Once Upon a Time - Season 3 (2013-2014)

The story of The Little Mermaid was added to the universe of Once Upon a Time in its third season.

3.01 - The Heart of the Truest Believer

Emma, Snow, Charming, Regina, Hook and Rumplestilskin are sailing for Neverland on board the Jolly Roger, out to rescue Henry. On the way, their ship is attacked by mermaids, and these particular mermaids aren't kidding around. They hit their tails against the ship, rocking it violently, and the gang on board shoot at the mermaids to get them to flee. Emma and Snow manage to catch one, but before they can ask her why the mermaids are attacking them, this mermaid summons a storm, and Regina turns her into stone.

3.06 - Ariel

Ariel finally makes an appearance! Unlike some of the other fairytales seen in the show's flashbacks, we don't see the entirety of Ariel's famous story (rescuing the prince, etc.), only what is relevant to the main plot of the show and her friendship with Snow White.

In the Enchanted Forest flashbacks, Snow almost drowns while trying to escape from Regina's goons, and it's Ariel who saves her and takes her to shore. Saving humans is Ariel's shtick, and she tells Snow that a year ago she'd saved a human, Prince Eric, whose kingdom they are now in. Ariel didn't get a chance to talk to Eric, or even meet him properly, but she has a feeling that he's her true love. Snow, naturally, encourages Ariel to go for it. It's a good thing that the merfolk in this universe get legs once every year when the tide is highest, thanks to a magical gift from the sea goddess, Ursula.

So Ariel and Snow go together to Prince Eric's party, which is interestingly held in honour of Ursula. Snow helpfully reminds Ariel that forks are forks, and not "sea tridents" (heh) and then lo and behold, Eric makes his entrance. Ariel approaches him and despite her brief fumble, Eric invites her to dance. There's a connection there despite Eric's not knowing that Ariel is a mermaid and the one who saved his life. Eric tells her that he's leaving on a voyage the very next morning to explore the world, and invites Ariel to join him. Ariel doesn't know what to say, and Eric says he will wait for her if she wishes to go with him.

Snow advises Ariel to tell Eric the truth, but Ariel needs a little time for soul-searching. She goes to the sea shore and voices her questions out loud, though she doesn't really expect a response. She's surprised when she does get a response, and Ursula appears right before her eyes. However, it isn't really Ursula, it's actually Regina the Evil Queen disguised as Ursula, out to make Ariel an offer of legs for good so she can be with Eric.

The offer is a ruse, as these things go. Regina's after Snow White, and only used Ariel to get what she really wanted, hem hem. Regina tells Ariel to walk away but she's not buying that, quickly jumping in to stab Regina with the dinglehopper sea trident and fleeing with Snow to safety. Once they're safely away Ariel apologizes to Snow, who understands what happened and merely tells Ariel to go and tell Eric before he leaves on his voyage.

Unfortunately Regina's waiting for Ariel at Eric's castle, so when Ariel tries to call out to Eric she discovers that her voice is gone, taken by the Evil Queen for her keeping. Ariel weeps, heartbroken and helpless to stop Eric from leaving.

In a neat little postcript to the flashbacks, Regina returns to her castle where none other than the real Ursula appears to her through a mirror, warning Regina to never impersonate her ever again.

In the present day, Regina calls Ariel from Neverland. She has a new deal for the little mermaid, who is naturally still angry from all years sans voice and love. But Regina has news - Eric is at Storybrooke, and if Ariel helps do Regina (another) favour, she can be with her love for real.

3.07 - Dark Hollow

Picking up immediately where the last episode left off, Rumplestilskin and Regina are giving Ariel her instructions. Ariel is to go to Storybrooke and pass a message to Belle, whom Rumplestilskin says should be able to find the magical object he needs. Ariel asks about Eric, but Regina says that that'll come after, once she has succeeded on her task. For now Ariel has the magical bracelet that'll give her legs for 24 hours.

A scene change later Ariel arrives in Storybrooke safe 'n sound, where she immediately meets Grumpy and the rest of the dwarfs. Grumpy takes Ariel to Grandma's Diner, introducing her to Belle. Ariel passes on the very welcome message from Neverland, and Belle is psyched to be able to do something to help Rumplestilskin and the others. (I must confess that among the many wonderful things about Ariel in this episode, that she gets to interact the most with Belle is the BEST.)

After a wardrobe change (in which Ariel is given high heels, because she is skilled on them new legs of hers) Belle manages to open Rumplestilskin's "message", which is unfortunately cryptic in case their enemies intercepted it. The pair then poke around Rumplestilskin's shop -- which is naturally like catnip to Ariel ("Look at this stuff!" she says, hee) and she surreptitiously pockets a button she says is similar to the one Eric had on his jacket when she saved him from drowning.

Belle eventually discovers the secret compartment she was meant to, revealing the wee tiny Pandora's Box. But their joy is short-lived because they're almost immediately ambushed by Pan's minions, who are there on orders to stop them no matter what. Ariel and Belle are tied up, but Belle refuses to tell Pan's helpers what the magical object is or how it's going to be used to stop Pan.

After Pan's mooks go off to deal with the box, Belle and Ariel struggle to break free of their bonds. Belle gets the idea of taking off Ariel's bracelet, which transforms Ariel's legs back into a tail and that snaps the ropes or something? I'm not too clear about that. But they get out, is the important thing, and then the ladies are off to the save the day. Belle figures out that the only way to destroy the box is with the dwarves' diamond-shatteringly-uber pickaxes, so they head for the mines.

In the mines there's a confrontation, in which Belle and Ariel discover that Pan's sidekicks are none other than John and Michael Darling, and they're only doing Pan's bidding because he's keeping their sister, Wendy, hostage. Belle manages to convince the brotherly duo that Rumplestilskin's plan has a good chance of success, which would free everyone from Pan's clutches. John and Michael stand down, and Belle gets Pandora's Box back. Ariel leaves Storybrooke with Pandora's Box, taking with her Belle's message from John and Michael to help save Wendy.

Ariel makes it back to Neverland! Returning to the exact same spot where Rumplestilskin and Regina are waiting for her. She gives them Pandora's Box and the message, getting a promise out of Rumplestilskin that they'll try their best to help Wendy. Regina even upholds her end of the bargain by casting a new spell on the bracelet, which will now give Ariel human legs whenever and for however long she chooses. Eric is back in Storybrooke, and judging from Ariel's smile, she's ready to go and find him.

3.10 - The New Neverland

In the opening teaser for this episode, Ariel has returned to Storybrooke, and Belle helps her track down Eric, who appears to be a fisherman or fisherman-affiliate of some sort (BUT OF COURSE). It's a sweet reunion, albeit a brief one before the rest of the episode's plot kicks in.

3.17 - The Jolly Roger

For the sake of simplicity I'm summarizing this episode according to how things happened chronologically, not in the order that events were shown in the episode, since they like to jump back and forth.

Although Ariel and Eric achieved their happy ending, they were separated again due to the events of the mid-season hiatus. Ariel, dressed up in Eric's clothes, has been searching the Enchanted Forest for him. A clue makes Ariel believe that Captain Hook has kidnapped Eric. She confronts him, but quickly learns she's mistaken and that it's actually the fearsome pirate Blackbeard who has kidnapped Eric and stolen the Jolly Roger. Since Ariel heard how Hook helped Emma and the Charmings, she optimistically hitches her quest onto Hook's quest to get his ship back.

Once they get there, they learn that Blackbeard's goal is Hook's humiliation, since he's heard that Hook has gone soft. Eric has been stowed away on a faraway island, and Blackbeard will only tell them where he is if Hook gives up his beloved ship. Despite Ariel's begging Hook to make the right choice, he does not, and Hook kills Blackbeard and throws him overboard. Ariel, furious and disappointed, tells Hook that he will know torment for what he's done. She then jumps overboard, swimming off to find Eric by herself since that's what it takes.

Some months later Ariel shows up on the beach in Storybrooke, still searching for Eric and asking for help. Most of the characters have lost one year of their memories thanks to the Wicked Witch's plans, Hook being an exception since he was outside the curse. Snow and Charming take Ariel to Hook to ask if he knows where Eric is. Hook, ashamed for what he did in the past, pretends he's never met Ariel before and doesn't know where Eric is. He reluctantly agrees to help her this time, and brings her to Belle.

Belle knows a tracking spell, which she puts on Eric's cloak. Ariel and Hook race after it, only to watch it go to the docks and slide underwater, implying that Eric has drowned and is dead.

Ariel is heartbroken, and Hook confesses the truth about how he met Ariel and what he did. Ariel is furious all over again and taunts Hook over his offer to make things right, making him swear on his new love for Emma Swan. The moment he does, this "Ariel" is revealed to be Zelena, the Wicked Witch of the West, and she used Hook's guilt to cast a spell on him.

I will choose to interpret this as a loose homage to Vanessa, re: a villain pretending to be Ariel to get what they want. That said, Zelena!Ariel's exclamation of, "And that makes it okay?" hit the heartstrings right on, what great emotional acting from Joanna right there.

The real Ariel did manage to find Eric on an island by herself and they've been living happily ever since. Just to make sure, later on Emma uses her fledgling magic on a mirror and is successfully able to check that Ariel and Eric really are together. (Such marvellous coincidental timing, plus a nice callback to Eric's twirling Ariel in her sparkly blue-grey dress at the end of the movie).

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