Once Upon A Time season 3 episode 1 review: The Heart Of The Truest Believer
The magic and pixie dust is back on Sunday night TV. Kylie welcomes the return of Once Upon A Time...
This review contains spoilers.
3.1 The Heart of the Truest Believer
Once Upon a Time sails through the portal to Never Land and into its third season with all the intensity of Emma on a Momma Bear streak. Thrilling pacing and a fabulous collection of witty one-liners make up for chunks of cheesy sentimentality and a bit of drama-mongering in an overall satisfying opening that buzzes with momentum.
To be fair, it may just take some time to get reacquainted with Once’s Disney-fied approach to storytelling. It’s certainly a departure from Breaking Bad, Dexter, and other not-so-positive shows that have occupied geeks’ televisions since the end of Once’s last season. We just aren’t used to watching something where lines like “If you believe, anything is possible” can be dished out with a straight face. So the perception that this episode is cheesier than the standard Once fare might be an illusion. And maybe we could all do with a little more faith, trust, and pixie dust in our lives right now. Unless the pixie dust is in the hands of an evil Peter Pan, that is.
Picking up right where season two’s cliffhanger ending left off, crew of frenemies Emma, Regina, Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold, Snow/Mary Margaret, Charming/David, and Hook sail the Jolly Rodger to Never Land to rescue Henry, who was kidnapped by the world’s most boring villains, Greg and Tamara. It’s the two snoozefests’ last episode. Pan kills Greg by ripping his shadow from him in a scene that is chilling for the concept if not visually spectacular. Tamara has her heart crushed by Rumple.
The villain role is taken over by Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, who are anything but boring. The lead Lost Boy (called Felix) could use a little acting help, but the boy who plays Pan is thoroughly convincing as both good guy and bad guy. The show made an unusual move in turning Pan and the Lost Boys to villains. That, combined with their young age and the mystery behind their land and motives, makes them, particularly Pan, fascinating. Even Rumple says that in a fight with Pan, he expects to die. That’s really saying something.
Tension is palpable on the Jolly Rodger, resulting in a motherlode of material for Emma/Hook shippers and some of Regina’s greatest quips yet. (“And what? You’ll win her over with your rainbow kisses and unicorn stickers?”) Infighting is to be expected and it’s all well and good for a while, but the writers are clearly aiming to ramp up the drama and things fall off the rails in the second half of the episode. Slights are exchanged, punches are thrown, and Emma decides to get everybody’s attention by diving into the roiling ocean. What a stunningly well-thought-out plan. Too bad the brilliant scheme is foiled when TV providence causes a big hook to fall off the boat and knock her unconscious. But don’t worry, we’ve just got to squeeze this heart-pounding rescue scene in there and then she’ll get better really really fast.
The Jolly Rodger arc has its strengths, though. The mermaids are wonderfully creepy. I hope Ariel (who is slated to appear in episode six) has a bit of a dark side like that. Also, the idea that the weather reflects the characters’ moods - that their fighting causes the storm - is pretty cool. Never Land seems almost like a character itself, and a sinister one. It offers the show opportunities that Storybrooke and even the Enchanted Forest could not.
Neal/Baelfire is not actually dead (Shock! Disbelief!) and wakes up in the Enchanted Forest with Mulan, Aurora, and Phillip. Mulan accompanies Neal on a trip to Rumple’s castle to seek out an item he can use to try to contact Emma and Henry. There they meet Robin Hood (now played by Sean Maguire), who the showrunners say will have a large role this season. The best moment of this arc: Once gets a little meta for the first time when Neal tells Mulan there’s a movie about her and it’s a good one. (Shameless self-endorsement by Disney? It’s funny so I’ll forgive it.)
Henry’s not in the clear yet, as Peter Pan and the Lost Boys surround him. Henry has proved by his ability to fly using pixie dust that he has “the heart of the truest believer,” which is what Pan seeks. Rumple says Emma must learn to believe if she’s to succeed in Never Land, and by the end of the episode, Emma learns that she and her frenemies must learn to believe in each other to save Henry. The stuff about belief doesn’t do much for me, but don’t listen to me; I’m a curmudgeon who hates rainbow kisses and unicorn stickers.
For all its foibles, it’s great to have Once back. If the premiere is anything to go by, whatever else it is, season three will not be boring. I don’t know much about happy endings, but I’d chalk this one up as a happy beginning for fans seeking to add some adventure and magic to their Sunday nights.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.