OUAT S03Ep1 Emma & Hook
The last we saw of Once Upon A Time, Henry and Neil went through portals and it took a magic bean for the Charming family and Regina to go after them. “The Heart of the Truest Believer,” does a fine job of setting up the separate lines of action and overarching conflict for season three. Since Robin Hood’s guarding Rumplestilkskin’s castle and the Lost Boys look like a gang of medieval thugs, let’s hope Ragnar Lothbrok crosses over from Vikings and gives Henry a blood eagle.

The Players:

  • Director: Ralph Hemecker
  • Writers: Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
  • Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Robert Carlyle, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Jared S. Gilmore, Robbie Kay, Michael Raymond-James, Colin O’Donoghue

Episode Title: “The Heart of the Truest Believer”

For an episode about the power of belief, it’s hard to squelch the notion that Once Upon A Time might be better off if Jared Gilmore were left on an island. But to be fair, Henry did have some nice moments of snark (“Good thing you all don’t ask any questions.”). Greg and Tamara are quickly dispatched as an introduction to Pan and The Lost Boys. They take charge of Henry for ends that are — at that time — unclear. Meanwhile, Hook’s ship is attacked by mermaids, leading to many bad puns about fish. Still, they successfully land on the isle of Neverland, sort of united and loaded for bear. Back in the Enchanted Forest, Mulan and a not-dead Baelfire find Rumplestilskin’s stash, then see Emma for two seconds in a crystal ball.

The Good:

  • A Rumplestilkskin in Leather is The Best Rumplestilkskin: Robert Carlyle continues to be the show’s finest asset, whether it calls for him to sink to his knees with grief or twirl his cane with glee. It’s great to see him here as the smiling tiger, spoiling for a fight. Both his confrontations, first with Tamara and later with the chief of The Lost Boys, were wonderful.
  • 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42: As veterans of LOST, Kitsis and Horowitz must have been tickled to get their cast onto a mysterious island. Neverland looks grandly sinister, and director Ralph Hemecker does a fantastic job of making his sets feel like an open world. Although OUAT has never gotten the same mileage out of sound design, The Lost Boys do navigate the jungle with a spooky grace reminiscent of The Others.
  • “Yeah, I Don’t Know How To Explain What A Movie Is:” Pictures Mulan! “..Swift as the coursing river/With all the force of a great typhoon!”
  • Why There Are Night-Lights: OUAT’s main strength is in the way it transforms folk and mythic tales, warping the material and making the image look seamless. The Peter Pan story is no exception. It may be one of the show’s smartest moves to crank up the nightmarish implications of a bunch of abandoned kids’ struggle for survival on a croc-infested island. It’s certainly created a compelling stage for our heroes this season.
  • All Children, Except One: Robbie Kay knocks Pan out of the park. Predictable as his ruse may have been, he owns it as a bright-eyed, smudged-cheek sociopath. The imperious way he shouts, “Let’s play!” to close out the night combines the impishness of a kindergartener and the steel of a super-villain. His performance does much to set the tone.

The So-So:

  • Chekhov’s Kraken: Josh Dallas, you don’t just mention a kraken like it’s no big deal. Although, if it’s a huge one bent on destroying all of Neverland, we are willing to wait for it until sweeps.

The Bad:

  • The Same Amount of Angst: When the show circles back, OUAT’s momentum and creative sparks get muddled. It’s strained by contrivance and trapped by repetition. Yes, Emma and her parents have had vastly different life experiences. Regina and Snow operate on non-simpatico leadership principles. These should not be the fulcrums of every single conflict. Considering how far all these people have come over the course of two seasons, can the bickering just be over?
  • You Don’t Have The Conch: The one new fairy element that didn’t come off well were mermaids. OUAT’s special effects must be taken with a gentle eye, but there was no sense of scale them. Also, there was no real reason for why they attacked the ship. It was just to set up the storm, which facilitates Emma’s leap of faith (into the sea..?). Rumple set it up in the first act as her essential bar, which speaks to the episode’s thematic focus on belief. It’s incredibly convenient. Not the best way to introduce a race.
  • Somewhere in Ireland, Natalie Dormer is smirking: While Sarah Bolger’s Sleeping Beauty was unable to commune with Snow for Baelfire, her hair continues to walk the land of dreams. The costuming choices generally add to the campy fun of OUAT, but sometimes, y’all… sometimes not.
  • “That’s how portals work!” Really, Neil? You can always tell what bits of exposition fascinate the writers. The stuff between Gilmore and Kay about pixie dust was neat. But which bits were studio notes, and then which were fished out of the trash and copy-pasted back into Final Draft?

Overall:

“The Heart of the Truest Believer” is a solid premiere, despite the many leaps of faith the shenanigans on the Jolly Roger require of you. Rumple’s on the warpath, Hook’s still quip-y, Snow’s gotten slap-y, both Emma and Neil are embracing the fun parts (swords and magic, respectively) of their lineages and Peter Pan’s a killer with dimples. So long as Jorge Garcia doesn’t ramble by with Dharma peanut butter, we should be golden.

Rating: 7/10

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

What did you think of the season premiere?