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Once Upon A Time 3×01 “The Heart Of The Truest Believer” Recap


The third season premiere of Once Upon A Time centered around the theme of belief. Can you believe in yourself? Do you believe in your family? Does a villain believe they deserve a happy ending?

Season two ended with television’s most dysfunctional family and Captain Hook creating a portal in the sea and sailing the Jolly Roger to Neverland. Neal/Baelfire (let’s call him Nealfire) was shot by his fiancé Tamara, fell through a portal, and wound up in the Enchanted Forest. At the end of season two, heroes and villains partnered up with the common goal of saving Henry.

Have they finally put their differences behind them? Of course not!

Season three opens up with a flashback to 11 years ago. Emma is giving birth as the lights begin flickering. She is clearly in pain but not from child rearing. Emma’s heart is breaking because she doesn’t believe that she can be a mother.

In the present, the Jolly Roger and the Dysfunctional Six (Regina, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow, Charming, Emma, and Hook) land in the sea of Neverland. I find it interesting that on a ship full of people who loathe one another, Regina chooses to share her feelings on villains and happy endings with Hook. Didn’t the Captain leave Greg to torture her two episodes ago? These two really breezed past that ordeal quickly.

What Greg said to her in season two has bothered our sassy Queen. “He said that I’m a villain and that villains don’t get happy endings.” Regina looked baffled that Greg referred to her as a villain. She clearly disagrees with the comment. “Do you believe that?”

Hook’s reply was that he hoped not, because if that were the case than the both of them who had dedicated a large portion of their life to revenge have, in fact, wasted their lives. His gaze falls to Emma.

Emma is having a conversation of her own with Charming and Snow. The always optimistic couple wants to reassure their daughter that all of this – Henry, Nealfire, Greg and Tamara – is not her fault. Emma knows that and tells them it’s their fault. Snow has the most incredulous look as Emma finally unleashes pent up stress on their situation. Emma chastises her parents for trying to be mentors when they are actually the same age as her.

If she would have never broken the curse, than Henry would be safe. If she wouldn’t have listened to her parents, than none of this would have happened. Snow gives a heart warming Snow-like repetitive speech about never giving up hope. Charming of course is there nodding his head in agreement. Emma isn’t feeling it. She tells them their lives have sucked. The more they push and prod at Emma to be parents the more it backfires.

Rumpelstiltskin appears out of thin air and plays Debbie Downer to Emma’s already shaky emotions. She can’t save her son because she doesn’t believe in anything. She doesn’t believe in magic, she doesn’t believe in her parents, and she doesn’t believe in herself.

Rumpelstiltskin is dressed in his attire from the Enchanted Forest, and Hook sarcastically points out, “that’s a great use of our time – a wardrobe change.”

Regina can’t believe Rumpelstiltskin plans to save Henry on his own. He never actually said he’d help them get Henry back together. You would think that after 28+ years of this, Regina, Snow and Charming wouldn’t be surprised. And that’s how, in the first ten minutes of the show, the Dysfunctional Six became the Dysfunctional Five.

On the island, Henry, Tamara, and Greg fall from their portal near a lake. Henry wholeheartedly believes both his moms are coming to find him. At first he thinks they’ve arrived in the Enchanted Forest, but Greg is quick to reveal this was Neverland, and in Neverland his family wouldn’t be able to rescue him.

Tamara attempts to radio the home office, but it fails. As the two non-believers check the batteries, sand falls out of the radio. Uh-oh! Seems the non-believers are in for a rude awakening as their home office crumbles around them.

They’ve been played by Peter Pan and the Lost Boys the entire time. Greg has his shadow ripped from his body by Pan’s shadow. As his corpse falls to the ground, Tamara yells for Henry to run. She’s shot with an arrow by one of the Lost Boys.

Poor Henry runs through the jungle with his hands bound until a mysterious ex-Lost Boy pulls him into a clearing and frees his hands. He tells Henry that he betrayed Pan by stealing pixie dust. He carries the container with dust around his neck. Henry and him make plans to hide in an untraceable part of Neverland. The Lost Boys continue to search for them as they make their way through the thick of trees.

Rumpelstiltskin wanders upon Tamara who has an arrow sticking out of her back. She’s struggling dragging herself along the dirt, and it’s obvious she was left to die a slow and painful death. He heals her and asks about Henry. Tamara naively gives him the information and thinks that by apologizing about what she did to Nealfire that he may forgive her. He goes full-out mafioso on Tamara and pulls her heart out of her chest. Rumpelstiltskin crushes her heart in his hand.

Back on the Jolly Roger, Hook walks in on Emma doing pull-ups trying to blow off some steam from the nerve Rumpelstiltskin hit with his speech about her earlier on the deck. He offers her something that Snow and Charming couldn’t – understanding. Emma has just lost her son right after losing Nealfire.

Hook understands that Emma is grieving the loss of not one, but two loved ones. He kept a sword from when Nealfire lived with him on his ship; the Captain gives the sword to Emma. He swears he’s not sentimental, but for someone who isn’t he sure does keep a lot of mementos. The two share a drink and toast to “Neal.”

Little do they know that Nealfire lives! Mulan, Aurora, and Philip found him at the end of season two on the beach in the Enchanted Forest. How is Philip alive? How long will we have to wait to find out how they retrieved his soul?

Mulan notices that the clothing Nealfire is wearing is similar to the clothing Emma and Snow wore; therefore, the assumption is made that he must be from the other world. Nealfire freaks out at the mention of Emma’s name and goes on to tell the trio of how much he loves Emma minus a few minor details.

Well actually, they are HUGE details. He fails to mention jail. It was probably a wise decision because Aurora offers to help Nealfire by going to the nightmare room in an attempt to contact Henry and let his family know that he is alive. Oh, and that he loves Emma.

Back below deck, Hook and Emma are sitting across from one another as the ship sways back and forth. She asks how long Nealfire was with him. Hook clearly is mourning the death of Nealfire too. His blue-eyes are filled with regret as he tells Emma, “long enough to know that I miss him too.”

This moment is significant for Hook and Emma, because of all the Dysfunctional Five now aboard the Jolly Roger, Hook and Emma are the most reluctant to expose personal thoughts and feelings with others. Emma has walls from abandonment and betrayal, but Hook has just as many caused by the same thing. For both of them, sharing feelings is not something that comes easy. For Emma and Hook to expose such a personal part of their lives, well, it requires trust. These two have come a long way from “Tallahassee”. The moment is short lived as the ship begins shaking.

On deck, Charming and Snow struggle with steering the ship so it doesn’t capsize. The Dysfunctional Five experience their first danger as a group in Neverland. Mermaids have begun to attack the ship. These mermaids are beautiful, angry, and incredibly strong. Charming has a moment where he just goes full on NOPE to the situation. He marches up to the cannon across from Hook and begins to load it. His expression seems to say, “oh no, I am not getting beaten down by mermaids tonight!”

The Prince begins firing at them in the sea as Snow and Emma for some reasons decide it would be a good idea to fish for one. Sassy Regina can’t believe how ridiculous the idea is and uses fireballs to scare off all the mermaids. She then zaps the mermaid fished by Snow and Emma aboard the ship. She’s freaking beautiful! Mermaids are gorgeous!

Aurora is in a deep sleep as Philip watches over her. Mulan is curious about the other world, so Nealfire tells her about her movie. ABC figured out a way to promote Disney’s Mulan in a cute way.

She has no idea what he’s talking about and asks, “what’s a movie?” When Aurora wakes up she sadly tells Nealfire she couldn’t make contact with anyone. He then drops the bomb that his dad is the Dark One. Still, they want to help him.

“Your belief in love wasn’t strong enough to overcome your fear of rejection,” Mulan points out to Nealfire as they journey together to the Dark One’s castle.

Oh the parallels! Mulan isn’t only talking about Nealfire in this quote. This quote also pertains to herself and her seemingly romantic feelings towards Phillip, which were hinted at in the premiere of season two. With Phillip back, where does that leave Mulan? She seemed eager to know more about the other world, something she placed little interest in asking about during season two with both Snow and Emma.

The way her eyes lit up when Nealfire explained how the people who lived in the Enchanted Forest were fairy tale characters in the other world shows that Mulan’s curiosity has been piqued.

Did anyone else question how Nealfire knew about his father’s castle? The last time he was in the Enchanted Forest, Nealfire and his father still lived in their village.

Plot hole aside, Mulan’s words accurately describe what he has struggled with since his reappearance in “Manhattan”. He has been on the run for centuries from his father and magic. He lost the belief that his father loved him when he fell through that portal alone. He lost the belief that he could be a family with Hook when he found the picture of his mother. He lost the belief him and Emma could find a home when he learned her destiny and let her go.

His lack of faith in love and himself has lead him to where he is now. His story eerily resembles Rumpelstiltskin’s in that he consistently allowed fear to guide him down the easy path throughout his life. When has Nealfire ever fought for anything? Rumpelstiltskin turned to magic as a way out to save his son. Nealfire wants to return to Emma and, like his father, he is turning to magic. It boils down to intent and actions.

Rumpelstiltskin’s intent was good. He wanted to protect his son from war, but his actions were corrupted by dark magic. Any good intention was lost once he traveled down that path in his son’s eyes. Nealfire’s intentions, although good in the beginning, fell apart. He wanted Emma to fulfill her destiny and break the curse in Storybrooke, but in the process he allowed August to convince him to betray her.

The after effects of the betrayal were Emma going to jail, giving up her baby, and alienating herself from trusting others. It seems like it will be a continuous struggle between what people say and what people do this season for Nealfire as he turns to the one thing he hates to get back to Emma. Let’s not forget the plot line shoved in our faces ever few episodes: magic always comes with a price!

Back on the Jolly Roger the captured mermaid blows into a shell. The haughty Captain flips out demanding they toss it off his ship immediately because all mermaids are liars. Emma agrees with him, but it falls on deaf ears. The Queen wants to kill the mermaid, and for a moment Charming agrees and presses his blade against her neck.

Snow has a look on her face that she wants to reach across the deck and wring Charming’s neck for the way he’s behaving. Regina looks like she wants to high five the Prince for the first time ever.

The mermaid laughs and taunts them how they’ll all kill one another. A storm is brewing; the Captain tries to outrun it by turning the ship around, but what everyone fails to notice is that the more they argue the more ferocious the storm becomes.

Charming changes his mind and doesn’t want to kill the mermaid. Regina is going to kill it, and Hook agrees with the decision. Snow and Charming argue it isn’t right to kill the mermaid. Emma is caught in the middle of the bickering with a confused look on her face. The poor girl looks like she wants to scream out WHAT THE HECK IS HAPPENING?

Regina makes the choice on her own and turns the mermaid into wood. That’s when all hell breaks loose. A huge wave crashes over the Jolly Roger as everyone struggles to stay aboard

Would you feel vindicated if Snow punched Regina square in the jaw? What if Regina punched Snow right back? Well it happens, and its great! Everyone but Emma breaks out into fisticuffs. She keeps trying to get their attention because clever Emma has discovered the link between the storm and aggression. Nobody listens, so Emma goes full crazy and dives into the sea. Unfortunately, at the same time a pulley breaks from the ship and smacks her straight in the head knocking her unconscious. That sure gets everyone’s attention!

Charming wants to dive in after her but Hook stops him, because if he dives in they’ll both drown. He throws a rope at the Prince which he ties around himself before taking the plunge after his daughter. When he scoops Emma into his arms, Snow and Regina pull, before Hook uses a pulley to get them up the rest of the way.

He stands in the corner watching Emma as she isn’t breathing. The camera pans between the Charming family and Hook’s reaction. It’s absolutely heartbreaking because Emma isn’t moving and is pale. Luckily she coughs up sea water, and the camera focuses on Hook who looks relieved. The storm dissipates into the air and Emma lets the rest of the Dysfunctional Five know she tried to tell them.

Henry and the ex-Lost Boy have run into a dead end. Standing in front of a cliff all hope is lost. The ex-Lost Boy tries to convince Henry that maybe Pan will let them live if they hand over the stolen pixie dust. Psh! Henry is all like, “are you crazy kid? We’re gonna fly!” There’s only one problem – the ex-Lost Boy doesn’t believe.

Henry, though, well he has a heart of pure gold, and they take a running leap and discover that he believes enough for the both of them. They can fly!

Nealfire and Mulan arrive at the Dark One’s castle. An arrow whizzes past his head and was shot by none other than Robin Hood. Nealfire announces he’s the son of Rumpelstiltskin, and Robin Hood is cool with that. He finds his father’s old walking staff and begins twirling it in the air. It unmasks a hidden cabinet.

Nealfire has walked down the path of no return. He used magic.

In the cabinet, he comes across the crystal ball given to Rumpelstiltskin in season two by none other than the Mad Hatter. Mulan tells him to think of Emma, and to his horror he sees that she’s in Neverland.

Rumpelstiltskin is walking through the forest like a smooth gangster. He tugs on his leather outfit and calls out Felix who is hiding behind some shrubbery. Pan is more than willing to allow Rumpelstiltskin to stay in Neverland if he doesn’t interfere with his plans with the boy.

Rumpelstiltskin knows he’s going to die if he faces Pan, but he guarantees he’ll take down as many of the Lost Boys as he can before he goes. That’s when Felix throws a creepy white voodoo doll with a blue vest at the Dark One’s feet. This elicits tears. What the heck is it? A memory from his childhood? A toy that belonged to Nealfire? Only time will tell.

On the beach, Emma makes it clear she’s had enough of the bickering. The Dysfunctional Five have more baggage than an airport baggage claim, but Emma takes on the role of being a leader for a group who desperately needs one. It’s important they put their history aside, stop fighting, and just accept who they are, because in Neverland each one of them is important and needed to rescue Henry. Being who they are means embracing the heroes, villains, and yes, even the pirate.

Interestingly enough, Emma made the distinction of Hook being a pirate instead of lumping him together with the villains. Charming can’t believe what he’s hearing, and Emma says they can either help her get back her son or get out of the way before trekking into the jungle. Snow and Charming follow after her without a word. Regina shoots a derisive look at Hook, but he is smug and smiling. Hook shrugs his shoulders and follows after Emma.

Above them, Henry and the ex-Lost Boy are flying in a green cloud of magic before finding a clearing to land. Henry truly believes that anything is possible like the wonderful kid he is. It’s touching, but also depressing because in that moment, the ex-Lost Boy slips up and calls Henry by his name.

Henry never gave his name. The jig is up.

He’s none other than Peter Pan, and his solemn expression turns into that of an insane person in less than a second. He knocks swiftly against a tree and calls out his boys. A dozen Lost Boys surround Henry as Pan makes it known Henry has the heart of the trust believer and he’s ready to play.

Till next time.

Memorable Quotes

Regina: Well, I’m all out of fish food.

Regina: And what?! You’ll win her over with your unicorn kisses and rainbow stickers?!

Regina: Filet the bitch!

Mulan: I’m in a story?
Neal: Yeah. They made a movie about you. It’s actually pretty good.
Mulan: What’s a movie?

Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8PM on ABC.

Written by: Jessica Lee