Ever since I heard the premise of Once Upon a Time, I've been looking forward to the Little Mermaid episode. I was at the exact age the movie was calibrated to delight when it came out, and it is deeply engrained in my psyche. My anticipation and expectations were HIGH. So you can imagine my concern with this little gollum turning up in the credits.
That ghostly little fish goblin was the warning to manage my expectations. No no, to be fair, there have been much, much worse episodes of OUAT; at least "Ariel" had a message that for once I agree with, which is that keeping secrets is a terrible idea. And hey, Regina finally started teaching Emma to use magic!
But back to secrets. Right at the top of the episode, Hook and Charming had found a whole new secret to go off into the bushes and cry about with each other: Neal was alive and in Neverland! Snow thought Emma should know, but with his usual fetish for controlling information, Charming argued it would "only hurt her." So Snow just straight-up screamed "NEAL’S ALIVE" at Emma the first time she walked into earshot, which was refreshing. The Charmings need to stop protecting each other from pertinent information! The only difference between nobly shielding someone from hard truths and lying to them is about five minutes of rationalization.
But still, how did Ariel become a slapdash version of Felicity, title character of Felicity? How did Ariel become a stalker who developed a huge crush on a guy she’d never spoken to, someone who would radically upend her life for the chance to mmmaybe hang out with him? Or has that always been Ariel? At least cartoon version had a general wish to know more about the human world in general before she ran into Eric. OUAT’s Ariel just wanted to bag herself a prince.
Ariel saved Snow after she ran off a cliff and into the ocean to escape the Evil Queen’s soldiers. Once she and her many waterlogged leather accessories were partly out of the deep, she immediately started boy-talkin’ with Ariel. Snow doesn’t want to hear about your life or your goals or what country she’s in, she just wants to spout platitudes about True Love and how it’s not weird to be deeply obsessed with a dude you only saw once before, while he was unconscious. This made her a perfect bestie for Ariel, who had swum all this way to use the 12 hours a year she could walk on land to hunt down Prince Eric. Somehow Snow (a notorious wanted outlaw) and Ariel managed to find some JC Penney semi-formal wear in time to crash the big Ursula Sea Goddess Dance.
Guys WTF was up with the costumes this week? Did OUAT's costume trailer get struck by lighting and burn down to a sizzling pile of melted gemstones and ash, forcing the producers to run out at the last minute and ask one of their teen daughters to lend them her homecoming gown? Even the extras looked like they'd shown up late to a Halloween Party. It was not on-point.
Then when Ariel started actually talking to Eric, it really, profoundly hit me: OUAT is a children’s show. I need to stop getting angry at it for being so simplistic and clumsily didactic because it is just fully Children’s Theatre. Only in Children’s Theatre is it considered romantic and not ridiculous for an adult man to tell a grown lady that he has seen her face every night in his dreams. The dialogue was this subtle: "Who are you? You look familiar. Oh, I know, it's because I’ve seen you in my dreams. Not even two minutes have passed. We are in love."
Show me don’t tell me, doofus. Has anyone on OUAT met a human being recently? Do the writers just base every human interaction on Chris Harrison, host of The Bachelor? The recent romantic pairings on this show feel as subtle, natural, and organic as vomiting up a neon blue margarita on the Vegas Strip (pretty sure that happened on The Bachelor once, btw).
Back in Neverland, Rumple got a visit from Pan, who took the liberty of whipping up a delightful pair of Eggs in a Basket, which he knows is Rumple’s favorite?
And then Pan told Rumple to leave the island, forget his son and grandson, and go home to Belle because she "looks fertile"? A gag shook my entire body at that sentence. LOOKS FERTILE. THE BABY VESSEL IS PRIME. BIRTHING HIPS. THAT’S A BREEDIN’ MARE! It seriously upset me in ways I’m still processing. Then later the plot thickened when it was revealed that Pan’s wraith had been acting as the fertile-looking Belle all along.
Like what does this mean WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?! Between making ol’ Rumpy his favorite breakfast and begging Rumpy to take him home so they might have babies together in wraith-form, there is just a lot going on between Rumple and Pan subtextually. I will admit, I’m curious as to what connection betwixt the two will be finally revealed, though I fear it will be nowhere near as clever as what TV.com commenters will predict.
Back in the fairy-tale flashback, Lana Parrilla got to show off her Julliard-level vocalizing by impersonating Ursula (complete with white wig!). Ariel went to talk to the sea about her feelings, and Regina, disguised as a half-woman, half-Kraken, appeared with dark magic to offer. Parrilla’s legit vocal training was so impressive in this scene, and it was just so visually weird that it was impossible not to be entertained by it. If I were to make a beloved stoner friend a video mixtape to watch while he or she was completely high, this scene would definitely be on that mixtape.
Tentacled Regina offered Ariel a solution: She could take a cuff made out of old costume jewelry brooches, put it on Snow, and swap places with her—Snow would become mermaid, Ariel could stay human. Ariel, not thinking twice about whether or not Snow wanted to become a half woman/half fish abomination, slapped it onto Snow’s wrist, and we got to see Ginnifer Goodwin try to react to an imaginary mermaid tail.
She did a great job.
Regina showed up and made it clear that Ariel had been DUPED but she should just go find her prince. Snow as usual was totally in favor of dicks over chicks as ever, but then Ariel pulled out her dinglehopper and SHANKED REGINA IN THE NECK!
In addition to saving strangers and then becoming obsessed with them, Ariel keeps a shiv close at all times. Good to know. I always figured there was a dark side to Ariel, like maybe she kept some human teeth or leg bones in that hidey-hole grotto of hers.
Speaking of hidey-hole grottos: Pan had ingeniously hidden Neal in the Cave of Echoes, and the only way to get to him was for every member of the group to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets. This is because Pan
has an uncanny instinct for what makes good TV drama thought their corny-ass secrets would "destroy each other," but luckily no one’s was anywhere close to dark. Now, if Regina had been in there, some hair would've gotten curled and everybody would've needed to take a clothes-on shower to feel clean again because Regin has been through some shit, but with this crew, all the dark secrets were just basically crushes. It was like the Cave of Truth or Dare But No Dares Allowed.
Hook was like, "My deepest darkest secret is I got over Milah and have a crush on Emma." Snow was like, "I want another baby" hahaha DARK! So dark. SO FERTILE! SHE IS READY FOR A QUICKENING IN HER WOMB. Ugh, full body gag, shudder shudder my head is an Etch A Sketch and I need to shake it clean. I was actually hoping Snow would confess that she was modeling her hairstyle on Ricky from My So-Called Life and taking precious #SaveHenry time to fade the edge with a sharpened arrow every evening, but whatever.
So then Charming was like, "I can never leave Neverland, because Hook put healing waters in my body." And then Emma was like, "Neal, my deepest darkest secret is that I secretly wish you were dead for realz." She may have also said some other stuff about always loving him, but she’s in a confused place right now. The salient point, the point we should all hold onto with regard to this exchange, is that she wishes Neal were dead. Me too, girl, me too.
Still, the conceit of everyone having to shout their darkest secret while in a cave was sort of wonderful and inventive and got through a lot of bullshit effectively. I wish every show would agree to invoke the Cave of Echoes device on a yearly basis, sort of like a Halloween episode. It would sure as hell spice up Revenge.
In the next fairy-tale flashback, Ariel’s story took an even darker twist than stabbing Regina in the neck: She lost her voice and couldn’t alert Eric to the fact that she’d come back to tell him how she felt and reveal that she'd BECOME FERTILE by presumably laying eggs in a sandy hole or whatever fishes do. And then Regina said very sadly that the only thing worse than telling someone you love them and being rejected was not being able to tell them at all. Like, what would feel worse than having no voice and being invisible in a matter as primal and important as who you love?
Announcing your dark secret of loving someone, the way Hook had the opportunity to do, is actually way more freeing and empowering than stomping off in a huff when the person you love decides to postpone looking for your son to go chase after their messed-up, abusive ex, so you end up swallowing your feelings and teaming up with the Dark One, which is just what Regina did in this episode. (Am I the only one who read this scene this way? The only love stories I find compelling on OUAT anymore are the ones the show isn’t trying to shove down my throat!)
As much as I hate Regina not being there to sass the Charmings and give Emma "magic lessons," this is fundamentally good news, because Parrilla and Robert Carlyle are OUAT's MVPs and this set-up promises to both unite them and set them at odds: Rumple is conflicted about finding Henry, Lana will stop at nothing. The big reveal at the end of the episode was that mermaids can travel from realm to realm. So Regina summoned Ariel and left us with a hell of a promising premise for next week: Ariel must return to Storybrooke, where she can walk on land, get something from Mr. Gold’s shop, and find her Prince Eric at long last. Okay, cool, I want to see that episode.
Also Neal is now traveling along with the Charmings, and Emma, and Hook and his many, many passionate feelings. And Neal has his own feelings—for Emma—which of course Hook is now aware of and the Great Triangulation of Feelings has begun.
THAT episode I’m not so interested in. But until then, what did you think of "Ariel"?
... Did Ariel get short shrift with her backstory? Where were the underwater scenes? No Sebastian? Was she a lame-ass stalker or awesome? Be prepared to show your work.
... Pan’s wraith hitting on Rumplestiltskin: spooky or sensuous?
... Are you excited that Regina teamed up with Rumple, or will you miss her interactions with the Charmings?
... Did Snow basically stab Emma in the heart by saying she wanted to have a baby, or like duh, of course they should have another baby why not?
... Is "fertile" the most disgusting adjective of all time? ("Moist" is also pretty bad.)
... How are they going to get Charming off the island?
... Is there a difference between lying and shielding someone from the truth for their own good?
... Would you consider dating a merperson?