As Once Upon A Time heads into its winter finale and towards the closure of its Neverland arc, we’re left with the question of just how will it all end? Will Pan ever be defeated? (And does that defeat include death?) Would the show really go so far as to bring everyone back to square one? Despite Internet grumblings, I’ve liked the Neverland storyline so far – it’s exceeded my expectations in terms of story and character development – but I’m also happy that we’re moving forward with some different conflicts. And the ultimate reveal of Pan’s master plan (to turn Storybrooke into the “New Neverland”) points us in an interesting direction, indeed.
In last week’s escape from Neverland, Henry and Pan swapped bodies, with the real Henry being trapped inside Gold’s box. Not long after the group’s arrival back in Storybrooke (a far too happy gathering that seemed to let us know from the outset that we were in for something depressing later on), Pan-As-Henry soon begins laying out the pieces of his plan, starting with turning against Felix and then getting close to Regina, pretending to be scared of Pan so that he can find out where her magic is hidden. As with most of Pan’s ideas, it’s one based in cleverness and smarts: He knows that Regina’s one weakness is Henry’s love, and by preying on that Achilles Heel, he’s well aware that he can easily get himself in the position he needs in order to put his plan into action. (And he’s correct: When Emma becomes suspicious that something isn’t right, Regina is the first one to bite back defensively about Henry’s actions – why is it so hard for her to believe that Henry wants the woman who has really raised him in order to feel safe?
And what a long way Regina has come. While this episode was primarily focused on Henry’s return, it was also, in a way, a showcase for the fabulous Lana Parrilla, who got to continue to explore Regina’s character development. Aided by flashbacks to fairytale land, Regina’s mature and reformed actions in Storybrooke were juxtaposed with her evil, cunning Evil Queen ways of the past, making the realization of her growth over the past three seasons that much stronger. Indeed, even in the conversation with Emma, her confrontation was mature and controlled – a bit emotionally icy, but certainly nowhere near as vile as we’ve known her to act in the past. At this point, we’ve seen Regina broken down so many times over that it’s starting to make me more than a little sympathetic when she’s yet again taken advantage of emotionally. But it also makes those moments of true feelings that much more effective, such as when Snow takes charge and tells the townspeople that “Regina helped save us all” after noticing how left out and uncomfortable she looks in the wake of everyone’s happy reunion. I feel like I say this every week, but Parrilla never ceases to amaze me with how much she can make me feel about a character whose emotions I’m already more than familiar with.
It’s not really a surprise that Emma – the master of picking up tells and lies – is the first one to become wary of Henry, starting with his seemingly unfamiliar reaction to the storybook. I was a little surprised at how quickly the rest of the group came to terms with the whole body switching thing, especially after being on edge about Pan’s mind games, but at least Emma was smart enough to know how to ask legitimate questions that seemed to seal the deal for the others. The plot development also allowed Jared Gilmore to do a little more than sit around and mope about his family – I’ve always said that I hope they find a storyline that serves Henry a bit better than we’re used to seeing, and in that sense, it was fun to watch Gilmore explore a side of his character that we normally don’t see. (I don’t think I’ll ever see Robbie Kay has anything but a conniving Lost Boy, though – though his acting remains incredibly strong, he’s so good at being bad that it’s hard to see him otherwise.)
Our flashbacks this week served as more of an underlying reminder to the themes and actions in the present day – that is, we didn’t learn anything new about our heroes or meet any new characters, but by seeing more of Snow’s early relationship with Regina, we were able to further appreciate Regina’s transformation over the past season. Only in Once would a honeymoon lead to a revenge/murder quest, and the hour saw Snow and Charming venture into the woods in the hopes of finding the mythical villain Medusa, who could turn people to stone if they looked into her gaze. Snow wanted to chop off her head and use it against Regina, while Charming tried to help her realize there was more to life than obsessing over revenge.
Their plan failing horribly, it took Charming being accidently turned into stone and a cameo appearance by Regina (thanks, broken shield!) to make Snow realize how much she had destroyed her own happiness based on her own headstrong nature and inability to let go of anger. Snow eventually outsmarts Medusa by tricking her to look into the shield’s reflection, effectively turning the goddess into stone herself and freeing her true love.
- R.I.P., Blue Fairy – though to be honest, you were never my favorite and I wasn’t really sorry to see you go.
- Despite not having much to do in the episode, Hook managed to work his way into my two favorite moments of the night: The playful jab at a Charming/Hook bromance with Charming’s line, “I’m a married man” and Hook’s failed attempt to hit on Tinkerbell (something I feel like I shouldn’t want to be on board with because of its twisted nature, but hey, stranger things have happened in the Once universe, and Colin O’Donoghue could have chemistry with a door, so I’d buy it.)
- The reunions in Storybrooke were particularly sweet tonight, with the reuniting of couples (Belle and Rumple), friends (Snow and Ariel), frenemies (Blue and Green), families (Wendy, Michael and John) – and even Ariel and Eric! (Second favorite line of the night: Ariel’s “he must not like me very much” when she first sees Eric chopping fish heads.) Storybrooke is starting to remind me of LOST’s epic beach reunions, except with less tears on both ends. And, well, no Rose and Bernard for me to cry over.
- Poor Neal – all he wants is another chance, and it seems as though Emma is sticking to her word: She can’t think about a man while Henry’s life remains in danger, as he’s the most important person in her life. (Not unlike your mother in your stubborn ways, eh, Emma?) While Hook seems to be backing off for now, I wouldn’t completely write him off – and I think there’s more to come where this particular triangle is concerned.
What did you think of the episode? Are you excited for the winter finale?