Once upon a time…Ariel went to a long-dead octopus for advice.
Almost as long as the show’s been around, the Little Mermaid has been the subject of fan speculation and teasing by the creators. With this week’s episode, she’s finally part of the “Once Upon a Time” world. So let’s dive (heh) into “Ariel.”
First off, in a season of spot-on casting choices, Joanna Garcia Swisher was another excellent one. I’ve always found her charming in other roles and, here, she really captured the character’s good if naïve nature. Second, the episode puts a lot of fun twists on Ariel’s fairy tale, which is one of my favorite parts of the show. Finally, mermaids being able to travel between the realms opens up a lot of interesting possibilities for future story.
Ariel emerges from under the sea in the flashbacks to rescue Snow White who, after laying some solid sass on the henchmen chasing her, had leapt off a cliff and nearly drowned. The two princesses hit it off immediately (which made me miss the Snow/Red friendship) and Ariel shares her story. The basics are the same – she rescued Prince Eric from a shipwreck and fell head over fin in love with him – but then it veers off in some cool ways. Ursula isn’t a purple sea witch, but basically a deity worshipped by humans and merfolk alike. And her legend is the gift that gives Ariel the ability to walk on land.
Snow encourages her to pursue true love (it’s hard to pinpoint when exactly in her history this happens, but it seems clear she’s already met Charming at this point) and that’s what it appears to be when Ariel and Eric meet again. But, during some goofy dancing, Eric exposits that he’s setting sail on an exposition around the world, particularly arid climates like Agrabah (maybe he’ll bump into Naveen Andrews!). Ariel finds herself torn between revealing the truth about her tail, a struggle several characters face in this episode, and turns to Ursula for counsel.
But, Ursula hasn’t been seen in a thousand years, you say. Well that’s not gonna stop the Evil Queen, who sees an opening to use the Little Mermaid against Snow and poses as the mystical creature. Lana Parrilla clearly has a ball playing her and the costuming and effects work tag team in crafting the character’s appearance is delightful.
Obviously, the Queen’s evil plan fails as Ariel is a heroine at heart and, of course, Snow has to live to make it to Neverland. But it does lead to two clever denouncements. Regina punishes Ariel by stealing her voice so she is unable to proclaim her love to Eric, looping the legend back around and giving Garcia Swisher a heartbreaking moment that she nails. And then, the Evil Queen is spooked when the REAL Ursula makes herself known and warns Regina not to impersonate her again. What fun! She was voiced by “Community” star Yvette Nicole Brown and I would die of happiness if she ever appeared on the show in person.
We do see Ariel in the present day, but she’s not, as some of us speculated, Peter Pan’s second prisoner. Regina summons her and proposes a deal. Ariel gets her voice back and a second chance at happiness with Eric. All she has to do…is go to Storybrooke. Awesome, very excited to see Storybrooke come back into the picture next week.
In non-Ariel news, Hook coming clean to his new bestie Charming about Neal almost immediately came as a complete surprise to me. As has been his wont lately, Charming wants to conceal the truth from Emma until they confirm it, but Snow (who seemingly a got a new shirt and a haircut between episodes) put a stop to that. Regina doesn’t give a crap about rescuing Neal (a girl after my own heart) so she takes off on her own while the rest of the gang follows a conveniently left trail into the jungle.
Their destination is the Echo Caves, a magic prison of sorts where, as Hook explains, only unrevealed truths can set you free. Well good thing all our heroes have secrets they’ve been hiding, huh! It’s an interesting premise, but was I the only one who found the whole thing anticlimactic? The reveals may be news to the characters, but it’s beyond old information to the viewers. We know Hook is not just flirting with Emma, but is in love with her. We’ve heard Emma discuss her conflicted feelings about Neal. We certainly know all the lying Charming’s been up to this season.
There were some good moments. Charming getting all fatherly (bromance over!) and Emma’s awesome expression when Hook spilled about their smooch was funny. Another nice performance from Jennifer Morrison when Emma confessed to Neal that she was hoping he wasn’t alive. And I’m thrilled Snow is furious at Charming for his deception. I just wish there had been some more surprises in the truth telling.
After his absence last week, we also rejoin a dejected Rumplestiltskin, who seems ready to give up. Good thing Regina shows up to snark some sense into him. Lana Parrilla and Robert Carlyle are always great together so I’m happy these two are teamed up again. Regina also did me a huge favor and got rid of the annoying vision of Belle Rumple’s been seeing, which turned out to be Pan’s shadow in disguise.
One other small scene that I think will have big significance later on was Regina trying to help Emma tap into her magical abilities. As Regina herself notes later to Rumplestiltskin, the Evil Queen and the Dark One are the most powerful practitioners of magic there are. Will Emma too turn dark if she delves too deep? Or will she bring some kind of balance? Questions for another time.
To finish up, this episode floated the idea of Charming and Snow and Rumplestiltskin and Belle having a baby. Which couple, if either, could you see the writers giving a child?