New York City Serenade Review | Once Upon a Time Season 3, Episode 12

“Trust your gut, Swan. It will tell you what to do.”


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

Season 3
Episode 12: New York City Serenade

I have often, and somewhat ad nauseum, complained about the flashbacks that pervade Once Upon a Time‘s weekly segments. However, I am cautiously optimistic that, with this new story arc and focus, they shall provide far more intriguing than the show had become previously. In fact, this entire episode goes some way to injecting some fresh intrigue and excitement into what was becoming a slightly tiresome and boring affair. While the adventures in Neverland concluded with some strong episodes, there was the worry that this new tale wouldn’t be captivating straight out the gate.

Fortunately, the writers managed to pull it off almost seamlessly. The new story avenue is rife with possibility, and allows for the true events that have already transpired for our fairytale characters to be slowly revealed through the flashbacks. Erasing Emma’s amnesia quickly definitely suited the storyline well, even if it does somewhat strip Regina’s sacrifice at the end of the previous episode of some of its poignancy. The return to Storybrooke may have also seemed too soon, but leaving it until the end of the episode and having the premise of the mystery surrounding its return definitely make it more compelling, instead of making the audience roll their eyes. The fact that Henry is the one who does not remember is further interesting, as Henry has always been the first one to believe throughout the series. It will also hopefully give Jared Gilmore something juicy to sink his teeth into as a growing actor. He was actually on top form in this episode, and his mother-son bond with Emma was beautifully presented in the way that the two bounced off each other, and the way that he supported her in her love life.

Also on top form this week were Hook and Emma. Colin O’Donoghue and Jennifer Morrison have absolutely incredible chemistry and absolutely nothing has changed here. Hook’s pleading of Emma and the way that he seems to stare directly into her soul cause this pairing to be one of the more smouldering on TV perhaps ever. Another unexpected pairing, but similarly delightful, was Regina and Snow in the Enchanted Forest. It’s an unlikely friendship, but an important step in their continuing relationship, as Regina becomes more reformed. It’s definitely a new experience for Regina, as well, being in the more vulnerable position out of the pair of them.

Additionally, even though she was only in the episode for a very limited amount of time, Rebecca Mader is simply sublime at the Wicked Witch of the West. From the look, to the walk, to the way that she smirks smugly into the mirror at the very end, you can tell that she is going to be an absolutely incredible villain. As she says, “Wicked always wins”. Once has a brilliant track record with its compelling villains, so time will tell as to what hidden layers lie underneath her viridescent exterior. The flying monkeys were also a brilliant and sinister addition, even if their presence somewhat gave the game away as to the villain presumably behind Storybrooke’s reappearance. Even though her presence was delightful within the episode, it’s almost worth wondering whether this reveal was the best suited for such a credible villain or whether it might have been more fun to make it a mystery for a while longer, though her role was already extensively spoiled in pre-midseason premiere trailers.

The soft reboot of the series has definitely breathed new life into the programme. Everything feels more fresh, and the performers seem to be enjoying it more than they have done before. The memory erasure of Storybrooke of the past year is definitely intriguing, as is the nature of The Wicked Witch’s revenge on our fairytale characters. Quite what her plan is, and indeed if she is responsible for returning our characters to Storybrooke, has certainly got me hooked. Though Once Upon a Time has a habit of fumbling storylines the longer it goes on, I am confident that this arc may be one of the more compelling run of episodes the show produces.

In Short

  • A year ago, the cursed fairytale characters arrive back in the Enchanted Forest.
  • They trek to Snow’s/The Evil Queen’s Palace and find that it has been protected against them.
  • In the present, Hook tracks down Emma and restores her memories.
  • They return to Storybrooke to find Charming and Snow, heavily pregnant, with no memory of the previous year.

Other thoughts

  • I hope that they don’t overuse the flying monkeys. They look incredible and they are effective, but the more they’re used, the dodgier their effects will be.
  • Regina is still the reigning sass queen, even when she is suffering the recent loss of Henry.
  • Regina should really be careful where she puts her heart. What’s stopping a worm coming along and nibbling on it? Is it safe? And shouldn’t she have cleaned it before she put it back in her chest? That sounds like a really silly way to get an infection, Regina. Read a book, won’t you?
  • Snow saying that she understands how Regina feels is a bit of a stretch. Sure, they have both said goodbye to their children. I’m not sure that having a friendly relationship with your child when you’re the same age and having her forget the whole year that she spent with you really compares to raising a child for ten years and having them not even know you exist. They just don’t compare. Snow already lost out on Emma’s childhood. Regina did not, and cherished that time. It is truly heartbreaking that Henry cannot remember it. Snow had a different kind of heartbreak over a robbed childhood from Emma, but the two definitely do not compare. Sorry, Snow.
  • Can we get Snow a better wig please? Or maybe stop including her so prominently in the flashback scenes so that we don’t have to ignore her very large cloaks concealing a very prominent baby bump.
  • Oh hello Red Riding Hood! You were literally nowhere to be seen all first half of the season, but now apparently you’re just going to show up when they transport but then also not do or say anything? Weird.
  • How on earth had Neal’s apartment in New York not been taken by somebody else already?
  • Hook wasn’t in fact cursed in the same way that Storybrooke’s inhabitants had been? Why couldn’t Neal or Hook leave with Emma and Henry again? They could cross the town boundary, like Emma and Henry, so what was stopping them in that scenario? Did I just misremember that bit? I suppose there must have been some compelling reason, else I would’ve picked it up at the time.
  • Robin and Regina finally meeting is very exciting, especially as the audience know that they are going to be soulmates, even if Regina is incredibly sceptical of the “thief”. Her comments about his smelling of forest also indicate a wonderfully disarming love story about to unfold.
  • It will be interesting to see which fairytale characters end up in Storybrooke. If they don’t recall the last year, what will that mean in Robin has turned up, or Aurora?
  • It was delightful to see Aurora and Phillip again, though Aurora wasted practically no time in turning everybody over, presumably, to the Wicked Witch. Made for a compelling and threatening plot running throughout, however.
  • Where was Mulan?? I need me some Mulan, dammit!
  • Seriously, how can Aurora and Phillip be Kings and Queens in addition to Charming and Snow? What do they actually do for their countries? All they seem to do is give inspirational speeches. Just once I’d like to see one of them discussing taxes. Or give their country a name! Name it you cowards.
  • Emma being trapped in the same clothes for half a season is simply criminal when you see her frankly stunning costumes throughout this episode. Damn she’s got a brilliant fashion sense.


A soft reboot that reinvigorates the show with fresh intrigue and energy.

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.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Serena says:

    First of all, thanks for taking the time to write these reviews! I am binge watching Once Upon a Time during pandemic isolation, and it is fun to read someone else’s take on these episodes.

    Next, as for your question about the “rules” of breaking Pan’s curse, Regina did explain the details of this in “Going Home”. By undoing the original curse, everything and everyone “goes back to where it belongs”, thus Storybrooke will no longer exist and everyone goes back to their homes in the Enchanted Forest. The reasons that only Emma and Henry can avoid being sucked back to the Enchanted Forest were explained by Regina as:

    1) Henry was not born in the Enchanted Forest, and so would not be automatically returned there since he never “belonged” there.
    2) Emma was built into the original curse as the Saviour who breaks the curse, and that gives her the ability to escape even though she herself was born in the Enchanted Forest.

    Though not stated explicitly, we can assume that, even though Hook and Neal were not brought to Storybrooke by the original curse, because they were born in the Enchanted Forest, they are forced to return there just like everyone else who “belongs” there.

    Emma did immediately suggest that she and Henry return to the Enchanted Forest with everyone else, but in order to stop Pan’s curse, Regina had to give up what she loves most (Henry) as part of the price of that magic. At least she is not required to crush Henry’s heart, but she is required to be separated from Henry and prevented from reuniting with him by means of all regular portals. Emma is the only one who can stay with Henry so he is not alone.

    Anyway, I personally prefer that fantasy worlds have strict rules of magic to follow, so I do find it annoying that Once Upon a Time often uses magic in a very arbitrary and inconsistent way. But at least the writers did make an effort to explain the loopholes in this case.


    1. Mark Goodwin says:

      Thank you for reading; it’s been such a labour of love! Ah, thank you for explaining – I think I got overwhelmed with all of the different curses that flew around in this episode! I like there being rules too, but Once plays quite fast and loose with their internal logic, but I suppose that’s natural when you go on as long as seven seasons!


  2. Serena says:

    So many curses ;-). But there is no excuse for lack of internal logic except laziness on the part of the showrunners.

    I’m showing my age here, but not that long ago, TV series would create a “series bible” that contained all of the relevant plot and character points, plus the rules of internal logic. That way, writers could refer to the “bible” to avoid continuity errors in their scripts without having to watch every previous episode. This practice seems to have fallen by the wayside, however, and especially a change in showrunner or story editor nowadays often results in glaring continuity errors and contradictory characterization.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but a I do believe the British tradition of limited series and fewer episodes results in a complete story arc before filming even begins. In the States, series are often commissioned on the strength of the premise alone, and that usually results in a mad scramble to cobble together 23 episodes during production. Thus the dreaded “filler” episodes, uneven quality, and continuity errors (sigh).


    1. Mark Goodwin says:

      That generally seems to be the case. It’s why I find limited series, or shorter length series to be more cohesive and intelligible because they’re never really filming at the same time as writing. They have a complete idea and then go away and execute it. I personally am not too much of a fan of the network TV model, it can make some storylines pretty difficult to keep up with, and just makes a person’s life inconceivably eventful and complicated!


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