Once Upon a Time is seven episodes into its third season and, so far, Storybrooke has yet to be seen thanks to Neverland-centric stories. But that will all change on Sunday's episode (8/7c, ABC), when Ariel (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) earns her legs by swimming back to Storybrooke to help Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Rumple (Robert Carlyle) locate a powerful item that could take down Peter Pan (Robbie Kay). Through this trip back to Storybrooke, we'll get a glimpse into how Belle (Emile de Ravin) has been holding down the fort in our heroes' stead.
"She's tried to hold it together," de Ravin tells TVGuide.com. "I kept imagining myself in Regina's office. I was like, 'No that's not going to happen.' She's got a leadership role, but definitely not like Regina at all."
Belle might not be sitting in the Mayor's office as some fans had wished, but she'll certainly have her hands full upon Ariel's arrival since there will also be two others, mysteriously dubbed Keychain (James Immekus) and Glasses (Matt Kane), who appear in the town. "Ariel, the Little Mermaid, brings me a sand dollar with a message from Rumple from Neverland that I need to find this object," de Ravin says. "But these two men come into town. We had a couple of people come through before she was able to cloak the town."
Belle will find help in the remaining Storybrooke residents, including the Dwarves, and in Ariel, with whom she forms an immediate bond. "They instantly have this friendship similar to that of Ariel and Snow [Ginnifer Goodwin]," Garcia says. "I come to her basically asking for her help, and this is her way to really help her love and to bring her love back. It makes her feel good too because she's going to ultimately really help save the day."
But not everything is sunshine and daisies in Sunday's episode, especially for those still stranded in Neverland trying to save Henry (Jared Gilmore). After being reunited, Hook (Colin O'Donoghue), Neal (Michael Raymond-James) and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) will set out to find Dark Hollow, where Peter Pan's shadow dwells, in order to capture it. But it's certainly an awkward situation after Emma admitted that she had wished Neal was dead so she wouldn't have to face her feelings.
"I love what [executive producers] Adam [Horowitz] and Eddy [Kitsis] did with her for that because I think it's a very human reaction to him being back," Morrison says. "You can fantasize that someone will say, 'Oh, I love you, it's great, it's wonderful, it's all fine now.' But in reality, she spent 10 years thinking that he not only abandoned her in some way, but it seemed like he maliciously set her up. Ten years is a long time to suffer through that belief. Also, he found out that the curse was broken and could have come after her and still didn't, so that's the second betrayal she's aware of. There's so much for them to work through and so much that hasn't been dealt with. There's a tremendous amount of baggage there."
For now, the duo will be focused on the mission at hand, pushing their feelings aside for the greater good of saving Henry. "We're both aware that there's work to be done," Raymond-James says. "But there's also the mission that needs to be accomplished. That supersedes everything." But there could be jealousy in store once Neal does find out about Hook's true feelings for Emma. "No one wants to hear that," he says. "But listen, I don't own Emma, and she doesn't owe me anything. There's not really time to process all of it because there's so much happening."
There's also trouble in paradise for the Charming family after Charming (Josh Dallas) finally admitted the truth to Snow that he can't leave Neverland after Hook helped to heal him from the Dreamshade poisoning. "There will definitely be repercussions," Goodwin says, "which I find to be refreshing because they can, as a couple, certainly be annoyingly cute and —I don't want to say perfect — but positive and good in ways that you want to rough them up a little bit. So I don't mind there being a little conflict."
"It affects them greatly because it's like, 'Why didn't you trust me enough?' Why didn't David trust Snow enough that love would conquer all? That the love they have been through together would have overpowered all and they would have found a way," Dallas says. "David's got such morals and he's got such a code to a fault sometimes. He didn't want to endanger anyone else. He didn't want the focus of the mission, which was to save Henry, to change. He had good intentions and it backfired on him."
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.