In the Enchanted Past, Snow is on the run from Regina's men, and has to jump off a cliff into the deep waters below. Ariel (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) saves her. As the princess and the mermaid get acquainted, Ariel reveals her love for the human Prince Eric (Gil McKinney). Snow accompanies Ariel to Eric's Ursula Ball and nudges the temporarily legged maid (I'll explain in the recap) toward her true love. Eric recognizes Ariel from his dreams, but forgets that it was she who once saved his life. Still, it's love at first (or second) sight, so he invites Ariel to leave with him tomorrow, to travel the world. Ariel is afraid to reveal that she's a mermaid. She makes her way to the water to beseech the possibly mythical goddess, Ursula, and who should answer her prayers, but Regina (in disguise).
Regina/Ursula gives Ariel a magical bracelet. Ariel finds Snow and puts it on her wrist. Snow grows a mermaid's tail and Ariel can now keep her legs. The thing is, even though Snow wants to escape Regina's wrath, she doesn't want to stop being a human woman. Regina arrives on scene. Ariel learns she was deceived. She stabs Regina in the neck with a stolen salad trident (explanation in recap), removes the bracelet from Snow and helps our fair princess escape. Later, when Ariel returns to Eric's palace, she tries to call out to him, only to find Regina has stolen her voice. Regina appears and rubs it in the girl's face, because she's Regina. Back at Knifingham Palace, however, the real Ursula appears in Regina's magic mirror, reaches through it, wraps Regina up in her tentacles, and warns her never again to impersonate her.
Now, in Neverland, Hook, thank the good Lord, immediately tells Charming and Snow that Neal is alive and on Neverland. Like Hook, Charming thinks they should protect Emma from this intel, at least until they can confirm it. When the men won't listen to Snow's caution to tell Emma, she seems to go along with them, but as soon as Emma realizes they're up to something, Snow blurts out the truth. Hurrah!
Regina is so not up for looking for Baelfire, so she sets off on her own, and finds Rumpy talking to Illusion Belle. Regina knows what she's looking at as soon as she sees it -- Pan! She magically throttles "Belle" until she collapses. Pan's shadow rises up from the ground and flies away. A couple of weeks ago, I floated the theory that Pan is somehow Rumpy's father. Nothing in this episode disabuses me of that notion, particularly the idea of how cruel it would be were that the truth.
Regina and Rumpy realize they need a way to contain/disable Pan that does not require Rumpy to sacrifice his life, because he just doesn't have that level of sacrifice in him. Using the conch Neal used to summon the giant squid, Regina summons Ariel. Mermaids, you see, can travel between the realms/worlds and Rumpy thinks he has something back in Storybrooke that will help them accomplish their goal. Regina restores Ariel's voice, gives her the magical bracelet which will provide her with legs, informs Ariel that Prince Eric lives where they want her to go, and asks her to help them.
Meanwhile, Emma, Hook, Charming, and Snow track the Lost Boys path to the Echo Caves. Hook explains that to find what you need in the Echo Caves, you must reveal your deepest secrets. Inside, they find Neal, but he's on a small rock pillar about a hundred feet across a gaping canyon and there's no obvious way to reach him.
Hook reminds everyone about the secret-telling strategy he only told them moments before, then goes first. He confesses that he kissed Emma. Charming reacts as you'd expect. Snow hushes him, because now is not the time to protectively parent their age equivalent daughter. Emma tells Hook that since she already told Snow about the kiss, it probably doesn't count as a secret. Hook understands, but says that's not the real secret. The real secret is that he never thought he'd be capable of letting go of his first love, Milah, and never thought he'd be capable of finding someone else. "That is, until I met you." A rock bridge juts out from Neal's rock pillar and begins to cross the divide. Oh Hook, you big leather clad, eye-lined, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty sap.
David wants to confess next, but Snow has an urgent need to go first so she can break our hearts and remind us of how good this show can be when it is at its best. She tells David that she loves Emma and is proud of her, and is so happy they have her back, but she's had a secret she hasn't been able to admit. Emma is all grown up, and Snow isn't okay with the fact that they missed everything with her -- her first smile, her first words, her first steps. "What we have with her is unique, but it's not what I wanted." Ouch, and yes. Yes. I mean, it hurts Emma, but she gets it too. When you have a baby with your true love, you want to raise that baby and revel in every moment. When that baby is taken from you and you only meet her once she's a 28-year-old woman and a mother in her own right, you damned well feel ripped off. I'm sure Emma feels ripped off about missing Henry's infancy and early childhood, and about having a childhood with her own parents too. Oh, my heart. What a confession. Anyhow, Snow adds then when they get back to Storybrooke (it is telling that Snow hasn't let go of the idea of staying), she wants to have another baby. As you'd expect the rock bridge extends closer to Team Operation Cobra Rescue.
Now it's Charming's turn. He tells Snow he wants that for her too, but it can't happen with him. He confesses the Dreamshade poisoning, and the spring water cure that ties his life to Neverland. Snow's restrained anger and fear is a vision to behold. Someone give Ginnifer Goodwin this episode's MVP statuette. Okay?
Emma runs across the now complete bridge to Neal. He's still in the cage, so she starts whacking at it with her sword. Neal looks through the bars and tells her she knows what she has to do, and bless my soul, she does it. Emma confesses her deepest feelings. "When I heard you might be here, that you might still be alive, I knew I should be happy, but I wasn't." You and half the fandom, babe. "I was terrified. I didn't understand why, until now. From the moment I saw you in New York -- from the instant you stepped back in my life I knew... I knew I'd never stopped loving you. And before I even got a chance to take a breath, I lost you once more and all that pain I had pushed down for all those years, it just came rushing back. 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 this was a trick. I was hoping you were dead, because it would be easier for me to put you behind me, than to face all the pain we went through all over again." I'll wait a moment for you to play out your standing ovation.
Once Emma's confession is complete, the door to the cage dissolves. Neal reaches out of it and hugs Emma tight. Hook looks gutted. I haven't even been able to take my eyes off the three of them yet to look at Charming and Snow. Later, as the team makes its way through the jungle, Emma apologizes to Neal for her confession, but Neal won't hear of it. After everything he's done to her in the past, he never wants her to apologize to him about how she feels. And that's exactly how it should be, Nealfire. He's glad she told him. "I have a secret too, Emma. I'm never going to stop fighting for you. Never." Hook overhears the scene. He seems resigned. Cheer up, Hook. A pledge to never stop fighting only means a thing once the fighting has begun.
Emotional resonance, folks. That's the way to write the hell out of an episode. I'm not at all surprised to see "Ariel" was penned by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. I'm so proud of you tonight, Show. And you're remembering this is the story of Emma Swan. Not everything about this episode is perfect (I'll get to that in the recap), but the good parts are so great, they elevate the entire piece. This is the show that won my heart in season 1. I'm willing to overlook your sophomore slump, because in junior year, thus far, you're kicking ass and taking names. You know how I know? I cannot wait until next Sunday night, and I wrote 1600+ words where only 350 are due.
I'll be back with the full recap ASAP. In the meantime, please grade the episode up top, and then join us on the boards, where we might have left Neal in the cage, a little bit longer.
We open Once Upon A Time, in the Enchanted Past. Snow is on the run from Regina's men. Will someone please tell me how to create a text macro for that phrase? I want one for Snow is on the run from Regina; Regina cries; and Emma's superpower fails. I use a MacBook Pro (with Pages word processing software).
Two soldiers chase Snow through the forest and to the edge of a cliff. Left with no other choice, Snow jumps into the water below. She doesn't hit her head or anything on the way down, but somehow, as soon as she plunges (feet first, mind you) into the water below, she is unconscious. How disappointing. I can understand if my fierce princess never learned to swim. I'm being generous there, as we first met her father, King Leopold, walking along the shore. I can't understand her not at least struggling to stay afloat. Does she have some weird water allergy that knocks her out as soon as she gets wet? How does she bathe? Oh, maybe that's why her long hair so often looks like a rat's nest.
Regardless of the cause of Snow's immediate drowning, it's Ariel (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) to the rescue. She drags Snow to the surface, where the princess regains consciousness instantly. I guess it is a weird water allergy. When Snow thanks Ariel, the mermaid says, "No problem. You might want to try diving in calmer waters, next time." Um, Show, we saw a shot of the water, before Snow took her flying leap. There were a couple of small, small white caps, and now, it's pretty evident the water is not rough. Also, why does it suddenly look like they're in a moonlit sea? It was broad daylight when Snow jumped, just seconds ago. Is there an eclipse, or what? Visually, this entire scene fails. Anyhow, Snow notices Ariel's tail, although how she manages to do so in the dark is beyond me. Ariel confirms she's a "...mermaid. The name's Ariel." The title card shows Ariel, seated on a boulder, shaking her tail.
Now, in Neverland, Regina is trying to train Emma to tap into her magical abilities. Emma complains that she can't focus with Regina talking at her. Regina says it's also hard when it's windy, or raining. She shoots a look toward Charming and Snow and adds, "...or [when] someone's shooting arrows at you." Ha. "Yes. Concentration is hard. That's the point. Find your anger and use it to focus."