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For quite some time, I've sought something extremely important, something more elusive than the greatest of all mysteries. [...] The heart of the truest believer.

Peter Pan to Henry Mills

"The Heart of the Truest Believer" is the first episode of Season Three of ABC's Once Upon a Time. It was written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz and directed by Ralph Hemecker. It is the forty-fifth episode of the series overall, and premiered on September 29, 2013. This episode is the third-season premiere.


As Emma, Mary Margaret, David, Regina, Mr. Gold and Hook enter Neverland to search for a kidnapped Henry, they're greeted by a school of not-too-friendly mermaids who threaten to end their search before it begins; Henry finds himself on the run from the Lost Boys with another escapee from Peter Pan's encampment; and Neal, recovering from his wounds, travels through the Enchanted Forest with Mulan in an attempt to learn the fates of Emma and Henry.[2]


This section is a detailed recap of this episode. There are major spoilers. Click to expand.

Eleven years in the past, Emma Swan, in a Phoenix, Arizona prison hospital, is giving birth as a clock strikes 8:15. The lights flicker as the child is born. The doctor informs Emma that the baby is a boy, and offers him to her, imploring her to change her mind. Emma refuses, saying she can't be a mother. As the doctor takes the child away, Emma cries.

In the present day, the Jolly Roger sails through the portal created by a magic bean. Emma Swan, David Nolan, Mary Margaret Blanchard, Regina Mills, Mr. Gold and Captain Hook hold on as the ship surfaces on foreign waters. As the passengers gaze at a distant island, Hook confirms that they have arrived in Neverland.

Elsewhere, Henry, along with Greg Mendell and Tamara, arrives from the bean portal he passed through. When Tamara expresses joy at their arrival, Henry informs the two that "both" of his mothers are coming for him, mistakenly thinking they have arrived in the Enchanted Forest. Tamara corrects him, confirming that they are in Neverland. When Henry expresses his disbelief that the two adults endeavor to destroy Neverland, Tamara calls it the "mother lode of magic". Tamara attempts to contact their Home Office with a communicator. When she is unable to get a signal, Greg opens the device to check its batteries, revealing that the "communicator" is filled with sand. The trio sets off.

On the Jolly Roger, Hook slows the ship. When Regina questions the Captain, he explains that he plans to sail around the island and sail up a river to surprise "him". He then relishes in the irony that he is returning to Neverland with Rumplestiltskin, after having once spent years trying to leave the island to kill him, and this is not the "happy ending" he imagined. Regina remarks that Greg Mendell once called her a villain, and told her that "villains don't get happy endings." She asks Hook if he believes it. The pirate replies that he hopes not, or the two have wasted their lives.

As Emma gazes absently at the sea, Mary Margaret and David approach her. In an attempt to comfort their daughter, Mary Margaret tells Emma that what happened to Neal and Henry was not her fault, and she should not blame herself. Emma replies that she blames her parents. She laments that her experiences have shown her that good does not always win. When Mary Margaret implores her to let her parents share their wisdom, Emma replies that they are the same age, and have equal amounts of wisdom. Letting out her frustration, Emma regrets that she broke the Dark Curse, saying she should have just taken Henry. When both Mary Margaret and David express hope that they will reunite their family, Emma expresses further outrage at how optimistic the couple is, claiming that their lives have "sucked" since regaining their memories. Mary Margaret replies that the moment she gave up her optimism would be the moment things went bad. She further states that they will find Henry.

"No, you won't", chimes in Mr. Gold, appearing above deck in an outfit once donned by Rumplestiltskin. He informs the group that he is going to get Henry. Regina replies that they agreed to do it together. Mr. Gold responds that he agreed to no such thing. Emma asks why Mr. Gold is doing this, and he replies that he wants to succeed. When she asks why Mr. Gold thinks she would fail, he replies that she doesn't believe in anything, not even herself. He claims that their foe is too strong for someone to show Emma the way, that Neverland is a world where "imagination runs wild", and Emma's does not. Leaving his cane behind, Mr. Gold then disappears from the ship.

On the island, Greg starts a fire in an attempt to build a signal to alert the Home Office. Felix and the Lost Boys arrive, revealing that they are the Home Office. Henry questions why the Lost Boys would want to destroy magic. Felix replies that is not their intention. When Greg interjects that that was his mission, Felix replies "so you were told", and demands Henry. Tamara refuses to give up Henry until the Lost Boys reveal their plans, for destroying magic, and for she and Greg returning home. Felix replies that they are never going home, and Greg responds that they are not getting Henry. Suddenly, the Shadow swoops down and removes Greg's shadow from his body. As Greg falls, lifeless, to the ground, the Shadow flies off. Henry runs off, and, on Felix's order, the Lost Boys scatter to pursue him. Tamara attempts to flee as well, but is shot with an arrow by one of the Lost Boys.

As Henry runs through the forest, he slips and falls. Another boy grabs him and pulls him to safety. When Henry asks if he is a Lost Boy, the youngster replies that he was, but escaped. He then rushes Henry off to avoid capture.

On the Jolly Roger, Emma does pull-ups below deck when Hook pays her a visit. When she asks the Captain what he wants, Hook replies that he wishes to give her something. He tells her that he and Baelfire spent a lot of time together, and gives her a sword the boy once owned. The two then share a toast of rum to Neal.

In the Enchanted Forest, Neal awakens in Aurora's Palace, attended by Mulan, Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip. When Phillip informs him that he is in the Enchanted Forest, Neal expresses shock at being "back". Aurora asks if he is from their world, and Mulan interjects that, judging by his clothing, he is from the same world as Emma and Snow. Upon hearing Mulan mention Emma's name, Neal exclaims that Emma is in danger and he must help her. He sits up in an attempt to leave. Prince Phillip protests, as Neal was gravely injured by Tamara's gunshot in Storybrooke. Neal exclaims that he needs to know if Emma and Henry are alright, and Aurora deduces that he is Henry's father. She explains that, because she was once under a Sleeping Curse, she may be able to contact Henry. When asked what message to give them, Neal responds, "Tell Emma I'm alive... and I love her."

On the Jolly Roger, as Emma and Hook sit below deck, the ship is attacked. Above deck, David and Mary Margaret struggle at the helm in a desperate attempt to keep the ship steady. Hook tells the group to prepare for the attack. As the group looks down onto the water, mermaids reveal themselves as the attackers.

As Hook continues to steer the ship, attempting to outrun the vicious mermaids, David loads a cannon and opens fire on the mermaids. Emma and Mary Margaret drop a large net into the sea, ensnaring a mermaid. Frustrated with the slow movement of the fight, Regina begins launching fireballs into the water. The school of mermaids retreat as Emma and Mary Margaret slowly haul the captured one up. Regina magically moves her onto the deck.

On the island, Henry and the other escapee continue running through the forest as the Lost Boys search for them. The other boy confirms that they have lost their pursuers, and the two decide to take a rest. The fugitive boy deduces that Henry is new to the island, and asks if Shadow took him as well. Henry explains that he was kidnapped by people who worked for Pan. The other boy claims that if Pan wants Henry, he will get him. Henry asks why Pan is after the other boy, who explains he has pixie dust, which he stole from Pan hoping he could use it to fly away. However, the boy claims it does not work. Henry claims that his family is coming for him. The other escapee warns Henry that, if his family does come for him, Pan will "rip their shadows into oblivion". Henry responds by reassuring the lad that everything will be alright, and asks if there is a place the two can hide from the Lost Boys. The other boy suggests the Echo Caves, but claims they're far. Just then, sounds of approaching Lost Boys are heard, and the pair hurries off.

In the Enchanted Forest, Princess Aurora travels to the Netherworld in her sleep on her bier in an attempt to contact Henry. Mulan asks Neal how he arrived, and Neal explains that he fell through a portal. Believing he was going to die, he though about growing up in the Enchanted Forest. As he explains, portals take their user to wherever they think of. Curiously, Mulan asks about the other world. Neal explains that the people there think the inhabitants of the Enchanted Forest don't exist, like characters in a story.

Aurora awakens, and breaks the news to Neal that she was not able to make contact. She expresses her fear that no one can help, and Neal responds that his father can. He explains that his father would have had a plan, that he would have left something behind in case he ever found himself back in the Enchanted Forest. Something that would allow him to contact Emma. When he expresses his desire to go to his father's castle, Prince Phillip asks who his father is. Neal replies, "Rumplestiltskin".

On Neverland island, Mr. Gold stalks the forest. He arrives at the clearing where Tamara and Greg were left. Greg's body lies lifeless as Tamara, an arrow protruding from her back, crawls along the ground. Mr. Gold asks where Henry is, and Tamara, gravely injured, is unable to respond. Mr. Gold heals her wound, and asks her again where he is. She responds that she doesn't know where he is, he ran. Tamara further explains that Pan wants him, and is behind everything. She tells Mr. Gold that she didn't know who she was working for, and apologizes for what happened to Neal. She asks if Mr. Gold can forgive her for kidnapping Henry. He curtly responds, "No", and rips out her heart. He calmly crushes it in her hand and her body falls, lifeless, to the ground.

On the Jolly Roger, the group debates whether the mermaid should be let go, or questioned. As they argue, she picks up a conch shell and blows into it, letting off a loud signal. When Emma questions what the signal was for, the mermaid replies that it was a warning. She tells the group to let her go, "or die".

In the Enchanted Forest, Neal and Mulan travel to the Dark Castle. Mulan questions Neal on why, if he is fighting for Emma, did Emma never mention him during her time in the Enchanted Forest. Neal responds that he broke her heart, letting her go so she could fulfill her destiny and break the Dark Curse. He further explains that, out of fear of rejection, he never went after her. He calls this the greatest regret of his life.

On Neverland island, Henry and the other fugitive, on their way to the Echo Caves, are pursued by the Lost Boys. When the gang cuts the pair off with an arrow, Henry realizes the Lost Ones know about the caves. He and the other escapee run in a different direction.

On the Jolly Roger, David demands to know what the mermaid has done. Regina interjects that, if the mermaid does not reveal herself, they will "make" her do so. As the group argues, a storm brews. Hook realizes the mermaid called the storm. David, pulling out a sword, holds it under the mermaid's chin, telling her to stop the storm, and then they will let her go. Regina encourages David to kill the mermaid, but he releases his grip on her when Mary Margaret flashes him a shocked look, causing him to refuse to do the deed. As Captain Hook turns the ship around in an attempt to outrun the storm, Regina and Mary Margaret argue over whether or not to kill the mermaid. Hook points out that the ship is taking on water. As the argument continues, Emma implores the group to "think this through". Regina, having had enough, turns the mermaid into wood. Her action, rather than calming the storm, prompts a giant tidal wave to loom over the ship.

In the Enchanted Forest, Neal and Mulan arrive at the ransacked Dark Castle. Mulan believes the castle is abandoned. Neal, upon inspecting a goblet, realizes that someone else is there. Suddenly, an arrow hits a wall just inches from Neal's face. As Mulan draws her sword, Robin Hood reveals himself. He demands to know why the two are trespassing in the castle, claiming it as his own. After Mulan points out that the castle belongs to the Dark One, Neal tells Robin Hood he can have the castle, he just wants to look around. Robin Hood asks who Neal is to do such a thing, and Neal reveals himself to Robin Hood as Baelfire, the Dark One's son. Robin Hood believes this statement without requiring further proof, saying no one would claim to be the Dark One's son who wasn't. He further explains that he and Rumplestiltskin once crossed paths, that the Dark One spared his life, and he owes him a debt. Neal calls upon this debt to solicit Robin Hood's aid in finding something he can use.

Robin Hood explains that he did not take up residence in the castle until after the Dark Curse was cast, and the castle had already been ransacked. Neal, remarking that looter would only take "what they could see", comes upon his father's old walking stick. When he picks up the stick, Mulan theorizes that it belonged to a looter, and is worthless. Neal quickly corrects her, however, pointing out the markings Rumplestiltskin used to keep track of his growth as a child. Neal twirls the stick, like a staff, and a painting in the corner of the room disappears, revealing a large cupboard. Robin Hood remarks that he's handled the staff several times and nothing happened. Neal explains that his father enchanted objects with blood magic, making them only useful to Rumplestiltskin and his bloodline.

On the Jolly Roger, as Hook and Emma struggle at the helm to control the ship, Mary Margaret demands that Regina turn the mermaid back. The argument degrades into a fight as the women verbally attack each other and Mary Margaret punches Regina in the face. Lightning strikes the ship as the women continue their fight. David attempts to break it up, but Hook attempts to hold him back, telling David he needs him at the mast, but also calling Mary Margaret and Regina "slags". This infuriates David, and he punches Hook, starting a brawl between the two.

As the other passengers continue to fight, and the storm continues to rage, Emma realizes that it wasn't the mermaid causing the storm, but the group themselves. She attempts to persuade the others to stop fighting, but her pleas fall on deaf ears. Desperate, she jumps off the side of the ship. The others cease fighting to look over the side as a pulley, its line weakened by lightning, strikes Emma in the back, rendering her unconscious.

On Neverland island, Henry and his fugitive friend, still running from the Lost Boys, find themselves on the edge of a cliff. Realizing there is no where to go, the other escapee suggests giving the Lost Boys the pixie dust in exchange for their lives. Rejecting this plan, Henry takes the pixie dust and, with a running start, uses it to fly himself and the other boy off the cliff moments before the Lost Boys arrive.

On the Jolly Roger, David, with aid from Hook and the others, jumps overboard and rescues Emma. The storm clears.

On Neverland island, Mr. Gold sits down on a rock and tells an unseen person to "come out". Felix emerges from the jungle, greeting Mr. Gold as Rumplestiltskin. Speaking as Pan's emissary, Felix informs Mr. Gold that he is welcome in Neverland for as long as he wishes, with the single condition that, if Mr. Gold is after Henry, he will be Pan's enemy. Mr. Gold makes his intentions known, saying, "Nothing's changed." Felix responds by saying that if Mr. Gold goes against Pan, he will not survive. Mr. Gold replies that the question is not whether he'll survive, he won't, but rather, how many he'll take down with him. Felix accepts this response, saying he'll see Mr. Gold again, "in less friendly cirumstances". Mr. Gold tells him to count on it, and begins to exit. Felix then tosses a handmade doll onto the ground, saying Pan wanted him to have it. Mr. Gold picks up the object, visibly distraught. Felix leaves him, commenting on the idea that, "the things we haven't thought about in years still have the ability to make us cry."

In the Enchanted Forest, Neal opens his father's secret cupboard. A myriad of magical objects are inside, and Neal focuses on a crystal ball. Putting his hands over it, he comments on the irony of the situation; he spent his life running from magic, and now must rely on it. After a few moments of nothing happening, a frustrated Neal takes the crystal ball out of the cupboard and places it on a table. Mulan tells him to think of Emma and his feelings her. Utilizing this advice, Neal tries the crystal ball again. This time, he is successful, conjuring a clear image of Emma. However, all is not well, as Neal instantly realizes Emma isn't in Storybrooke, she's in Neverland.

In Neverland, Emma and the group land on the island. When Regina suggests that she can fix the Jolly Roger and they can still follow Hook's initial plan. Emma responds by telling her that Pan already knows they're on the island, making any hope of surprise futile. Attempting to rally the group together, Emma tells them it's time to believe; in each other. Regina, shocked, asks, "You want to be friends? After everything that's happened between all of us?" Emma responds that she doesn't expect such a thing, that the group just needs to be themselves; hero, villain, pirate, they just need to succeed. When Regina asks what skill Emma possesses, Emma responds by saying she's a mother, she's going to get her son back, and anyone against her should stay out of her way. She then heads off, appointing herself the leader, and the others follow.

Elsewhere on the island, Henry and his erstwhile companion touch down in a clearing. Excited, Henry points out that, if one believes, anything is possible. The other boy responds, "You couldn't be more right, Henry". Realizing something is wrong, Henry asks the boy how he knows his name. His cover now blown, the other boy reveals himself as Peter Pan. Shocked, Henry asks why Pan told Greg and Tamara that he would help them destroy magic. Pan responds that he needed their help, and "it is easier to get people to hate something than to believe." Henry asks why he was brought to Neverland, and Pan explains that he has been searching for "the heart of the truest believer". Henry's actions on the island, using the pixie dust to fly, has proven that Henry possesses this heart. He claims Henry, and his heart, as his own. Several Lost Boys emerge from the jungle as Pan invites them to "play".



Guest Starring



  • Unknown baby as Henry Mills



Production Notes

  • A wide shot of the Jolly Rogers sailing on the seas of Neverland[10] was re-used for a shot of the Wish Realm version being struck by lightning in "Breadcrumbs". The shot was darkened and the background was digitally altered for this episode.[11]
  • During last minute prepping to shoot his first scene as Robin Hood, Sean Maguire admitted to a publicity photographer that he didn't know how to use a bow and arrow. Coincidentally, the photographer happened to be practicing archery and taught Sean how to handle and use a bow and arrow.[12]
  • According to Sonequa Martin-Green, Tamara had to be killed off in this episode because the actress couldn't be on Once Upon a Time and the TV show The Walking Dead (where she had a recurring role) at the same time.[13]

Event Chronology

Episode Connections



Fairytales and Folklore

Set Dressing

Costume Notes

  • USE IT AGAIN: Emma continues to wear this garment for the next six episodes of Season Three.
  • The mermaids' crowns were made by Vancouver-based accessories designer Medicina Designs. The lead mermaid's crown was made with wood pieces hand-carved in Bali and a metal base, scalloped metal discs, real sea-shells, freshwater pearls, real crystals, semi-precious gemstones, and a starfish. Detachable strands of beads dangled from the sides of the crown to accent the mermaid's hair. An identical crown was created for the lead mermaid's stunt double. Three more crowns were created for the rest of the mermaids, but they do not show up on-screen.[42]
  • SECONDHAND CLOTHING: The vest Robin Hood is wearing during his time at the dark castle[43] is the same vest his Wish Realm counterpart, Robin of Locksley, wears in the Season Six episodes "Wish You Were Here",[44] "Tougher Than the Rest"[45] and "Page 23".[46]

Filming Locations


  • As Neal and Mulan are walking in the Enchanted Forest, Mulan's hair changes with the camera. In close-up shots, some of her hair is over her shoulder.[56] In further-off shots, all of her hair is behind her shoulder.[57]
  • When the camera zooms in on the Jolly Roger during the storm, the mermaid has disappeared while she was on the deck a second ago when Regina turns her to wood.

International Titles



  1. Sunday Final Ratings: ‘The Simpsons’ & ‘Bob’s Burgers’ Adjusted Up; ‘Revenge’ Adjusted Down. TV by the Numbers (October 1, 2013). “Once Upon A Time – Season Premiere (...) 8.52”
  2. 2.0 2.1 LISTINGS: ONCE UPON A TIME. The Futon Critic. “Air Date: Sunday, September 29, 2013. Time Slot: 8:00 PM-9:00 PM EST on ABC. Episode Title: (#301) "The Heart of the Truest Believer".”
  3. File:301Title.png
  4. TwitterLogo.svg @AdamHorowitzLA (Adam Horowitz) on Twitter (July 2, 2013). "Here we go! The premiere. Can't believe we're here!" (screenshot)
  5. Once Upon A Time Autographed Script - Season 3 Episode 1. eFlea. Retrieved on September 4, 2018.
    Welcome To The Auction!. eFlea. Retrieved on September 4, 2018.
  6. ABC's "Once Upon A Time" Opens with its Strongest Performance Since January. ABC Medianet (September 30, 2013). Archived from the original on October 2, 2013. “The ABC drama was the No. 1 most social broadcast series of the evening with 136,627 tweets, the highest number ever for the show.”
  7. File:301JollyRoger.png
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  12. ONCE UPON A TIME Cast on Season 5 and Crazy Set Experiences. YouTube (July 23, 2015).
  13. 'The Walking Dead' exclusive: Sonequa Martin-Green on Sasha’s journey, Abraham, huge episodes ahead. CarterMatt (February 9, 2016). “They had to kill me on ‘Once Upon a Time’ because I couldn't be on the shows at the same time; I was grateful to even do the stint that I did, since it was a lot of fun and very different.”
  14. In "The Dark Swan", Henry mentions that Regina uses his birthday for all of her passwords, including the one for the entrance to the psychiatric ward. In "A Tale of Two Sisters", Regina types 815 as password for the psychiatric ward, meaning that Henry's birthday is August 15. In "The Stranger", August Booth states that he started turning into wood again at the same time that Henry's mother Emma decided to stay in "Storybrooke" in "Pilot". A title card in "Selfless, Brave and True" establishes that this event took place in October 2011 (File:218BareLeg.png, File:218Clock.png; note that Phuket's timezone, where August is in this scene, is twelve hours ahead of Maine's time zone, where Emma is at the same moment). In "Pilot", it is stated that Henry was ten years old when Emma came to Storybrooke. In addition, a title card in "There's No Place Like Home" confirms that Emma met Henry's father, Neal, in 2001 (File:322Portland2001.png). Note that according to "Pilot", Emma decided to stay in Storybrooke the day after she celebrated her twenty-eight birthday, meaning that she was born in October 1983; the date is confirmed by the newspaper that Regina reads on the first day of the Dark Curse in "Welcome to Storybrooke" (File:217DailyMirror.png). However, in "The Price of Gold", Emma states to Ashey that she was eighteen at the time she gave birth to Henry; this may have been an oversight by the show creators, or Emma may have been rounding up her age for convenience (from 17 years and 10 months to 18 years).
  15. File:301IsHeWell.png
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  18. Unicorn. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved on October 13, 2021. “The unicorn appeared in early Mesopotamian artworks, and it also was referred to in the ancient myths of India and China. (…) As a biblical animal, the unicorn was interpreted allegorically in the early Christian church. One of the earliest such interpretations appears in the ancient Greek bestiary known as the Physiologus, which states that the unicorn is a strong, fierce animal that can be caught only if a virgin maiden is placed before it. The unicorn leaps into the virgin's lap, and she suckles it and leads it to the king's palace. Medieval writers thus likened the unicorn to Christ, who raised up a horn of salvation for mankind and dwelt in the womb of the Virgin Mary. (…) Many fine representations of the hunt of the unicorn survive in medieval art, not only in Europe but also in the Islamic world and in China.”
  19. 19.0 19.1 File:301FindsCrystalBall.png
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  24. CLASSIC MUSCLE TEE WITH POCKET. Alexander Wang. Retrieved on September 4, 2018.
    T by Alexander Wang – JERSEY POCKET MUSCLE TEE. Pradux. Retrieved on September 4, 2018.
  25. File:301OnlyWhatWasShownToYou.png
  26. "Regina Mills" Storybrooke costume ensemble from Once Upon a Time Season 1, Episode 3.. iCollector. Archived from the original on November 29, 2018. Retrieved on December 1, 2018. “Consisting of a black Club Monaco trench coat (size S) with satin lining”
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  42. ONCE UPON A TIME. Medicina. Retrieved on September 4, 2018.
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  55. Gittins, Susan (July 21, 2013). WEEK: July 15-21, 2013. Hollywood North Buzz. “Once Upon a Time leaves studio after almost a week inside to film Neverland scenes at Britannia Beach”
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