As promised, ‘Once Upon A Time’ delivered one of the series’ best episodes on Sunday night. In “Manhattan,” many of our questions are answered and some more concerns are raised for the remainder of the season. Baelfire’s real-world identity may not have been a major surprise for several Oncers who predicted it earlier this season. However, Rumple’s past offered an enlightening and heartbreaking twist that we may not have seen coming. Meanwhile in Storybrooke, Cora, Regina and Hook prepare to unleash hell on Rumple and Greg proves to have his own dangerous agenda that could threaten the safety of all Storybrookers.
Fairytale Land: “You will have a son and your actions will leave him fatherless.”
This week’s fairytale flashback revealed a brand new side to the corrupted Rumple we have come to know. In a surprising twist of events, we discover that poor old Rumpy was actually eager to serve in the Ogre War. As it turns out, Rumple had lived in shame as the son of a cowardly father who deserted the war and abandoned his family. When Rumple receives the notice to fight on the front lines, he celebrates with his wife, Milah, and is happy to have the chance to restore honor to his name. As he leaves, he tells Milah that he looks forward to starting a family with her when he returns home from the war.
While training for battle at the camp, Rumple is asked to guard a prisoner who is supposed to be vital to their war efforts. As Rumpy stands guard, he hears a voice call his name. He raised the cage cover to reveal a shocking sight. In one of ‘Once’s’ raciest character depictions to date, we see a little girl whose eyes have been crudely sewn shut. She is a blind seer who has bright blue eyes on the palms of her hands. The girl reads Rumple, saying that he is the son of a coward, raised by spinsters and he is scared of growing up to be like his father. She claims to see all, including the future, but Rumple does not care to indulge in dark magic. However, her premonitions peak his interest when they concern Milah’s well-being. The seer will exchange her foresight for a drink of water. Rumple complies and learns that Milah is pregnant with their son. The seer also warns Rumple that he will die in battle tomorrow. She gives him details of what will come to pass and says they will ride into battle on cows. Rumple does not believe her, but she still leaves him with a haunting prediction: “You will have a son and your actions will leave him fatherless.”
The next day Rumple prepares for battle with the rest of the men. Their commander tells them they will ride on new cows, which is what they call their saddles. Upon hearing this, Rumple fears the prophecy will come true and his death will leave his child fatherless. He looks around and sees that injured soldiers are getting sent home. He returns to the cage to check with the blind seer, but the girls is gone. He sees a huge mallet nearby and impales his leg with it. Wow! So that is how Rumple got his limp. Given all of the dangerous positions he has been in, it is fair to say that nobody expected to learn that he crippled himself. With that brutal blow, Rumple is sent home to his wife and baby boy.
A happy Rumple hobbles into his home, excited to greet his wife and child. He asks for the boy's name and thinks Baelfire is a strong choice. He holds Bae in his arms and promises to never leave his precious boy. Instead of being thankful for Rumple's safe return, Milah is furious with his actions. She asks if the rumors are true and if Rumple injured himself to escape the war like a coward. Rumpy is surprised, explaining that he did it so he could be there for his family. He did not want to follow in his father's footsteps and leave Bae fatherless. Milah believes Rumple did Bae a disservice by coming home like a coward. She says it would've been better if Rumple died on the front-lines. Ouch! That must have hurt Rumple more than the crippling blow to his leg.
Poor Rumpy was only trying to do what was best for his family, granted he should have been a little more covert with the self-inflicted injury. (Take a lesson from 'Downton Abbey's' Thomas: if you injure yourself to get out of war, at least be remotely in harms way so that you can make it look real.) Nonetheless, as his wife and Bae's mother, Milah's behavior is gut-wrenching. Did she ever love Rumple at all? Her reaction makes it seem like she was hoping he would have died in the war from the start. Milah's cruelty is partially what drove Rumple into becoming the Dark One, he always felt the need to overcompensate for his cowardice and prove himself to be a powerful man.
Flash-forward years later, after Rumple has become the Dark One and tracks down the blind seer, who is now a grown woman. She tells Rumple that what she foretold has come to pass because his actions have left Bae fatherless. Rumple is angry with her, had he known the details, he may have acted differently. But she claims that knowing would not have made a difference because he cannot escape his fate. Rumple wants all the details on how, when, and where he can find Bae. The seer says it will take many years and requires a curse that someone else will cast and another person must break. As she said earlier, visions of the future are like a puzzle, she sees bits and pieces and needs to make sense of it on her own. If Rumple wants a better idea of what is in store, he can take this burden off of her blue-eyed hands. He gladly takes her psychic powers and is flooded with jumbled images of the future. She assures him that with time, he will be able to decipher the puzzle of finding Bae. He needs to differentiate what can be from what will be. The seer does know that Rumple's reunion with Bae will come in an unexpected way: a boy will lead him to Bae. But there will be a price because this boy will also be Rumple's undoing. To which Rumple responds, "Then I'll just have to kill him."
Manhattan: "I know you're Baelfire."
In present day Manhattan, Mr. Gold, Emma and Henry arrive at Bae's apartment building. Using her experience as a bounty hunter, Emma rings the buzzer for the apartment with no registered name. Next thing you know, a man leaves from the side of the building and makes a run for it. Gold cashes in on Emma's favor, asking her to catch Bae and convince him to talk to Rumple. Gold promises to watch over Henry and she heads after Bae.
The next moment has been the topic of discussion for quite some time: Who is Baelfire? The answer is definitely a major surprise, to Emma at least. Rumple's son is Neal Cassidy, the love of Emma's life and Henry's father. Shocked and heartbroken, Emma badgers Bae with questions: Did he know who she truly was? Why did he set her up to go to jail? Was this all part of a twisted plan? She tells him that Rumple wants to see him, but Neal wants nothing to do with him. He's been running for a lifetime and now the past has caught up with him. Neal takes her to a bar, so he can explain everything.
While Neal and Emma settle down for an enlightening chat, Gold treats Henry to a hot dog and thanks him for bringing Emma to Storybrooke. You can't help but wonder how much of this scenario Rumple saw coming. After knowing what the seer predicted, Rumple probably saw this coming all along. Hopefully we will learn how much Rumple really knew about what Henry would eventually help him accomplish. More on that later, let's get back to Emma and Neal.
Neal honestly vows that he didn't know Emma's true identity, so his feelings were true. Neal found out about Emma when August paid him a visit. Flashback to the cliffhanger from "Tallhassee" where August opens a mysterious box with some convincing piece of evidence that makes Neal believe his wild story about real-life fairytales. What's in the box? A piece of paper in August's typewriter that simply states: "I know you're Baelfire." In defense of his actions, Neal claims that fate brought them together. He doesn't believe in coincidence and insists that something good must have come from their being together. Obviously, Henry did, but Emma wants to protect her son and says that nothing happened. Neal points out that she is still wearing his key-chain around her neck, so clearly he means more to her. Emma snaps back that she wears it as a reminder to never trust anyone again. Emma gets back to business and tells him that Gold wants to see him. Neal refuses to see Gold and tells Emma that if she prevents Gold from reuniting with Neal, she will never have to see him again. Keeping Neal out of Henry's life is more important to her, so Emma agrees to cover for him and lie to Gold.
As Emma walks away from Neal, she calls her mother for comfort. She tells Mary Margaret about her shocking discovery and claims to be protecting Henry by lying to him about who his father really is. M.M. thinks Emma is only trying to protect herself from future heartbreak and feels Emma should tell Henry the truth about Neal. Over in Storybrooke, David is having a difficult time accepting the fact that Rumple is Henry's other grandfather and grows increasingly troubled by their extended evil step-family. Things are going to get really awkward in Storybrooke, it will be fascinating to see how the future unfolds. For now, we should stick with the matter at hand. While Emma clears things up with Neal, Henry chats with Gold about his impending reunion.
Henry wonders if Gold is nervous and he admits that he is because things don't turn out the way we want. Henry is confused because he knows that Gold has the ability to see the future, so why doesn't he just see what will happen and stop worrying. Gold explains that it is complicated, as the seer told him years ago, the future is a puzzle and as Rumple has learned from experience, the future is never what you think. With that said, Emma returns with bad news, saying that she lost Bae.
Gold decides to break into his son's apartment and wait until he returns home. Aside from his interaction with Belle, this is probably the sweetest thing we've seen from Gold. He doesn't care if he gets arrested for breaking and entering If he goes to court, his son will be forced to see him and that is better than not seeing Bae at all. Henry makes sure the coast is clear, while Gold jimmies the lock open. Once inside, we see the room that was first revealed to us in the season 2 premiere, full of fairytale trinkets, including the dream-catcher that Neal and Emma found when they were using someone else's hotel room. Gold notices Emma's fixation on the dream-catcher and asks for the truth. Emma sends Henry into the bathroom before discussing anything with Gold. When she lies to Rumple, he becomes forceful and threatens her for breaking their deal. As Gold begins to grow violent, Neal bursts through the door and stops him.
Neal tells Gold he know what happens to people who break deals, so he returned to be sure he doesn't hurt Emma. Gold realizes that Emma and Neal know each other and demands to know how. Henry hears the commotion and runs into the room to see what's going on. Everybody starts shouting over each other and when Neal sees Henry he asks how old he is. Henry yells back that he's 11 and doesn't understand all the fuss. Neal bluntly asks if Henry is his son. The look on Rumple's face is priceless, but poor Henry's confusion is heartbreaking. Henry starts explaining how his father was a fireman who died and with a single look, Emma erases everything Henry has come to learn about his imaginary father figure. He runs out to the fire escape and Emma follows, leaving father and son alone.
Gold tells Neal that he just wants to be heard. He nudges Neal to speak by saying that the exact terms of Emma's deal was to get them to talk to each other. So Neal gives Gold three minutes to plead his case. Meanwhile, outside on the fire escape, Henry waits for some answers. Emma apologizes and says that she never wanted to see Neal again after the way he betrayed her. He was a thief and a liar and he broke her heart. Henry tells her her that he could've handled the truth and Emma admits that what she did was selfish. Henry says that Emma is just like Regina because she lied to him the whole time. Now that he has the chance, Henry wants to meet his dad.
Back inside the apartment, Gold wants to make up for his mistakes. He tells Neal that there is no greater pain than regret and wants to make up for lost time. However, Gold's idea of making up is rather twisted. His plan is to take Neal back to Storybrooke and turn back the clock so that he's 14 years old again. He can erase Neal's memories of the fatherless life he led. Gold pleads with Neal, "You once loved me." Neal responds, "You were once a good man." Gold's core flaw hasn't changed. He still thinks that magic can solve his problems and make it all better, but it doesn't work that way. Then Neal dishes out a harsh truth. Every night when he tries to fall asleep, all he sees is the image of them at the pit. He remembers how it felt when Rumple released his grip on Bae's hand and chose magic over his own son. Neal says, "It's my turn to let you go...I don't get closure, so you don't either." Gold honestly could not have expected this to be an easy task. Foresight or not, magic cannot heal a brutally broken heart. Gold needs to earn his son's love, trust and respect. Let's hope the next generation has a better fate in store.
Emma allows Neal to speak with Henry, but he tells him not to break their son's heart. Neal sits beside Henry on the fire escape and apologizes for not meeting him sooner. Henry forgives him because it wasn't his fault. Gold watches as father and son pleasantly chat. Clearly, this is not the reunion he had in mind. As the episode closes we are left with a disturbing thought: Is this what the seer meant by the boy being Rumple's undoing? Is Gold seriously thinking of killing Henry?
Who else got chills at that moment? It was a beautiful way to weave the past and present together. So now what? It's doubtful that Henry's mysterious and sudden death would in any way prompt Bae to open up to Rumple and give him a chance to repair their relationship. Perhaps Rumple's "undoing" doesn't have to be a negative thing. Maybe it will mean that Rumple will finally give up his obsession with magic and accept a normal life with his son and new family. What do you think, Oncers?
Storybrooke: "Is this what it was all about? The dagger?"
In Storybrooke, Hook interrupts Regina and Cora's heart-to-heart. While Regina voices her concerns over getting Henry back, Hook barges in and wants to know how to get his revenge on the Crocodile. Cora tells him that Gold is out in the real world, so Hook is prepared to hunt him down, but she offers a better plan that can take Rumple down for good. If they can find and take control of The Dark One's dagger, they can kill Gold and everyone else who is in their way. Regina visits Belle to find out wear Gold has hidden the dagger. She puts Belle to sleep and magically opens Belle's bag. As the contents of her purse float in the air, Regina finds an index card with a library call number on it.
Cora, Regina and Hook find a treasure map hidden in the stacks and Hook begins to decipher Gold's code. Once he figures out where the dagger is hidden, Cora flings him across the room, knocking him unconscious. Regina wonders if the dagger is the sole reason why Cora came to Storybrooke. Cora explains that if they control The Dark One's dagger, they can kill Rumple, Emma and the Charmings. Regina would be able to get Henry back without being blamed for his family's death. And so, their mother-daughter bond appears to be stronger than ever before. However, they are not the only villains to fear in town.
Greg makes a call to "Her" and says he will be staying in town for a while. When she wonders why, he sends a video of Regina working her magic in Belle's room.
What will happen when Cora and Regina get The Dark One's dagger? Will transferring it's power be easy to accomplish? Will The Dark One's power be the same in Storybrooke? Will Cora become power hungry and betray Regina? What's the deal with Greg? What does he plan to do with the evidence of magic in Storybrooke? How long until Storybrookers grow suspicious of Greg's extended stay?
"Manhattan" is an amazing episode. Definitely one of the best of the series. It is beautifully directed, impeccably written and full of raw and deeply moving performances from all the actors. The events in "Manhattan" send shock-waves that will surely affect a lot of people.
What will happen with Neal? Will he return to Storybrooke with Henry, Emma and Gold? Will he be able to convince Emma and Henry to stay with him in Manhattan for a while? Perhaps that all depends on what happens when 'Once Upon A Time' returns with "The Queen is Dead" on Sunday, March 3. Take a look at the promo to see a teaser of what happens when Hook tracks down Gold in Manhattan.
- Baelfire/Neal Cassidy: Neal needed to be Bae because it s the perfect way to keep these characters connected in an interesting way and propel the story forward. Henry deserves to have father in his life and Emma should have a chance at True Love. After years of running from his past, Neal should be able to settle down with a family that cares about him. Things will be tricky for a while, but hopefully this dysfunctional and magical family will find a happy ending.
- Fate and the future: Given the role that magic and manipulation plays in everyone's life, it is hard to tell exactly how much of what happened was a complete surprise to Rumple. Once he took on the seer's foresight, he had several years to orchestrate his grand scheme revolving around the curse and finding his son. Once Emma came to Storybrooke, did Gold know that Henry would be the boy to lead him to Bae? He vowed to kill the boy that is destined to be his undoing. Is Gold willing to sacrifice Henry's life and Bae's future happiness? Can he still see what the future holds? Would his fate change if he chooses another course of action (like not killing Henry)? There is a lot to digest over he next two weeks.
- Rumple's past: How Rumple's limp came about was a major surprise. With all that talk about him being too much of a coward to fight in the Ogre War, it was easy to assume that he never even made it close to the front line. Rumple's fairytale past is always heartbreaking to watch. Rumple started off as a honest man who made a difficult choice, he sacrificed his honor for the sake of his family. Milah spat in his face. She'd rather have a dead husband than a cowardly one. The irony is that Rumple did not act out of fear, rather it was out of love for his son. The seer's prediction was brilliant. It was a very clever and poetic way to unravel everything that has come to pass. The only way Rumple can regain Bae's trust is by proving that he has changed. Rumple has to choose his loved ones over magic or else he will always be cursed to live a lonely life.
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‘Once Upon A Time’ airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.