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.