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In-Depth: ‘One Upon a Time’ Season Three Premiere

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In the season three premiere of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, it doesn’t take very long for the six intrepid heroes aboard the Jolly Roger to forget that teamwork is the best way to recuse Henry (Jared Gilmore) from the evil clutches of Peter Pan. Kidnapped at the end of season two, Henry has been taken through a portal and into Neverland where he is held captive by Peter and The Lost Boys. It is a place well-known both to his father Baelfire (Michael Raymond James) and apparently his grandfather Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle).

onceBut Neverland is a place unlike both Storybrooke or the Enchanted Forest. It is a land ruled by belief and imagination, and to succeed you need to “believe” and you need the powerful imagination to outsmart the immortal boy Peter Pan.

There is a concept in Judaism that both the good inclination and the evil inclination are both necessary in life in order to succeed. So, too, in their quest to find Henry and bring him back to the family, both the eternally optimistic heroes and the cynical bitter anti-heroes and villains are all needed to defeat Pan. Belief without skepticism (like Tamara and Greg), like cynicism and lack of belief in anything (like Emma in the old days or Regina on her not-so-good days, or Rumple in the early days of The Dark One) is also inadequate to prevail against real evil.

In this tale, Tamara and Greg represent those who would follow blindly and unquestiongly, and oftern those are the people most dangerous to any society. I can’t help but think this reveal is a bit of social (if not political) commentary. In our society, there are far too many anti-intellectual, anti-science people these days who are willing to follow blindly. Belief without imagination is a dangerous combination because without imagination, zealous believers are mindless drones who only know how to obey orders without regard to morality (except their own).

By the way, I am not at all bothered that Rumple kills Tamara (she was going to die anyway) and her actions led to Neal’s (presumed by Rumple) apparent death and Henry’s peril. I’m not unhappy to see Greg and Tamara leave.

This season of Once Upon a Time will be much about each of the main cast finding his or her true self, a necessity for accomplishing the task. Each is on a journey of self-discovery because they need to find the ability to believe in themselves and to understand their various destinies.

When we begin season three, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) is back to her cynical self. As Rumple bluntly tells her, she lacks belief in her parents and (more importantly) herself as well as lacking the imagination to get through the tricksy maze that will undoubtedly will characterize Neverland. But when she realizes that the squabbling going on aboard the Jolly Roger has caused the storm that may destroy them all, she believes enough that she throws herself overboard knowing it will end the fighting and get everyone on track — and end the storm. She’s right.

But it is interesting that Rumple admonishes her for never taking a leap of faith. It was, after all, Rumple’s inability to take just that sort of leap that kept him first from Baelfire, and then, later, from Belle, when his fear of rejection propelled him to send her away in “Skin Deep.”

Emma’s quest will deepen in next week’s episode, and I believe her season-long quest will be to discover her destiny and who she is really meant to be.

Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming (Josh Dallas) are all belief and and optimism (especially Snow), but their eternal confidence in the goodness of people and that good always wins may not cut it in Neverland. They need a little bit of Emma’s cynicism. Leading from a place of only optimism and idealism will not get them very far. Like blind and unquestioning faith, it might just lead them into all sorts of traps. On this journey, they are Emma’s mentors, a rather good place for parents, but it leaves their story less interesting than some of the others (at least as it now stands).

Regina’s place in all this is still to be determined. Right now, she’s trapped in the belief that magic is the answer to everything. And it gets her (and everyone else) into trouble when she puts a curse on a mermaid and turns her to wood. Will she be able to temper her darkly magical inclination enough to help rather than hinder the efforts to save Henry? We shall see.

Rumple’s journey is interesting and parallels Emma’s. We know by now that Rumple has had a history in Neverland. How does he feel to be back? He seems courageous enough, going off on his own to seek out Peter Pan. But when confronted Pan’s lost boy throws a small doll at Rumple’s feet, it seems to crush him. Why? What is it about that doll that causes such an emotional breakdown in the Dark One? I promise we’ll find out much more about that next episode, and really begin to understand the personal stakes Rumple has on this quest, far beyond saving Henry.

Of all the heroes on this journey, Rumple is the only one who realizes he will not come out of it alive, yet, in order to save Henry he risks his life. It goes back to the prophecy that Henry will be Rumple’s undoing and what that actually signifies. Yes, it means the undoing of the Dark One, but does it mean the undoing of Rumple, as in his death? Or the lifting of the curse under which he lives?

It is interesting that he decides to find Henry on his own, without the strength of the entire team behind him (or by his side). What is he trying to prove? Or is it that he afraid that his Rumple-esque bravado will be discovered to be somewhat of a paper tiger? He believes himself to be a coward; what would happen should his fear get the better of him while everyone else is about? Hmm?

On a completely shallow note, I have to say that Rumple looks completely dashing with the new costume, his slightly longer hair, and without the green-gold makeup and rotted teeth. Quite gallant, and not at all the gnomish, crocodile. ‘Nuff said.

Captain Hook’s (Colin O’Donoghue) journey seems to be a road to rehabilitation. Reconciled not to exact his revenge on Rumple (after nearly succeeding last season), Hook seems to be reflecting on how much of his life has been wasted on evil. Can he be redeemed? Of course Hook has history with Peter Pan, so I am curious about what that re-match will look like in this Neverland. Will he be willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of Henry (or perhaps to win Emma’s love, a more likely motive)?

Baelfire, we learn is not actually dead, but has washed up on the shores of the Enchanted Forest and into the hands of Mulan, Aurora and Philip. Realizing the key to getting back to Emma lies in Rumple’s castle, they travel there, only to run into Robin Hood who tells Bae that Rumple spared his life. Finding Rumple’s staff brings back memories for Bae as he realizes that despite Rumple’s Dark One nature, family means a lot to him. I wonder if this adventure in Rumple’s castle will allow Neal to discover the true depth of his father’s love for him, and if this will in turn assist him in his own quest to reunite with Emma and Henry.

Henry, like Snow and Charming is all good. He has “the heart of the truest believer.” But Henry also has more cynicism in him than either Snow or Charming (probably because he’s been raised by the Evil Queen). Although he’s mislead by the evil Pan because of his innocence and idealism, I think Henry is resourceful enough to take care of himself. But we’ll see.

I’ve seen next week’s episode, and it certainly ups the stakes for all our characters. Many of you have asked me whether we will see any of Belle in the next episode, and my answer to you (without spoiling it) is absolutely. There is a beautiful, emotionally powerful sequence with Belle and Rumple that gets to the heart of his fears and source of his courage.

Tomorrow night we will devote much of my Let’s Talk TV Live show talking about this week’s Once Upon a Time and previewing next week’s episode. So please tune in, call in, join the chatroom or just listen!

Once Upon a Time airs Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • Connie Standish

    Just saw the pilot and I must say that I absolutely loved it. I am looking forward to finding how the main characters are going to cope with getting back in touch with their true selves and working together to rescue Henry. So far, based on what I have seen; Emma, Rumpelstiltskin, and Bealfire/Neal’s story seem to be the most compelling; I love the fact that Emma took charge of crew bluntly explaining to them that if they are going to find Henry they need to cooperate. I also agree with you on the fact that Rumple and Emma’s story seems to parallel, both characters need to drop their cynicism and/or lack of confidence and start believing in themselves. It was a little ironic that Rumple was lecturing Emma about taking a leap of faith when he clearly needs to take his own advice. The scene where Neal finds Rumple’s staff in the Dark Castle and shows Mulan the notches Rumple made to keep track of his height was absolutely sweet. Neal’s realization that his father, despite his misgivings, truly cares for his family gave me hope that Neal will eventually reconcile with his father and both men will find peace (but that remains to be seen). On a lighter note, I am also absolutely in love with Robert Carlyle’s Neverland costume! On the subject of Rumbelle, I know you mentioned that Rumple and Belle have a great scene together in next Sunday’s episode, but I’m curious about Belle’s part in this season. Adam and Eddy mentioned in an interview that they were excited about revealing Belle’s role. Does this mean Belle is going to have a significant role that will be essential to the storyline? I ask this because, although she is not one of the main characters, I think Belle is a great character with a lot of potential. Anyway, this was a great start and I’m optimistic that season 3 will recapture the magic of the first season.

  • rosie1843

    If you weren’t bothered by Tamara’s death, you’re either sick or a racist. You weren’t bothered that she was killed after expressing remorse . . . without any fucking background on her character? Would it have helped if she was white?

  • WML

    I really enjoyed this episode. I think for perhaps the first time in his life Rumple is beginning to show real courage. His abandonment of the team, so to speak, seems oddly selfish until one thinks that perhaps it is to save them from possible danger through his timidity and cowardice. We can see how Belle has changed Rumple. I think he finally realized the depth of their love and from that he has gained the courage to do what is right for his family. RC was again outstanding in this episode. I am really looking forward to his journey, Neal’s journey and Henry’s journey. I can’t help but think that it can all be explained better if we see the point of origin – Rumples life with his father.
    I kind of think now that if Emma ends up with Hook, that Mulan and Neil would be a nice couple. I wonder how Robin Hood telling Neal that his life was spared by his father would affect his view of his father.
    The EQ was great (well, at least her lines). Snow and Charming are just too darn optimistic. Geez, somebody reduce the helium level on those two.
    Looking forward to seeing how Emma grows up and how Hook finds his redemption. As much as I like the show, I would not mid a show that focuses more on Rumple, the EQ and Emma.
    And that was a good way for Tamara to go. Rumple being Rumple. Sometimes, good can be boring.

  • Moocher13

    Totally obsessed with this show! It’s familiar stories that have more than came to life, they are beyond the story line and are actual people, Tamara and Greg’s death isn’t racist or sick. I was glad to see her go too, she was trying to undo MAGIC! Good ridance!