When last we saw Once Upon a Time’s intrepid heroes Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin), Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle), the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), and Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), they had embarked upon the Jolly Roger about to follow a magic bean down a portal and into Neverland. With Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) kidnapped by the grossly misled (and quite thick, apparently) Tamara and Greg, everyone wants to find him. United in their mission (well, for the first few minutes, anyway), their goal is noble and task challenging. For Peter Pan, according to Rumple is a force to be much feared.
The season premiere, “The Heart of the Truest Believer,” begins 11 years earlier with Emma giving birth to Henry in prison, abandoning him to “the system,” thus perpetuating a familial cycle. Just as Snow and Charming abandoned her, so she abandons her own son to others’ care. But the cycle roots from both sides of Henry’s family tree. His dad Neal (Baelfire, played by Michael Raymond James) was abandoned by his father Rumple, who was abandoned by his own.
With season three set on Neverland with its lost boys and Pied Piper Pan, this will likely be a significant theme throughout; it certainly is for the first two episodes, particularly in episode two. Abandonment at an early age is a trauma not easily reconciled when children become adults; it shatters self-confidence, makes you wary and cynical, hardened against other rejections and emotional injury.
But the other side of it is the need to overcome this trauma, and to do that, one must accept it, embrace yourself for who you are, then begin again to believe in yourself. These are powerful interconnected themes for Once Upon a Time, and we see in these opening episodes parallel journeys commence for Emma, Rumple, and Baelfire, set against not only Neverland’s population of abandoned children, but against Snow’s reclamation of her kingdom from The Evil Queen.
As they approach the isle of Neverland, the team begins to fall apart rather quickly, as each has in mind something quite different. Rumple has it in mind to find Henry on his own. Attired (dashingly, I might add) in Dark One finery, but looking quite like Mr. Gold, he insists this is something he must do. When Emma protests, he argues that only someone who believes can prevail again the evil Pan. “Neverland is a place where imagination runs wild,” he tells Emma, declaring that without belief “even in yourself,” she lacks the skills necessary to prevail over Peter Pan and save Henry.
More than anyone, I think, Mr. Gold’s stakes are unbelievably high. He knows the seer’s prophecy (“Manhattan”) and believes the Henry will be his undoing. He will die on this mission, yet succeeding in this mission can help Rumple prove to himself that he is not his father, a coward who abandoned his son. Baelfire’s death has changed him, and fearful as he is (beautifully explored in these episodes as he is tormented with something out of his deep past), he must cling to the belief that he can overcome this cycle.
I loved both episodes. Although episode one was a bit more fractured between the various story lines, episode two “Lost Girl” was focused and powerful, bringing us back into the Enchanted Forest to join Snow and Charming as they fight against Regina and staying with the story arcs of the main cast, their expectations, conflicts and darkest fears in a very emotional ride. What a great start to season three.
- Mermaids abound
- A character death (perhaps more than one)
- Hook taps into his more charming side, trying to eschew the smarmy pirate persona as he tries to win friends
- It doesn’t take long for the unity promised at the end of season two to fall apart: fists will fly
- As promised, Belle (Emily de Ravin) appears in Neverland, but in a touchingly unexpected way. Just beautiful. And very emotional.
- A return to Rumple’s castle
Sorry I can’t say more, but tune in to Let’s Talk TV Live Monday night for a recap and discussion of the Once Upon a Time season premiere.
Once Upon a Time debuts for its third season Sunday night on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET after a new Once special “Return to Neverland.”