Ariel: A Rogue Mermaid


Ever since Regina uttered the line “a certain mermaid” in “Skin Deep,” Oncers everywhere have waited eagerly for the introduction of Disney’s iconic mermaid princess, Ariel. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Eddy Kitsis, co-creator with Adam Horowitz of Once upon a Time, teased they “have ideas” to incorporate Ariel into the Once mythos. However, Eddy admits they’re still trying to figure out what they want to do, presumably with Ariel. Whether as an ally, enemy, opportunist, or anarchist, Ariel’s character could play a crucial role in the resolution of the Neverland story arc.

At the conclusion of season two, we saw two new teams forming up for season three with Team Fairy Tale Land (FTL) pitted against Team Neverland. Nearly everyone on board the Jolly Roger has a vested interest in rescuing Henry. To do so they must work together against the forces of Neverland and the Home Office. Of course, Rumple, Regina, and Hook all have their own agendas, so don’t discount last-minute game-changers. With which lineup will Ariel align in this magical Superbowl?

Preceding mermaid lore supports arguments for either side. There is a definite animosity between mermaids and humans. In general, mermaids are associated with disasters at sea: shipwrecks, tempests, and drowning. In 2003’s Peter Pan, mermaids are likened to sweet sirens that will very “sweetly drown you, if you get too close.” Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides characterizes them as fierce hunters who feed on human flesh. Considering Regina’s allusion to previous hostilities, Ariel’s revenge will taste sweet—probably like apples. This does not bode well for Team FTL. However, in the original novel by J.M. Barrie, mermaids were afraid of the Lost Boys, diving under the surface of Mermaid Lagoon whenever they came near. Peter antagonized them by sitting on their tails. In Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Ariel’s father, King Triton, wants nothing to do with the world of man; however, Ariel’s insatiable curiosity, sense of adventure, and love for human gadgets drive her to explore the land “out of the sea.” So, maybe the mermaids will prefer the mortals aboard the Jolly Roger.

Of course, there is a scenario which incorporates all aspects of mermaid lore: Ariel, the rogue mermaid. Because of the precedence for less-than-friendly relations with humans, it’s reasonable to argue that the mermaid kingdom in general might ally with Peter Pan, if only to protect Neverland from “outsiders.” Ariel might be the one exception given her previous history of sympathizing with and finding ways of crossing into the human world. She is in the unique position of earning the trust of either side and gaining valuable information.

With the potential to become a major player in a Fantasy game of espionage, her character opens up to a plethora of murky motivations and doubts to explore. As a double agent, she could hand the victory to either side or play the two against each other, creating a power vacuum leading to her own uprising. Is she like the Charmings, seeking to protect the innocent from the wicked? Is she like Rumple, manipulating circumstance for personal benefit? Is she like Regina, filling a void in her heart by grasping as much power as possible—whether on shore or under wave?

Don’t think our red-headed songstress is capable of such duplicity? Even in the Disney cartoon, Ariel knew what she wanted, disregarded the advice of her elders, and stopped at nothing until her dreams came true. Just apply that character arc to a political power struggle instead of the search for true love. How’s that for a modern twist?

Original date of publication: June 7, 2013

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