‘Once Upon A Time’ S3 Ep 6 recap: Dirty little secret

S3 Ep 6
JoAnna Garcia Swisher is perfect as Ariel. (Photo credit: ABC)

Sunday’s “Ariel” was a pretty loaded episode, which dug deeper into the hearts and souls of our fairytale heroes. ‘Once Upon A Time’s’ version of ‘The Little Mermaid’ beautifully brings Ariel into this season’s core quest to save Henry. We learn about Snow White and Regina’s surprising past with Ariel and we discover the valuable role she plays in Operation Cobra Rescue. ‘OUAT’ also shocks us with some heavy truths revealed by Hook, Mary Margaret, David and Emma during their efforts to release Neal from Peter Pan’s imprisonment. Get ready to dive in and rehash all the excitement that transpired in “Ariel.”

Fairytale Land Past: “Time to swim back home, little mermaid.”

Despite being far away from home, Regina’s men are still in hot pursuit of Snow White. She jumps off a cliff into the ocean to escape the Evil Queen’s henchmen. Luckily, Ariel swims to her rescue and the two princesses become fast friends. Ariel’s lovelorn tale adheres to the Disney classic: she saved Prince Eric when he was shipwrecked a year ago. Despite his unconsciousness, it was love at first sight for the sweet mermaid. Among the random overboard items she collects throughout the sea, she has found a flyer for Eric’s ball honoring the mythical sea goddess, Ursula. Legend says that Ursula has granted mermaids with a special gift: a mermaid has legs for 12 hours during the high tide. As fate would have it, high tide occurs the same night of Eric’s ball. Snow White says she can help Ariel get into the ball and promises to keep her secret about being a mermaid. (From now on “down low” shall be replaced with “under the sea.” Too cute!)

That night at the ball, Eric recognizes Ariel and asks her dance. Although the dancing and green screen looks cheesy, Eric and Ariel’s interaction is very sweet. He has been dreaming of Ariel’s face ever since he was shipwrecked. He knows that the legendary Ursula saved his life, but he believes the goddess sent him a vision of his future: Ariel. Aww. Eric plans to leave the next morning to go on an expedition all around the world to various realms including Agrabah (Does this mean Eric will appear on ‘Once Upon A Time in Wonderland’?) Eric offers to show Ariel the world and asks her to join him on this grand adventure. He promises to wait for Ariel in the morning before embarking on his journey. Of course, happily ever after doesn’t come without some complications.

Regina sees Snow White speaking with Ariel through her magic mirror and she decides to take matters into her own hands. Meanwhile, Ariel rushes to Snow’s side and fills her in on Eric’s proposal. Ariel doesn’t know what to do and is afraid to tell him the truth about being a mermaid. She worries that she may stop Eric from fulfilling his dream of seeing the world. Snow argues that Ariel could be his dream, but she won’t know until she tells him the truth. Snow White speaks from experience and encourages Ariel to do the hard thing and take a chance on True Love. She wants Ariel to be honest and open her heart to love because it is worth the risk. Ariel has a life-changing decision to make, so she steps outside to think things through.

Standing at the edge of the sea, Ariel calls out for Ursula and asks for guidance. The goddess gives mermaids legs, but offers no words of wisdom. Ariel thinks she is being silly since Ursula is just a myth. Suddenly, Regina emerges from the sea posing as Ursula. She says that Eric would not accept her as a mermaid. Two different worlds cannot collide, so Ariel will have to become part of his world (Yes, the song popped into my head. Thank you, ‘OUAT’ for creating a ‘The Little Mermaid’ sing-along in my mind during this episode.) Ursula makes a deal with Ariel and tricks the mermaid into trapping Snow White.

Ariel rushes to Snow with a solution for both of their problems. She puts a bracelet on Snow’s wrist; it turns her into a mermaid and lets Ariel keep her legs. Ariel says Snow can swim to another realm and be safe from the Evil Queen. When she says Ursula gave her the bracelet, Snow puts the pieces together and Regina reveals herself. She taunts Snow for being the “catch of the day” and Ariel feels terrible for what she has done to her new friend. Regina gives Ariel a choice: she can save Snow White or she can go be with her beloved Prince Eric. Whatever she decides, she will have no second chances. Snow White tells Ariel to take a chance at happiness. Ariel apologizes and runs off. Regina magically begins choking Snow when Ariel bursts back onto the scene. Ariel stabs Regina with the fork she stole from Eric’s palace and removes the cursed bracelet from Snow. Ariel turns back into mermaid and holds onto Snow as they swim away from Regina. Once they are safe, Snow urges Ariel to go after Eric and tell him the truth. He loves her, so he will still be waiting. Ariel swims off to see her prince.

Ariel sees Eric on the balcony and calls out to him from the water, but she has no voice. As Eric hopelessly walks away, Regina appears to Ariel and explains what has happened. Regina has taken Ariel’s voice as punishment. She warned Ariel there will be no second chances. Now Ariel suffers a worse fate: she will never know how Eric would’ve responded to the truth and she missed her chance at True Love. Regina menacingly says, “Time to swim back home, little mermaid.” Well played, ‘Once Upon A Time.’ What a great way to incorporate all the key plot-points in ‘The Little Mermaid.’ I was enraged as a child and I am upset yet again as an adult. Regina is so cold…surely she can’t get away with this so easily.

Regina returns home to her palace and receives a startling surprise. The real Ursula (voiced by ‘Community’s’ Yvette Nicole Brown) appears in the mirror and warns Regina never to pose as her again. If only the real Ursula could’ve helped Ariel before it was too late. But then again, everything happens for a reason.

Neverland: “I’m never going to stop fighting for you. Never.”

Regina tries to help Emma harness her magical ability. She tells her to focus and use anger to her advantage, but Emma does not want to go dark. Regina thinks she is wasting her natural ability and starts antagonizing her. Emma gets upset and calls Regina a monster. Regina then points to the magically ignited fire and proves that her method works. Meanwhile, Hook approaches David and Mary Margaret off to the side. He tells them that Peter Pan is holding Neal captive on the island. Hook and David don’t want Emma to know until they can confirm it, since Pan’s word cannot be trusted. They ask Mary Margaret to keep it secret until they know the truth. As they head out into the jungle, Emma stops them and asks where they are going. MM blurts the truth out to Emma and says they are going to look for Neal. Emma doesn’t believe that Neal is alive, but Mary Margaret points to frenzied footprints in the dirt as evidence of a struggle. She urges Emma to have faith. Regina scoffs at their efforts and MM’s so-called proof of life. Regina’s first priority is saving Henry; she has wasted enough time going with the flow and decides to track Henry down without the Charmings and Hook. Emma clearly has doubts, but MM reassures her that just because “something seems too good to be true, it doesn’t mean that it is not.” Regina is not willing to risk Henry’s life for Neal and takes off. Luckily, Regina’s attitude comes in handy on the dangerous island.

Peter Pan continues playing mind games with Rumple. He taunts the Dark One saying he lost his son again and Henry is still unattainable. There is no way Rumple would be willing to die in an attempt to kill Pan and save Henry. Pan tells Rumple to leave the island and go home to Belle. They could start a new family together and leave the past behind. Rumple could have a second chance at being a good father. Pan says Neal and Henry would never forgive Rumple, even if he is willing to sacrifice himself. When Rumple begs to differ, Pan asks if he has forgiven his own father. Clearly Rumple is still holding on tightly to his daddy issues. Once again, Pan tells him to go back to Belle and vanishes.

Later, Belle appears to Rumple and begs him to come home. She wants to start a new family with him, just like Pan said. Regina bursts onto the scene and sees Rumple speaking with Belle. As Rumple says Belle is just figment of his subconscious, Regina magically chokes her and exposes the truth. Pan’s shadow has been manipulating Rumple as Belle all along! Regina surprisingly saves Rumple’s ass and says she needs his help to get Henry back. Then in classic Regina fashion, she assures Rumple, “You’re not going to die at anyone’s hand but my own.” (Awesome.) She knows killing Pan requires Rumple’s life, but who says Peter Pan has to die? Together, they can find a fate worse than death for Peter Pan. Rumple says he has an item back home in his shop, but they would have to cross realms to get it. Luckily, Regina has a way to help Rumple out. We’ll get back to that later, after we see what the others have been up to.

Pan watches over Hook, Emma, Mary Margaret and David as they make their way through the jungle and he tells the Lost Boys to quickly move Neal to the Echo Cave. As the gang moves forward, Emma tells Mary Margaret that she kissed Hook. MM says Neal will understand, but that is not the answer Emma expected. Mary Margaret tells Emma that she deserves a happy ending and she should not give up hope. After a while they reach the entrance to the Echo Cave and Hook explains the dangers. He lost half of his crew in that cave because it tears people apart. To rescue Neal, they all need to reveal a deep, dark secret truth about themselves. Emma isn’t pleased and without skipping a beat Hook says, “Don’t kill the messenger, Love.” (Love it!) Hook warns them that Pan has created this psychological trap for them. Pan wants them to reveal their secrets, hoping the truth will tear them apart and destroy them all. Everyone enters the cave and sees Neal stuck in a cage on an island about 100 feet away from them. Hook’s not sure how, but he knows that telling the truth will release Neal. It is time for the moment of truth.

Hook is the first to man-up and expose his vulnerable secret. He reveals that he kissed Emma and she immediately jumps in saying that isn’t a secret since she told her mom. Hook elaborates on the importance of their kiss. He didn’t think he would ever be able to let go of his first love, Milah, until he kissed Emma. Woah! So Hook’s “As you wish” did have ‘The Princess Bride’ undertones and our dear pirate is falling in love with Emma. You have to admire how much Hook steps it up in this episode. He truly bares his soul and opens himself up to serious heartbreak. As soon as Hook’s secret is spoken, Neal’s island extends a bit and begins forming a bridge. Mary Margaret jumps in before David has a chance to speak and reveals something that has been troubling her for a while.

Mary Margaret says she is very proud of Emma and the woman she has become. She is grateful to be reunited with her daughter, but she feels cheated. They were robbed of her first steps, first words, childhood, etc. Emma is all grown up and MM is not okay with it. When they return to Storybrooke, Mary Margaret wants to have another baby. The bridge grows longer and David takes his turn.

David is all for having another baby, in fact, nothing would him happier. Sadly, he can’t give his wife the happily ever after she wants. He tearfully tells Mary Margaret about the Dreamshade and how he can’t leave Neverland or else he will die. Finally! Unfortunately, the timing could not be any worse. Way to crush Mary Margaret’s dreams. I think Charming will be in the doghouse for a while. Nonetheless, his secret completes the bridge and Emma runs over to Neal.

Emma decides to ignore the rules and starts banging on Neal’s cage with her sword. After releasing some tension, she tells Neal how she really feels about him. Emma is terrified and she wasn’t happy to hear he is still alive. The instant Neal was back in her life, she knew she never stopped loving him. Then she lost him all over again and the pain just rushed back. She says she loves him and probably always will. But her dark secret is that she was hoping it was trick. It would be easier to put her relationship with Neal behind her rather than face the pain their love and loss has caused. The cage disappears and Neal hugs Emma.

Once they are outside of the cave, Hook checks with Neal to make sure he still knows a way out of Neverland and he does. Hook is relieved and says they can get Tinker Bell and finally save Henry. When he steps away, Emma apologizes to Neal for the way she feels. Neal doesn’t blame her and understands. He then reveals his secret to Emma: “I’m not ready to stop fighting for you. I’m never going to stop fighting for you. Never.” It all sounds so sweet until we see the look on Hook’s face. Hook overhears Neal’s pledge and you can just see his poor pirate heart breaking. Whomever Emma chooses, this love triangle is going to leave someone severely wounded. Who will Emma choose? How will Hook or Neal ever recover? We will just have to wait and see. Now that everyone has aired their dirty laundry, let’s get back to Rumple and Regina.

Our favorite frenemies go to the beach and Regina picks up a shell. Rumple says Neal tried that already, but Regina isn’t “ordering calamari.” She summons Ariel instead. Sadly, the little mermaid is still speechless, so Regina gives her voice back and makes a new deal. If Ariel helps them retrieve Rumple’s enchanted item from Storybrooke and return it to Neverland, Regina will give her legs back and this time Ariel will have full control over them. She also promises that Ariel will be reunited with her dear prince because Eric is in Storybrooke. What a happy surprise!

Although I enjoyed “Good Form” more than “Ariel,” I feel this was a solid and major game-changing episode. ‘Once Upon A Time’ is at its best when digs deep into these characters’ hearts and this was another strongly character driven episode. We learned some surprising things and gained confirmation on some theories. It would’ve been awesome to see Regina and Rumple reveal their deep dark secrets in the Echo Cave. What do you think they would’ve said?

Next Sunday, the real Belle is back and she welcomes Ariel to Storybrooke. Check out the promo for next Sunday’s “Dark Hollow” and see what happens when Ariel swims into Storybrooke!


  • Ariel: They call it “dream casting” for a reason. JoAnna Garcia Swisher is absolutely perfect in this role. She captures Ariel’s essence: innocent, curious, sweet, loyal and brave. I am so happy to see her join the ‘Once Upon A Time’ family. She really was born to play The Little Mermaid and she proved it in this episode. I like the way Ariel’s story was incorporated into ‘OUAT’s’ mythology. It is a very smart way to bridge the gap between Storybrooke and Neverland.
  • CaptainSwanThief: This love triangle is playing out worse than I expected. I was never really invested in Emma’s love life. Neal is Henry’s father, so I always assumed that I’d prefer to see her with him. But I like Hook much more than Neal and I think he has been proving himself. Hook is an honorable man in love. He is taking the advice Snow White gave Ariel in the past and he is risking everything for love. Emma says she will always love Neal, but is she still in love with him? Maybe someone new will enter Hook’s life and capture his heart. He deserves to find True Love after everything he has been through. He already wooed one woman away from a Rump, what are the odds of history repeating itself? One thing is certain, Neal will put up a stronger fight than his father and Hook now knows it. Perhaps this love triangle will result in a good old-fashioned duel. Who would you bet on in a Neal vs. Hook fight?
  • Who’s in the box?!: This episode ruled out a few theories I had last on who could be in the box next to Neal. It’s not Rumple, Ariel or Eric (if Regina is telling the truth.) Who else could it be? Did Pan capture Tinker Bell because he found out she plans on helping Operation Cobra Rescue? Could it be someone from Pan’s past, like Wendy? Who do you think is in there?
  • Peter Pan’s Shadow: That was a cool twist with Pan’s Shadow manipulating Rumple as Belle. Does Rumple’s Shadow have that kind of mojo?

Share your thoughts below and stay tuned for more news!

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

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