ONCE UPON A TIME: “Manhattan”


It’s not that we haven’t been getting our share of strong episodes of Once Upon A Time, but in many ways “Manhattan” lifted the bar that had been previously set by most episodes this season. Perhaps it was because it came at a time when we needed a good return to the core elements of what makes Once so good. Perhaps it was because it dealt with characters that are compelling in both personality and plot (don’t get me wrong – I love everyone on this show, but there’s a clear distinction between an hour that focuses on Rumpelstiltskin versus an hour that focuses on Dr. Whale.)

We spent a majority of the episode in New York where Henry, Emma and Gold found Bae’s apartment building. Attempting to uncover a man who wants to stay hidden? Apparently not so hard if you’re Emma, who had herself a bit of a shock after she went to chase after an escaping Bae only to find out that he was actually her former lover, Neal. The relationship between Emma and Neal was one of the more unexpected and fun developments that the show gave us a few episodes back, and so I was happy to see the two reunite…even if it wasn’t in the most cordial of ways.

Was it a surprise that Neal was Bae? Not really. And while that only took away a little bit from the big reveal of the hour, Morrison and Raymond-James’ chemistry, along with Carlyle’s acting, helped pull the episode forward. Much like LOST, which hinged on the audience’s investment in the actors more so than the actual stories, Once flourishes when it lets human emotions shine through its sometimes predictable storylines.

Bae/Neal did at least get to explain himself over a beer, which didn’t make Emma any less forgiving but did allow her to express her hurt over the fact that he abandoned her (I have a soft spot for Emma’s angst-filled past, and seeing Jennifer Morrison grapple with her emotions as she faced probably the only person she’s ever truly loved for the first time in years was wonderful.) But it’s not like Bae is exactly happy with life, either. He’s feeling abandoned as well, entirely resentful of his father, who he blames for the cause of his pain and sad childhood. At his insistence (and a bit of selfish bribery) Emma elects to keep their meeting secret, managing to succeed until Rumple catches her lying and causes Bae to show himself. Kudos to Carlyle for playing out this reunion with exactly the right amount of hope and heartbreak – knowing what Rumple went through when he lost his son and what he has gone through since makes it hard to express such a multitude of emotions so easily and subtly, but Carlyle does it with ease. The look on his face when Bae refused to return with him to Storybrooke was, in a word, heartbreaking.

In fairytale land, we were saddled with the beginnings of Rumpelstiltskin story and his descent into “cowardly” territory. Like most misunderstood men, Rumple’s branding came from his actions after he removed himself from the ogre war following a meeting with a creepy looking (I mean, really creepy looking) seer, who told him that he would both have a son and die in battle. To Rumple, not being able to meet his son was a fate that he considered worse than death, and so he injured his leg (ah, the cause of the limp!) in order to be sent home. But his arrival was not the homecoming he expected, with Mina giving him the cold shoulder, asserting he should have died in battle (to steal a line from a one of my favorite recently departed shows, so much for “be a better man than your father.”) Much like Regina’s current life in Storybrooke, everything in Rumple’s fairytale life that seems to be done with the best of intentions – from Milah’s anger to Bae’s resentment – gets twisted into a situation that plays against the poor man.

Rumpelstiltskin and Regina have always represented two sides of the same coin, their tribulations in Storybrooke both driven by the same desperate need: a child’s love. Long haunted by the loss of his son (and now we have more of an idea as to why these haunted feelings stem beyond simply being torn apart), Rumpelstiltskin motives have focused on getting his happiness back while similarly, from the beginning of the series, we’ve known Regina’s focus to be Henry. While Regina was never truly okay with “sharing” her son, she seemed much more willing to accept Emma’s presence until she was faced with the threat of being rejected again. And in the same vein, Rumpelstiltskin was fine with being just “okay” with Bae until he was faced with the threat of losing his son to Henry. (Seems like Emma and Henry are stirring up a lot more in Storybrooke than just being “saviors” of the curse, huh?)

As one of the show’s more volatile characters, Rumpelstiltskin has challenged Regina numerous times in the redemption arc plot this season…and while he certainly tried his hardest in this hour to be the good, reformed person he hoped Bae would accept him as, the final scene was an eerie foreshadowing of just how much these steps towards redemption could be foiled. What’s most interesting about this development is the fact that we recently saw this same slip in Regina thanks to the renewed involvement of Cora and her manipulative ways.

We now we seem to have the full story – or at least, a full background – of Rumple’s life pre-Dark One, though I’d gather we still have more to explore further down the road. But the seer wasn’t done with Rumple after their meeting at the ogre war, warning him that they would see each other again despite the fact that Rumple clearly didn’t believe her. Of course, he’s proven wrong when the two do reunite years later, the seer a grown woman and Rumple the Dark One.

It’s during this meeting that the seer offers her future-seeing powers to Rumple in exchange for information on seeing his son again. The transfer of power kills the seer in the process, but not before she has the opportunity to bestow a bit of prophecy: Rumple will be reunited unexpectedly with his son and a young boy will lead him to Bae…but just like magic, there will be a price. “The boy will be your undoing,” the seer warns, to which Rumple replies that in that case, he’ll “just have to kill him.” As the flashback fades out, we watch Henry bond with Bae while a disgruntled, rejected Rumple observes the action with a look of very real (and very protective) anger.

So Cora’s motive is to find the Dark One’s dagger, which will allow her to control Rumple and kill Mary Margaret, David and Emma and leave Regina blameless in Henry’s eyes. And Rumple’s motive is to potentially kill Henry, hoping to, in turn, get back his son. It’s an interesting place to leave our characters as we head into another small hiatus and I’m extremely curious to see where this will all end up.

Final Thoughts:

  • We finally found out what was hidden inside the elusive box that August showed Bae back in “Tallahassee,” which freaked him out enough to leave Emma: a typewriter that said “I know you’re Bae.” Clever and effective.
  • The “Thanksgiving dinner” exchange between David and Snow was one of the highlights of the hour, and I laughed out loud at certain points – and yes, I would love to see that scenario play out.
  • Who else loves the fact that Emma now speaks “fairytale?” Barely a season ago, Emma would have never uttered the line “so you looked into a box because Pinocchio told you to” yet speaking it now is a subtle reminder of how much Emma has grown not just as a character, but as someone accepting of her past and future.
  • Our “outsider” situation seems to be getting more and more serious, especially now that Greg is sending secret videos of Regina doing magic in Belle’s room over his phone. Any idea where this is going to end up?

What did you think of the episode, and the Bae/Neal discovery? Share your thoughts below!

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