Shameless personal digression alert: I love The Little Mermaid. Perhaps it comes from my love of singing, perhaps it comes from my penchant to gravitate towards ladies with red hair, perhaps it comes from the fact that the movie came out at a time in my life I will forever associate with intimate and personal memories. Being a Disney child, I fell in love with all the films that followed in the Renaissance period and thereafter, but The Little Mermaid holds a special place in my heart as not only one of my favorite Disney films, but one of my favorite all-time films, period. And consequently, from the moment Once Upon A Time began showcasing famous fairytale characters other than their core main cast, I waited with anticipation, wondering when we’d be introduced to Ariel.
Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz teased us with the introduction of the character at Comic Con, as well as with the casting of JoAnna Garcia Swisher. To say I enjoyed Garcia as Ariel would be an understatement – Amy Adams likeness aside, in the same way I felt that Ginnifer Goodwin so brilliantly captured Snow’s innocence and steadfastness in the pilot episode, Garcia believably crafted a character wherein we could feel the empathy, loyalty, and naïve in-love enthusiasm classic of Ariel’s personality. I loved the added layer of her friendship with Snow (really, let’s just accept that at this point Snow has been everyone’s friend, even Regina’s) – by allowing the two to bond, we not only got some nice moments showing Snow’s eternal optimism, but we also got a deeper look into Ariel’s character. Disney princesses like Ariel or Belle are trickier to introduce to the audience because of their well-known history as opposed to players such as Tinkerbell or Peter Pan, and I enjoyed that the show made an effort to let Ariel’s behavior shine through via girl talk and friendship.
Before we get into Ariel and her story, however, let’s talk about what happened in Neverland this week. Killian (surprisingly) told Snow and Charming about Neal’s survival, and as usual, both were divided on how to go about telling Emma. Charming wanted to keep the secret because he thought it would protect her, while Snow wanted to tell Emma because, as she’s learned, “secrets keep us from the people we love.” In the end, Snow spills the beans, which leads the group on a hunt to find Neal, who has been imprisoned by Pan in the Echo Cave – a place where he can only be rescued if the group reveals their deepest, darkest secrets. Even if we kind of already knew what might be revealed throughout the course of this scene, it was a smart way to bring conflicts into the open and introduce new ones that will, no doubt, drive the season forward. Hook admits that kissing Emma allowed him to realize he could move on from Milah, Snow confessed she wants another baby because of the fact that she missed out on Emma’s childhood, and Charming admits that Hook took him to get a cure for the dreamshade that has imprisoned him to Neverland. In rescuing Neal, Emma admits that she loves him, but that she also wished he was dead so she didn’t have to deal with heartbreak all over again, and Neal admitted that he would never stop fighting for her.
With Neal and Emma reunited and Hook overhearing most of Neal’s secret, it’s safe to say we’re about to enter love triangle mode – something I was hoping Once might try to avoid. Don’t tell me you couldn’t see Killian’s eyes drop into the ground, though, when Emma admitted her love for Neal. (I suspect fangirls around the world were also throwing themselves at the screen at this very moment.)
Regina, frustrated with a number of things (trying to teach Emma magic among them), split from the group in order to team up with her former Dark One companion, who was stuck in a bit of a psychological rut thanks to Pan’s mind games. Regina quickly snaps him out of his head, getting him back on track to focus on ways that Pan might be able to be killed, since Rumple admits that, Harry Potter/Voldemort style, he can’t kill him without dying himself. Their solution? As suggested by Regina, a fate worse than death, the nature of which lies in another world.
Fate and secrets lead us to backstory of the week’s episode. Nothing is ever “traditional” on Once, and in this version of the story, Ariel rescues Snow after she jumps into the water to escape from being captured, then confesses to her new girlfriend about the love of her life, Eric, a human prince who she saved from drowning. And instead of Ursula being an evil sea witch, she’s a goddess type of myth – one that grants all mermaids the power of legs, but in true Cinderella fashion, only for 12 hours at every high tide. Oh, and there’s also a ball that’s held every year to honor Ursula, where Ariel has deduced her prince will be based on an invitation she’s pilfered in her collection of stuff and things. Spinning the story this way made it easier to involve Lana Parrilla, with Regina appearing as the mythical Ursula in order dupe Ariel into capturing Snow for her. It was both a clever and interesting plot twist, and even if I wasn’t completely on board with the idea at the time, I have to admit that it worked extremely well. (And if Lana Parrilla wants to add “channeling Pat Carroll to her resume, that would be more than acceptable. I half expected her to break out into “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”)
Of course, sweet Ariel falls for Ursula’s trick, bringing a magical bracelet back to Snow, which transforms her into a mermaid and thus renders her useless and vulnerable. Ariel does end up saving her friend despite the opportunity to find true love, but just as we’re beginning to think that Once was going to bypass one of the most important and signature parts of Disney’s classic, she loses her voice as she’s about to reveal herself to the prince before he leaves to sail the world (I did love the casual mention of Agrabah – might we be seeing some Aladdin characters soon?) “There are no second chances,” Regina says, in the most apt description of “a fate worse than death” that the show could have thrown to us in this hour. Indeed, the only thing worse than not being able to tell someone how you feel before losing them forever is never having the chance at all, and living with your depression.
I have to admit, I was taken by surprise when Regina summoned Ariel at the end of the hour – I was convinced it would be the real Ursula, who was last seen showing up to give Regina a few choice words of warning about her stunt. In a clever twist, we not only learn that mermaids can travel across lands – thus allowing the group to get what they need from Storybrooke to defeat Pan – but that Regina decides to give Ariel back her voice, promising her that she’ll find Eric in Storybrooke if she chooses to help them.
- Anyone sad Regina wasn’t around to be in the Echo Cave? I would’ve loved to hear some of her darkest secrets among a group of people who had made a living out of hating her.
- One of my favorite things is when we’re thrown us into the hour with no pretense, as was the case tonight with the Queen’s guards chasing Snow in the forest.
- I loved the conversation, however short, of Emma telling Snow that she kissed Hook -mostly because it felt like a completely natural moment of Emma opening up to her mother.
- It made me happy that the show managed to work in some of the more “notable” aspects of the movie – the “dinglehopper” fork that Ariel steals at the ball and then uses to attack Regina, thereby saving her friend, as well as the trademark seashell bra, Ursula’s “my dear, sweet child” line.
What did you think of the episode? Did you like Ariel? Are you excited to (finally) return to Storybrooke next week?