‘Once Upon A Time’ recap: Can Ariel and Belle save the day?

Sigh. It seems that, no matter what our intrepid Henry supporters do in Neverland, Peter Pan is always one step ahead of them, laughing gleefully at how they’re playing right into his tiny hands. This is starting to become frustrating, and it also makes me wonder why Pan, if he’s so all-knowing and powerful, doesn’t just wipe Emma and the gang off the map and stick to the business of manipulating poor Henry. I know, I know. All reasons will be revealed in time. But in the meantime, all of the ingenious plotting and creative reasoning feels futile and depressing. It also might be nice if Pan, with all his powers, could turn on the lights in Neverland. Just a thought.  

The good news is that, at least for a little while, we get to travel to a happier place — Storybrooke. Ariel is given the task of handing a sand dollar to Belle, which pops up a Princess Leia-esque video of Gold requesting help (best of all was the little glitch in the video, right out of “Star Wars”). What followed this bit of brilliance was a little bit too much like a page ripped from “Castle” or some other police procedural. And as much as I still love Ariel’s fascination with all things land-based,  like corkscrews and buttons, it’s a nice little detail that now feels as overworked as the embroidery in one of Regina’s gowns. I’ll be happy when we get to return to Storybrooke to see Ariel reconnect with Eric, although I hope that scene will be more artfully written than their first meeting. 

Still, seeing the dwarves, Granny, Blue Fairy/Mother Superior and Jiminy Cricket/Doctor Hopper just reminded me how much I’ve missed the complete ensemble cast, even though I fully accept that we needed to move outside of it to further the plot. Hearing the dwarves gossip about how much nicer things are without Snow and Charming in town was the sharpest scene (well, maybe after that Princess Leia video) of the episode. 

Speaking of dwarves, there’s a general sense of grumpiness back in Neverland. Hook, Emma and Neal must work together to catch Peter Pan’s shadow, a plan which almost goes south due to bickering over, yes, Emma. Emma finally announces she only has eyes for Henry, so Hook and Neal should just focus on the task at hand. This is an entirely logical and reasonable response, and I still want to smack her. Given that Emma has done little more than scowl for most of the season, I’m not quite sure why both of these guys are so entranced by her, but I wish she’d just give in to romance for our sake. 

Also grumpy? Snow and Charming. Snow is understandably hurt that Charming didn’t trust her enough to tell her he’s trapped forever in Neverland, and Charming admits he doesn’t want her to feel she has to stay in Neverland with him. I’m betting that this conversation will eventually be rendered meaningless, as you know there’s a loophole just waiting to be found that will allow Charming to escape. Still, I’m glad they’ve managed to clear the air so Snow doesn’t have to keep stomping past Charming and barking at him. 

A lovely reveal in this episode is that Pan’s latest lackeys to break into Storybrooke just seconds before Belle finishes the cloaking spell (which made for a very tense and effective opening) is that the “bad” guys are really the Darling brothers, John and Michael. Of course, the big, black glasses on John were the giveaway, but it was still a decent enough surprise. That Belle and Ariel are able to convince them that they can work together to beat Pan suggests the tide might eventually turn, but Pan is surely ready for this, too. 

John and Michael are unhappily in Pan’s employ, but they really want to save their sister Wendy, who we learn is the mysterious other being kept in the cage. I’m surprised Pan is keeping Wendy in a cage, but I guess things weren’t so chummy between them after the first few decades.

Pan also forces Wendy to trick Henry into believing she’s dying. This means yanking her out of her primitive cage and temporarily sticking her in a sumptuous treehouse. This seems especially cruel — was he really just keeping a fabulous Victorian bed around for this moment? — but I’m guessing we’ll get at least some flashbacks as to why Pan seems so intent on tormenting the Darlings.

This lie about dying of magic drain or whatever nonsense Pan has created gives Henry an incentive to help him bring magic back to the island. This involves going to Skull Island to face a challenge that will require “heroism and sacrifice,” which Henry is only too glad to accept. You would think growing up with Regina Henry would be more attuned to manipulation and lies, but as the Truest Believer, I guess he’s just a sucker for a good fairytale. 

Next week, it seems that we will be seeing the “final assault.” I’m really not sure how Emma and the rest of the gang will beat Pan, seeing as he knows all, but maybe that Pandora’s Box will be too tempting for him not to open. I guess even this guy doesn’t know every trick in the book, right?

What do you think awaits Henry at Skull Island? Do you think Emma should pick Hook, Neal, or just fly solo? How do you think Pandora’s Box will save Gold?