The Heart of the Truest Believer Review | Once Upon a Time Season 3 Premiere

A new fantastical quest is afoot.

Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Colin O’Donoghue, Michael Raymond-James, Jared S. Gilmore, and Robert Carlyle.

Season 3
Episode 1: The Heart of the Truest Believer

There’s a strong theme of belief running through this premiere episode, which is fitting considering that it is involved with rescuing Henry, the epitome of belief. Emma’s belief is called into question by Rumple, who asks her when she ever made a leap of faith, without having any evidence of it succeeding. Emma herself displays as much when she disagrees with her parents over their irritating habit of unwavering optimism. Elsewhere, Neal is having to overcome his own beliefs concerning magic in order to reunite with his family from the Enchanted Forest, as well as Tamara and Greg’s misplaced faith in the Home Office, which turns out to be Peter Pan itself. Furthermore, what we considered to be Henry’s greatest strength is also what has put him in Peter Pan’s sights in the first place, as Pan is after the heart of the truest believer. That definitely seems to be an idea played with here: that sometimes belief isn’t necessarily a strength, and can in fact be a flaw.

It is certainly that way for Tamara and Greg, who don’t consider who they are working for and this results in their deaths. Similarly, it’s Henry’s belief in magic that puts him in Pan’s sights, as well as his belief in the goodness within people that prevents him from seeing through Pan’s ruse. Ultimately, however, Emma learns and develops in her ability to believe in others and on their group so that they can have the best chances of rescuing Henry.

The premise behind Once Upon a Time has always been remarkably simple: giving us fairytale stories that we know inside out and twisting them in some way, keeping us on our toes. The new additions to those stories, such as Snow being responsible for the death of the Evil Queen’s true love, interest us by design. Similar twists, like Red Riding Hood secretly being a werewolf, or Jiminy Cricket being turned into a cricket out of a sense of guilt and obligation. While throwaway episodes to try and do similar things for other characters, who we don’t have a particularly strong emotional attachment to (like Tiny, the giant, Jack, the giant slayer, or Dr Frankenstein) didn’t have quite the same impact. However, the depiction of Peter Pan here, not as some carefree boy eager to escape the obligations of adulthood and just play his life away, but instead as some sort of Machiavellian dictator is certainly a captivating one. The Lost Ones are portrayed wonderfully, and are delightfully creepy: the sequence in which Greg has his shadow ripped out by Pan’s is simply harrowing, and makes Pan seem a credible villain. What’s more, his portrayal by Robbie Kay, merely enhances this sense of malice and evil. This episode is, in fact, a wonderful introduction to his character, and the brilliant way that Kay plays both the escaped Lost One, as well as the actual Pan underneath is commendable, even though the ultimate twist was surprising to nobody except Henry.

Our heroes, though they are placed in a wonderfully fantastical situation, and on an epic quest, are divided almost immediately through bickering and infighting. In the case of Rumple, this takes the form of abandoning them almost instantly. Regina and Snow get into a fight, as Snow tires of the fact that Regina once again is ruining Snow’s life, while Hook and David fight because I suppose they need to have something to do. The escalation of Emma to the leader of the group is a brilliant development for the character, and it makes complete sense. As a character who has always had to go it by themselves, it’s little wonder that she decides to take charge. Her “leap of faith” by jumping into the water to get the team to band together and save her was also a nice link back to Rumple’s earlier words, if a tad reckless. Her subsequent affirmation that they need to have a belief in each other was another positive character development.

It was also nice for Emma to speak out against her parents, and their firm belief in happy endings. Her line about how they are the same age, and have the same amount of wisdom, was delivered beautifully, and has been a long time coming. Snow and Charming frequently try to take the high, parental road with Emma about what they should do when it comes to magic, but Emma’s right here: she has lived the world just as much as they have. Though it’s not a magical world, she has known loss, and she knows that not everything works out as expected. It’s time that Snow and Charming started taking these things a little more seriously, as defeat is only just around the corner.

Some small teases as plot points to come are also littered throughout this episode. Fortunately, villains Tamara and Greg are swiftly despatched early into the episode, which is a relief as they were hardly the most threatening villains now that the idea of destroying magic has been ruled out. Rumple clearly has a past concerning Pan and Neverland, which is somewhat surprising considering Bae’s presence there. Gold didn’t seem to have any conception of Neal having visited Neverland, so it might be possible that Gold’s affiliation with Neverland may precede Bae entirely, and be related to Gold’s own childhood. After all, we know that Gold was abandoned when he was a child, and that his father was labelled a coward. Might that have resulted in him being in Neverland and making an enemy of Pan? Hopefully the series will deliver answers on this front, but it was a delight to see Gold in Rumple’s old clothing. His walking stick has been left far behind, and it’s definitely fun to see him using some of Rumple’s old mannerisms, such as the hand waves and the “dearie”. In fact, it fits Gold’s character strangely well, and this new, slightly weary version of Rumplestiltskin is captivating to watch, especially as he continues to do acts like murder Tamara. I mean, let’s be honest though, she entirely deserved it. Who doesn’t check who they’re working for?

This episode also had its funny moments, which are more than welcome in this show, which can often take itself far too seriously. Emma slightly bizarre, yet truthful, and also deeply amusing line, “We have equal amounts of wisdom!” is delightful. It sounds just like a petulant child speaking up against her parents. Regina’s snipes with Snow, saying that she’s going to fix it with, “rainbow kisses and unicorn stickers” was deliciously snarky, and perfectly delivered. Neal’s reveal of Mulan having a movie was also wonderful.

To conclude, it’s nice to have a season opener that clearly has a very firm sense of direction. There’s no two ways about it. There is obviously a journey to be had, and a nefarious plan at play. Fingers crossed that the momentum is maintained throughout the storyline until Henry is rescued, before we have any episodes like “In the Name of the Brother” or “Tiny” that serve only to stall the plot from moving forwards. I am deeply optimistic that this spell in Neverland will be a tremendous growing experience, especially for Emma, Hook and Regina.

In Short

  • Tamara and Greg have been summoned to Neverland by Pan, who wants Henry.
  • Pan’s shadow kills Greg, but Henry manages to escape, and finds another escapee from the Lost Ones, who promises to help him.
  • Gold goes rogue from the rest of the heroes’ group, declaring he works better alone.
  • Bickering besets the rest of the heroes, nearly destroying them in a storm, until Emma throws herself into the sea and they must band together to save her.
  • Emma becomes the leader of the heroes, and they come ashore at Neverland to rescue Henry.
  • Henry is tricked by Pan, who reveals that he wants the heart of the truest believer.

Other thoughts

  • It was brilliant to see Aurora and Mulan again. The brilliant thing about these characters is that they never seem to draw focus away from where it is needed, but merely assist the story along. It’s a crying shame, really, when we’re frequently subjected to unnecessary flashbacks about other, more boring characters, but they complement the story beautifully here, though I am still curious as to how Phillip is miraculously back from the dead.
  • Speaking of which, it seems that Mulan is having some feelings that she is struggling to express, which intrigues me.
  • The new Robin Hood is a welcome addition. Since they went through the effort of recasting him as Sean Maguire, I’m assuming that he’s going to have more of a role to play in this season.
  • Henry was so delightfully sarcastic to Tamara and Greg, quipping, “It’s a good thing you don’t ask questions”. He takes after his mothers, bless him.
  • I do love how characters’ hair changes between seasons. Prince Charming’s hair is absolutely delightful. It makes him even more handsome.
  • I laughed out loud when Hook said, “Actually, I quite fancy you from time to time when you’re not yelling at me.” Disarmingly sweet and honest. It’s strange to conceive of Hook as a villain these days, so instead I shall simply refer to him as a crook. Ultimately, he was motivated to get revenge upon Hook for killing his love. I feel like we can forgive this. Shooting Belle a little less so, though.
  • This storyline really does have the potential to either make or break Henry for me. I’ve never found him particularly engaging. Most of the time he is self-righteous and irritating, as well as unforgivingly optimistic and idealistic. More than this, he’s also incredibly whiny. Hopefully seeing him take his own hero’s steps in Neverland might make me like him more, or it will make me hate the entire show more, so I suppose we shall see how that one ends up.
  • Did Aurora not consider that maybe the fact that she couldn’t see Henry in the dream world is because he just wasn’t asleep? Or is that not how it works? Also, do they not have any other bed in this Safe Haven, or is it purely that one very uncomfortable looking dais?
  • Michael Raymond-James being added to the regular cast is truly what this show needs. He has such a positive energy about him as a character, it’s a real improvement to the show for me.
  • How on earth did Neal recognise that Emma was in Neverland just by her face in a crystal ball? He must really recognise those plants. Maybe it was his favourite plant when he was there. Who can tell? He’s a secret botanist, that Neal.
  • If portals take you wherever you want to go, why didn’t Neal just think of an Earth hospital? That would’ve been much safer from a survival perspective. Or just like three feet to his left? Is that allowed?
  • I wasn’t entirely convinced on Emma jumping into the ocean to stop the others fighting. I mean, it worked. The boom falling from the ship was just incredibly unfortunate, but wasn’t the ship moving forwards? So surely by the time they actually realised and then got their act together, she would have been nowhere in sight. There was a storm, she was sinking into the sea. That’s difficult enough to do with clear visibility let alone with wind whipping you in the face. Either way, ships cannot just stay still, especially not in a storm. Just saying.


An assured and promising start to a new quest for our heroes.

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.

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