Having had a chance to screen both the season premiere and second episode of Once Upon A Time’s third season, I can safely say that we’re off to a start reminiscent of where we were when the series premiered in 2011. It’s not that last season wasn’t enjoyable, or that episodes didn’t hit their mark. But the darker storytelling and the change in scenery by moving the primary focus to Neverland was a welcome revitalization that was, in hindsight, sorely needed.
I’ve talked about how sometimes it’s been hard for the show to maintain a sense of linear storytelling because of the way the worlds were split – however, the season premiere does a fabulous job of bridging both Neverland and Storybrooke. To that end, I’m not sure how we’re getting back to Storybrooke at all this season, though I can’t imagine going 22 episodes without seeing other characters which either means that we’re flipping back and forth more often than we think, or we’re going to be leaving Neverland sooner than we think (though the latter is unlikely seeing as to how Neverland is definitely the basis of the third season with Pan as the main antagonist.) In any case, we pick up right where we left off in May, with much of our main cast (Emma, Regina, Snow, Charming, Hook and Rumple) heading into the portal that will take them to Neverland via Hook’s ship. Kidnapped by Greg and Tamara, Henry has already found his way to Neverland where apparently he’s wanted by the Lost Boys/Peter Pan, and in the Enchanted Forest, Bae has been rescued by Aurora, Mulan and Phillip.
The show (thankfully) gets rid of some of last season’s weaker plot points early on, as Greg and Tamara are both double-crossed and killed by Pan (Tamara actually survives but is later murdered by Rumple, who is making his own agenda in Neverland separate from our heroes.) In the attack by the Lost Boys, Henry is “rescued” by a seemingly rogue child who claims he’s being hunted by Pan as well, though it later turns out that the boy is Pan, who wanted to make sure Henry what made him so coveted – “the heart of the truest believer” (being able to use pixie dust to fly was apparently a selling point.) It’s been hinted since last season that Pan’s a villain more than he’s a conflict of interest, a nice wink brought up by Emma when she mentions how he’s been depicted in books and movies (sidenote: the resulting line by Hook asking how he’s portrayed is entirely tongue-in-cheek hysterical, as we all know that Once’s Hook – the brooding, sarcastic, attractive O’Donoghue – is well off the mark from the cartoonish Disney character.)
Although our characters are in a different place physically, much of their internal struggles stay the same and it’s really fun to watch people that we’ve known for three years deal with their ongoing issues in different and new ways. After spending most of last season emotionally compromised by her mother and becoming “reformed,” Regina is still unsettled by being “the villain” – going so far as to openly ask Hook if she thinks that there’s any chance for redemption. It’s a nice moment of these two not being at each other’s throats and having a bit of understanding about each other’s situation, as they are arguably the most out of place people on the ship. And with Snow, Charming and Emma being essentially forced to spend time together without distraction for the first time in a long time, Emma’s allowed to finally break loose about how disconnected she feels regarding her past. While the first season did a nice job of showing Emma’s journey from skeptic to believer, I felt like last season really glossed over Emma’s continuing transition, or gave us a lot of the same conflict in repetition. Finally, I feel like Morrison is able to accurately portray Emma’s emotions, and her response also gives more emotional depth and to Charming and Snow, who are still trying to figure out how to get Emma to accept them as parental figures.
While we were quickly showed the tension about the Jolly Roger, the show cleverly introduced the mermaid segment for two reasons: to give an introduction to the fact we’ll be seeing Ariel later this season, and to bring up the conflicts by having a storm fueled by fighting that the group instigated. (It’s worth noting that Once’s perception of mermaids is not wrong, as there are many depictions of the mythical creatures being evil and cunning, but it’s interesting the show chose to portray them that way as opposed to how Disney has.) Quickly established throughout the course of this storm were the clashing personalities of our characters – Regina’s hot headed, “use magic to save everything” confidence, Snow’s want to give the mermaid a chance to do good, Charming’s temper at the desperation to save his family which leads him to almost kill the creature himself. Perhaps Emma “sacrificing” herself by jumping off the ship was a little out there, but it did its job and bought all the characters back to realizing what was important – working together and helping each other to find Henry, despite their differences. Kitsis and Horowitz promised us a darker Once and this segment felt like a good introduction to that.
Elsewhere in the story, Bae was able to explain his past to Mulan and Aurora, who helped him find Rumple’s old house as Bae searched for a way to connect with Emma through magic. Along with Aurora, I felt like Mulan had a hard time fitting into the story last season because of her sporadic appearances, so having Mulan and Bae travel together was an enjoyable new dynamic (can we please hope for a Mulan backstory and more of Jamie Chung? I’ll give you my small amounts of savings.) I also enjoyed the brief cameo of Robin Hood (Sean Maguire), especially since we know we’ll be seeing more of him as the season goes on.
It seems that Rumple is going to have some mystery surrounding him this season as well. Obviously having been to Neverland before, he’s in a different place than the rest of our characters, and the premiere dropped a few hints for us to mull over until we learn more – the admission that he’s “welcome anytime in Neverland” according to Pan (which means the two have met previously) followed up by the threat of becoming an enemy if he wants to save Henry. We’ll get a little more insight in the next episode, but for now, I’d be curious to read theories about how you think his character development will evolve.
If the first season of Once was about hope and the second season was about magic, the third season’s overarching theme could be acceptance – something we see all our characters doing throughout the premiere. Emma is trying to accept her lone wolf past and reconcile it with her savior future. Regina is trying to accept the fact she might not have redemption for being a “villain.” Charming and Snow are trying to accept the fact that their relationship with Emma might be more damaged than they realized. Hook is trying to accept the fact that he’s back in a world that he spent so long trying to get away from. Bae is trying to accept that although he’s the son of the Dark One, he wants to be part of a family.
And here’s the thing – it resonates. Because even though these are fairy tale characters in a fictional world (in a studio, with a green screen), this is also as close to real life as you can get and something anyone can relate to when you’re forced to work with an individual that you have conflict with, be it a family member, a co-worker, or an enemy. We don’t get a choice about where life leads us and who we come into contact with – being a savior, a villain or a princess doesn’t change that. But if we accept who we are, and what we’re given to work with, it’s possible that we just might get through everything okay.
- Nice touch of Emma giving birth at 8:15 – a notable LOST Easter egg.
- It feels like a silly observation, and maybe it’s just because I haven’t watched the show since May, but I feel like visual effects have definitely improved and that’s a large plus.
- The energy and chemistry between Emma and Hook was off the charts tonight. When Hook first arrived on the scene I immediately took to his “bad boy” nature and found his sparring sarcasm with Emma to be delightfully sexy. Now that the two are stuck together in close quarters, it seems we’re getting more of what made the pair so fiery in the first place and I couldn’t be happier.
- Could this finally be the year Henry gets a viable storyline? I thought that last season would take care of this and sadly, still found Jared Gilmore underused. With the orphan plot, learning how Henry became adopted in the first place, and having the group focus on his rescue, there’s a lot of potential in Neverland and I hope that this is one thing the writers capitalize on.
- There was honestly a lot I loved about this premiere, and one of my favorite moments of the night goes to Bae and Mulan for the exchange about a movie and Mulan’s confusion over “what’s a movie?” (I take personal amusement in this because I do agree with Bae, Mulan was one of the best Disney films produced in the “golden age.”) It worked in context, it didn’t seem out of place, and it genuinely caused a smile.
What did you think of the premiere? Sound off below!