“The game is about to get interesting.”Peter Pan
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Michael Raymond-James, and Robert Carlyle.
This season so far has felt a bit like treading water. The events in Neverland haven’t actually evolved in any meaningful way since the premiere. Henry is still trapped. The heroes are still trying to get to him. They are still exploring the same three metres of fake forest set. This episode does little to change the standing, but it does hint at a promising forward movement in the storyline still to come.
Secrets were the concept of the hour, both in the flashbacks and in the present day. Ariel’s storyline revolves around her revealing her true identity to her love, Prince Eric, a story which Snow happens to stumble into when Ariel saves her from drowning. Ariel is incredibly endearing throughout this episode, played by Joanna García Swisher with a beguiling, innocent naïvety. The only drawback to this was that I felt that the storyline was unnecessarily shoehorned in. We have no connection to Eric or to Ariel, beyond the movie that we already know, so it was difficult to feel too invested in her backstory. While it was intertwined with Snow’s history, which is how Tinker Bell and Pan’s histories have so far been successful, it did feel needlessly tacked on. I mean, what are the chances that Snow would get rescued by Ariel from jumping into the water, then randomly spirit her off to some other land, while Snow ultimately ends up escaping and never mentioning this adventure ever again? The purpose of the flashback was explained by her reoccurrence in the present day, though it might have been more unexpected if Ariel’s past with Regina were revealed after she’d appeared for the first time, to leave the audience wondering what the history was.
The present storyline was far more captivating. For one, it was commendable that Hook bucked expectation and trope to immediately reveal the particulars of Pan’s revelation to Charming and Snow. For somebody with a reputation of being a trickster in the program, Hook can be disarmingly honest – especially when it comes to Emma and, moreover, his feelings. The three at first decide that they need to keep the news from Emma, in case it is a mind game from Pan, which would only hurt Emma more. However, Snow is unable to keep a secret and immediately blabs to Emma, and the group set off to rescue Neal. Regina finds this a frustrating waste of time and leaves the group to find Gold, but more on that later.
The search for Neal leads them to the Echo Caves, which is the perfect location for any dramatic secrets that need revealing. This is a moment of brilliant dramatic tension in the show. Once has really doubled down on its characters this season, so to see such character-led drama is absolutely thrilling, especially when delivered in such trying circumstances. Firstly, Hook reveals his secret, which is that he didn’t think he was capable of moving on from Milah until he met Emma. Woof. This love triangle is getting more complicated by the second.
Next, it’s Snow’s turn. In keeping with her characterisation this season, it is family and, moreover, child-oriented, as she confesses to Charming that the pair of them missed out on Emma’s childhood and she wants to try again when they return to Storybrooke and have another baby. There are so many things to say about this particular secret, first of all being that Snow didn’t even seem remotely ashamed about confessing this idea to Emma. Fancy finally being reunited with your birth parents, and then being metaphorically abandoned by them again. Snow’s trauma is entirely understandable. She wasn’t able to see Emma grow up and be a parent to her. This has clearly been brewing for a few weeks, through Snow’s insistence to be involved in Emma’s life in a parental way, but it still seems a bit rude to Emma to be wanting a new baby so soon after properly meeting.
Unfortunately, Charming’s revelation somewhat cuts Snow’s short when he finally tells her that he was poisoned by Dreamshade and is now unable to leave Neverland. Finally, it’s Emma’s turn, and she has the heartbreaking confession that she wishes that Neal were dead, as then she would be able to get over him and their history easier than trying to have a relationship with him again.
Ultimately, these secrets make the group more divided than anything else. Snow is furious and upset at Charming for not being honest with her in the first place, not least because this has now completely shattered her hopes at a happy ending once their ordeal in Neverland is over. Emma is holding Neal at arms length, telling him that she doesn’t want a relationship with him, though Neal protests that he will continue fighting for her, while Hook looks on from the sidelines. This injection of drama to proceedings is sorely needed, considering the snail’s pace at which the storyline was progressing. At least with Neal and Hook vying for Emma’s romantic attention will liven things up, even if it is relying upon a very tired trope. However, with two suitors as captivating and, let’s face it, absolutely gorgeous as Michael Raymond-James and Colin O’Donoghue, not many viewers will be complaining.
Elsewhere, Regina finally reveals that Gold’s “conscience” in the form of Belle is, in fact, Pan’s shadow – a surprising revelation, but one that makes complete sense. The pair alight upon an out-of-the-blue MacGuffin that is in Gold’s shop in Storybrooke that could suspend Pan in a state between life and death. Also conveniently, Regina remembers Ariel – that mermaid that she cursed from about 30 years previously – and mermaids can traverse realms, and utilises her assistance to retrieve the object, with the incentive of reuniting with her lost love, Prince Eric.
The reveals about Ariel and the strange device that Gold has back in Storybrooke seems oddly convenient, and slightly contrived. If the item had been that important, Gold doubtless would have brought it with him. Moreover, the likelihood of Ariel actually helping Regina seems slim considering Regina stole her voice for many decades and only just remembered to return it. The flashbacks were merely in service of setting this tenuous storyline up, and it might have been more rewarding and thrilling for the audience had the group actually alighted upon something helpful within Neverland. Maybe a book that a past Lost Boy had written about certain secrets of Pan’s that they could use to their advantage.
This episode gives the Neverland storyline some much-needed narrative drive. With the idea of a device capable of stopping Pan on the horizon, as well as Neal introduced to our heroes’ team, it seems much more promising that soon the heroes will actually be doing battle against Pan. Pan is yet to fully prove himself as a villain, however, and his game playing in each week comes across as more tricksy than it is genuinely dangerous. He seems to rely more upon the heroes tearing each other apart than actually doing it himself, which is certainly nefarious, but it’s also never going to work when you’ve got Saint Snow on their side. Furthermore, Robbie Kay’s eyebrow acting gets more irritating and less threatening the more that time wears on. Quite why none of our protagonists attack him when he appears nearby is entirely beyond me.
- Snow meets Ariel when she is saved from drowning when escaping from Regina’s guards.
- Regina uses Ariel to try and kill Snow by turning her into a mermaid, but changes her mind when she realises Regina’s intentions. As revenge, Regina takes Ariel’s voice to prevent her from revealing her secret to Prince Eric.
- In the present, Emma, Snow, Charming and Hook go to free Neal in the Echo Caves.
- The Caves force them to reveal dark secrets, leading to Charming finally coming clean with Snow about his Dreamshade poisoning. Ultimately, they free Neal.
- Regina and Gold team up and plan to get an item from Gold’s shop in Storybrooke that will keep Pan between life and death. To do this, they need Ariel, as mermaids can travel between realms.
- I must confess, I actually was taken by surprise that Belle was, in fact, the Shadow. I had surmised and worked out that she wasn’t actually Belle, because the portrayal was more sinister in that regard. I just thought that it was Gold’s own psyche, hence Belle’s comments on “craven self-interest” a couple of episodes back. It’s intriguing to think of the ways in which Belle influenced Gold’s actions while being in Neverland and how much of what has happened so far has been engineered by Pan. Also important in considering how well Gold fares by himself, and his own weak spots despite his massive amounts of power.
- Pan’s knowledge of Gold’s favourite cereal is quite telling. I wonder at what stage that backstory will be told.
- Just what does Pan want? I’m getting really frustrated at his low-level scheming. I want him to appear dangerous, instead of just a bunch of children. Make me scared of Pan, please, Once. That is all I would like, thank you kind regards.
- I was pleased that Hook immediately revealed what Pan had told him. It’s nice that he was being considerate of Emma’s feelings and of the team’s ultimate safety, instead of just focussing upon his own feelings towards her. It was admirable.
- Speaking of which, I like the turn that the Emma and Neal romance has taken. It feels organic and realistic that Emma would be reticent to get back together with him, despite the fact that she loves him. She finds it much easier to close that door rather than open it and have to deal with all of the stuff that she’s packed away and repressed over the years. Perhaps a romance with Hook would be much easier and more rewarding.
- I’m also so excited that Emma is learning magic. For her to be proficient in it would just be incredible, and hopefully that would be a brilliant way of fostering a relationship with Regina to teach her the ropes. Everybody in the show talks about magic as a corrupting influence, but it would be nice to see magic used in the name of good.
An episode that injects some much-needed adrenaline and forward thrust in what was becoming a fairly lacklustre start to the season.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.