We begin our episode running through the Enchanted Forest with our beloved bandit Snow White, with the queen's soldiers in hot pursuit. They corner her on a cliff, and she chooses to jump into the sea over letting them take her. It's a loooong way down and not looking so good for Snow, who blacks out when she hit the water. She is saved by a mermaid - and not just any mermaid!
Ladies and Gentlemen, Ariel has arrived!
Forward to Neverland now, where we see Regina trying to give Emma a magic lesson, and it's not going well. She harps on Emma to focus, urging her to use her anger and channel it. Emma balks, insisting there has to be a way to use magic without taking it dark, but Regina is nagging at her until Emma gets good and pissed - and that finally lights the fire with magic.
David and Snow are watching from afar, not sure how they feel about all this, when Hook pulls them aside with a murmured "We need to talk." He's just come from his conversation with Pan, and without the slightest hesitation, he tells them that Neal is alive and on the island.
Snow immediately wants to tell Emma but David and Hook discourage that. Until they confirm that Neal is indeed alive and they can rescue him, it's better to keep Emma in the dark and not hurt her all over again. Snow isn't happy with keeping that secret (but come on, when has Snow ever been good at keeping a secret?) and she notes that secrets tend to keep you from the people you love. David gently reminds her that secrets can also protect the people you love.
Oh, David, right in the feels.
And into this confab strolls Emma, wondering what all the murmuring and furtive looks are about. David and Hook lie their shapely asses off, but Snow just blurts the secret right out. Emma's shocked into silence, shooting a furtive glance at Hook.
Back to the Enchanted Forest, where Ariel confesses that she's in love with Prince Eric, but from afar. Tonight there's a ball in honor of the "Under the Sea" celebration (nice nod!) honoring the sea goddess, Ursula. Once a year, on this night, Ursula grants wishes to good little mermaids, and Ariel demonstrates by flapping her tail into legs, taking a few tottering steps (another great nod).
The enchantment lasts only 12 hours, which is enough time to attend a ball but not much time for anything else. Snow vows to help her get to her true love, since Ariel has saved her life.
Forward to Neverland, where Rumple is doing his best to divine the future, but Pan pops in to remind him that time stands still in Neverland, therefore the future is unseeable. Pan even made Rumple's favorite breakfast (and how the hell does he know that?)
He tells Rumple the only way to kill him is by dying himself, something Rumple would never choose to do - and encourages him to leave the island. Rumple gives that an emphatic 'no' but Pan presses on, reminding Rumple that Neal and Henry will never forgive him for all the horrible things he's done. "Have you forgiven your father?" he asks, and Rumple is clearly shaken by that memory.
Pan tells him to go home, knock Belle up and start over before he saunters off into the jungle, and Rumple, sadly, actually seems to be thinking about it.
Over to the group again, and Regina is good and pissed that they're all thinking of looking for Neal. She thinks Pan is lying, and she refuses to waste anymore time.
I love me some pissed-off Regina.
She peels off from the group and goes after Henry on her own. Emma second-guesses herself, but Snow reminds her that she owes it to Henry - and to herself - to see if Neal is alive.
Flashback to Prince Eric's kingdom, where Ariel and Snow show up to the royal ball wearing floofy maternity sundresses.
This is the only time I have ever not liked the costumes on this show. The girls look like they're going to a middle-school formal, here. Anyway, we get another cute Ariel moment when she pockets a fork. Prince Eric makes his entrance, and Snow encourages her to head over to his side, where Ariel trips and he gallantly asks her to dance.
He remembers the shipwreck he met her in, but believes that Ursula saved him, showing him a vision of his true love: Ariel. He's leaving in the morning to sail the world, and he invites her to come with him, exploring everything from this realm to Agrabah. Ariel splutters, not sure how to answer, and he gives her the remainder of the night to make a decision and tells her he'll wait at the dock in the morning. If she doesn't show up, he'll sail without her.
She rejoins Snow and they converse in front of a large, gilded mirror (really, Snow, you think you'd learn...) and we see Regina, observing and hearing it all from her castle via mirror magic, and good God, she looks amazing in that dress, as always.
The guards behind her apologize for Snow not being as dead as they reported, and she offs one just for spite before deciding on a new plan of action.
Forward to Neverland, where Pan has just ordered Neal moved to Echo Cave, where the game, he tells Felix, "Is about to get more interesting."
And now we're with Rumple, who's holding that straw doll and turning it over in his hands. Belle appears again, asking him to come home to Storybrooke, offering to start a new family with him. Rumple looks like he's falling for her words, when Regina shows up and puts a magical choke on Belle, who reveals her true identity: Pan's shadow.
Over to our group, and Emma pulls Snow aside to confess that she put Hook in a steamy lip-lock. Snow reassures her that Neal will understand, but Emma isn't so sure he's really alive. Snow reminds her that she can't give up hope. She deserves a happy ending, and they always start with hope.
Back to Eric's kingdom, where Ariel is second-guessing herself. Eric would have to give up his dream to stay with her, because she can't live on the ship with him. Snow encourages her to open up to Eric and tell him the truth. Ariels heads off to the beach to do some thinking, begging the mythical unseen-for-a-thousand-years Ursula what she should do.
Suddenly, out of the water we see...Regina?
Complete with magical tentacles and somehow she manages to make that look incredibly sexy, despite this not being Japanese porn. She's even got a cheesy accent. Love it!
Forward to Neverland, and Regina is ragging on Rumple for falling for Pan's nonsense. She wants to team up since next to Pan, they're both the darkest damn things around. Rumple reminds her that killing Pan would result in his own death (and I'm really not sure why that is - they never really explain why he can't just off him and be done with it), so Regina switches tactics. What if they just contain Pan? Cage him?
"A fate worse than death..." Rumple ruminates.
"There's my malevolent imp," Regina says approvingly.
Rumple has something back in his shop that will work, but they have to find a way to cross realms in order to retrieve it.
Back again to Ariel and Reginursula. Reginursula offers her a magical bracelet, one that will give her the legs she so desires anytime she slips it on. Ariel takes the bracelet and runs to find Snow. She places the bracelet on Snow's wrist and suddenly Snow has a tail. Ariel tells her that now she can escape, go live in the mermaid realm where the evil queen will never find her, and Ariel now has permanent legs and can keep her true love.
Snow's not thrilled with this development and questions the validity of a mythical eight-armed goddess with good cause: up strolls Regina, and Ariel realizes she's been had. Snow tells her to leave. It's too late for her, but Ariel can still find Eric and her happy ending.
"Listen to her, Ariel!" Regina gloats. "Are you really going to give up the love of your life - for a friend?"
(Ooooooh. Just caught that. Great parallel, writers!)
Ariel leaves, and Regina turns back to start choking Snow, only to find herself stabbed by a fork as Ariel returns to remove the magical bracelet and pull her into the water, saving her life.
Forward to Neverland, where the group has followed the Lost Boy's tracks to Echo Cave. Hook is very disturbed by this, revealing that Echo Cave is where he lost half his crew. The name comes from an old saying "The deeper the lie, the more truth in its echo." The only way to rescue someone from inside is to reveal a secret - and not just any secret, it has to be a real doozy. (And I have to note that I LOL'd when Snow shrugged and said "A secret? That's all?" because to her it really is no big deal to give up a secret).
Pan wants them to rescue Neal so that they can reveal their secrets believing that the secrets will tear them apart. They enter the cave and see Neal stuck on a stalagmite in the center, with nothing around him they can anchor a rope to and nothing else within the cave to use to build a bridge. He calls Emma's name, having seen her, and Emma takes a frightened and confused step back, clearly warring with her feelings.
Hook is looking just as uncomfortable - almost like a man walking to the gallows. He takes the initiative, and goes first, telling his secret. And once again, I'm just going to let you watch because this scene is brilliant.
That scene was so beautiful and poignant - kudos to Jen Morrison and Michael Raymond James. And Hook's face when Neal hugs her....uuuuugh! Right in the feels.
Once they're out of the cave, Neal pulls Emma back to confess his own secret: he's never going to stop fighting for her. And we see a pirate, watching them from a short distance away, and not terribly happy to have heard that. David tries to apologize to Snow for his secret but she smacks his hand away and tells him to get stuffed. How dare he try to help his damn family and not cause them useless worry and focus? The bastard!
Flashback now to the Enchanted Forest, and Snow is crawling ashore with Ariel. Snow tells Ariel to go to Eric and tell him the truth, and Ariel flips a tail and heads for her honey.
Eric has waited as long as he possibly can, and just as Ariel is about to call out to him from the water, her voice fails her. Regina has stolen it, and Eric leaves to sail away, never having known that Ariel came back for him.
"Time to swim back home, little mermaid," Regina snarls between clenched teeth, and Ariel, heartbroken, does just that.
We see Regina gloating in front of her mirror, only to be confronted by the real crappy CGI Ursula, who's pretty pissed she was impersonated.
She tells Regina never to do that again.
Forward to Neverland, where Regina finds that same shell Neal used, only this time she summons Ariel. Mermaids can cross realms, Rumple reminds her, but they also can't be trusted. Regina assures him that Ariel is trustworthy. She gives Ariel back her voice and her magic leg-giving bracelet. She also lets Ariel know that her prince is in fact, in Storybrooke.
I'm giving this one five hooks out of five (as usual - there's been a lot of that this season).
Echo cave was amazing, Ariel is adorable, we got some bandit Snow and some truly evil queen, and now we have an official love triangle. The tension is so thick, you can slash it with a hook. Damn.