I want to say that I was excited and vibrating with anticipation over the Season 3 premiere of Once Upon A Time. In truth, last Sunday saw me at my new mother-in-law’s house because she’d made her special chilli and honestly, food was my preference. But I think that was mostly due to the fact that it’s been a long old, drama-filled summer and the prospect of Neverland wasn’t nearly as mouth-wateringly lovely as chilli. I’m just saying.
But for better or worse, and other wedding vow puns that I’ll let you fill in for yourselves, Once is back with a split season this year. We’re getting 11 episodes before the hiatus, then 11 afterwards – presumably following some hastily convened writers’ meetings and the shredding of plot outlines that just aren’t working.
I think my issues with the show “relocating”, as such, is that it necessarily removes the initial
premise that sucked us all in during Season 1. And, personally, I really liked the notion of a small town in Maine being full of fairytale characters. Even with their memories returned, I’d have liked to stayed in Storybrooke a bit longer, rather than have a large portion of the cast removed from the main plotline of Season 3. In my head, Granny is now Sheriff (crossbow slung over her arm) and the dwarves have decided to form a union demanding fair pay and working conditions.
Instead, we get an episode that’s actually quite difficult to watch in daylight. Everything’s so DARK. And yes, I understand that it’s SUPPOSED to be but I’m from the UK so I’m fully conscious of what it’s like to live in a land of eternal twilight during the winter months, thank you very much. The only respite we get from the gloom is when Neal wakes up on Aurora’s Bed Of Magical Sleep and appears to be just fine. Wow, that whole gunshot to the chest thing didn’t seem to affect him AT ALL.
But I’m skipping ahead of myself. I must have got lost somewhere between magical portal and mermaids with huge conches. As you do.
The episode begins with Emma giving birth to Henry (helpful subtitles tell us it’s 11 years ago). JMo knows how this goes, because she also gave birth to Captain Kirk, so she’s screaming and pushing like there’s no tomorrow. The clock on the wall shows 8.15 and the lights go on the fritz as Henry emerges. Now, most of my medical knowledge has been gleaned from watching Grey’s Anatomy, but I’m pretty sure that the doctor didn’t cut that umbilical cord before he wafted Henry under Emma’s nose and she told him she couldn’t be a mother. Emma’s sad violin theme plays in the background so we know this is a bad thing, and she turns her head away because presumably she has a pretty good idea that Henry will grow up to be a big meanie to her future wife, Regina.
Suddenly we jump to “Present Day” and we’re on The Jolly Roger whizzing through the portal until we come out just off the shore of Neverland. Now, don’t get me wrong here: this whole Neverland thing is an interesting idea, but I’ve already SEEN a show about a bunch of mismatched people stuck on an island. In fact, I watched the entire thing and they all died in the end. Sure, a few of them fell in love along the way (Swan Queen lives!) but if this is the way it’s heading then you can count me out.
In the meantime, however, we’re treated to a series of scenes that Adam Horowitz named “Our Heroes Argue”. A lovely description, considering at least half of the people on board ship aren’t generally seen as “heroes”. As Regina comments to Hook, Greg Mendel called her a “villain” and villains don’t get happy endings. I can’t decide whether Regina is resigned to it or whether she’s genuinely surprised and even a bit amused by the notion that she’s a villain. It’s funny how this show keeps trying to make her be Mrs Bad of Badtown but that only seems to make fandom love her more. I feel conflicted, or perhaps just disturbed by the fact that the more heinous someone is, the more likely I am to fall in love with them. Just ask my wife.
Snow and Charming tell Emma that she shouldn’t blame herself and Emma responds that she doesn’t. She blames them. “You say good always wins? It doesn’t. I didn’t grow up in some fairytale land; my experience is different and that’s all I have to go on.” You see, the penny has finally dropped with Emma that she and her parents are the same age, with the same amount of life experience and frankly, that pisses her off. “How can you two be so infuriatingly optimistic?” she yells. Yeah, well, I’m with you there, Emma. Makes you want to wipe the smirk off their faces, doesn’t it? DOESN’T IT?
Snow is adamant that the moment she gives up the belief that things will get better, then that’s the moment they won’t. Whatever, Snow. This episode is all about belief – I get that. In fact, I might posit that the first half of this entire season will be about believing in things, in people, having faith and being true to yourself. Lofty ideals that this show has tried to throw at us since it started but right now, coming from Snow, I’m finding it all just a bit blahcakes. You see, she’s turning into a bit of a one-note song and that gets boring really fast. I might have liked Snow better when she was dark-sided – uh, I mean, dark-hearted and incidentally, what happened with that whole thing? Nothing, you say? Alrighty.
Moving on, we’re treated to Mr. Gold turning into Rumpelstiltskin. Or, at least, changing his outfit. I’d personally like to know how he managed to pack so much leather into his pockets, as I don’t remember him bringing a bag. And leather’s so hard to fold, isn’t it? Eh. Anyway, Rumple tells our band of heroes that he’s going to save Henry and he wants to succeed where Emma won’t because she doesn’t believe in anything – not her parents, not magic or even in herself. She’s a Doubting Emma and has never taken a leap of faith without proof. Neverland is a place where imagination runs wild and Emma’s, Rumple tells her, sadly doesn’t. Heh, okay, but I’m willing to bet if Regina wore some of her Evil Queen costumes, Emma’s imagination would be – Oh. Okay. Not the point. Right – so, Rumple magics himself off the boat, leaving his cane spinning from side to side. I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that someone will use it for a big song and dance number later on.
On Neverland, Henry gives Greg and Tamara some sass. Clearly he inherited that from Regina. Oh, nature vs nurture, I do heart you. But these two are ridiculous villains of the piece. I mean, the show might as well have given them twirly mustaches and flowy capes because they’re just THAT bad. The Home Office remains something of a mystery – still – as they don’t appear to know who they’re working for. Obviously US government employees. Their walkie-talkie is little more than a toy full of sand and frankly, they know jack about what they’re supposed to do with Henry now. So Tamara’s whole “mission accomplished!” is a little premature, to say the least. Henry assures them that his moms will come for him – BOTH OF THEM. Henry Has Two Mommies as a spin-off sitcom is a GO, people! And the title alone is funnier than some of the new comedies I’ve watched already this season. Just saying.
But it comes to something when an 11 year old boy is applying more logic to the situation than these two goons. Well done, show: you’ve managed to take a whole conspiracy theory, a War Against Magic and make…absolutely NOTHING of it. Thank god the Lost Boys turn up to tell Gregg and Tamara that IT WAS ALL A JOKE! HAHAHAHA! So…their entire existence in our world and all the things they did to get Henry to Neverland? Pointless. It was a wicked ruse created by Peter Pan!
When he refuses to hand over Henry, Gregg gets his shadow torn off, which kills him. Hm. Don’t remember THAT happening in Peter Pan. Tamara takes an arrow to the back when she tries to run and Henry hightails it into the forest/jungle/whatever we’re calling it in Neverland. He’s helped by a hooded boy who tells him that he’s on the run too. Aww, they’re going to become besties. Well, Henry DOES need more friends his own age, right? I mean, ignoring the fact that I fear Jared’s voice is going to break ANY MINUTE as puberty sets in and the show has taken them to a land where nobody ages just as he’s clearly in a growth spurt…
Oh hey, Phillip got his soul back! Oooh, I wonder if Mulan and Aurora told him about that whole “heart reinsertion” thing they did, and does that constitute cheating or…? Probably not, as things seem much the same in the Enchanted Forest, except I’m not sure I like Aurora’s new hairdo. It’s…big. Like, cover of Cosmo big, you know? Neal gets all mumbly at the mention of Emma’s name and Aurora is FAR more excited than she has any right to be when he says he wants to find Emma again. There’s this whole thing they do in Rumple’s castle with “blood magic” and a crystal ball that honestly, I wasn’t really paying much attention to but they DID meet Robin Hood (who’s changed since we last saw him, hello Mr. Sean Maguire) so there’s that. But hey – when did Neal learn to do magic? I mean, can ANYONE do it now? And how the hell could he figure out that Emma’s in Neverland from that blurry, forest-y picture he got in the crystal ball, hm? He tells Mulan that he’s sorry for what he did to Emma and that he loves her and blah blah blah. Mumbly McMumblerson is the least convincing romantic interest I’ve seen in a long, long time. Sorry, Once, but Neal is about as shippable as the Titanic.
I’m trying really hard to care but Emma’s doing pull-ups back on board ship and frankly, those guns are pointing RIGHT at me. Whoever made the decision to dress JMo in that tank top – thank you. It’s really distracting. I keep wanting to focus on the plot and I’m all like “Oh, hello there, Arms of Plenty, how I’ve missed you.”
Hook plies Emma with rum and regrets. I don’t think she really likes either, to be honest. But then the ship is attacked by mermaids. There are several overhead shots of their glowy tails (is someone showing off with the CGI?) and they’re making noises a bit like dolphins, or Mariah Carey when she went for those really high notes, but it’s hard to see exactly HOW they’re attacking the ship. Not that it matters, as this is all a ploy for Charming to start bombing them with a handheld cannon. As you do. Emma and Snow throw a net over the side of the boat to catch mermaids but Regina is tired of this tomfoolery and starts chucking fireballs into the water to scare them away. It works, of course, because Regina’s hardcore and the Charmings are…well, not so much, you know?
Henry and his new BFF chit chat about Peter Pan and stuff. Honestly, I was still reeling from fireballs and tank tops so this bit’s kind of patchy. But Hoodie Boy tells Henry that Pan wants him because he took some pixie dust, believing that it could help him. But it didn’t. Ohhhhh, yeah. I see what you did there. Just in case we’d forgotten what this episode’s theme is. He doesn’t BELIEVE, you see.
Rumple, having landed on the island (all it would take is for him to find the Dharma Initiative and everyone’s screwed, right?) comes across Tamara and heals her so she can tell him what happened to Henry. She’s sorry for what she’s done and asks for forgiveness. I get the distinct impression that Tamara’s never actually WATCHED this show, as she clearly has no understanding of who The Dark One really is. And oh, hey, look! Another POC dies at the hands of a white male. Good going, show! Not that anyone’s reading too deeply into the fact that anyone with dark skin pretty much has a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads or anything. (Except we all are)
So, I’m assuming that with Greg and Tamara dispatched, we’re going to just ignore everything they did, said and intended last season, yes? I can’t help feeling like they were another idea that didn’t quite work out. You know, like certain characters that just disappeared because the show couldn’t accommodate them or write for them or think up any storylines for them…*cough Ruby cough*. It seems like a bit of a waste of time, particularly as Greg was pivotal in Regina’s development in Welcome To Storybrooke and Tamara had that whole run-in with The Dragon. It just feels…a bit abrupt, you know?
But wait – what about that mermaid that Snow and Emma caught? Well…Regina’s all up for torturing her (yay! you get down with your bad self, Regina!) but the mermaid blows on a conch shell and…I don’t even know. I’m kind of distracted by the Arms of Plenty again and the fact that I’m trying to figure out what kind of an embouchure you’d need to even get a note out of a shell, never mind a huge great blast like THAT.
Long story short (too late! you all cry; I know, I know) the mermaid brings on a storm that’s linked to the squabbling heroes on board ship. This is after Regina tells Charming to “filet the bitch” (just reminds me of my mother ordering food in McDonald’s, to be honest, but without the bitch part – mostly…), Hook calls Snow a “slag” and Regina pops off with that whole “rainbow kisses and unicorn stickers” line. Hey, Regina, your gay is showing. Just so you know. And by the way, cranky!Regina is my favorite. Always.
Anyway, turning a mermaid into wood apparently doesn’t stop ruddy great storms, but it DOES make everyone move in slow motion while water is sprayed over them. Regina looks like she’s auditioning for Neverland’s Next Top Model, while Emma grits her teeth and shows off her Guns of Steel. It’s so entirely gratuitous that I can’t help cringing a little (or a lot) and yet I’m mesmerized. Well, come on, I’m only human and I DO have eyes…
There’s a whole bunch of blame being thrown around. Interesting to note that Snow is tired of Regina “ruining” her life. I’d like to just direct you back to “Snow Falls” in Season 1, where Snow says that Regina holds her responsible for ruining her life and, when Charming asks her if that’s true, Snow says YES. So…which one is it? I can’t help feeling like Snow and Regina need to work things out – a lot. But they settle for punching the living crap out of one another in this episode. I can’t decide what I love more, that Regina is so badass or that Snow’s face reminds me of a five-year-old in the middle of a temper tantrum. Either way, they go at it tooth and nail. And so do Hook and Charming. Emma responds by throwing herself overboard. Well, I don’t blame her. It’s only the premiere and I can already see how the season’s going; I’d have done the same thing. I can practically hear her yelling as she jumps – “Is it too late for pilot season?”
So this is Emma’s leap of faith. Well, it’s just like her to take it literally, right? Apparently Ginny and Lana couldn’t stop laughing during their takes in this scene. Guess what, ladies? Neither could I.
Hoodie Boy and Henry are running from the Lost Boys when they reach the edge of a cliff. Henry mentions the pixie dust but Hoodie Boy says it doesn’t work. Henry tells him that’s just because he doesn’t believe, pops the cap off the pixie dust and drags Hoodie Boy over the edge of the cliff. They start to fly. Hm. I’m trying really hard not to make correlations between pixie dust and getting high. Trying really, REALLY hard…and failing miserably. Sorry, folks.
Emma’s rescued by Charming and the others – but not after Regina’s called her an “idiot” which I personally adored because for them, that’s tantamount to flirting – and they decide that they’re going to have to work together. The storm abates. Metaphors are firmly put back in the cliché jar until the next writers’ meeting.
Back on Neverland, Rumple is approached by one of the Lost Boys who tells him that Pan is “excited” to see him again. But that he can’t rescue Henry or that makes him Pan’s enemy. But you know, Rumple doesn’t give two hoots about Pan and is prepared to die in order to save Henry. Before he leaves, the Lost Boy gives Rumple a little corn doll – now, those things are creepy as all get out so the fact that he bursts into tears isn’t a surprise to me. But it’s clear that it’s a trigger of sorts, and Rumple’s left blubbing over the doll.
We end with our heroes coming ashore on Neverland, where Emma appoints herself as their leader. Regina’s eyes roll so hard I think they’re going to fall out of her head and when Emma says they have to work together, she asks “You want to be friends?”. Aw, bless her. But Emma says they don’t need to be friends, they just need to cooperate.
“And what’s your skill, Savior?” Regina asks. Ooh, sassy madam. Stop that. I’m swooning already. Emma tells Regina that she’s a “mother”. Um, yeah, so’s Regina? And here we are again with this show blabbing on about the fact that Emma’s Henry’s mother, when the woman who ACTUALLY raised him is standing RIGHT there. To be honest, there are many things that make a mother, but squeezing someone out of your hoo-ha isn’t the only thing that does, right? And if we’re getting into this whole anti-adoption message again, then I’m going to spend a lot of my reviews ranting about it. Emma and Regina are BOTH Henry’s mothers – I mean hell, if the kid HIMSELF says so and accepts it, then it’s about bloody well time that Emma does. For me, THAT’S cooperation.
Henry and Hoodie Boy land in a patch of forest. I guess the pixie dust wore off. God, that’s going to be a hell of a come down and it starts right away when Hoodie Boy reveals himself as Peter Pan. Plot twist! Only, not really, because Peter has a British accent and we all KNOW that means villainy’s afoot, right? Peter explains that “it’s so much easier to get people to hate something than believe”. I won’t argue with that, but have to wonder if the show really wants to go there so soon. At least give us until the hiatus to start despising you, okay? Just kidding. Or maybe not.
Peter explains that he wants the heart of the truest believer. Title mention! Apparently Henry snorting pixie dust means he’s proved himself and now Peter’s going to take his heart. This show is obsessed with hearts, isn’t it? And believing. And boys. Peter and his Lost Boys surround Henry and he says “Let’s play!”. Maybe it’s because I’m more cynical than most people who watch this show, or perhaps it’s because I lived in a city, but there’s nothing about being surrounded by a bunch of hooded teenagers who want to “play” that means anything good. Or legal, to be perfectly honest.
However, skipping over the sort of unsettling inferences that I’d rather not dwell on, I have to say that the entire Peter Pan/Neverland thing has yet to make an impression. As much as I like Robbie Kay’s performance – nuanced, vaguely threatening, sweet in all the right places – I’m interested to know how they’re going to eke out the first half of the season from one character and one location. It’s not the character per se – believe me, I spent many of my formative years around Lost Gay Boys who definitely never wanted to grow up and still don’t, but I’m still a bit sore that we’ve left Storybrooke behind, so any return there would be welcome. But add Fairy Tale Land flashbacks into the mix and you’ve got a hell of a lot to squeeze into 42 minutes. I’m a little concerned that in their eagerness to explore this new world, the showrunners and writers might have forgotten character development. And that, after all, is what really drives a show, for me.
See you next week and in the meantime, don’t follow hoodie boys into the woods, okay?