TV Time: Once Upon a Time 3.06

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Title Ariel

Two-Sentence Summary After Hook reveals that Neal is alive in Neverland, he joins Emma, Snow, and Charming on a mission to rescue him, but, in order to do that, each of them must reveal their darkest secret. Believing that rescuing Neal is a distraction from their real mission, Regina teams up with Rumplestiltskin, and her relationship with Ariel—as shown in flashbacks to Fairytale Land—proves to be an important part of the puzzle to overpowering Peter Pan and saving Henry.

Favorite Line “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.” (Hook, to Emma)

My Thoughts Well that one hurt.

No matter which characters you love or hate, sympathize with or wish would get their hearts crushed, “Ariel” was painful. No character got away unscathed; everyone ended up hurt and everyone took part in the hurting, too. Yes, there were victories, and there were even moments of gleeful camp and villainy, but, ultimately this episode was about the very human struggles of people who just happen to be fairytale characters—and we all know that’s when Once Upon a Time is at its most compelling.

Let’s start with those much-needed moments of fun before we move on to the heartbreak, shall we? I knew that the Ariel backstory episode was going to be a great one for Regina from the second I found out that she would be channeling Ursula in the flashbacks. Lana Parrilla has made no secret of the fact that Ursula is her favorite Disney villain, and you could see just how much pure fun she was having every second she spent channeling Disney’s animated version of the sea witch. It was a joy to watch an actress so clearly loving her job and doing such a great job honoring a classic Disney character in the process.

What I liked most about the flashbacks in this episode was the way its emotional impact snuck up on me. For most of the episode, I didn’t really care about Ariel or Eric, if I’m being honest. I thought Joanna Garcia Swisher was a great casting choice, but I thought most of the story itself (and the characterization of Eric) was sadly one-dimensional, especially when juxtaposed with the incredibly complex emotions happening in the Neverland storyline.

But just when I was ready to write off this flashback as a cute but empty trip into the realm of another beloved Disney princess, Ariel stabbed Regina with her dinglehopper salad trident fork. That show of friendship, courage, and ingenuity made me love this little mermaid—and it made what happened to her even more horrible. I was not expecting to be so affected by the scene of Ariel losing her voice, but I think my reaction spoke to the power of surprise that Once Upon a Time invokes so well. I should have seen it coming, but I’m glad that I didn’t. Because it hit like me like a sucker punch (I’m still getting emotional over how well Garcia Swisher sold Ariel’s desperation), and sometimes I love being blindsided by my emotions.

Something that didn’t really surprise me was Ariel being used to help Rumplestiltskin and Regina get something from Storybrooke. As soon as we learned mermaids can travel between realms, I knew she would factor into Operation Henry somehow. But I loved the way the end of this episode set up a great storyline for Ariel next week, and I’m looking forward to seeing her reunion with Eric. Also, any scene that features Regina sassing Rumplestiltskin about ordering calamari is going to be a favorite scene for me.

Most of Regina’s scenes in this episode were favorites for me, to be honest. I liked her teaching Emma how to use magic, and I thought it was important to hear Emma calling her a monster because their relationship will never be completely devoid of antagonism—as it should be. And I loved her decision to skip out on Operation Henry when it turned into Operation Neal. If I were Regina, I would have done the same thing. The only thing she cares about is getting Henry back; she has no tie to Neal to make her want to help. Plus, that decision put the dream team of Regina and Rumplestiltskin back together. Whenever Parrilla and Robert Carlyle share a scene, I’m like a kid on the Fourth of July—just watching the fireworks. Those two are incredible together, and watching Regina snap him out of his pity party with plenty of sass and common sense was everything I never knew I always wanted.

I love the Regina we’ve been given this season, and I hope she never goes away. And if it means keeping Robbie Kay around longer to be the show’s central antagonist, then that’s even better. His “Breakfast with Rumple” scene was another moment for his growing highlight reel. Regina, Rumplestiltskin, and Pan were a trifecta of awesome antagonists who provided a strange kind of light at the end of some very dark tunnels (or Echo Caves) throughout the rest of this episode.

I would like to take a second and give the writers so much credit for not dragging out the “Will Hook tell?” drama at all. If there’s one thing these episodes are proving, it’s that Hook in regaining his lost sense of honor through putting Emma’s happiness above any thought of his own. I was so happy he chose to tell Charming first; it was a nice way to continue to build on the trust and openness we’ve been watching develop between them so far this season. To watch them act as a united front against Snow was a great way to make explicit the similarities between these two men and how they view honor, nobility, and love.

Jennifer Morrison played Emma’s suppressed fear of seeing Neal again perfectly. I loved the tension in the scene between Emma and Snow when Snow talked about Emma’s happy ending. You could tell that Emma wanted so badly to tell her mother about all the ways Neal destroyed her ability to hope for so long, but she kept it to herself. I don’t think Snow has any real idea about Emma and Neal’s history, just like I think she has no real concept of a love that can exist after first love. For Snow, “true love” and “first love” have always been synonymous, and she thinks that’s the way it’s going to be for her daughter as well. But every character on this show is growing and learning through the trials of Neverland, and I think part of Snow’s journey is coming to terms with having a daughter whose experiences are so different from hers, both in life and in love.

Secrets about life, love, hope, and second chances are at the center of this episode, coming to a head in the brilliantly acted sequence of confessions inside the echo caves. As Snow told Ariel in the flashbacks, love demands honesty, and “even if you get hurt, you’ll know you tried.” Love is what makes these confessions so powerful, and it’s also what makes them so painful. Because each secret revealed is done with the knowledge that the character is going to hurt someone they love, someone they never want to hurt. And you could feel how much each of these secrets hurt the character telling it, too.

I was shocked when Hook became the first one to tell his secret. He had nothing to gain by sharing his secret at all, let alone going first. But he knew that in order for Emma to get to Neal—to the man Hook thinks is her happiness—he had to prove that this was how the cave worked, so he did the honorable thing—and he did it for her happiness. Colin O’Donoghue was excellent once again in this episode, especially in the smallest details, such as the way he seemed to steel himself before sharing his secret, knowing he’s about to make himself as vulnerable as he’s been in 300 years for a woman he thinks could never love him back now that Neal is alive.

Episode after episode this season, Hook has completely floored me with his sincerity, but nothing he’s done so far—not his “Perhaps I would;” not even his reaction to Emma’s kiss—prepared me for the intimate honesty of his confession to Emma. He loved Milah for 300 years, and he lost hope of ever escaping the darkness her death draped around his heart. Until he met Emma. Now, he sees Milah as his first love because he knows Emma is his second chance at love—his second chance at a life worthy of love. Emma is his source of hope after three lifetimes spent without it, and for a show that equates true love with hope on almost a weekly basis, that’s a powerful statement to make.

While Hook’s words were beautiful, what moved me the most were O’Donoghue, Morrison, and Ginnifer Goodwin’s reactions in that moment. O’Donoghue’s line reading was full of so much unforced emotion. This is Hook’s darkest secret not only because he was scared to move on from Milah but because he never wanted to burden Emma with his feelings while Henry was still her priority. O’Donoghue’s reading of Hook’s “Until I met you” had almost an apologetic tone to it, knowing that what he was saying was going to make Emma’s life more complicated when all he’s wanted to do since he came back to Storybrooke is make her happy. But Morrison’s reaction also spoke volumes; Emma is unsure of how to handle both his sincerity and his selflessness. This is a woman who has said she’s not used to anybody putting her first, and that’s what this moment is all about. You can see the fear but also the smallest flicker of understanding cross her features. And Goodwin showed in such a subtly powerful way that Snow is beginning to realize that maybe all first loves aren’t true loves. Snow is the great champion of hope, and she sees that Emma is Hook’s hope. And maybe what she believed about true love is wrong because she can’t deny that this man loves her daughter the way her husband loves her and the way she loves her husband—with selflessness, with honor, and with hope.

Goodwin continued to blow me away as Snow shared her secret with Emma and Charming: She wants another chance at being a mother because, while she loves Emma, this isn’t the relationship she wanted with her daughter. That moment physically hurt me as a fan of Snow and Emma’s relationship since the pilot episode, but it was a beautiful kind of pain. Even as Snow was complimenting Emma, Morrison expertly played her reaction as waiting for the other shoe to drop, and the horrible thing about Emma’s life has been that the other shoe always drops. Neither Snow nor Emma is to blame here, both women understand how much they love each other, but both women also understand that they will never have a real mother-daughter relationship. So it’s right for Snow to want another baby; it’s something she deserves. But that doesn’t mean my heart didn’t break for both women, and that’s how it should be. Kudos to Goodwin for absolutely destroying me with her vulnerability in that scene. And kudos to Josh Dallas for following up that gripping moment of emotional honesty with his own confession that finally ended the “Charming’s secret” plot while simultaneously making me cry because he won’t be able to give his wife the family she so desperately wants.

And then there was Emma’s secret. I thought it was going to be that she never stopped loving Neal, but I was so unprepared for the revelation that she wished he was dead so she could finally move on from all of the pain wrapped up in their relationship. Emma and Neal’s relationship has always been fraught with tragically human moments, but this may have been the best of them all. Never has Morrison been better; I grow more in awe of her talent every week. Emma is a woman who is so damaged by her past, so broken by her abandonments and her fears of more of them that she would rather believe the father of her son is dead than have to face the pain he caused her again. That’s not a fairytale story; that’s real, human drama. That’s a woman trying desperately to move on even as she understands a part of her will always love this man. That’s emotional honesty at its most poignant, and that’s Once Upon a Time at its best.

Neal knows that he hurt Emma, and he’s not making excuses for it anymore, which is a huge step in the right direction for this character. However, it’s hard for me not to root for the idea of Emma getting a second chance at love with Hook right now. O’Donoghue broke my heart in those final scenes as Hook watched the woman he loves reunite with the man he thinks she’ll choose over him. I can’t help but root for this pirate to get his chance at a happy ending, and I can’t help but root for Emma to have a chance at her happy ending with someone who loves her so selflessly and sincerely. Emma helped Hook find the hope he needed to move on from the pain of Milah’s death; perhaps he can be the hope she needs to move on from Neal the way she seems to desperately want to. But I also want a happy ending for Neal because we’ve seen just how broken he is, too.

I’m not usually supportive of “love triangles,” but I can understand this one because all of the actors involved are excellent and the characters have genuine motivations. Also, I don’t fear it taking over the plot; there’s still a little boy to find and a way home to secure, and that’s what Emma cares about most right now. Emma’s emotional journey just makes that story all the more interesting, engaging, and emotional. And I am incredibly thankful that the writers seem to have remembered that again this season. It’s making each episode even better than the last.

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11 thoughts on “TV Time: Once Upon a Time 3.06

  1. Firstly, I would just like to say I love all your reviews!

    I definitely agree with everything you say and Killian was quite amazing in this episode. But I felt so bad for Emma throughout the whole thing. Her son is still missing and in the hands of a (somehow loveable) psychopath and her greatest ally in getting him (Regina) back has jumped ships. She’s having problems with her magic, feelings of being an orphan and then gets a whole lot of emotional baggage dumped on her.

    She finds out her father will be abandoning her (through no fault of his own) and that she isn’t really enough for her mother (which you can’t blame either of them for). I know both of those statements are taken out of context but that’s how they can be interpreted, and how it might be interpreted by an orphan who has never truly known love or family.

    I really do believe Snow and Charming deserve a go at being ‘parents’ and having the moments – watching their children grow and being there for all the first times – and as much as I want that for them, I think it will be so hard for Emma. To see her parents be happy with another child and I think (quite reasonably) she’ll be jealous that she missed out on that.

    But that’s a problem for later, Emma gets more emotions pushed on her with Killian confessing to her (which he resisted because he knew the effect it would have on her but Pan is a devious bastard).

    Then Emma has to admit something terrible. Out of all the secrets, I think Emma’s is the darkest because she would rather Neal be dead than in her life again. Emma knows its terrible to think, but to say to the person as well would be quite excruciating. If Emma spends the next episode crying in the jungle, I would not blame her, although she will most likely put her walls right up and continue on until she gets Henry back. And that’s what is so great and heartbreaking about watching her.

    I’m very much looking forward to next week, but I hope it doesn’t centre on just Storybrooke and the storyline in Neverland continues.

    • “If Emma spends the next episode crying in the jungle, I would not blame her…” – I could not agree more. This is how I feel after most episodes of Once Upon a Time, to be honest. The sheer fact that this woman gets up every day and chooses to be a good person is a heroic act considering all of the pain she’s been put through her whole life. Your analysis of the way Snow and Charming’s secrets would affect Emma, who already feels like an abandoned orphan, is spot-on. Her parents should get to have another child, but that doesn’t mean it would be easy to Emma to hear that her relationship with her mother isn’t what she wanted. That’s what makes this show so good. Nothing is simple; nobody is perfect. And it breaks my heart while making me love this show more every week.

      Thank you so much for leaving such a nice and thoughtful comment! 🙂

  2. You’ve left little to disagree with for sure. I like you didn’t particularly care about Ariel and the flashbacks in this episode. I also wasn’t particularly moved when she lost her voice, because I had already moved on from that plot point. I am however curious about her headed to Storybrooke. However whenever Rumple and Regina are scene partners only good comes of it. So I too was really happy they sent her away from the group to continue to look for Henry. She is singular in purpose and all others in Neverland are a means to an end. No different than Storybrooke.

    As for most of us the meat and potatoes of this episode was the echo cave. I really appreciate your take on Snow and Emma, because it made me think about the scene from a completely different point of view, because while I appreciated Snow’s confession for me it lacked the gravity of the others secrets and felt like a set up for Charming’s devastating news. I had hoped that she would confess not wanting to be Emma’s mother because the pain of losing out on her childhood was too much to take and theirs could never be a parent/child relationship. Your take touches into that emotion but from a position that is more true to Snow because it comes from a place of hope, not rejection. Given that, it made me think of the wonderful parallel that is actually set up between Snow and Emma with their confessions because as you mentioned, Hook and Emma’s reveals cause Snow to reexamine if first loves are in fact always true loves. The same can be said for Snow in her attempts to rewrite the damage done by their decision to put Emma in the tree trunk.

    Emma’s confession was so worthy of that moment and everything about it rang true, sad and cathartic. We hold onto the things we love sometimes to our own detriment and Emma’s love for Neal is mired in feeling unworthy and damaged. I have always appreciated a show that was willing to look at the very real fact that love is never enough, it is simply what at times makes the effort worth doing. OUaT did that on Sunday night with great acumen.

    However for as great as all the confessions were, the moment that truly made me happy in this episode was the closing shot of Neal telling Emma he was going to earn it back and Hook looking on in quiet desperation. I loved it because the creators managed to create a plausible love triangle without a villain, without a clear cut person to root for and without a foregone conclusion. This triangle isn’t merely an obstacle for Emma and Neal to overcome, this is journey all three characters must navigate where the ending is uncertain. It took me by complete surprise that I don’t have a dog in this fight and it reminded me of how much I loved the way these creators navigated Jack/Kate/Sawyer in LOST only to land us in the place where the great love story of that show wasn’t Jack and Kate as you would have presumed but Sawyer and Juliet. So for all the heaviness of Sunday’s episode, I was more hopeful than ever for a great remainder to season 3.

    • I just love your comments so much. Have I mentioned that lately?

      I’m so interested to see what’s going to happen with Snow now that her secret is out and now that she’s beginning to see that first love and true love might not be synonymous. The idea of second chances has always been an important part of her character, and I’m excited to see how that extends to her wish to have a second chance at motherhood with a new baby and her realization that her daughter deserves a second chance at love with whoever she chooses—not just Neal because he was her first love.

      Your thoughts on the love triangle echo my own. While I can’t pretend not to have a dog in the fight (a lovely one named Killian Jones), I really do want happiness for all three characters. And I think what makes this triangle really work is the woman at its center is one we all want happiness for above almost everything else. Jennifer Morrison and the writers have done such an excellent job of creating a heroine who we can really root for, to the point where I will be happy with whichever man she chooses as long as Emma seems happy with it. And I could even see her not choosing either of these men and raising Henry as a single mom (with help from Regina). That’s not something I can usually see in a love triangle. We met Emma first as an independent woman, and I love that, even with two men who love her in the picture now, she is still first and foremost a mother and a woman who can stand on her own feet. The reason we root for love for her isn’t because we can tell she needs it, but because we know a man who genuinely loves her and stands by her side would make her happy and help heal some of the scars we know she carries from years of loneliness. I’m not afraid that the love triangle will dominate Emma’s character, but I’m excited for her to get a chance at happiness with whoever the writers choose for her. And that’s a really good feeling.

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  4. Ah, I finally I got to see the famous Echo Cave scene! (Catching up late in the game means I know a bit too much, but it’s still fun to see it all in context. And it won’t be long before I’m caught up with everybody else – I’m deliberately stretching it out a bit, enjoying it.)

    Agh! so much pain and emotion… Pan is a master manipulator. I was expecting Snow to admit that she doesn’t feel like Emma’s mother, but I guess that isn’t really a secret. Wanting another child, knowing how much pain it would cause Emma not to be enough for them, was a perfect secret. And on top of being not-enough, Emma missed all of those firsts with her own son. So for all she might enjoy being a doting auntie/big sister to a new babe, there’s going to be a lot of heartache there for everyone. And without Charming? – well, yeah, I don’t believe he’s stuck there – they’ll find a way. I love that look he gets when her says that she would be a great mother – does that look have a name? – it’s one of his signature overwhelmed-by-love-for-Snow looks.

    I remembered Hook’s secret from spoilers, but I was surprised he would go first too. What I loved about the reactions to his secret was the one nobody mentioned here – Charming’s reaction to what he said. Just a tiny little look and a nod, but it revealed a growing respect and perhaps a true understanding that Hook wasn’t just trying to bed his little girl, but that he could actually love her deeply.

    I’m happy for Emma that she has two men who love her so much, no matter what. I’m sure things aren’t going to be easy going ahead, and obviously her primary focus is on saving her son, but she has four people who love her with all their hearts on her side, plus two villains who also have a vested interest in Henry and who are just delightful together!

    It might be time to watch another episode and see what happens next.

    • You got to the Echo Cave scene! It’s one of the finest moments of ensemble acting in the show’s history (my other nomination for that title being the confrontation between Emma/Gold/Neal/Henry in “Manhattan”).

      Both of Charming’s reactions that you singled out are ones that resonate with me more and more as I re-watch that scene. The smile he gives Snow when he talks about her being an amazing mother is so beautiful, and I am convinced that moment was so charged because it was a moment for Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin to show their emotions about their own growing family. And his nod towards Hook was such a subtle but powerful moment of understanding. The change in Charming’s demeanor from finding out about the kiss to hearing Hook’s secret was perfect. As you said, he realized that—because you can’t lie in the Echo Cave—Hook’s feelings for Emma are so much more than just attraction. He doesn’t just see her as a conquest; he’s falling in love with her. And Charming is showing by his reaction that he sees this man and his feelings for his daughter as genuine.

  5. I know by now this is many months late, but I was going through your recaps and enjoying them as I do a small rewatch and I just have to say: I really do wish I had found your recaps sooner, because I really do enjoy your thoughts on the Neal/Emma/Hook “triangle.” By now, of course, we know how it shaped up and how it ended, but I was feeling the same way you were and it was kind of hard to be in a part of fandom where the ship wars were particularly bad.

    The thing is, the reason I didn’t mind this particular triangle is because it wasn’t just Emma/Hook and Emma/Neal and it was purely a fight over a woman. There was an extra facet to this that came in the form of Neal/Hook – not in a romantic way, ofc, but those two had a complicated relationship of their own to deal with on top of their individual relationships with Emma. Those two had a relationship filled with love, betrayal and regret to work out even apart from Emma, so all of them having scenes together over this “triangle” didn’t feel so much about cheap drama as it did deep characters working out complex relationships and resolving things that have needed to be dealt with for a very long time.

    And we saw how it ended – Hook backed off. I believe not just to give Emma the chance to be happy, but to kind of ‘make up’ for what happened with Milah (and for giving Bae up too) – because even though Milah ran off of her own volition, Bae was so hurt that someone he came to trust and love had helped his mother abandon him. Hook helped destroy Bae’s first family, even though it wasn’t exactly like that, so I kind of wonder if he thought that backing off and letting Emma and Neal try and have a family with their own son was his way of trying to heal some of that damage. I wonder too if he wanted Henry to have a chance at the thing neither Emma or himself got – a real family, with parents to raise him and love him. It’s an honorable thing to do, and not surprising from the Killian we know now, but imo it was one of the biggest steps we saw S2 Hook take towards being Killian again.

    Looking back at all of this makes me incredibly sad that Neal died. He deserved so much better than the life he got. He wasn’t perfect by any means, he hurt people, but there was so much potential in his life and relationships, it just makes me so sad that none of that will come to fruition now. So much of what he did came from the fact that he had a truly miserable childhood with only brief moments of happiness. I honestly think by the time the show ends, Neal will either be the most tragic character or one of the most, next to Regina (who has gone through a lot, too). Bae never really had a chance to have a happy life, and while leaving Emma like he did was horrible and he gave away a chance at a happy life when he left her, it’s all the more tragic because it’s almost like he was just destined to have a hard life. I’m especially going to miss MRJ as an actor; he had such great chemistry with everyone imo, and losing him is a real loss of not just story potential but acting chops.

  6. Oh, the one-two punch of ‘Good Form’ and ‘Ariel’. I dont think I have ever watched a TV show that completely grabbed me the way these two episodes did.

    You know, some people might complain about the echo caves being “contrived”. But this is a fantasy show, the fun of a fantasy show is that you can have contrived plot devices for added drama. If they arent doing things like this to move the characters forward, I strongly believe they are wasting their potential. Contrived plots that lead to character development: good. Tropes like “dream sequences” or “memory loss” where all character development is erased: bad. I think the echo caves is a great example of what you can achieve when you do it right.

    When I re-watched this episode, it again felt a bit disjointed between Ariel’s story and Neverland, that is until the end. The parallel of Ariel losing her voice and not being able to tell Eric her true feelings worked so beautifully with the secrets that were revealed in the echo cave. In a way, a secret is almost like not having a voice. There is something inside you that means something that you want to get out, but cant for whatever reason, selfish or selfless. Regina’s quote at the end actually brings the storyline together quite well: “The only thing worse about telling your prince how you feel and rejecting you is… never telling him at all. Never knowing.” Hook, Emma, Neal, Snow, and Charming were all left at the end of this episode with the burden of knowing, and it made for some compelling TV.

    • One big YES to all of this, but especially your second paragraph. The Echo Caves were such a great example of using the fact that this show is a fantasy to introduce elements that caused huge amounts of character growth. I still believe it’s some of the most compelling stuff—between the actual content of the secrets and the acting—that this show has ever produced.

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