ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” complicates typical roles in the story of Peter Pan

Wyatt Miller

ABC’s hit show “Once Upon a Time” has made a name for itself as a narrative that twists and turns what we know about Disney fairy tales into one consistent overarching mythology. In the case of Peter Pan, creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz are taking a very brave step. We all know Pan, that verdant forever young adventurer who flies through the clouds with the powers of faith, hope, trust and a bit of pixie dust. This season, the creators ask if we really know him.

Season two brought new characters into the fold, and chief among them was Neverland’s number one dastardly cad, Captain Hook. This Hook is no stereotypical handlebar mustachioed codfish with the red overcoat and feathered hat. “Once Upon a Time’s” Hook is a stud. With his movie star good looks, irresistible charm and guyliner rivaling that of Captain Jack Sparrow, Hook is the complete antithesis of what the audience has been brought up to expect. 

The legendary pirate is introduced as a lost soul consumed by revenge against Rumplestiltskin, the metaphorical crocodile who robbed Hook of his one true love and his hand. But Hook soon learns revenge is not as cathartic as he expected, giving him a sympathetic edge uncharacteristic of such a legendary villain. Hook is brought to life by Irish actor Colin O’Donoghue with a performance that exudes cool confidence and cocky bravado, breathing new life into what could have been just another Disney pirate. But wait, why in the name of William Smee are viewers pulling for the bad guy? Where is Pan in all of this?

Because the ownership of J.M. Barrie’s classic tale is legally complicated, operating on a thin line between public domain and actual ownership in several countries, Kitsis and Horowitz were forced to delay the introduction of these characters until later in the series. Pan’s delayed appearance until season three actually created a serendipitous turn of events that led to the production of one of the most fascinating story arcs of the television season. 

Pan is not the hero. In truth, he’s terrifying. With one fell swoop, Kitsis and Horowitz transformed the heroic Pan into the most diabolical foe our heroes have ever faced. In just three episodes, he has already proven to be a deft adversary, successfully kidnapping fairy tale master race candidate Henry Mills and psychologically breaking down “Once’s” normally stalwart main protagonist, Emma Swan. 

English actor Robbie Kay has effectively conquered the difficult task of infusing this classic character with an unexpected sense of malice and intrigue in the short span of three episodes. The prospect of seeing his already robust performance unfold over the coming weeks is exciting. 

Pan is a nice fit in the shoes of a villain. Although his portrayal is vastly more sinister than his animated Disney counterpart, he still has the mischievous spirit that makes the character so endearing. “Once Upon a Time” continues to flourish in a modern storytelling age where the line between heroes and villains is so very thin, forever changing the perspective on two of fantasy’s most iconic characters.

“Once Upon a Time” airs Sunday at 7 p.m. on ABC.