Title The Heart of the Truest Believer
Two-Sentence Summary After bringing Henry to Neverland at the request of their mysterious “home office,” Tamara and Greg are shocked to learn that they were simply used by Peter Pan and the Lost Boys to procure Henry, and once that goal is achieved, they are no longer of any use alive (Greg’s soul/shadow is ripped from his body by Pan; Tamara is shot by an arrow and later killed by Rumplestiltskin). In their quest to find Henry, Emma, Snow, Charming, Hook, and Regina (Rumplestiltskin has gone rogue) discover that the only way they are going to survive Neverland is by putting aside their hatred and believing in one another, while another strange alliance is being formed in Fairytale Land between Aurora, Philip, Mulan, Robin Hood, and Neal.
Snow: Undo your spell; bring back the mermaid!
Regina: And what—you’ll win her over with your rainbow kisses and unicorn stickers?
My Thoughts If “The Heart of the Truest Believer” is a sign of things to come for Once Upon a Time, then I’m really excited about where this show is headed. Yes, this premiere had a lot going on, but it found a way to balance its storylines and characters with a clarity that seemed to be lacking at times in Season Two. There are still families split apart and villains longing for redemption, but in this episode those things felt like they had the kind of emotional resonance that was often sacrificed for new plot developments in previous episodes. There was plenty of action, but there were also plenty of quieter moments where characters were given a chance to breathe, to talk, to grow, and to surprise us.
One of the biggest surprises in this episode came very early on, when the true identity of Greg and Tamara’s “home office” was revealed. I’ll admit it; when I heard those two words uttered by those two characters again, I was ready to scream, “NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR HOME OFFICE AND NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOU!” (I just really hated their storyline last season, okay?) So imagine my pleasant surprise when I found out these characters were actually being manipulated by Peter Pan and the Lost Boys and that there was no real home office; it was such a relief to know that we weren’t going to spend episode after episode trying to figure out who these two were working for. And it was also such a relief to know that two of the most uninteresting characters in the history of this show were also going to disappear. By doing away with my least favorite storyline of last season only a few minutes into the episode, I already knew this premiere was going to be a success.
Another reason I so deeply enjoyed the way Tamara and Greg were duped was because it set up a recurring theme for this episode which tied all of the plot threads together: the dangers of blind faith but the importance of belief. Once Upon a Time is growing up. Even “truest believer” Henry was throwing out sarcastic quips about Tamara and Greg not asking questions about who they actually worked for because of their blind faith in their cause.
Henry also learned the hard way about the dangers of putting your trust in the wrong thing (or in his case, person). I knew from the start that the kid he’d teamed up with was Peter Pan; he was too good of an actor (and too disarmingly pretty in his features) to just be a generic Lost Boy. I thought Robbie Kay was great at making the twist from friendly boy to creepy Peter Pan believable. There’s something really chilling about the evil hiding behind such a boyish face, and I can’t say enough about how much I love this show for once again taking a classic story and making it feel fresh and surprising. Pan’s “Let’s play” at the end of the episode gave me the best kind of freaked-out chills. Unsettled isn’t usually an emotion I feel while watching Once Upon a Time, but I like that the show still has some new tricks up its sleeve.
However cool the Peter Pan story may be, I still have a lot of questions about this plot (not that having questions is always a bad thing): How did the Lost Boys/Pan manage to contact Greg and Tamara, and why choose them? What does Peter Pan want with the heart of the truest believer? What is the doll that made Rumplestiltskin cry (another brilliant moment from Robert Carlyle)? And how they heck did Pan know what Henry was going to look like hundreds of years before he was born?
Pan knew of Henry before Bae came to Neverland, and I can’t help thinking that Bae’s going to end up in Neverland once again for reasons relating to Henry. I didn’t think we would spend so much time with Bae/Neal so soon (I’ll just call him Neal because apparently I want to be like Emma Swan, which I totally do), but it sure was nice to see Michael Raymond-James back on my TV. It was cool to watch him embrace his past as the son of the Dark One, and I liked seeing him interact with characters we’d left behind around the halfway point of Season Two. I still don’t love Jamie Chung’s line readings as Mulan (they always feel strangely stilted to me), but I did like the scenes where Neal tried to talk to her about the movie bearing her name. Those little moments of self-aware humor have always kept this show grounded, and it was nice to see it right at the start of this season.
The humor came from many different places in this episode, but if you were looking for sassy one-liners, then you needed to look no further than the Jolly Roger. Between Hook and Regina, the quips just kept on coming. Two of my personal favorites were:
• “Oh, that’s a great use of our time—a wardrobe change.” (Hook to Rumplestiltskin after the latter appears wearing his old leather clothes, and looking gosh-darn great in them if you ask me)
• “Fillet the bitch!” (Regina to Charming after they’d captured a mermaid)
Ultimately, though, the scenes on the Jolly Roger were about so much more than sarcastic comments or even intense actions sequences (even though that whole storyline at times felt like one long action scene filled with surprisingly angry mermaids). It was about this group of characters learning how to believe. For Snow and Charming, it was about learning to believe in their daughter for who she is rather than who they want her to be. Emma may have been harsh in her assessment of her relationship with them so far (but tact hasn’t ever been Emma Swan’s chief asset), but she has had her own experiences, and they are all going to have to find a way to believe in each other as a family despite the differences in their lives. For Regina, it was about believing that there are more important things than her hatred of Snow (although the two of them finally getting to haul off and punch each other was very cathartic for me as a viewer—especially to see Snow punch Regina). For Hook, it was about believing in something (or maybe someone) more important than himself.
Each of these characters also needed to learn to believe in themselves and to discover people on that ship who could help them believe in their best selves. One of my favorite small details in this episode was Charming placing his hand on Snow’s shoulder as she talked about needing to believe that things can get better. Snow’s sense of hope has always defined her; it gives her both her kind heart and her fighter’s spirit, and it was beautiful to see her husband’s silent support of her. Yes, Snow can be naïve sometimes, but balance between hope and cynicism is something all of these characters are struggling with—and Snow represents one end of that spectrum.
Charming exists somewhere closer to the middle of that spectrum than his wife, and that was made clear in this episode. He is the kind of man who is willing to do anything to protect his family—even kill a mermaid. But Snow has always helped him believe in his own goodness; she’s the one he looks to when he’s struggling with his own darkness. I hope that little moment and his role in Emma’s rescue points to an even larger and more complex role for Charming this season.
Speaking of complex characters, Regina’s discussion with Hook points to an important question for both of them: Is it right for them to believe that they can still find happy endings after all of the bad things they’ve done? Both of these characters are so multifaceted that they do still have me hoping that they can find happiness—even Regina.
As of right now, a big part of me is hoping that part of Hook’s happy ending involves Emma. The chemistry between Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue was electric in this episode, but it never felt forced. I adored the moment when he told her he fancies her when she’s not yelling at him because it was a great example of his charm. But my favorite moment they shared was their quiet scene below deck when they toasted to Neal’s memory and Hook gave Emma Neal’s sword. Hook genuinely believes in Emma and seems to genuinely care for her as well. There was no bravado or innuendo in that scene, just a man trying to help a woman he knows is struggling with both her grief and her doubts about herself. In an episode that saw Emma struggling with who she is and what makes her special, Hook was the first person to show her that he believes she can handle Neverland and the fight that’s sure to come. This is one relationship I’m very excited to see develop as the season progresses (if only to hear O’Donoghue call her “love” as often as possible in that gorgeous accent of his).
As much as I like the sparks flying between Emma and Hook, the most important relationship in her life is still the one she has with her son. I thought it was a brilliant idea to open the episode with Henry’s birth. That scene was incredibly difficult to watch because Morrison was so heartbreakingly good at showing just how painful that moment was for Emma. It might have even been worse than Emma’s own birth. Snow had Charming by her side; Emma was alone. Snow had one moment of happiness with her baby; Emma wouldn’t even allow herself that because she knew she wasn’t ready to be a mother even for a moment. It hurt in the way the best Once Upon a Time scenes hurt because these actors are able to reach such vulnerable places so believably.
That scene was incredibly important in showing how far Emma has come. Now, Emma is the kind of mother who puts her child before everything. She jumped overboard because she knew it was the only way to get the rest of them to stop fighting long enough to get back on track to saving Henry. She became a leader because her priorities are the clearest: She doesn’t care about anything beyond finding Henry. Emma’s journey from being unable to call herself a mother to proudly defining herself as such has been and continues to be incredibly fulfilling to watch. Last season, she was often the one being led, but in this episode she became a leader—and it made me emotional to see the looks on both Hook and Charming’s faces as they watched her find her footing and believe in herself.
Once Upon a Time is a show about belief, and this episode had me believing in this show more than I have in a long time. If Season Three continues to be as character-driven and focused as this episode, then it’s going to be a fun ride.
Hook is so hot!!!!
I completely agree!
Colin is fantastic as Hook, i know he is one handsome dude but the fact that he is such a great actor seriously makes him even HOTTER
And i love Emma and Hook which so much is there between them 🙂
Thanks for the comment! And I completely agree about Colin; yes, he’s absolutely lovely to look at, but the fact that he’s such a great actor and gives Hook so much depth makes him even more attractive. 😀
this was a lovely recap
The take down of the two worst characters to wander onto a set and a single sentence dismissal of the home office made me fall in love with this show all over again. I think they launched off really well, the casting of Peter Pan was solid and I liked that they didn’t have our core characters change, but come to a conclusion about how they needed to work together. I am actually most intrigued by Rumpelstiltskin’s journey in Neverland. I am holding off concerns about Neal and how that group connects back to Neverland, but I do think those scenes felt slightly disjointed from the thrust of the storytelling. It was a minor quibble in an overall solid start to season 3. I hope it maintains this tone and trajectory.
“The take down of the two worst characters to wander onto a set and a single sentence dismissal of the home office made me fall in love with this show all over again.” – I couldn’t have said it better myself. As soon as the true nature of the home office was revealed my sister just looked at me and smiled because she knew how much I’d hated that storyline. I’m just so happy that it’s not an overarching plot like I’d feared it was going to be.
I agree with you about Neal’s storyline feeling disjointed from the rest of the action. Part of me thinks it’s because I don’t love those actors (besides Michael Raymond-James), but I also wasn’t expecting it to be such a big part of the plot so early on. I’m so much more interested in the characters in Neverland that I fear it’s always going to feel like a little bit of a disappointment to cut away from them and return to present-day Fairytale Land.
I am so glad I am not alone on the casting over in Fairytale land, Mulan particularly irks me. Perhaps that’s because I am loving Ming Na over on Agents of SHIELD. I hope we get Neal to Neverland sooner rather than later, especially given they are going to spend the first half of the season there.
I really enjoyed this episode, and I totally agree with you that this premiere did so much better at balancing the character moments with the plot than we saw in Season 2! I am so happy they seem to be getting that balance back because that was my major disappointment with last season. I was also really glad they got rid of Greg and Tamara as they were probably my least favorite OUAT plotline overall, so I enjoyed seeing them be duped by Peter Pan and dumped out of our storyline already.
My favorite part of the episode was probably Emma – her determination to find her son, her realization that the storm was being caused by their fighting and her willingness to sacrifice herself in order to get everyone to cooperate, and her taking charge at the end of the episode and stepping up as the leader were some of my favorite scenes.
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So, I am doing a re-watch, so you might see me pop in for some of these reviews before I found your lovely site 🙂
While watching this episode I kept thinking to myself, “man, this is a really well balance episode” and I can see from your opening paragraph and others comments that I wasnt alone in that assessment. I dont think I would ever find myself saying “this episode just didnt have enough plot in it” but I definitely get frustrated when there is too much plot and not enough character development.
Watching that opening scene with Emma giving birth was quite emotional knowing how 3A ends. There are some shows that you go back and watch earlier seasons and you dont feel the same connections to the characters or you feel like their development got lost somewhere along the way, but I have never felt that way about ‘Once’. I go back and watch old episodes and it makes me appreciate the writers and actors choices even more with the knowledge of where they are going.
Next to Season 1, I think 3A is my favorite arc of Once. I really just enjoyed the character focus on the ‘Nevengers’, and the ending to 3A is probably one of my favorite conclusions of an arc of any TV show I have seen. I am excited to see the whole season condensed now that its on Netflix!
I’m so excited to have you commenting as you re-watch, and I hope to read more of your early 3A thought as you keep going!
I love this premiere so much. I really struggled through the second half of Season Two, but the S2 finale made me cautiously optimistic about what was to come. Then, this premiere happened, and I was all in once again in a way I hadn’t been since early S2. From the episode’s first moments, I was completely excited to see such a heavy focus on Emma, and it paved the way for a wonderful half-season of really focused character development for her. The balance between plot and emotional growth in 3A was so strong, and, as you said, it ended with such a phenomenal episode that really took the weaving of plot and character development to new heights. That stage was set with this premiere, and this whole arc was so great to watch (especially as someone who loves Emma Swan).
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