"Ariel" is the sixth episode of the third season of the American fantasy drama series Once Upon a Time, and the show's fiftieth episode overall.
In the Characters' Past
Ariel saves Snow White after she runs off a cliff to avoid capture by the Evil Queen's guards. Snow later helps Ariel get closer to her love interest Prince Eric, whom she met when saving him from a shipwreck. Ariel is able to meet Prince Eric again at a ball, thanks to a legend that says every year the sea goddess Ursula grants mermaids the ability to walk on land at high tide for twelve hours. At the ball, Eric invites her on an expedition around the world. She then grows conflicted about whether to stay on land or return to the sea; however, the Evil Queen, having watched this from the mirror in Prince Eric's castle, sees an opportunity that she uses to her advantage.
Later that night, Ariel attempts to communicate with the goddess Ursula, but it's The Queen disguising herself as Ursula. She tells Ariel that she can make it so she stays human forever. The next day, Ariel approaches Snow and tells her about her encounter with Ursula. She puts an enchanted bracelet on Snow, turning her into a mermaid, and explains that this way both she and Snow can get what they want: Snow gets to escape from the Evil Queen and Ariel gets to remain human. The Evil Queen reveals herself before them, and orders Ariel to leave, stating that Snow White is going to die whether Ariel decides to go to Prince Eric, or stays with her friend. Ariel begins to leave, but the Queen by surprise and stabs her in the neck with a fork, distracting her long enough for Ariel take the bracelet off Snow that turned her into a mermaid. The two then escape before the Queen can act on vengeance. Snow then encourages Ariel to swim to Prince Eric's ship and reveal who she is and her love; however, as an act of revenge, the Evil Queen takes her voice from her, so she cannot call out for him. Heartbroken, she watches from afar as Eric finally turns to leave, having waited for her for a long time. Unfortunately, as the delighted Queen returns to her fortress, she sees the real Ursula appear from the mirror, promising to make good on a threat if she ever masquerades as her ever again.
As Regina tries to teach Emma (Jennifer Morrison) how to use magic, Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) arrives to tell David (Josh Dallas) and Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) that Neal (Michael Raymond-James) is alive. At first, the threesome decided they should keep this a secret from Emma, but unable to keep a secret, Mary Margaret comes clean to Emma. Mary Margaret reasons encourages Emma to believe that Neal is alive and should pursue him. Regina, disgusted by what she sees as a waste of time, decides to leave Hook and the Charming family and go it alone.
As Peter Pan watches from a distance, he orders Felix to take the caged Neal to a place where he hopes that this "game" will get more interesting, the Echo Caves. Emma and the gang track Neal's struggle marks, during which Emma confesses to Mary Margaret about kissing Hook. When they reach the Caves, Hook explains that the only way to save Neal is to reveal a dark secret. Inside, they see Neal locked in a cage but the only way to get to him is by creating a bridge as a rock separates the foursome from Neal. One by one, each comes clean, Hook about his feelings for Milah, and how having kissed Emma he realized he moved on from his first love when he met her, Mary Margaret feeling that having been robbed of experiencing having a daughter around, wants to have another child with David, and David finally coming clean about the Dreamshade and that because Hook saved him by using the water from the springs he won't be able to leave Neverland. As Emma races across the bridge, she reveals to Neal that she had wished that it was a trick and he was really dead. Despite still loving him, Emma admits that a part of her wished he was dead because it was easier to move on than relive all the pain he put her through. The cage is magically opened and Neal is free.
Now that they have escaped the cave and resume their quest to save Henry, it appears that the truth is causing more hurt than help among the rescuers, with Mary Margaret upset with David. As Neal says he can get them home once they rescue Henry, Emma apologizes to Neal about how she feels, but said it's not going to change, to which Neal responds that he's never going to stop fighting for her. Emma doesn't comment on this, merely looking an emotional wreck, and Hook overhears the conversation.
Meanwhile, Gold (Robert Carlyle) is visited by Peter Pan, who offers him poached eggs, but Gold refuses and vows to stop him and reunite with his son and grandson. Pan tells Gold he is wasting his time since Neal and Henry won't ever forgive him and suggests that he return to Storybrooke to be with Belle and start a family, which Gold rejects immediately. Moments later, the image of Belle returns to give Gold a chance to give up his quest to find Henry and start a new life back in Storybrooke, then convinces Gold that she is real and she tries to caress him. Regina immediately shows up and recognizes the image of Belle as Pan's shadow and she uses her magic to scare him off.
Seeing that Gold is not the Rumplestiltskin that she knew from the Enchanted Forest, Regina tells Gold that he needs to come back to his senses and suggests that they combine their powers to take down Pan by using a different approach besides killing him. Gold believes the answer lies back in Storybrooke at his pawn shop, so the only way to solve the problem is summon a person from her past. As they head to the beach, Regina uses a sea shell to summon a mermaid, who turns out to be Ariel. Regina then gives Ariel her voice back and gives her a mission, which is to retrieve an item from Storybrooke, which is where Ariel will also find her true love, Eric.
The episode was be the first to feature Joanna Garica as Ariel, the protagonist of the 1989 Disney film The Little Mermaid. Garcia's casting was announced in August 2013. Series co-creator Edward Kitsis, who co-wrote the episode, stated that "once we realized we were going to Neverland, it felt like the perfect place to see Ariel." She was pleased that the series had opted to stay true to the Disney film, explaining that "this is a girl that lives under the sea, that has fallen madly in love with this beautiful prince and will go to the ends of the earth to be with him and… it’s a really romantic notion and I just loved the idea of it... It has that incredible storybook moment where their eyes meet and it’s instant." It was her first acting experience after giving birth to her daughter earlier in the year.
- Gonzales, Sandra (August 16, 2013). "'Once Upon a Time' finds its Ariel", Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved on October 30, 2013.
- Keck, William (September 23, 2013). "Keck's Exclusives First Look: Ariel Washes Ashore on Once Upon a Time", TV Guide. Retrieved on October 30, 2013.
- Lash, Jolie (October 30, 2013). "Once Upon A Time Q&A: JoAnna Garcia Swisher Talks Playing Ariel", Access Hollywood. Retrieved on October 30, 2013.
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