Once Upon a Time Season 3 Premiere Review: U Start Believing in Me & I'll Start Believing in U

By Lily Sparks

Sep 30, 2013

Once Upon a Time S03E01: "The Heart of the Truest Believer"

Bear with me, guys. I almost never recap OUAT chronologically, but the Season 3 premiere was so dense and insane I couldn’t in good conscience miss a scene. I ask you keep reading and BELIEVE it will end eventually.

Fellow OUAT fans, we went through a lot in Season 2. Our small-town drama had its most intriguing character pairings ripped apart for the majority of the season, and the last few episodes were just... they were embarrassing. Between August getting replaced by a child actor, "magic beans," Greg and Tamara’s inexcusable existence, and the depressing hints from production about an upcoming love triangle for Emma, a lot of us went into the Season 3 premiere just asking not to be too badly burned. 

So it was a relief that "The Heart of the Truest Believer" was a veritable electric parade of great decisions and quick fixes. Granted, OUAT’s M.O. has always been "strong premiere, strong finale, and a whole lot of treading water in between," but for now let’s just enjoy the show while we can. “The Heart of the Truest Believer” was possibly the weirdest episode of network television I’ve ever seen—a statement made with a lot of love. Murderous tuna. Soul theft. A walkie-talkie full of cornmeal. I loved all these bold, bizarre choices, but the best one by far was to keep our favorite characters constantly together. If Regina, Emma, Snow, and Charming are by each other's sides as often on the Lost island in Neverland as they did in this episode, I BELIEVE this season could be incredibly entertaining.

ANYWAY, the premiere opened with a flashback of Emma giving birth to Henry and then refusing to look at him. Quick fact: Everyone on this show was abandoned by their parents and/or watched their parents die. The entire series is just a candy-coated treatise on the vicious cycle of parental neglect. Just FYI for any newcomers.

In a moment of truly commendable special effects, the Jolly Roger emerged into another dimension and we were thrown onto the deck to see Regina spar with Hook in front of the ol’ steering bureau. Regina, in a revealing character moment, said she was surprised when Greg told her she was a villain. Regina (much like 90 percent of the OUAT fandom) doesn’t see herself that way.

The character moments gained more momentum as Emma took out her glasses and read the Charmings like the Oxford English Dictionary. In a moment that had me nodding along, Emma chastened her parents for posing as mentors when they were actually her same age, being perky to the point of stupidity, and dressing like effing hipsters—and then reminded them that THEY ABANDONED HER, nevermind that that’s exactly what she did to Henry AND IT STILL HURTS.

Then Rumplestiltskin showed up wearing his old Thriller jumpsuit and lectured us all on the importance of blind faith.

Guys, do you BELIEVE? What you believe in doesn’t particularly matter, it’s simply engaging in the act of blanking out your rational mind, as OUAT implicitly / explicitly encourages. (Unless, of course, you believe adoption is valid and important and/or are enamored of Swan Queen, in which case OUAT would like to gently smash your beliefs into smithereens!) Neverland RUNS on childlike belief! Which is bad news for Emma, because according to Rumple she has no imagination (I’m guessing that during their flight to Boston, she made some boring choices during a game of Mad Libs). Although, shouldn't imagination and belief technically be different things? Anyway, Rumple vanished into thin air, leaving Emma with no choice but to stomp below decks and tone her biceps.

Then we flashed over to Henry, the world’s most wanted/neglected child, who had been magicked to Neverland by Tamara and Greg. They did their whole tired, creaky song-and-dance routine about how they want to destroy magic and whole towns of people if need be, yet they don’t have even a vague understanding of why, and Henry was like “Writers, WTF?”

Luckily these two plot coupons were about to expire: After discovering that the mysterious organization they worked for had filled their single line of communication, an inter-dimensional walkie-talkie, with like parakeet food or something, we got the most preposterous reveal of the series. The super-secret international magic-fighting organization didn’t exist—the entity who hired and funded them was Peter Pan!

YUP! An uneducated group of Lost Boys who fend for themselves using hand-carved spears and a Teen Shadow convinced two adults in another dimension to dedicate their lives to fighting magic. YUP! We now know Tamara agreed to seduce Neal and faked being engaged to him for, like, a year, all the while not being clear on any of the details of why that was necessary. YUP! Did Peter Pan, boy demon, write them checks through a shadow corporation? Did he recruit them via Craigslist? Did he provide them with the high-tech magical tasers and torture equipment they were luggin’ around the sardine factory? Before I could ask any more questions, Tamara had an arrow chucked into her back by a catalog model and Greg GOT HIS SOUL RIPPED OUT and their incredibly embarrassing story arc was immediately erased from everyone’s brains. It felt so good just to let all of that go. It was like wetting my pants, but with logic.

Look, this reveal was legit insane. It was insane and lazy. But it’s impossible to really object to it because OUAT’s version of Peter Pan is THE strongest original concept the show has put forward to date, and I am happy to pretend Tamara and Greg never happened. Quick fix: Let us never speak of them again. They were writing devices to get Henry from Point A to Point B, where he could be dangled, much like a carrot, in front of our favorites so they can unite against Pan, and I’m in favor of aaaalllll that. I can suspend the shit out of my disbelief if it means we’re done with the Secret Anti-Magic League, the WORST of OUAT’s original concepts.

But I do want to point out that this “don’t think about it too much” mentality is exactly why none of Regina’s many many FTL crimes really “stick” with 90 percent of the audience. The plot has been so arbitrary and slapdash that the writers really no longer own these characters, the actors do. That’s why we’re all rooting for happy endings for Regina and Mr. Gold and hell, Peter Pan. Not that we know who he is yet. COMPLETELY UNRELATED:  Henry’s first and only same-age friend offered to help him flee the catalog models by going deeper into Neverland. We immediately assumed this unnamed, charismatic friend had no ulterior motive.

Back on the Jolly Roger, Hook barged in on Emma during her angry pull-ups to give her Neal’s sword and a wee nip of courage. Both will presumably come in handy when she needs to murder a bunch of tween boys.

We then cut to the Enchanted Forest, where Neal himself was blinking awake on the same Applebee’s waiting-area banquette where we first met Aurora.

Hey Philip! How'd you get your soul back? Also I did not know sleep could cure gunshots to the chest so, that’s cool. Anyway, Philip’s makeover from corpse to normal was not nearly as dramatic as Aurora’s new hairdo! Someone found a voluminizing spell!

Neal went on to confess to Mulan that he still loves Emma. That’s probably why he never followed up on what happened to her after she went to the slammer for muling his watches. Even after he learned that she broke the curse and understood his magical backstory, he up and got engaged to another lady. Their romance is truly as idyllic and beautiful as a Ricki Lake segment titled “My Baby Daddy Used Me, Abused Me, and Left Me to Rot In Jail… and Now He Wants Me Back!”  Mulan Neal him his “fear of rejection overcame his belief in love,” which was a polite way of saying he’s a puss-puss-pussay.

And then came the craziest scene of OUAT ever. That’s right, the unforgettable moment wherein a couple mischievous mermaids started doing kick-flips off the side of the boat, prompting Prince Charming to spin around a small cannon and start SHOOTING TO KILL MERMAIDS.

Prince Charming will blast a bitch to pieces who messes with his boat, and whether she has a tail or not is really none of his concern. Regina, proving once and for all that she is MVP and always has been, managed to much more effectively (and less fatally) scare the mermaids away by sending fireballs across the water. Emma and Snow insisted on hauling up a mermaid they caught in a net (which, obvs, they couldn’t do without Regina’s help), and the she-fish then lay shimmying awkwardly around on the deck while they threatened her. Things came to a head when bitch blew a conch shell, and by that I mean I cackled so wildly the neighbors banged on my duplex wall.

The ensuing barrage of one-liners from Regina in trying to handle the mermaid (“Filet the bitch!”) and the ensuing storm special effects were quite effective. (Theory: We are going to see a lot of Neverland at night because the CGI is more convincing.) Regina ultimately turned the Mermaid into a Pier One Imports sculpture, leading to Regina and Snow duking it out on the bucking deck of a storm-torn galleon!

Charming, in another legendary display of his leadership capabilities, decided to start a fight with the only guy on board who knew how to steer, during the height of the storm.

Amidst this cartoonish fracas cribbed from the climax of a Tim Allen film, Emma somehow made the connection that their inner turmoil was conjuring the LITERAL storm above, and she did what so many troubled youths do: She used self-destructive behavior to get her parents’ attention, leaping into the water to get brained by a mast. This was her LEAP OF FAITH, guys—one that her squirrelly parents might actually notice if she threw herself in harm’s way. (Just me, or did Regina seem REALLY upset about Emma going overboard?)  

Ultimately, Prince Charming would make possibly his first good parenting decision in 28 years and dive in after her. It’s unknown if any bloody mermaid fingers that he’d shot off of mystical sea creatures got caught in her hair while she was down there.

Similarly, Henry made a leap of faith with his unusually helpful friend, jumping across a yawning CGI chasm with nothing but a vial of white glitter to guarantee their safety. Leaps of faith and pixie dust will take you anywhere in Neverland, although rest assured that here on Earth, pixie dust and leaps of faith will mostly land you in the desert, living in an Airstream with a Manson-esque yogi, selling sherm to Burners.

Robert Carlyle made everyone’s lives complete by doing a sarcastic hand-twiddle. Neverland Rumplestiltskin is another great fix—letting Carlyle drop the Leprechaun impression while retaining the threat of being “the Dark One.” Rumple earned even more of our goodwill by not allowing Tamara’s storyline to continue, and then we learned that Rumple and Pan had a past (obviously, they both love scoopin’ up babies; they’re like the Coke and Pepsi of kidnapping), and then our all-powerful, charismatic Rumple sank to his knees and had a long weep over a corn-husk poppet. Is Rumple’s Vodun past going to finally be revealed?!

Meanwhile, in FTL, Neal led Mulan to his dad’s palace and basically ran into Robin Hood, a hipster squatter. Neal magicked a snow globe so he could see Emma in it, Wicked Witch-style, because “blood magic.” Sure, wetting my mental pants again, but sure. Neal tuned in just in time to see Emma landing alongside her other shipmates on Neverland.

Emma was making a quite the power grab, assigning herself the role of leader and goose-stepping up and down the beach as Regina, Snow, Charming, and Hook looked on, baffled, perhaps wondering how she’d managed to dry her hair so quickly. 

Villains, pirates, idiots, they must all work together! Emma’s special power? “Orgasmic magical interludes I’m a mother!” she screamed in Regina’s face. I would have shot back “Oh yeah? How many diapers have you changed? What are Henry’s allergies and what was his first word? P.S. Whereya been the last ten years?!” But Regina showed a lot of restraint by merely spanking Emma with her eyes.

Then, in a startling reveal that probably no one had ever even slightly predicted, Henry’s mysterious, companion revealed himself as Peter Pan! And he needs the heart of the truest believer! His whole plan all along was just to get Henry to Neverland!

Let’s... just for a moment let me play this out, let’s rewind the tape. So Peter Pan’s plan to abduct Henry was this simple:

1. First, he made contact with two adults in another dimension and convinced them he was a faceless and powerful secret organization, probably via Craigslist post.

2. He coached Tamara through seducing Neal, who at the time did NOT himself know that he was Henry’s father, or even that Henry existed.

3. Pan then told these agents via some inter-dimensional device to BLOW UP all of Storybrooke with a magic diamond fail-safe he somehow knew Regina had hid and then retrieved from Snow’s coffin—all while “taking care” of them, which I would assume means at the very least covering their travel expenses.

Cool! Whatever. I mean, the flagrant lack of logic to me is stunning. It truly is. But I know as well as y’all do that this show is about character development and emotional justice. Do I really want to be the one kid playing around in the backyard who points out the tree fort is made out of sheets? No, it’s not fun being that kid. This new premise is too enticing a sandbox. You could argue it’s now basically Lost with a cast of characters who have an insanely complicated and entertaining history and any number of super powers. Sure! Can’t wait to see more. The sheer audacity of this virtual series reset is enough to make me excited. Like, where does this all end? What happens to the first commercially successful primetime network fantasy show of our generation when the madmen at the wheel have burned the map and barreled off the road into uncharted territory? That’s a pretty effing intriguing question. 

I just hope OUAT rewards this suspension of disbelief by respecting us and believing in us, as viewers, to handle something more than just another trite love triangle.


– Do you think OUAT's producers were forced to turn in a season outline before starting work on Season 3?

– Neverland!!! How long will we be here? Is this a series reset or a short detour on the way back home?

– Is Neal the worst love interest in the history of Western narrative? (Hint: The answer is not “no.”)

– Are you more or less excited about Season 3 after this premiere? Where do you hope the show is headed?

  • Comments (177)
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  • Aeidail Oct 17, 2013

    So, does that mean maybe rumple was stealing kids to give to Peter Pan? Cause they never really explained why he wanted people's kids...

  • Katerine_M Oct 11, 2013

    For the most part, I think the writers have done a semi-decent job of having the real world (i.e. Storybrooke before broken curse) operate on real-world logic, and all of the fairy-tale worlds operate on fairy-tale logic. Which I think is the point, so it works for me. :)

    Neal is a boring love interest. He's the only one that might lead to a lasting relationship... but he's... so... boring! At least, as a love interest (his character arcs are at least moderately interesting, if Emma isn't involved). Maybe if he got rid of the hangdog expression and spoke in something other than a monotone for once, but... no, even then, I like both Neal and Emma a lot more separately, than together.

  • Katerine_M Oct 11, 2013

    Re: "depressing hints from production about an upcoming love triangle for Emma"
    On the plus side, there actually is a relationship between Hook and Bae. Which, assuming that they actually make something of this relationship, would make this an actual triangle.
    Actual triangles are good. There's a very unique dynamic that comes from the third side of a love triangle. They're not nearly as common as fake triangles, though, and it's fake triangles that give "love triangles" a bad name.

  • andreajudd1 Oct 07, 2013

    The pilot proved to me that the writers heard the fans' complaints from last season loud and clear. I think we'll be getting some serious character development this season (or at least, that's my hope). And I agree - let's pretend that Greg and Tamara never happened. Rumple killing Tamara off was satisfying.

  • alcalde Nov 06, 2013

    I must be the only one who thought season 2 was better than season 1 (no boring eps). Also, maybe I'm insane, but absolutely everything makes sense to me too. :-) Greg and Tamara were awesome... we thought Greg was just a plot device for the doctor's character reveal, and then he turned out to be so much more. Regina being so desperate for a family she sought to compel Greg and his dad to stay. A secret organization bent on keeping magic out of our world... or so we thought. All good stuff.

    And the author's complaint about the "reveal" that Pan was the secret organization? It was already revealed last season! Rumplestiltskin said as much regarding Greg and Tamara being pawns in the last scene of the finale, plus we knew Pan wanted Henry and Greg and Tamara were ordered to kidnap Henry and take him to Neverland, so.... I'm shocked that people didn't understand from the finale that there was no organization and it was Pan manipulating them. But then, I was the only one who didn't think the last Lost Boy scene meant that the blond guy was Pan.

    >Between August getting replaced by a child actor,

    It had to happen! Remember these are Lost alumni. Once a character has completed their emotional growth arc, they have to be eliminated. August's story was over, then he and Gepetto got their happy ending.

    >"magic beans,"

    How are magic beans any more of an issue than Blue Fairies and Rumple's enchanted scarf and ... well.. anything else on the show? They became a big part of the plot, and we needed some way to move between worlds and the magic hat was all used up.

    >Greg and Tamara’s inexcusable existence

    Absolutely needed to set events in motion and bring heroes and villains together to fight an even greater threat, which will no doubt produce reveals of an even more extraordinary nature in the finale that will set the stage for a possible final season 4.

    >, and the depressing hints from production about an upcoming love triangle for

    Emma, Neal, Hook? AWESOME. Why is that a problem?

    > a lot of us went into the Season 3 premiere just asking not to be too badly burned.

    I went into it excited that as good as season 2 was, the ending of season 3 suggested it was about to get even better! :-)

  • TeVaerua Oct 07, 2013

    I miss Tom Ellis as Robin Hood :(

  • MirelaPilipo Oct 08, 2013

    Yeah that was another random OUAT moment. Replacing actors with other actors who look NOTHING like the original actor? Without even being bothered to blame the change on magical shape-shifting or Greg and Tamara? Wtf! It's like "The Bold and The Beautiful" with a bigger budget.

  • fvmorthorpe Oct 07, 2013

    You are one fucking funny ass chick! Cheers! :D

  • InsanelyMe Oct 07, 2013

    Did anyone catch the parallel between Shang (Mulan) and Neal when he started doing the magic unlock-the-dour routine with his father's staff? It's a similar routine to the one Shang does when training the army.
    And apparently, there's a spoiler from Adam that Captain Swan is going to have a kiss or sex scene (not that didn't guess it).

  • TeVaerua Oct 07, 2013

    and that's a cool thought about the staff thing, it didn't click with me before but you're right about the reference. Hope it's true.

  • TeVaerua Oct 07, 2013

    I hope Neil ends up being Shang. Not that I would wish Neil on anybody but I'm hoping if he shacks up with Mulan we can get some Swan pirate action!

  • mistaria Oct 05, 2013

    Hilarious as always! I was so happy to see Emma, actual Emma, back in the beginning of the episode.

    I find it agitating that Hook is supposed to be Emma's love interest and then their interactions are him unsubtley hitting on her and her rolling her eyes in a not-at-all fond way. (Viva la Swan Queen!)

    I'm on board for this new season but I don't know if I can stomach a love triangle. Neal as a love interest is painful enough.

  • shootingstar609 Oct 03, 2013

    Suspending belief is the only thing that gets most people through any episode of this show! That's not necessarily a bad thing.

    I will always think of Regina as a bad guy because she is incapable of changing to be better. At the very best, she is a neither villain nor saint, but somewhere exactly in the middle.

    – Do you think OUAT's producers were forced to turn in a season outline before starting work on Season 3?= Possibly. I have given up trying to image where this show is going. Half because most of it is so crazy that it doesn't matter and half because I really like all of the crazy sh*t that happens on this show.
    – Neverland!!! How long will we be here? Is this a series reset or a short detour on the way back home?= At least half of the season, maybe the whole season. If the writers have enough material to write a whole season in Neverland, I'm down for it.
    – Is Neal the worst love interest in the history of Western narrative? (Hint: The answer is not “no.”)= Yes, but he does have some redeeming qualities.
    – Are you more or less excited about Season 3 after this premiere? Where do you hope the show is headed?= A little less excited. But, still pretty excited. My favorite thing about this episode, besides the Hook-Emma interactions which are hilarious, was that Henry had standalone scenes! He was actually in a scene without any of the other main characters, and it was pretty good. I think there will be some type of a showdown between Peter Pan and Rumple because now that Rumple knows that "the boy who will be his undoing" is his grandson, he doesn't want him dead anymore. Also, Rumple and Neal finding each other will be pretty cool too. Emma finally accepting magic and that she can do magic. What's going on in Storybrooke? Any more other worlds?

    I definitely am NOT sad to see Greg and Tamara go! They were so funny opening the communication device to discover sand instead of batteries and thinking they had everything figured out. Peter Pan is right, it is a lot easier to get people to hate something rather than getting people to believe...in anything.

  • bleumystique Oct 03, 2013

    I can suspend the shit out of my disbelief

    Basically that's my mantra when I go into any fantasy/sci-fi/supernatural or...I don't know, anything on television for that matter. LOL!

    • Can I take a moment to profess my twisted love for Regina. I mean Lana Parilla just kills her deliveries. She has the best lines. She's just so bad, but so awesome, and sometime along the way last season I found myself rooting for her and Rumple ( "the Villains") more than anyone else. They just can't not be aswesome. You can't not be awesome when you're playing the most complex characters on the show and you have the talent of Robert Carlyle and Lana Parilla.
    • So, lemme get this straight...they have this magic vs science thing, and Tamara and Greg were all about the science, even though they had to use magic to force the science thing...but they did something so unscientific it was mind-blowing. They had a blind faith in a cause that they knew zilch about. Really? By the time they got killed in Neverland I just laughed, and it was even funnier that the kid showed them up. Even awesomer that Rumple did Tamara in.
    • Who didn't know that Rumple wouldn't go rogue? Rumple is not a team player, and he likes to handle business. I was so excited when he just dropped them all like a bad habit and proceeded to head to Neverland in search of his only family left to honor the son he thinks is gone. He's like a badass vigilante, anti-hero, who knowingly embarked on a suicide mission. Like, for some reason he truly believes that he's going to die (which is almost hard to believe because Pan doesn't seem all that powerful). Gramps is on a mission, and he was so awesome. I think I just really missed Rumple.
    • So mermaids are pains in the ass despite not having one of their own? Who'd have thought they could be menacing, annoying little creatures. I love how they turn things on their head on this show, because everyone thinks of mermaids as sweet...but nope, they were all bitchy and everything.
    • I didn't want this to happen, but I kinda, sorta am starting to like Hook. I didn't want to like Hook. I blame Colin. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm not a self professed "Hooker" *g* but I'm stating to warm up to the guy. I think, it's the lost soul seeking family thing. I don't know, but these days I find the complicated grey characters far more compelling to watch than the good ones.
    • I can watch Snow and Regina girlfight all day.
    • In what universe did it make it acceptable for Emma to jump off of a ship, plunging to her potential demise in another realm just to get everyone to top fighting? That made no sense at all.
    • Every now and then I get all weirded out by the age thing. I mean, one of the things that I've hated ever since the end of season one, is how Emma went from having MM as a best friend and being a confidante to David, to having Charming and Snow trying to be parents. It's weird and uncomfortable and irritating and it puts them in this odd place now. Now they are the nagging parents, and there is no reason for them to parent anymore. Emma is grown, and it'll take years before they truly resolve the abandonment issues she has. I almost wish they'd just go back to being her friends. That weirdness also lingered when Hook and Emma were having their heart to heart. It was pleasant enough, and we all know they'll probably end up hooking up, but he's mourning the loss of Baelfire as if he was his own son, and Baelfire is like 30 now in our world, but possibly older in their world, because Rumple is like a million, so then I'm thinking of how old Hook should be and cue all the distractions and weirdness.
    • Neal trying to explain movies to Mulan was kinda funny. Especially when he commented on how badass hers was. She probably needed the distraction from the weird poly-amorous threesome she had going on with Aurora and Phillip (when did Phillip come back?!)
    • Helllooo Robin Hood. Is it strange that he's hanging out in abandoned castles and he's unusually helpful and forthcoming? Sure. But we'll see how things work out with him.
    • Blood magic. Sounds about right. I don't hate Neal so...fair enough.
    • I knew that brat was Pan!! How awesome was it that his face got all contorted and menacing out of nowhere though? He went from looking all non-threatening to looking like some evil spawn from Children of the Corn or something. I still need some time to buy into him being this "big bad" because it's going to take a lot out of this kid to pull that off but I look forward to it. I agree that this is the best original concept of all. "Pan" never sounded so menacing.
    • Of course Henry is valuable because he's a "true believer". What we deem blinding stupidity inherited from his mother, they see as some asset that has Pan wanting to keep him as a pet. Maybe I'm still trying to go with Scott being a "True Alpha" on Teen Wolf though.
    • I'm sorry but Emma as a leader is laughable. I mean she tried to have this whole rally speech and I was waiting for Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me" to be playing in the background:
    Dear Pan,
    We accept the fact that we're destined to forego our differences in order to work together to defeat you. Why have we come to Neverland for such a mission you ask? That's simple, we came for the boy Henry. We understand if you're curious as to who we are. In the simplest of terms and the most convenient of definitions...each of us are a villain, a pirate, a prince, a princess, and a mother ( SN: Because Emma was deadset on bitchslapping Regina who raised her son, and her own mother who sacrificed everything to save her but whateves). Does that answer your question?
    Sincerely (Passive Aggressiveness for "We're coming after your arse),
    The dysfunctional/familial rescue club.

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