By Jessica Lee
This episode of Once Upon a Time takes viewers on a journey of heart-wrenching angst.
This week opens up in the Enchanted Forest that once was. Bandit Snow is fleeing from two of the Evil Queen’s guards. They corner the Princess on a cliff. She then has the most graceful fall off a cliff I’ve ever seen on television into the dark ocean waters. Two hands wrap around her and haul her to the surface. Hello there, Ariel, welcome to Once Upon a Time.
In Neverland, Regina has taken on the role of magic mentor to a hesitant Emma. Regina calls Emma pathetic in an effort to harness and focus her anger. The clever Queen grins when it works. Emma has lit a fire with her magic. Charming and Snow are watching their daughter and struggling with her magical training. They worry about Regina’s influence on Emma.
As Emma studies the fire, Hook returns to the camp and shares with Prince Charming that Peter Pan paid him a visit and informed him that Nealfire is alive. Snow notices tracks while looking around camp that indicate there was a struggle. Right away she wants to run and tell Emma. True to Snow’s character, she always believes that exposing the truth is the right thing to do in every circumstance. Charming, who once would agree wholeheartedly, has changed. Neverland has brought out an ugly aspect of the Prince, and that’s to lie. While on the island, Charming has believed withholding the truth to protect his loved ones is honorable. So when the Prince disagrees with his wife, she looks bewildered.
Hook thinks that telling Emma without proof that Pan was being honest would be cruel and unnecessarily hurt her. Snow argues that she’s never lied to her daughter before. The Captain debates she isn’t lying but simply keeping a secret till they know for sure Nealfire’s alive. Snow disagrees and thinks that secrets keep us from the people we care about.
In the past, Ariel and Snow become fast friends. Ariel isn’t your typical mermaid. Unlike the mermaids introduced in the season premiere, Ariel saves people instead of wanting to damn them to a watery death. She also is a hoarder of objects from the human world. Ariel reminds me of a younger Snow White. She’s naive and wonderfully optimistic. Although she’s a mermaid, she has fallen in love with a human she saved from drowning a year ago. Of course, it’s a Prince. Even better it’s Prince Eric.
Snow is entranced by her tale of love at first sight and endeavors to help the Little Mermaid on her quest for true love. Oh, important tidbit of information: in mermaid mythology they are granted the ability to walk during high tide by the sea goddess Ursula. Also, nobody has seen Ursula in over 1,000 years.
With a pair of legs, and the company of the most do-good Princess in all the Enchanted Forest, the two agree to attend Prince Eric’s ball together. Ariel requests that Snow keep that fact that she’s a mermaid under the sea for now.
Back in Neverland, Hook, Charming, and Snow are gathering their things to go search for Nealfire. Snow notes they need an excuse and the men agree it shouldn’t be a problem. Emma and Regina approach them asking what they’re heading.
Emma rolls her eyes at the two men and asks what’s going on. Snow, who has never been able to keep secrets, blurts out that Nealfire is alive. Emma’s reluctant to believe her mother, so she turns to Hook for verification. One look from Hook is all she needs to see that it’s true, and her demeanor shifts.
Rumpelstiltskin is attempting to see his future, but Peter Pan appears and lets him know that it’s impossible to do that in a land with no time. Our master manipulator has a goal of taking out his biggest threat. Right now, he’s successfully turned the Dark One back into a frightened and lonely lost boy.
“You’ve lost your son Neal. Again. And Henry’s unattainable because, well, you’d have to go through me, and we both know you can’t.”
Pan offers Rumpel a deal to leave the island and return to Storybrooke. He can once again be in the loving arms of his Belle. He can start a new family with her. Of course, Rumpel refuses because he wont leave his son or grandson in Neverland. Pan throws it out there that they’ll never forgive Rumpel for all he’s done, and for the first time Rumpel bites back saying there’s no way he could know that. When he sees that his little visit isn’t going the way he hoped, Pan brings up Rumpelstiltskin’s father. Viewers have yet to see what this man did to his son, but it’s without a doubt something horrible. At the mention of his father, Pan has successfully crushed any belief the Dark One has left. Pan then takes his leave, because you know, he got what he wanted.
Regina has had enough of the Charming Family, and Hook too I suppose. She’s done with them and all their sidetracking nonsense. She doesn’t care that Nealfire may be alive because her only interest is rescuing Henry. She tries to reason with Emma that Pan is toying with them. Emma, however, is long gone after finding out that Nealfire could be alive and in Neverland. It took Rumpelstiltskin five minutes to abandon everyone once arriving in Neverland, and honestly I’m surprised Regina lasted six episodes. She bows out to save her son, but, not before letting everyone know how moronic they are for playing into Pan’s absurd games. Emma urges Regina to stay because they need to stick together. Regina laughs in her face. She’s done waiting around.
With legs, Ariel is introduced to human clothing, and that includes corsets. She lights up seeing the mini-tridents – I mean salad-forks – which she swiftly pockets. The dashing Prince Eric comes down the staircase, and his center of attention is Ariel. It seems love at first sight was a mutual thing. As Ariel approaches him, she trips. He moves towards her gracefully assisting her up. The awestruck Prince asks Ariel to dance. They awkwardly waltz, but it’s convincing since she just got legs a few hours ago and has probably never danced in her life.
The Prince recognizes her face from when he was shipwrecked. He believes the goddess Ursula has shown her face to him in his dreams, and that their meeting is fate. Eric is wonderfully optimistic too, and like the Little Mermaid, he craves to see the world. Unsurprisingly, he’s leaving tomorrow and he invites Ariel to accompany him.
“Tomorrow morning, I’ll wait for you. If you show up, I’ll be filled with joy. If you don’t, well, I’ll be heartbroken, but I’ll understand.”
When their dance finishes, Ariel excitedly runs to Snow who happens to be in front of a mirror. (Sidenote: Why does she keep putting herself in front of mirrors if she knows Regina can spy on her through them?) From her dark castle, Regina watches as Ariel and Snow grovel over Prince Eric, and she’s completely disgusted. The two guards that were chasing the Princess earlier in the episode are with the Queen, and swear up and down that they thought Snow White had died. Big mistake.
“No, death looks more like this.” Regina snaps his neck. Before killing the other guard, our hot-headed Queen’s inspired by a new idea. Unnamed guard number two has lucked out.
Traveling in the Neverland jungle, Pan is spying on the motley crew with an eyeglass similar to the way Hook has spied on others in the past. He orders Felix to take Nealfire, who is still in his cage, to the Echo Caves. (Sidenote: When will Once Upon A Time viewers more of Pan and Hook’s history? These two share so many traits.)
Rumpelstiltskin is holding his creepy voodoo doll as Shadow Belle pleads with him to come home to Storybrooke. “Come with me, and we can start a new family. Our own family. That’s what I want. Don’t you?”
She asks Rumpel to take her hand and believe in their love. It’s a very human emotion to want a new beginning, so when Rumpelstiltskin starts reaching toward her you can relate to him. Just then Shadow Belle begins to gasp for air.
The Evil Queen has found Rumpelstiltskin and she can’t believe what she’s seeing. She chokes Belle until the magic dissipates into a cloud of magical smoke. Turns out Shadow Belle is Peter Pan’s shadow.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on this little nugget. Peter Pan has been manipulating Rumpel since he arrived on the island, and simultaneously his shadow has been wooing Rumpelstiltskin by pretending to be his true love. That means when they almost kissed, held hands, and she urged him to come home to start a family that was all Peter Pan. How did he cloak his presence to the Dark One? Was it the creepy voodoo doll?
As Snow and Emma trek ahead of Charming and Hook, Emma admits to her mother that she kissed Hook. Emma is panicking because Nealfire might be alive, but her face reveals she’s struggling with the fact that she kissed Hook. If it were just a kiss, she wouldn’t be admitting it out loud to anyone or freaking out. When Emma struggles with her feelings she deflects, but in this case, she’s so overwhelmed with emotion she can’t.
In the past, Snow and Ariel have a heart-to-heart about this week’s theme, which is telling the truth. Snow believes that Ariel should let Prince Eric know she’s a mermaid, but Ariel is conflicted. She doesn’t want the man she loves to give up his dream of traveling the world for her. The Little Mermaid seeks out an audience with the mythical sea goddess Ursula. She pleads to the water for more time to be with Eric. Ursula, who hasn’t been seen in over 1,000 yearsm doesn’t come. Upset, she thanks the goddess for nothing, and just as she turns, Ursula surfaces.
“What is this amateur hour?”
Regina and Rumpel are butting heads in the jungle. She can’t believe that Rumpel actually thought that Pan’s shadow could be Belle. What the hell has he been doing in Neverland anyway? She’s had enough of camping with the Charming Family, and said that if they’re going to get Henry back then she needs her evil little imp. Rumpelstiltskin maintains they can only defeat Pan if he dies and Regina isn’t having it. She suggests they team up. If they can’t find a way to kill Pan, they need to give him a fate worse than death. Her little pep-talk is just what the Dark One needed to be, well, the flipping Dark One. His survival instincts kicked back in thanks to Regina.
Back in Storybrooke, he has an item they can use against Pan. Luckily Regina has a way to travel between the realms. She must have forgotten the last two episodes when they rummaged through Nealfire’s cave looking for a way home. Our two favorite villains join forces. Let’s call them Team Rocket.
Ursula tells a flabbergasted Ariel that she is indeed real. Lana Parilla, who is playing Ursula, uses so many references from Disney’s The Little Mermaid it makes you want to squeal in utter delight. She offers Ariel a deal and convinces her to keep her secret of being a mermaid from the Prince. That will totally work, right?
Naive, and in a move that completely resembles an eight-year-old Snow turning to Cora for help, she accepts Ursula’s deal. She clamps a bracelet to Snow’s wrist and turns her into a mermaid. With Snow being a mermaid, Ariel gets to keep her legs. She thinks that with Snow being a mermaid, the Evil Queen won’t be able to follow her from realm to realm and that she’ll be able to have a wonderful life free from the burden of being chased. According to Snow, Ursula isn’t real. Ariel doubts the Princess because she saw her with her own eyes. Of course, Ursula isn’t real. It turns out that Regina, the Evil Queen, has tricked the Little Mermaid.
The Motley Crew arrives at the Echo Caves. Hook looks distraught that this is where Pan had lead them. On his last stint in Neverland, he lost half his crew to the Echo Caves. He tells the group that the only way to rescue someone from the inside is to expose a secret. Even better-in order to leave the cave, you have to reveal your darkest secret. Hook determines Pan lead them to the Echo Caves hoping that after sharing their secrets they’d destroy themselves.
The Evil Queen of the past ridicules the mermaid for being upset that she tricked her. She yells at Ariel to take the deal. She has the chance to have her happy ending by exploring the world with her true love. Regina warns Ariel that there are no second chances. Snow convinces her friend that it’s okay, and to go to Eric. Ariel leaves.
Just kidding! Ariel straight up dinglehoppers Regina’s neck by stabbing it with a fork!
Run Swim Snow! Run Swim! Ariel rips the enchanted bracelet off the Princesses arm and advises her to hold her breath. The two dive into the sea. For some reason, Regina seems to care about Snow getting away more than the fact that she was just stabbed in the neck with a salad-fork.
Everyone enters the Echo Cave. Nealfire is trapped in the center of the cave. He spots Emma and screams out to her. She’s clearly shaken. It’s 100 feet across to him with no way to swing over. Hook once again tells the Charming Family that they need to reveal their secrets to save Nealfire. Charming questions how he knows it will work. Only one way to find out-
Hook has spent 300 years masking his insecurities and vulnerabilities. You can see how difficult being placed in this situation is for him, but he composes himself before taking the leap. “I kissed Emma.”
Emma attempts to convince Hook, and more importantly herself that it was just a kiss. How could a kiss be his darkest secret? He turns to face her, and with nothing but sincerity in his eyes explains, it’s not the kiss that’s his darkest secret but what the kiss exposed.
”My secret is I never thought I’d be capable of letting go of my first love, of my Milah. To believe that I could find someone else that is, until I met you.”
In a selfless act, Hook who has always guarded and protected himself lets everyone know that his darkest secret is that he has moved on from his first love. It’s clearly a painful admission for the pirate because he knows that exposing the truth will get him nothing from the woman he cares for. He’s doing it though, and by being honest, by exposing this personal raw truth, Hook is helping her save the man he believes Emma love. Once again you see Killian Jones, not Captain Hook, and he’s putting Emma first because he wants her to have a chance at happiness even if it isn’t with him. It’s both tragic and beautiful. Emma who has never had anyone put her first has found someone who is willing to do that. He’s asking for nothing in return. Her happiness is enough.
The ground literally shakes, and half the bridge to Nealfire’s cage appears. As Charming begins to tell his secret you can see Emma move towards Hook with open arms, but she hesitates as Snow interrupts.
“Ever since the curse broke, since we found each other, since we found Emma and all that happiness, there is something I haven’t wanted to admit. Out daughter is a beautiful, smart, amazing woman whom I love very much and of whom I could not be more proud of, but she’s all grown up. As much as I wanna pretend I’m okay with that I’m not.”
Snow White wants another baby. Like Rumpelstiltskin, she desires a very human and very selfish second chance at being a mother. While Snow admits this in front of her daughter who has struggled with being an orphan the entirety of their stay in Neverland, Hook keeps his sad eyes focused on her. He sees Emma and how she awkwardly shifts at hearing the words from her mother. It looks as if he wants to reach out to her and comfort her, but he doesn’t believe he can.
Charming’s secret is that he’s a liar. They can’t have another baby. “I can’t leave Neverland. If I do, I’ll die.”
All three secrets complete the bride to Nealfire. Emma draws her sword and moves forward. Halfway there she turns back and locks eyes with Hook. Snow, Charming and Hook all look uncomfortable after exposing such personal things, but Hook also appears to be heartbroken. Emma turns to run towards Nealfire and begins to hack at his cage with her sword, but that’s not how it works in the Echo Caves. She needs to tell a secret, and Nealfire assures her that she can tell him anything.
“From the moment when I saw you in New York, the instant you stepped back into my life I knew, I knew I’d never stop loving you. And before I even had a chance to take a breath, I, I lost you once more and all that pain I pushed back all those years it just came rushing back, and I, I didn’t know if I could go through it again. I love you. I probably always will. But my secret, is that I was hoping that this was a trick. I was hoping you were dead.”
The moment the bars of the cage disintegrate Nealfire jumps forward to embrace Emma. The camera moves back to Hook who stands utterly broken. We don’t know if Nealfire could hear what Hook revealed, or if Hook could catch what Emma said to Nealfire, but we do know that Hook’s admission is he’s moved on and desires happiness. Emma too wants to move on from her first love. Their secrets parallel one another. Eventually, these two will meet along their paths and be traveling in the same direction.
Let’s discuss our player who didn’t have to disclose a secret. While Regina was not present in the Echo Caves, the hot-headed Queen has been spitting out the truth since coming to Neverland. She thankfully slapped the sense back into Rumpelstiltskin reminding him that he is a force to be reckoned with and in no way weak. Regina reminded Rumpel that he is the strongest magical being from the Enchanted Forest. Everyone in his realm feared him, and for good reason. Pan chipped away at his confidence within a week. Thank goodness for Regina showing him how idiotic that was. The Evil Queen’s so fierce, and she isn’t afraid of anyone, even an all power omnipresent teenager.
Exiting the Echo Caves a very uncomfortable Nealfire and Hook address one another. Hook asks if Nealfire can get them off the island. Nealfire assures that after they save Henry he can navigate them all home. The pirate leaves to go find Tinkerbell followed by an unhappy Snow and Charming.
Emma and Nealfire share a moment alone. She apologizes about the way she feels, and lets him know that she can’t change it. Nealfire says its fine, and that his secret is that he’ll never stop fighting for her. What really sets Hook and Nealfire apart this season is the way they strive for Emma. Hook is a man of action, and instead of telling her he’ll be there he shows her. Nealfire instead of showing Emma he’s there for her, says it. Once again we’re shown how important actions vs intent are to Emma Swan. As Nealfire walks away from Emma, viewers see that Hook had waited behind to eavesdrop. He’s hurting.
In the past, and once they’ve reached safety, Snow yells at Ariel to go find Prince Eric. Eric had waited for Ariel. She swims up to his castle full of hope. When she attempts calling out to her Prince she can’t. Her voice has been taken by none other than a very bitter Regina. “The only thing worse about telling your prince how you feel and rejecting you is never telling him at all. Never knowing. Never even having a chance at true love.”
Back in her dark palace, the real Ursula emerges in Regina’s looking glass. She threatens the Evil Queen that the next time she impersonates her that she’ll find out just how real she is.
In Neverland, Team Rocket goes to the beach to summon the Little Mermaid. She’s been voiceless for over 28 years. Regina offers her a deal. Go to Storybrooke, cause you know, mermaids can travel between realms, and retrieve the item they require from Gold’s Shop. In return she’ll give Ariel legs. The enchanted cuff appears in her hands.
Good news! In Storybrooke, Ariel will find Prince Eric.
Ariel and Hook are the two sides of a coin this episode. Ariel withheld the truth and had her happy ending stripped away without ever letting Eric know how she felt. Hook let the woman he cares for know how he felt because his faith in his feelings were strong enough to conquer his fear of being rejected. You can’t help but root for these characters. Deep down they all deserve a chance to have a happy ending. As tragic as it seems that Emma will always love Nealfire and that Hook will never be given a chance, he took a leap of faith by letting her know how he feels. Hook laid everything out on the table, and if Emma had ever grappled with what Hook’s intentions for helping her were, well now, she knows. They can only move forward from here.
Till next time.