It’s really astounding how an entire of episode of Once Upon a Time can pass, some 43 minutes plus commercials, and still, so far this season, we pretty much always end in the same place we were when we started. As our troop enters week six of being stranded in Neverland, we again see so little progress that we are grateful for any small efforts. Regina and Rumple teaming up? A possible future visit to Storybrooke? Snow finding out that Charming got sick from dreamshade? Sure, we’ll take it.
This week’s theme is secrets, I guess, as Snow and Charming ponder at the beginning of the episode: Do secrets pull us apart from people or protect those we love? Um, both? In the fairyback, Ariel’s big secret is that she’s a mermaid. This is not a huge secret when she’s around water. But kudos on the casting of Joanna Garcia Swisher, who actually makes a pretty great Ariel (the same can not be said of Prince Eric, sadly, who seems to come from the same Blandville that gave us Charming and Prince Phillip). Fans of Disney’s The Little Mermaid had a lot to enjoy here, like dialogue referring to “under the sea” and “part of his world,” the little mermaid collecting things, and of course, Ariel attacking Regina with her dinglehopper.
Secrets play a bigger role in Neverland, as everyone has to reveal their darkest secret in the Echo Cave to save Neal. (In a refreshing turn of events, Hook told the Charmings right away that their daughter’s beau was alive. Does this mean he’s becoming a better man after all? Snow almost immediately told Emma because Snow can’t keep a secret for two seconds.) The Echo Cave setup was like a “Moment Of Truth” game show in which everyone’s revelation would help build a bridge to reach Neal, trapped in a cage. And everyone’s secrets were actually insightful: Hook’s in love with Emma, Snow wants a baby, Charming has to stay in Neverland forever, and Emma actually wished that Neal wasn’t alive so she wouldn’t have to go through all that pain again. (Nice payback for when he abandoned her in “Manhattan.”) Interestingly, none of these secret revelations have any positive effect on our little group, but instead kind of show how messed up they all are: If Charming can’t leave the island, Snow won’t get a new, happy family in Storybrooke, and Hook’s declaration for Emma and her revelation about Neal seems to have kept that particular triangle in play for another week.
Still, Regina seems about as frustrated with this overall lack of action as I am, as she sets off on her own and runs into Rumplestiltskin. She complains to Rumple about having to camp with the Charmings for a week, which finally helps us build some sort of timeline here. If the goal is to reach Henry, Regina will probably make much more progress with Rumplestiltskin, especially after the excellent reveal that his phantom Belle was Shadow Pan in disguise, which actually makes a lot of sense.
Unfortunately, Regina and Rumple almost immediately create a seemingly needlessly complicated plan. These obstacle-course contrivances are frustrating: A few weeks ago, Tinkerbell wouldn’t help the group without an exit plan, which led them to Neal’s cave, which opened a map they couldn’t follow, etc., etc. Now Regina and Rumple want to trap Pan in a fate worse than death, so Rumple needs something from his shop, and mermaids can cross realms, so they’re sending Ariel there. Any plan that takes this long to describe sounds faulty. A trip to Storybrooke seems promising, though; it’ll be good to see the old gang again.
But Once Upon A Time still has a few surprises up its sleeve this week, which hasn’t happened in awhile; besides Hook not dragging out the fact that he knows about Neal, and the helpful revelations in the Echo Cave, I was not expecting Ariel (those mermaids are sneaky!) to snap on the bracelet to make Snow a mermaid, or the real, scary gold Ursula to come after Regina (probably in retaliation for that cheesy portrayal). And just when I thought the show was going to ignore the Little Mermaid losing-her-voice part of the story, she loses her voice. This is what OUAT does best, playing around with familiar fables, but skewing them so that we see them in a slightly new light. Since Ariel seems like an excellent addition (better than the disappointing Tinkerbell), her trip to Storybrooke next week should be interesting, to say the least. So at the end of the episode, while we’re still in the same place (treading water, you might say), at least some secrets have finally been revealed, and tensions are heightened for next week.
- Pan knowing Rumple’s favorite breakfast kind of alludes to the theory that they are family members, possibly brothers?
- Did Snow get an island haircut since last week?
- Did I hear an Agrabah shoutout for Prince Eric’s voyage? I do appreciate the way OUAT weaves together all these different fables into the same storylines.
- Nit-picking: Where would an exiled princess and a newly transformed mermaid find outfits for the Ursula Ball? And how would a mermaid who's not on her legs much know how to dance right away?
- Any new guesses on who’s in the other cage?