Sunday night marked the end of the third season of the popular ABC fantasy drama, Once Upon a Time. The show has raked up quite a following since it premiered, fans of the show known online as “Oncers”. There were many alterations and evolutions in the dynamic amongst the characters, meaning the end of how things were and a set up for an unpredictable season ahead. But first, let’s take a look back to see how the storylines and relationships of this season will affect the future dynamic of the show. WARNING: The following will contain spoilers for anyone who has not yet watched Season 3.
At the end of Season 2, we saw Henry kidnapped by Greg and Tamara and taken through a portal to Neverland, where Peter Pan has been searching for him for many years. We also see that a rescue team, consisting of Emma, Regina, David, Mary Margaret, Mr. Gold and Captain Hook, has set out on the Jolly Roger to find him. After being shot by Tamara and falling through a portal, Neal, having confessed his enduring love for Emma, winds up unconscious in the Enchanted Forest and in the hands of Aurora, Phillip and Mulan.
8. Adventures in Neverland
Season 3 began on the journey to Neverland, where no one grows up and anything that you believe is possible. The land is owned by Peter Pan, who gave up his son (Rumpelstiltskin) in order to believe in and preserve his youth. He cultivated the land for other young children to do the same, or so it seemed. He knew that he could only stay young for so long and needed the heart of the truest believer to permanently hold onto his youth. It was this quest that brought Neal to Neverland many years ago and Henry there now.
The time spent in Neverland was trying and testing for all of the characters: Rumpelstiltskin’s prophecy challenged his relationships with his family and the amount of trust the others could devote to him; David’s life is threatened and his relationship with Snow White is tested; Emma is caught in a love triangle and her efforts to rescue Henry; Henry is being brainwashed; and all the while, Pan’s taunts and torments do not make things any easier.
With apprehensive help from Tinkerbell, the team is able to find and rescue Henry and they are able to stop Pan and return to Storybrooke with him and the Lost Boys, using Pan’s shadow for passage between the portals. What will become of Neverland without Pan? Whether through flashbacks or new adventures, I doubt that we have seen the last of the land where anything is possible if you believe in it.
7. The Wicked Witch of the West
Peter Pan was not the only villain that we were introduced to in Season 3. Enter Zelena, daughter of Cora and half-sister of Regina. In her quest to become royalty, Cora gives up Zelena, who grows jealous of the family that Regina has. Upon learning of Rumpelstiltskin’s desire to have Cora’s first born child enact a curse for him, she wants him to develop the magic that she was born with. He instead chooses Regina, and her jealousy turns her skin green. She sets out on a goal to change the past, a feat that is seemingly impossible.
Zelena gets her revenge on Rumpelstiltskin when she tricks Neal into resurrecting him and taking the dagger. She uses her control over the Dark One to further taunt and torment those in the Enchanted Forest in her search for the ingredients that she needs to open her portal, including Snow White’s newborn. Her spell is prevented by Regina, who found light magic in herself after Zelena took away Emma’s powers. Zelena is then imprisoned by Regina and killed by Rumpelstiltskin, whose actions cause her time portal to open up.
Even though she didn’t live to see it, Zelena did manage to destroy Regina’s happiness when Emma brought Maid Marian back through the time portal. Zelena may be gone, but who knows how her legacy will affect the inhabitants of Storybrooke next season.
6. Two New Curses
Just when we thought that Emma broke the Dark Curse for good, Pan uses it while wreaking havoc on the town. Regina is able to reverse Pan’s curse, but at a major price: she is forced to reset the effects of her own curse, causing those who were transported from the Enchanted Forest the first time to return. A wall between the realms means that no passage can be made between the two. Emma and Henry were not affected by the curse and left to live a new life with altered memories in New York.
Another curse brings the gang back to Storybrooke with a new menace: The Wicked Witch of the West. Hook returns first to warn Emma and revive her memories of Storybrooke. The two return with Henry to find everything back where it was, except for everyone’s memories of the past year. Everyone thinks that Zelena released the Dark Curse, but no one knows why. It is later revealed that Snow White enacted the curse because the only way to defeat Zelena was with light magic, which Emma possessed until her powers were taken away. Regina surprised everybody when the true love that she has for Henry broke the curse and restored everyone’s memory.
At the moment, it looks like everyone is settled where they are, but the writers here have shown us that they are not afraid to shake up the entire structure of the series as soon as they run out of ideas. However, I am left two questions about the curses. Firstly, why did Baelfire return if he was not affected by the first curse? And secondly, if they could not travel between the realms through portals, how did Emma and Hook make it into the Enchanted Forest if the time portal in the season finale only transported the characters through time and not location?
5. The Fall of Baelfire
Neal has been subject to more than his fair share of tribulation throughout the series. He is first introduced as the guy who set up and knocked up Emma and ran away. We then find out that he was abandoned by his mother, dropped through a portal by his father, sacrificed at the Darlings’ home, surrendered by Captain Hook to Pan’s shadow who takes him to Neverland, where he is imprisoned for decades. When his life is back on track, he is told by August to leave and allow the consequences to lead his girlfriend farther away from him than ever. He moves on; meets and proposes to a woman who is only after his history, just to be found once again by Emma, discover he has a son and get wrapped up in his old drama all over again. He reveals that he is still in love with Emma after he is shot by his fiancé and falls through the portal.
The attacks at Neal continued well into season 3. After working with Robin Hood and Mulan to find his way to Neverland in search of Emma and Henry, he ends up once again imprisoned. The rescue team finds and frees him, allowing a reunion with his family before he watches his father die and Emma and Henry leave before the curse sends everyone back to the Enchanted Forest. He and Belle are driven by their love for Rumpelstiltskin to resurrect the Dark One, but in doing so, he is tricked into sacrificing his life. Rumpelstiltskin holds onto Neal long enough for him to warn Captain Hook about the curse and find Emma so that Rumpelstiltskin can warn her about Zelena.
Although it appears that the majority of the OUAT fandom did not care for Neal, his death was still a sad occurrence for viewers. It is likely that his death allowed for the writers to seamlessly throw Hook and Emma together. Neal died because of his love for his family, and while the writers did not need to kill him off, his death was not in vain.
4. Regina’s Happily Ever After (?)
We know that Regina’s wrath on Snow White began when her actions led to the death of Regina’s true love and her forced marriage to the king. This season, Tinkerbell shows Regina that she could still find happiness. We are introduced to Robin Hood, who has been caring for his son since the death of his true love, Maid Marian. Robin Hood was not taken to Storybrooke with the curse, so Regina meets and befriends him upon returning to the Enchanted Forest.
When Regina discovers that he is the same man that she was afraid to approach, she opens herself up and the two begins a relationship. At first, it seems that this pairing fulfills each other’s desires: he wants a mother figure for his son; she wants true love and a son. Everything is set up perfectly, and for the first time, Regina seems truly happy and open to her best intentions. It’s not until Emma shakes things up when her decision to bring a doomed prisoner back to the present that this relationship is threatened. The reintroduction of Maid Marian leads to Robin Hood momentarily forgetting Regina’s presence and Regina growing jealous and taking this frustration out on Emma.
For all we know, this could mean that Regina’s revived spite from once again losing her lover can re-establish her as a central villain on the show. But just when we start to grow comfortable again with the thought of an old villain re-emerging, a new figure emerges and who knows what this will bring.
3. Henry’s Family Tree Grows Even More Complicated
Between multiple romances and intergenerational relationships, the family tree on Once Upon a Time has grown more complicated than a soap opera. More than half of the main characters on the show are related in some twisted way. Last season, finding out that Baelfire is Henry’s father drew in even more tension among the characters. And can we just factor in that 5 generations of family – Henry, Emma, Snow White, Regina and Cora – were alive at the same time? This season, things grew even more colourful upon the revelation of Peter Pan as Rumplestilskin’s father and Zelena as Cora’s daughter from a one night stand.
While we learned in Season 2 that Rumpelstiltskin had developed feelings for Cora at a time and nothing became of it, no cross between the “Neal” side and the “Emma” side has been as evident as the relationship that paired Emma with the man who posed as a father figure to Neal and ran away with his mother.
2. Hook and Emma
Fans of the show have been going crazy over the possibility of Emma and Captain Hook being a couple, a happening known online as “Captain Swan”. The writers basically spent Season 3 building up the two of them as a couple. While the show has taken many unexpected twists over its course, none have felt as contrived as the decision to take Emma Swan, a strong and independent character, and show her growing relationship with Captain Hook, from his not so subtle “I’ll go with her”-s to his babysitting Henry to the relentless effort to establish him as a hero, all happening right after Neal’s death. While it has always been evident that Captain Hook has a sweet spot for Emma, she has never shown any romantic inclination towards him.
Since fans for and against the couple could argue in favour of either of the two kisses that occurred between the two before the finale, I am willing to factor them both out. To the dismay of fans in favour, the first was more out of desperation and vulnerability than romance. To the dismay of fans against, the second occurred when Emma’s memory was altered and, as shown between Regina and Henry towards the end, true love’s kiss only works when both parties remember. When the final one happens in the season finale, it is when Emma is taken aback when Hook tells her that he sold his ship for a magic bean to transport him to the Storybrooke realm. And that was it. We don’t see Emma having developed feelings for Hook, just the question of what Hook had to say for Emma to give him a chance. The closest thing we see to Emma showing interest in Hook is him accusing her of being in denial and her shying away from him.
By the end of Season 2, it looked like Emma’s love life could sway in two directions: towards Hook or towards Neal. Instead of bringing her back together with the reformed and misfortunate father of her son, the writers chose Hook; the man who ran away with Neal’s mother, and now his ex-girlfriend. A whole season of build-up could never erase that fact.
Since this relationship was so central to Season 3, I was ready to put it at number one, but in looking forward at what is to come, the princess was dethroned by a new queen…
1. Season 4 Teaser: The Snow Queen
Rumours have been swirling that a character based on Elsa, from the recent Disney box office smash Frozen (or Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, if you will), would be introduced as a future addition to the cast. It was this character who was revealed to us in the last minute of the season finale, having come from a pot that was accidentally transported through the time portal from Rumpelstiltskin’s vault by Hook and Emma.
Soon after the rumours first emerged, there was a scene in Zelena’s back story where she is raised improperly and told to conceal her emotions as a way of hiding the powers that she was born with from the rest of the world. It would have been easy to assume that this could run alongside other characters in double roles (Rumpelstiltskin as the Beast and the crocodile, Peter Pan as the Pied Piper), but Sunday’s big reveal demotes this happening to a mere coincidence. Only time will tell whether or not jumping on the Frozen bandwagon is in the best interest for the show.
Overall, Season 3 of Once Upon a Time managed to entertain and add new dimensions to the story that we all know. It certainly outlasted its spin-off, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. While a sense of adventure often makes things fun, perhaps we are due for some micro-managing next season. We shall see how Emma adapts to life in Storybrooke and how the reintroduction of Maid Marian affects Regina. And then there’s the introduction of Prince Neal and the Snow Queen. But until then, I think we could all use a break to let this season sink in.