Jack Rowand/ABC
April 30, 2015 at 08:41 PM EDT

Tonight, Once Upon a Time introduced a new, aquatically-inclined character with an episode that was the narrative equivalent of treading water. How appropriate!

To paraphrase the little mermaid herself, flipping its fins won’t get a show too far — unless there’s some serious forward momentum propelling that paddling. Compare this episode, for example, to what Once was doing at this same point in previous years: Season 1’s sixth episode established David’s backstory and revealed that Sheriff Skinnyjeans was sleeping with Regina. Season 2’s sixth episode illuminated Emma’s past with Nealfire and propelled the “Emma and Snow try to get back to Storybrooke” plotline by giving them a magic compass. (Oh, and coincidence alert — I started that writeup with a brief spoof of “Part of Your World.”)

By contrast, just about diddly squat actually happened in “Ariel,” save the suspiciously easy rescue of Nealfire and the introduction of Ariel herself. According to Regina, the MBC has been tooling around Never Land for a week; viewers, by contrast, have spent six stagnant weeks watching them talk about rescuing Henry. Maybe the new MacGuffin Ariel’s been sent to fetch will have the power to inject some energy into Operation Found Boy; maybe spending next week in Storybrooke will help give season 3 a roundness it’s been sorely lacking. Either way, if the status quo doesn’t change soon, I may go from grumpy to full-on maleficent.

So okay, the merlady that gives “Ariel” its name: In Onceland, she’s still a cheery, redheaded, human-obsessed fishgirl, much like the character who helped to launch the Disney Renaissance back in 1989. (Can you imagine the revolts if Ariel had been given a dark makeover?) Snow White meets her by chance after leaping into the ocean to escape two of the evil queen’s men. Ariel saves Snow from the water, and in no time at all, the two princesses become fast friends. Maybe Ariel can lend Snow a dinglehopper to help her tame that rat’s nest of a wig?

Maybe not: The mermaid is too busy planning for that night’s big Ursula Ball, a shindig thrown each year in honor of a certain sea goddess. The party happens to coincide with the year’s highest tide — a time when the mythical Ursula gives all merfolk a chance to sprout legs for just 12 hours. Ariel’s going to take this opportunity to waltz into the ball and woo one Prince Eric, whom she’s had a thing for ever since saving him from a shipwreck the year before. Man, Snow sure picked a convenient date to take a swim.

NEXT: Legs are required for jumping, dancing

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Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.
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