[This is a review of Once Upon a Time season 3, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.]
After telling the same story in different ways for several weeks in a row Once Upon A Time finally delivers one with enough substance to keep your attention from start to finish. Oh, there's still plenty of Disney-sweet dialogue coming from the usual suspects in "Dark Hollow," along with a dose of perky optimism from newcomer Ariel (Joanna Garcia Swisher), but those parts are few and far between. Fortunately, there are other newcomers who make things far more interesting, with the added bonus of the Storybrooke setting for a change of scenery.
As was set up last week, Regina (Lana Parrilla) and cohort Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) send Ariel back to Storybrooke to help Belle (Emilie de Ravin) fetch the weapon that can defeat Pan (Robbie Kay). Of the four story lines going on during the episode, this is the strongest. It's got a touch of mystery, surprise, and a touch of danger for good measure. Belle and Ariel are no Cagney and Lacey but they do manage to locate the box and squirm out of a few tight jams.
Other strong aspects are the return of long lost friends like the dwarves, Archie (Raphael Sbarge) , Granny (Beverly Elliot), and the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy); the fact that it's Pandora's Box which might defeat Pan; and the use of a mine cart for defense purposes. The glue holding the whole thing together is the identity of the two strangers in hot pursuit of the Box. They are John (Matt Kane) and Michael (James Immekus) Darling and they reveal the identity of the person trapped inside Pan's second cage.
This second prisoner is none other than the boys' sister Wendy (Freya Tingley) and her part of the story is only slightly less intriguing than her brothers'. Her presence on the island and her willingness to deceive Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) raises more questions than are answers, lifting the stale pall hovering over the island for the past few weeks. True, in the end she's nothing more than another pawn in Pan's grand scheme's for Henry. But she's a wild card as far as where her loyalties lay, so that makes her interesting.
Meanwhile, Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming (Josh Dallas) go from cool as ice to diabetic coma in no time flat and their relationship seems to be on the mend for anyone who still cares. In other news, the baddies aren't the only ones inching the "Save Henry" plot forward as Emma (Jennifer Morrison), Neal (Michael Raymond-James) and Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) manage to snag Pan's evil shadow despite the boys' pining for Emma every step of the way. Testosterone spill on aisle four. And is anyone else creeped out by the fact that Hook is doing the same thing to Neal as he did to Neal's dad back in the day?
Next week it all comes to a head and it will be interesting to see where the chips fall when the battle dust settles. Will Pan become immortal? Are Snow and Charming to become permanent island residents? At what cost will Henry be saves? Who wins Emma's heart?
Once Upon A Time returns next Sunday with the all new episode, "Think Lovely Thoughts" @8pm on ABC.