‘Once Upon A Time’ S3 premiere recap: Something’s fishy in Neverland

S3 Ep 1
Will our Heroes be able to Save Henry in time? (Photo credit: ABC via Twitter)

‘Once Upon A Time’s’ third season premiere sets the stage for a new set of adventures in Neverland involving feral mermaids, aggressive Lost Boys and a menacing Peter Pan. Plus, we get an update on how things are going in Fairytale Land with Neal and his new friends.

‘Once’ opens with the only flashback we get for the episode and it is a heartbreaking sight. We all know that Emma gave Henry up for adoption eleven years, but this is the first time we actually witness how Emma reacted to the birth of her sweet baby boy. When Henry enters the world at 8:15 a.m., the doctors try to hand him to Emma and she refuses to even look at her baby. The doctor says she can still change her mind about the adoption, but Emma insists that she can’t be a mother. Flash-forward to the present and it is a whole different story. In “The Heart of the Truest Believer,” we see how Emma’s maternal instincts are the driving force behind this motley crew’s mission to save Henry.

Neverland: “Neverland is a place where imagination runs wild.”

Greg and Tamara arrive in Neverland thinking that their mission has been accomplished. They have brought Henry to the Home Office and are ready to receive their next orders from the powers that be. Henry warns them that he has both of his badass moms coming to rescue him, but they just laugh it off as impossible. When Henry starts asking them questions about who they work for and why the Home Office wants to destroy magic, they simply say that they don’t ask questions, they just believe in their cause. When the Lost Boys show up, Greg and Tamara realize that the Home Office is nothing more than a group of teenagers. Peter Pan’s shadow swoops in and rips Greg’s shadow from his body, presumably leaving him for dead. Another Lost Boy shoots an arrow in Tamara’s back. Henry runs off into the wilderness and meets a British boy who claims to have escaped from the Lost Boys as well. He says the Lost Boys are after him because he stole Peter Pan’s pixie dust, but it turned out to be useless feat because the magic dust doesn’t work. He warns Henry that if Pan wants him, Pan will get him. Henry tells the boy not to worry because his family will rescue him. When the boy scoff at the chances, Henry sweetly repeats the charming family motto by saying, “We always find each other.” The boy says that they can hide from Peter Pan in the Echo Caves, but they are far away and it will take them a while to get there. While the boys dodge Pan’s posse and head for the caves, the League of Dysfunctional Heroes struggles to keep peace while sailing to the island.

We spent the summer wondering how Emma, Snow White, Prince Charming, Rumpelstiltskin, the Evil Queen and Captain Hook would get along. Would they quickly turn on each other? Could they be mature enough to set their differences aside for Henry’s sake? Who would take the lead when they all are used to being in charge? As we will discover throughout the season, this quirky group will go through its ups and downs.

As Hook sails the seas towards Neverland, he notes the irony of his circumstance. He spent years trying to get out of this unpredictable world so that he could kill Rumple and now he returns to this dreadful place with his nemesis on board. It is not the happy ending he imagined. Regina responds by saying that Greg told her she was a villain and did not deserve a happy ending. It looks like we will just have to wait and see if ‘Once Upon A Time’ chooses to give the villains of the story their happy endings or not. Either way, we’re enjoying this fanciful ride while it lasts. During Hook and Regina’s philosophical discussion, the Charming family has a rather harsh heart-to-heart.

Snow tries comforting Emma by telling her that Henry’s predicament is not her fault. Emma knows and she blames Snow for Henry and Neal’s situation. Snow has lived in a fantasy world, thinking that Good will always win, but that is not the case. Emma tells Mr. and Mrs. Charming that she appreciates their attempt at being her parents, but it is too late. They are all the same age and they share the same amount of life experience and wisdom. She can’t stand how Snow is “infuriatingly optimistic.” Snow explains that she remains optimistic because she fears that the second she stops believing that things will get better, then they will never get better. In the midst of their bickering, Rumple makes his grand debut and he’s had a wardrobe change.

Rumple announces that he ready to retrieve Henry. Emma says it is her place to get Henry back, but Rumple tells her that she can’t because she doesn’t believe. He knows that Emma has always struggled to completely believe and doubt can be very dangerous in Neverland. Rumple says she needs to take a leap of faith in order to succeed in this magical realm. He says, “Neverland is a place where imagination runs wild. Sadly, yours doesn’t.” He has spent time in Neverland and he’s dealt with Peter Pan in the past, so he knows how to get Henry back. In classic Rumpy style, he vanishes off of the ship, which is a shame because he misses out on an aggressive mermaid ambush.

As the Jolly Rodger nears the island, a school of mermaids attack the ship. Charming hilariously declares, “I will not be capsized by fish” and starts firing into the water. Emma and Snow cast a net in the water and catch one mermaid, while Regina uses magic to drive the rest of them away. When they get the mermaid aboard the ship, she uses a shell to sound a warning call to the others and casts a damnation spell on the ship, which starts a violent storm. Meanwhile, Rumple isn’t holding back on his search for Henry.

Rumple finds Greg dead and Tamara wounded. He heals Tamara so that she can tell him where Henry is. She apologizes for Henry and Neal, she didn’t know about the Lost Boys and was just a pawn in their game. She asks if Rumple can forgive her and he says, “No.” Rumple yanks out her heart and crushes it into dust. Yeah, so it looks like Rumple will still be doing that this season. People should really figure out by now that they must never cross the Dark One. Speaking of crossing people, the mermaid has wreaked havoc on the Jolly Rodger.

Hook warns the others that mermaids are liars. Charming takes his sword to the mermaid’s neck and Regina eggs him on, saying, “Fillet the bitch.” (Nice use of fish-themed jokes, puns and one-liners regarding the mermaid in this episode.) Snow begs Charming not to hurt her. The mermaid ominously shouts that they brought death upon themselves. Despite everyone telling Regina not to harm the mermaid, she turns the annoying fish lady into wood. Unfortunately, that makes the storm worse. Next thing you know, all hell breaks loose on the ship and everybody starts fighting. Snow throws punches at Regina and Charming goes after Hook. Emma finally gets their attention by jumping overboard. They work together to haul her back onto the ship. Now that their tempers have simmered, the storm clears.

Meanwhile, Henry and the boy get cornered to the edge of cliff and the Lost Boys are drawing close. The boy sees no way out, but Henry says they can use the pixies dust. Henry believes it will work, so he holds onto the boy, sprinkles it on them and leaps off the cliff. The boys fly over Neverland and head to the Echo Caves. Elsewhere on the island, the gang makes it onto dry land.

Regina offers to repair the Jolly Rodger using magic, but Emma tells her to save the extra juice. Then Emma delivers a rousing speech. She says they need to believe, not in magic, but in each other. They have to be themselves, use their individual strengths and work together to save Henry. A couple of heroes, a villain, a pirate and a mother all have what it takes to rescue Henry from a merciless Peter Pan. Speaking of Pan, we see exactly how nasty he can be when he brings Rumple to tears.

Pan sent one of his henchmen to Rumple. The Lost Boy warns that Rumple will not survive if he goes after Henry and takes on Pan. This is Rumple’s only chance to back off, but he refuses to budge. So the boy says they will meet again in less friendly circumstances. He then tossed a little straw figure over to Rumple and says that Pan wanted him to have it. Rumpy falls to his knees and begins crying at the sight of this doll. The Lost Boy says it is strange how things we haven’t thought of in years can still make us cry. Did the doll belong to Baelfire? Does it represent Rumple’s past in Neverland? Why did it make Rumple cry? Hopefully we’ll get a flashback that explains the doll’s history sometime soon. We are starting to understand why Rumple said Peter Pan should be feared. He is a crafty and manipulative dude, which we quickly see for ourselves.

Once Henry and the boy hit the ground in the Echo Caves, the boy reveals his true identity: Peter Pan. (Honestly, this wasn’t a major reveal. It was pretty obvious from the start. Now it is just creepy that an innocent looking kid can be so cruel, but then again, Peter Pan is much older than he looks.) Henry doesn’t understand what Peter wants with him, so he explains everything. Peter Pan has been searching for the heart of the truest believer. Henry proved to be a true believer when he used the pixie dust to fly. Now Pan wants Henry and his faith-filled heart. He calls for his Lost Boys and they all surround Henry as Pan taunts him saying, “Let’s play.”

We still aren’t sure why or what he needs Henry for. What will the heart of the truest believer get Peter Pan? That will be one of the great mysteries of the first half of this season.

Fairytale Land: “Your belief in love wasn’t strong enough to overcome your fear of rejection.”

Neal wakes up to be greeted by Mulan, Aurora and Prince Philip in Fairytale Land. Once they realize Neal is Henry’s father, Aurora remembers seeing Henry in her dreams and thinks she might be able to contact Snow. She tells Neal about the dream-world she and Snow can access asks if Neal wants to send them a message if she’s able to reach Snow; Neal sweetly says to tell her that he is alive and that he loves Emma. While Aurora is sleeping, Neal explains how he fell through the portal. As he entered the portal he thought of his childhood in Fairytale Land. Portals take you to the place you think of, so that’s why he landed in Fairytale Land. Suddenly, Aurora wakes up with bad news; she is unable to reach Snow in the dream world. Luckily, Neal thinks there is another way. He knows Rumple used to leave enchanted items around in case of emergencies, if Neal can go to his father’s palace, he’s sure there will be something useful there. Mulan and Neal head for Rumple’s palace, while Aurora and Philip stay behind at the castle.

During their journey, Mulan talks to Neal about his love for Emma and the sacrifice he made in order to let her break the curse. Mulan can see that his belief in love was not great enough to overcome his fear of rejection. Now Neal regrets not having been there for Emma when she needed him most. As we already know, Mulan knows quite a bit about unrequited love. She hides her feelings for Philip. She has dedicated her life to protect the man she loves, even though he is in love with another woman. If she had been in Neal’s shoes, she probably would not have let go of her loved one. It will be interesting to see if Mulan’s love for Philip will be exposed this season. Maybe Neal will be able to see through Mulan’s façade or help her get over the prince. Anyway, their conversation concludes when they reach Rumple’s palace and discover that someone has been squatting there in his absence.

Robin Hood steps out from the shadows to confront the intruders. When he learns of Neal’s identity he explains his reason for staying in Rumple’s home. Robin says Rumple miraculously spared his life once, so he owes the Dark One a debt. He offers Neal the castle, but he says Robin can keep it. Neal just needs to find an item. He picks up Rumple’s old walking stick, twirls it around in the air and it reveals a hidden cabinet. Blood magic enabled Neal to break the cloaking spell, the enchanted walking stick worked because Neal is Rumple’s son. Luckily, Neal finds what he is looking for.

Neal holds a magic snow-globe-like orb and thinks of Emma, but it doesn’t work. Mulan instructs him to think about his feelings for Emma and the orb starts to work. With one quick snapshot of Emma, Neal can tell that she is in Neverland and he fears for her safety in such a dangerous place.

Will Neal be able to find a portal and travel to Neverland to help Emma & Co. save Henry? Will Robin Hood, Mulan and others tag along to help Neal?


  • Highlights: The season premiere offered some fun moments. Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis created a tongue-in-cheek script taking advantage of Hook’s swaggering charm and giving usually serious characters an extra dose of humor. They played up Hook’s flirtation with Emma, which is always fun to watch and they milked every fish-joke possible regarding the mermaids. They also gave Emma a huge confrontation with her parents. She calls them out on letting her down. Although they are trying to make it up to her, it is hard to parent someone your own age. The Charmings will need to find their groove and learn how to be a family. I really liked the way the season opened with Emma giving birth to Henry. She abandoned her child because she felt like an unfit mother and she will spend the rest of her life making it up to Henry. At least she has that in common with her parents; they all gave up their only child because they thought it was the best thing to do in their given circumstances. I also like the new dynamic between Team Save Henry. Their bickering was silly, but it will be fascinating to see these strong personalities go up against each other every week. What Emma said rings true; they all have a lot to offer, whether it comes from a place of good or evil. When it comes to saving Henry, they will use all the weapons in their arsenal.
  • Disappointments: I may be in the minority, but I was under-whelmed by the season premiere. I expected an epic episode and this one fell short. ‘Once Upon A Time’ has produced some phenomenal episodes and last season had several huge stories to tell in very gripping ways. I have high expectations for this show, so maybe that is why I was disappointed with the opener. We learned some interesting things, but there were no major jaw-dropping moments. Peter Pan’s reveal was very predictable and pretty lame considering how frightening of a character he is supposed to be. The mermaid attack felt drawn out and silly. Despite all the action and conflict packed into the scene, I found myself increasingly distracted by the CGI backdrops and fish-tales. I don’t know how they can do it, but I really wish ABC could improve the quality of their green screen backdrops because it is diminishing the impact of good scenes. I was also hoping to get a tiny peek at Storybrooke. I know we will see what’s gong soon, but a brief check-in wouldn’t have hurt. I also missed the flashbacks that weave through and tie-in to what’s happening in the present. Perhaps I am just being picky, but it is how I honestly feel. Did you feel like anything was lacking in the premiere? Did you love it unconditionally? Share your thoughts below.
  • Neal in Fairytale Land: Since Baelfire was estranged from his father for so long, it is easy to forget that he grew up with the Dark One. Neal knows a great deal about magic, we just haven’t seen him use it. The way he spun the walking stick was almost instinctual, like he knew exactly what to do. It makes you wonder what other tricks he has up his sleeve. The look on Robin Hood’s face was priceless. It seems like he’s been rifling through the castle trying to find some magical mojo, but it isn’t the object, it is the person using it that holds the power. It would be really cool to see Neal find a way to Neverland and learn more about the time he spent with Hook while he was there.
  • Rumple: I have missed Robert Carlyle so much during the summer break. His scenes are always my favorites and I wish we saw more of him in the premiere. Rumple has a lot of history in different worlds and I can’t wait to see what happened to him in Neverland. He was the first to jump ship and separate from the group, probably because he didn’t want the Charmings weighing on his conscience when he went after Henry. He wouldn’t have been able to easily kill Tamara with Emma & Co. standing over his head. What is his experience with the Lost Boys? What is Peter Pan’s beef with Rumple? What is the story behind that doll? Does it remind him of Bae? Does he really think Bae is dead? Peter Pan knew exactly what to do to expose Rumple’s weakness, but I have a feeling Rumpy won’t let Pan get the upper hand in the end. It is a little funny to see that Rumple is always a lone wolf. He just doesn’t work well with others, unless he’s striking a deal. Belle is probably the only person he ever teamed up with for anything. Will Rumple grow to trust one of the others during their journey through Neverland?
  • Henry: Jared Gilmore is a delight to watch. He manages to bring out the child in all of us when we watch this show. Henry’s faith in all that is good is inspiring and that is because of Gilmore’s talent. Henry can totally take Peter Pan and I can’t wait to see him out-smart this season’s creepy villain.

What did you think of “The Heart of the Truest Believer”? Did you love the episode? Were you disappointed? Was there anything you hoped to see? What are your first impressions of Peter Pan? How do feel about Sean Maguire stepping in as Robin Hood?

Share your thoughts below and stay tuned for more news!

‘Once Upon A Time’ airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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