Friday , March 1 2024
Previewing the first two episodes of Season 3.

TV Review: ‘Once Upon a Time’ – Season Premiere

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. once

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.”


About Barbara Barnett

A Jewish mother and (young 🙃) grandmother, Barbara Barnett is an author and professional Hazzan (Cantor). A member of the Conservative Movement's Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Renewal movement's clergy association OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement. In her other life, she is a critically acclaimed fantasy/science fiction author as well as the author of a non-fiction exploration of the TV series House, M.D. and contributor to the book Spiritual Pregnancy. She Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (

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  1. Interesting teasers. I was so-so about tuning in because I was disappointed in last season’s overwhelming interest in the ‘villains’ (Regina/Rumple/Cora/Hook/Lacey/Neal/Owen&Tamara) so your lack of emphasis on Regina in these episodes has me hoping.

    It’s a good point about abandonment as something Emma, Neal and Henry have in common. But even though they were all abandoned in one way or another, I think the trauma of abandonment varies as to the age you were abandoned. Neal lost his parents at about 8? 10?; until that, he had first the love of both and later when his mother left the intensive love of his father who would and did do anything to protect him. Both Snow and Emma gave up their child at birth hoping for a better life for her and him respectively but after that the situations differ. Henry had Regina, who, if we are to believe what the producers tell us, loved him. An adoptive parent who loves you is as good as a birth parent, in my opinion, so Henry should not have had serious abandonment issues. Not until we saw at the beginning of season 1 that he was unhappy and that Regina denying truth to him and forcing his therapist to tell him that what was real was just in his mind. If Regina had been a good parent, Henry should only have had slight issues.

    Emma, on the other hand, stayed in foster homes and orphanages, never truly knowing the love of a parent or family. Finally, when she ran away at 17, she met someone who told her he loved her and then not only abandoned her pregnant but sent her to prison (which is why I can never accept Neal as someone she should now be in a relationship with). Her abandonment issues should be at the top of the scale and the hardest to overcome.

  2. Just saw the first episode. Very interesting. Rumple’s back (in a good bad way)! The mystery deepens. It’s what a premiere needs to do to get people excited about the show. Looks like Mulan, Aurora and Phillip will be in quite a few shows this year. The Peter Pan character was surprising. Can’t wait for more to occur. I think this was the strongest of the premieres for the show so far. Even though it was a little disjointed, there was a lot of action and surprise in this episode.