Retro Review: Once Upon a Time, Season Three: Episodes 1-6

We now embark on the third season of Once Upon a Time. It’s once again a hit and miss situation, with some very good episodes and some not so good episodes.

The logo for Once Upon a Time“The Heart of the Truest Believer”:

Well, we’re only one episode in, but so far this is an improvement over last season.

Season three picks up immediately after the end of season two, with the search for Henry in Neverland. While Henry himself tries to escape the Lost Boys, Rumpelstiltskin strikes off on his own, and the party from Storybook battles both the hostile environment of Neverland and each other.

Meanwhile, Baelfire awakens in the Enchanted Forest and tries to find his way back to Emma.

I quite like Neverland so far. It’s an embodiment of the darker side of fairy tales, a strange and capricious place, and Pan himself is a shockingly ruthless twist on the traditional story.

I also quite enjoyed seeing Greg and Tamara get their just deserts. Though on the downside, Hook is still breathing.

Also, Mulan is back in the picture. Huzzah!

Peter Pan in Once Upon a TimeMy only complaints are that I don’t buy Emma endangering herself as a good way to get the team to work together — why do Hook and Regina care? — and the way Neverland keeps jumping between being a jungle, a deciduous Forest, and British Columbia.

Overall rating: 7.8/10

“Lost Girl”:

Peter Pan likes to play games. Head games, specifically.

He gives Emma a map that will supposedly lead her to Henry, but only if she accepts who she really is. Clearly some soul-searching is in order — not something Emma is very good at.

Meanwhile, we have a series of flashbacks showing a time when Snow had similar problems.

I’m starting to wonder if the flashbacks have outlived their welcome. I wouldn’t say they’ve become a detriment to the show, per se, but they also don’t seem to be adding much. There was a time they were essential to understanding the story and its characters, but that seems to be rarely true, if ever, these days.

Neverland in Once Upon a TimeOtherwise, this is about as good as an Emma episode ever gets. I still like how strange and creepy Neverland and Pan are.

Overall rating: 7.1/10

“Quite a Common Fairy”:

At Hook’s suggestion, Emma and company seek the aid of the one resident of Neverland who might help them track down Pan: Tinkerbell.

But Tink and Regina have history, so it’s not going to be easy.

Meanwhile, Baelfire tries to talk Robin Hood into helping him with a risky scheme to reach Neverland.

The main storyline of this episode was pretty weak, honestly. What Regina did wasn’t even that bad, by Regina standards, so that robbed the plot of much of its power.

Lana Parilla as Regina Mills in Once Upon a TimeOn the other hand, a lot of the side plots and nods to the future were intriguing. Not sure whether to believe Pan about Henry being the saviour of magic; it makes sense, but Pan is a bloody sociopath, and it’s hard to believe anything he says.

Also, apparently Robin Hood is Regina’s soulmate. That’s… unexpected. Does seem to give lie to Tinkerbell’s comment, though. I don’t get the impression Robin’s life is all sunshine and lollipops, but it definitely doesn’t look “ruined,” either.

Also, remember how I said Mulan and Aurora were another goldmine for femslash fans? Heh, funny how things work out.

For my part, I think Mulan can do much better, though.

I do hope Baelfire’s departure doesn’t mean we have to wait another season to see Mulan again. She’s just far too badass to be as much of a background element as she is.

Overall rating: 7/10

Mulan in Once Upon a Time“Nasty Habits”:

Proving themselves to have more sense than the Bush administration, Emma’s party decide they need to have an exit strategy before they confront Pan. They seek out the cave Baelfire inhabited when he lived in Neverland in search of clues, but without Baelfire, they can make no sense of what they find.

Meanwhile, Rumpel and Baelfire have a family reunion, but it doesn’t end well, and a series of flashbacks shows Rumpel and Pan have history — who doesn’t have history with Rumpel?

This is one of those weird episodes where a lot happened, but nothing really happened. The pacing was fast and we had all kinds of confrontations and reversals, but in the end, nothing has really changed. Emma and co. are still up a creek without a paddle when it comes to rescuing Henry, Rumpel is still struggling to do the right thing but will probably fail, and Henry is still Pan’s prisoner.

In the end, it just seems like filler.

Overall rating: 6.8/10 I miss Mulan already.

Robert Carlyle as Rumpelstiltskin in Once Upon a Time“Good Form”:

There’s a good little plot nestled in this episode about Emma’s party trying to get a message to Henry. Seeing them stoop to Regina’s dark magic was quite a nice piece of drama and a needed justification for Regina’s presence in this journey.

However, most of the screen time goes to Hook, and by now, my feelings on him are clear. What’s amazing, though, is that they managed to make this even worse than a Hook-heavy episode ought to be.

The general message of “Good Form” is that Hook isn’t such a bad guy after all.

I call BS.

Hook has, from the very beginning, been consistently portrayed as selfish and craven in the extreme. This is someone who was willing to do anything, hurt anyone, in order to satisfy his own petty need for retribution. This is the guy who was a good friend of Cora’s. He’s deceitful, cruel, and selfish. That’s the character they’ve established.

Captain Hook in Once Upon a TimeSo the idea that he was once a noble soldier for the king, that there’s a man of honour buried underneath all that roguishness, is laughable.

Emma beginning to fall for him was also cringe-inducing, though at least that makes a certain kind of sense. Emma has long been shown to be fairly lacking in both intelligence and good judgment.

Overall rating: 5/10 Very poor form indeed.

“Ariel”:

Snow White isn’t very good at keeping secrets. As a result, Emma soon learns that Baelfire is, in fact, alive and in Neverland, and the party sets off to find him. Setting him free will require more secrets to come to light, as each party member must utter their darkest and most terrible secret to unlock his prison.

Meanwhile, Regina strikes off to join forces with Rumpel against Pan, and in the Enchanted Forest’s past, a mermaid named Ariel — yes, that Ariel — becomes entangled in the conflict between Regina and Snow.

Ariel the mermaid in Once Upon a TimeThis is another of those episodes I hate reviewing because it lacks both major blunders and notable stand-out moments. It’s neither great nor terrible — merely adequate.

I found Ariel a bit insipid, but as a link between worlds, she could serve an interesting role in the plot. I’m also a bit curious if Ursula the sea goddess will play any role going forward, or if that’s just something the writers threw in for fun.

And Emma confessing her feelings for Baelfire was a bit nice purely because it makes Hook unhappy.

I really don’t like him.

Overall rating: 7/10

…Why do they call it the Little Mermaid, anyway? I’ve never actually seen it, but in the photos, she looks normal-sized. Not really sure what normal size is for a mermaid, though, I guess.

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