As a whole, I loved the Neverland arc that played out over the first 11 episodes of Once Upon a Time’s third season. It had a few bumps along the way and there were a few side plots I could have done without, but it was a solid, well told story that gave us new insights into our favorite characters, introduced more new characters and possibilities and ended with an emotional punch to the gut that has left me desperately wishing that the second half of the season wasn’t so far away.
It would be next to impossible to have a drama centered on fairy tale characters without focusing on the idea of belief and believing in characters and the inner strengths that they might not even realize they possess. That’s what the Neverland arc represented. Can a lost girl find her way home? Can a pirate be a hero? Can a villain change his fate? Can a mother’s love be stronger than her dark heart?
We got the answers to all of these questions and more throughout the first half of the season as the show alternated between the past, the present and different realms. One of the things I think this show does really well is tie the flashbacks to the present without being completely heavy handed. Sometimes it feels over the top, but it’s a show about fairy tales and that’s allowed.
Since the characters and stories on the show are so intricately woven together, it’s next to impossible to say one story was the best and another was the worst like we normally do in midseason reviews. The same goes for the characters. Everyone had moments to shine and moments where his or her part wasn’t overly important. So instead, we’re going to look at the overall best and worst of Neverland.
Overall Midseason Grade: A-
“He may look like a boy, but he’s a bloody demon.”
I’m going to start with Peter Pan since he was a major player in the story and one of the best and worst parts of the story. Robbie Kay did a fantastic job with the character. When we were first introduced to him, Peter was intriguing. How did this kid get to be so evil? What’s his endgame? Why did he go through all this trouble? But after a few episodes of what seemed like standard bratty behavior of a boy who didn’t want to grow up, I was tired of Pan.
All of that changed with the reveal that he was actually Rumple’s father. There are a lot (and I mean A LOT) of jokes and snarky comments about everyone on the show being related and some of them have merit, but I still think this was one of the coolest and most unexpected reveals ever. Suddenly, instead of just being an annoying villain, Pan was tied to Rumple and Neal and his prisoner Henry. We got to understand his motivations and there was a complicated emotional connection when it came time for Rumple to end things once and for all. Even though I’m not sorry to see Pan go, I was definitely impressed with the way things escalated.
Full Circle Storytelling
Another thing that impressed me about this season was how so many things came full circle. The season began with a flashback to Emma giving birth to Henry and telling the doctor that she didn’t want to change her mind because she couldn’t be a mother. The midseason finale showed us that flashback again and then showed us an altered version of it once Regina used her magic to change the past so Henry and Emma had never been separated. In the premiere, Hook and Regina had a conversation about whether or not villains got a happy ending. In the finale, Rumple sacrificed himself and pointed out that he was the villain and he wasn’t supposed to get one.
The curse came full circle as well. We’ve seen many flashbacks over the course of the series that revealed why Regina hated Snow and Charming and everyone else. Then we got to see a beautiful episode of Regina adopting Henry and why she loved him so much. It was heartbreaking to see her having to say goodbye to him and end the curse because she was once again putting her son’s well-being and happiness above her own. She gave up everything to make sure that he got his happy ending just like any good mother would.
Life is about the Moments
I could probably go on for days listing all the moments I loved from the first part of the season. Hook and Emma’s kiss, Neal and Rumple’s reunion after he got out of the box, Regina declaring that she didn’t regret anything and then yanking Henry’s heart out of Pan’s chest, Tinker Bell finding her magic and making the pixie dust work, the story of how Hook became a pirate, Hook helping Charming, Snow giving Emma the push to reveal her true self, every single moment involving Ariel, all the times the team banded together…and about 100 other ones. Every character had at least one moment to shine over the course of these episodes and it was a joy to watch.
Best Episode: “Going Home”
This was truly a tough call because I loved, loved, loved every episode of the season from 3×05 through 3×11. But this one hit so many emotional notes and had such a fantastic, leave us hanging ending that I had to give it the nod for best episode. It was the perfect ending to the saga of Neverland and an intriguing beginning to what’s coming next.
Worst Episode: “Nasty Habits”
Rumple has been one of my favorite characters since the series premiere, but I strongly disliked this episode. It was dark and depressing and there was way too much focus on one storyline for an ensemble show. Thankfully, it was the first and last truly bad episode of the arc.
Looking Ahead to 2014
March seems so far away. I give the show major props for having such a compelling ending and the preview for part two of the season looks pretty fantastic and not just because of the Wicked Witch (but I’m so excited for the Wicked Witch!).
I hope Emma’s memory loss doesn’t last too long, but seeing Hook try to jog her memory should be fun. And it seems like Storybrooke will return so I can’t wait to see how that happens. I want to know what’s so bad in the Enchanted Forest that has put Emma’s parents in danger (the Wicked Witch?) and I’m also looking forward to seeing Regina and Robin Hood interacting and if/when she’ll find out he’s the soulmate Tinker Bell mentioned.
Now it’s your turn. We want to know which stories, characters and episodes you loved and hated. What grade would you give the first 11 episodes? What’s on your wish list for the rest of the season? Hit the comments and share your thoughts with us!
Once Upon a Time returns Sunday, March 9 at 8/7c on ABC.