it can never be replaced. In order not to lose our cool over what’s happening in Storybrooke, it’s key to remember the term promise. If there’s anyone in this world that understands Emma Swan best, it’s Killian Jones. And if there’s anyone in this world that understands Killian Jones, it’s Emma Swan. When someone loves you, all sins can be forgiven — love covers all wrongs in every sense of the word. He knows how high her walls have been, he knows how difficult it is for her to open up, and he knows that her reasons are legitimate. That said, there has to be much more to this than his anger in Storybrooke. While the frustration is completely understandable, we cannot imagine Killian Jones ever purposely hurting Emma. If he’s been a Dark One all along then how hasn’t he felt its temptations? How has he not questioned sleepless nights? Did he have any? There’s magic in Storybrooke so even with the lack of memories, shouldn’t the darkness be more powerful?

Back in Camelot, as he’s dying, he admits that the consequences aren’t something he wants because he believes he’s too weak to fight through the darkness. He believes he isn’t strong enough not to give in to the temptations, and because O’Donoghue does an astounding job of showcasing Killian’s genuine fears as he’s dying, we can’t help but also believe in his fighting spirit. He makes the audience see that the only thing which matters to him is Emma’s happiness — he’ll go on knowing she’s saved from the darkness. Nevertheless, since he spent the entire episode declaring that he loves Emma no matter what she’s done, this has to all be temporary. Perhaps the lack of memories and the desire to help Emma have been enough to hinder the temptations that would’ve otherwise consumed him, but because he’s come this far, and atoned for the past willfully, there’s hope that he is indeed stronger than darkness. Point is, we know Killian loves Emma more than anything and no matter what she’s done — there’s nothing he wouldn’t do to protect her which is why we have a feeling his behavior towards the end is to throw Zelena off. No matter how much rage is inside Killian, nothing could ever make him want to cause Emma pain.

Love is the most powerful weapon of all — there’s colossal strength in its versatility to overcome anything, but love’s also messy. Love is a promise — a dedication and choice to continue treasuring someone no matter how messy the relationship gets. Epic doesn’t equate to perfection, but it gives a word for the kind of love that’s unbreakable. The love that never gives up even when times are so dark it feels as though the wonder’s crumbling down as personal walls rise up higher. Fights and arguments have a horrendous way of temporarily shutting down the light within, but no force can ever alter true love. No dark road can ever lead two souls too far from home. It’s interesting that Emma took away the one thing Killian’s always respected — agency. And understandably, that’s enough to evoke a great amount of anger in him, but the truth is, if the roles were reversed, we can be certain he’d do the same. It all comes down to the inability to live without the encompassing love that perpetually binds them as one. And that kind of love cannot be lost. It’s the love that endures all sorts of chaotic events: all sorts of sins and heartaches. There’s infinite beauty in the kind of love that’ll always forgive and adore — the kind that’ll always remind Killian and Emma of who they truly are because at the end of the day, it only ever made them better. No matter how much darkness consumes them, true love cannot be altered.

Does anyone else have a feeling that something’s not right with Merlin’s death!? At first, we thought the scaly appearance was a Rumplestilskin thing, but last week when we saw Nimue take on the darkness, her appearance changed as well. And after Emma tethered Killian onto Excalibur, she transformed but her skin remained. Could this mean Emma hasn’t actually killed Merlin and if so where is he!? And again, how on earth does this darkness work when parties haven’t embraced it by murdering someone in cold blood? There’s got to be much more and it’s what we’re looking forward to learning in “Broken Heart”.

What are your thoughts on this week’s episode!? Switching gears once again to say that this has legitimately been the most difficult episode to review — nothing’s ever been as hard as this and at some point, around 2 am yesterday, I was forced to accept that there’s literally no way to do it justice. So here’s my lame attempt at trying to get my feelings out also, if anyone’s capable of building a time machine to two weeks from now, please do so.

In conclusion, there are still a few questions and plot holes we’re wondering about, but we’ll instead wait until next week to see if they’re resolved before we get into discussing them.

Worth Mentioning: This category was specifically created so we could laugh at Whale’s brilliant comment and treasure David Anders. “So Emma changes her hair and no one says anything but I get ridiculed?” This was the best thing ever. Can we please share him with iZombie?!

Also, how brilliant is Rebecca Mader’s laugh as Zelena?! Can it be more obvious that she has the most fun with her character?!


  1. First of all, do not call this beautiful piece of work a “lame attempt” at all! You should have infinite faith in yourself, because even with an episode that was so hard to process emotionally, you did a truly fantastic, moving job. I could feel your love and appreciation in every word. So don’t sell yourself short, my dear!

    I loved this review so much. I loved everything you said about Emma and Killian, obviously, because it was so clear how much this story means to you. But I want to focus on what you had to say about “The Bear King,” because I thought you did such an amazing job of analyzing an episode that many are writing off. Your thoughts on Merida’s grief were so powerfully written. And I adored this gem of a line:

    “During a conversation with Merida, Mulan states that ‘a true warrior would never let anything hurt them’, but what we come to learn towards the end is that a true warrior is someone who breaks and heals.”

    That’s such an important theme on Once Upon a Time. True strength comes from vulnerability. That’s the only way you can grow. And what a beautiful lesson that is.

    1. Thank you x infinity, my dear seriously! I think the reason I’m so bummed about “The Bear King” coming right after “Birth” is because the episode was so powerful and meant so much to me personally that I wish it got its own special week. And I wish more people were able to appreciate it but I do understand why it was so hard. A cliffhanger like that needs time to sink in. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for finding good things to say about that episode’s portion of the review because that makes me feel so much better about this piece. It’s my favorite message on this show and I’m sure you feel it too but writing about these things helps us process things in our real life as well. And I can’t say enough how much OUAT has helped me believe that it’s okay to fall, it’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to not be okay. So I love reading your thoughts on such matters as well because you do such a fantastic job with it.

      And now brb, I must go process the perfection of your review so I can give you proper feedback! xx

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