What do Belle, the Blue Fairy, Jiminy Cricket, and the seven dwarfs have in common? This week’s opening of Once Upon a Time. The first few moments of “Dark Hollow” not only excite, they almost make us forget the horrific pacing that has plagued this season.
This episode kicks off informing us what took place right after the group departed for Neverland. Sadly, even with some quick thinking from Belle, other followers of Pan’s manage to make it into Storybrooke. By far the Storybrooke side of the episode is the more exciting of the two. Perhaps it’s because we have not seen these characters for some time, or maybe it’s that Neverland is starting to get a tad bit boring. Either way, it’s good to be back. Emilie de Ravin has always been a welcome addition to the cast. It has been nice having her pop up throughout the season, but seeing her as actual Belle is a wonderful surprise. Another nice element is Ariel’s continued presence; JoAnna Garcia Swisher is absolutely superb in the role, keeping us enthralled, as well as laughing. She continues to maintain the naïve innocence of Ariel without making her annoying, no small feat. It is fun and thrilling to see Ravin and Swisher teaming up and uniting the characters of Ariel and Belle.
Emma, Neal, and Hook break off from the group and go to capture Pan’s shadow, ending up wading into the dark hollow, where chaos ensues. The set design alone for the hollow is absolutely terrifying. We find ourselves cringing at the thought of being in there with the three of them, especially when the terrifying CGI shadows show up. All of the actors are on their A game here too. We feel their emotions and fears throughout the scenes where they are actually in the hollows, although it could be argued that the boyish bickering between Neal and Hook over Emma brings the sequence down a bit. Just as we are waiting on the edge of our seats in anticipation, the love triangle decides to rear its ugly head, taking away from the trauma and fear of the scene.
The other major storyline deals with Snow and Charming. Other than some bickering and a heart to heart, this thread is by far the weakest of the three. The only exciting part of the story is the return of Tinkerbell. It is enjoyable to see Rose McIver back in the role; hopefully we will continue to be blessed with her brilliantly crafted Tinkerbell in the coming weeks. Perhaps the biggest shock of the episode is the revelation that Pan’s two workers in Storybrooke are actually John and Michael and the person in the box on Neverland is none other than Wendy Darling. The writers throw a nice little curveball at us with that one, proving that they do indeed still have some tricks and magic up their sleeves.
“Dark Hollow” is by far the best episode of season three. Everyone from the set designers to the CGI department to the writers and actors are at their best. The suspenseful, dramatic, and comedic elements that we have come to expect from Once are all present and the puzzle pieces and foundation that the writers created for season three are all starting to fall into place. However, several questions are still up in the air: Will all of the groups reunite as one? Is Henry going to be sacrificed? Will they save Wendy? Is Charming really going to stay in Neverland? Can Ariel come back, please? And when will we be treated to more Storybrooke?
As the winter finale draws closer, the roller coaster of Once Upon a Time shoots out of the gates this week with, hopefully, no intention of slowing down.