Once upon a time…a wardrobe change was a great use of time.
With the start of the third season, “Once Upon a Time” also feels like it’s undergoing a bit of a wardrobe change as the show suits up for an island-set story in Neverland. So while entertaining enough, “The Heart of the Truest Believer” does feel like a bit of a placeholder as it moves the players and plot pieces into place.
But before we dive into the new adventure, let’s address the flashback showing Emma giving birth to Henry, at 8:15 on the dot (got to love the “Lost” references). Jennifer Morrison does a nice job with the scene, which serves as juxtaposition to Emma’s mama bear drive in the present day. But the bigger question surrounds the electrical surge that occurs as Henry enters the world. Is it because a child of two fairy tale characters is being born in the real world? Does it have to do with Emma’s burgeoning magical powers? Or with Henry having, as Peter Pan tells him, the titular heart of the truest believer? Definitely something to keep in mind this season.
One completely unnecessarily chyron later and we’re back on the Jolly Roger with Henry’s estranged, extended, and fractured family…and Hook. Even though they now share a common goal, these are six people with a lot of history stuck in a small space, which is a great set-up for character clashes. The dynamic between Emma and her parents is a favorite of mine so I liked them butting heads over their differing ideologies. Regina and Hook also have an interesting exchange where Regina muses about being called a villain and whether that means they won’t get happy endings.
But sadly, as things go from bad to worse for our heroes with mermaid attacks and raging rainstorms, it all dissolves into a wad of screaming and some shoddy effect work. I can’t even give Emma credit for realizing that their infighting is the cause of the maelstrom as her “brilliant” idea of leaping off the boat nearly gets her killed. And since it ends where it began, with them all vowing to work together to save Henry, I found the whole thing to be a wash drama-wise.
On the island itself, last season’s lame duck villains got the Nikki and Paulo treatment. Greg and Tamara never clicked so I enjoyed how quickly and rather brutally (Greg’s shadow violently being ripped from him was pretty awesome) they were dispatched.
Now, I don’t think anyone was too surprised that the nice, helpful Lost Boy Henry stumbled upon turned out to be Peter Pan. But I was impressed with Robbie Kay, the actor playing Pan. He deftly switched from good-natured ally to cold-hearted nemesis in the episode’s final moments and I’m anxious to see him in scenes with the likes of Robert Carlyle and Lana Parrilla in the coming weeks.
Also on the island was Rumplestiltskin, who quickly abandoned ship. Interestingly, he seems to be straddling the line between his Dark One and Mr. Gold alter egos, slipping on his old leather coat and half-heartedly (but very humorously) doing his signature hand flourish when confronted by a Lost Boy. And given his reaction, very curious to see what the deal is with the straw doll he receives.
Last (and sort of least), we catch up with Neal, whose trip through the portal apparently took him to the start of season two. The set-up could not be more similar, from Mulan and Aurora offering assistance to a trek to a deserted castle to a fairy tale rogue (the new Robin Hood subbing in for Hook) joining the team. And I’m less invested in Neal getting back to Emma than I was in Emma and Snow finding their way home last year so I’m hoping for some surprises as this storyline proceeds.
I must say, though, I have really come around on Mulan. When we first met her last season, I found Jamie Chung really stiff, but she’s settled into the role nicely. Neal telling her that there’s a movie about her in his realm and her asking what a movie was was the comic highlight of the episode. And there’s something kind of compelling about the low-key love triangle between Mulan, Aurora, and Phillip.
So while it was mostly in set-up mode, I found “The Heart of the Truest Believer” to be a solid start to the season.