Another strong episode. They are really picking up the pieces from a rather weak end to Season Two. This new Neverland plot has really invigorated the story and the characters.
So, in Neverland there are two plots occurring. One of them was probably the weakest part of the episode for me. Rumplestiltskin is still searching for Henry. He makes preparations for his journey by disconnecting himself from his shadow and having it hide his dagger from everybody - including himself. Then, a vision of Belle appears. At first Rumple suspects that she may be a trick of Pan, but we then learn that he himself is imagining her in order to learn something about himself. He tells Belle that he's afraid of what he might do - he knows that he should save Henry, but Pan's offer is tempting as well, because it will mean that Henry will no longer be his downfall. Belle tells him to be strong. In the end, we see that the doll given to Rumple by Felix (a gift from Rumple's father) is indestructible, even by magic, and Rumple puts it in his pocket.
This plot felt like a really cheap way to bring Belle into the story and give her some romance with Rumple. I didn't enjoy it. The question of Rumple's grey morals is usually interesting to explore, but here it felt too simplistic and acted only as a vehicle for a bit of romance.
The other plot in Neverland, however, was excellent. Emma and the gang continue looking for Henry. They are arguing amongst themselves but Emma and (surprisingly) Hook do a decent job of keeping everyone's tempers in check. Then, Pan shows up and gives Emma a blank map. He says that once she accepts who she truly is, the map can be used to find Henry.
Emma tries. She tries admitting her identity as the product of true love, as Henry's mother, and then finally she even says, out loud, that she's the Savior. It doesn't work. Emma is confused, since she thought that must be the key. Regina, tired of waiting, does a locater spell on the uncooperative parchment, which leads the group to Pan.
They find Pan, and he's waiting in ambush with a bunch of the other lost boys. In the scuffle, David is cut with a poisoned blade, but he hides this from the others. The boys get away. Emma and Mary Margaret have a talk about why Emma let one of the boys escape, and Emma begins to talk about how lost she always was growing up. She says that here in Neverland she doesn't feel like the Savior - she feels like what she's always felt like - an orphan.
It works. The map appears, and the gang is off to find Henry.
This plot line was gorgeous. The character development was astounding. Emma's confession to Mary Margaret really pulls at the heartstrings. In fact, I don't think I've ever been as connected to her character as I was during that speech. Serious kudos to the performances going on here. I also enjoyed the growing flirtation of Hook and Emma. Hook is being a really cooperative team member, and it seems as if Emma might be starting to notice. I'm wondering how this will develop given the inevitable return of Neal to the story.
Finally, we have our story from the past. Just after Snow is awakened by Charming's kiss, the two of them (along with the dwarves) are confronted by Regina, who tells Snow to surrender her hold on the crown and leave forever. If she listens, Regina will spare her loved ones. If Snow tries to stay, Regina will destroy her. At first, Snow is adamant that they must leave immediately. Charming says she should stay and fight. (The dwarves accuse Charming of being a gold digger after Snow's crown, which was hilarious).
In desperation, Charming goes to Rumple and asks for his help to get Snow to see who she truly is. The newly engaged couple now go to a spot in the forest where Snow pulls a sword out of a stone, proving that she is the true leader of the land. Upon confronting Regina again, Snow reaffirms her belief in the sword's magic powers by drawing blood. However, Snow then learns from Rumple that the sword was a fake. She is angry at Charming at first, but he explains to her that he just needed her to see her true purpose. She had the power to be a leader all along.
So, this plot was pretty good. We see a lot of story lines revolving around the Snow/Regina feud, and they can get really old, really fast. However, this one actually focused more on the relationship of Snow and Charming, and even brought a bit of internal discord into the mix. This I found very fascinating. Rumple and Charming's fake-out with the sword felt a bit contrived, but the sentiment was sound. Also, damn good costuming for our gorgeous Evil Queen. While not my favorite Fairy Tale back story, it was well acted (especially by Goodwin) and there were some interesting relationship moments between Snow and Charming.
Over all, I thought this episode was very strong! I mentioned my discontent with the Rumple story line, but happily that took up very little of the time. The other two plot lines were full of good stuff.