In “Manhattan,” Once Upon a Time yet again reigns supreme in the awkward family moments department. Really, this episode is nothing but these family melodramatics. The greatness of this episode, though, is how well the actors sell these family moments, despite the awkwardness and melodrama of each scene.
So, the worst part of this episode, by far, is dealing with Rumpelstiltskin’s past. It, like the rest of the episode, was still fairly well done and it’s interesting really filling in the holes on how Rumpelstiltskin got to this point. But, at the same time, this part of the story doesn’t really change anything. Other episodes of Once Upon a Time firmly established that Rumpelstiltskin at one point in his life really did love Milah and Baelfire, but he ultimately failed them. Knowing all the events leading up to his ultimate betrayal of his family doesn’t really enhance the story.
What does enhance the story is the discovery that Rumpelstiltskin’s long lost son, Baelfire, and Emma’s long lost ex, Neal, are one and the same. Very suddenly, all the private struggles and broken hearts become tied to one another and it gets swept up into a veritable maelstrom. Emma is confronted with the lies she told Henry about his father, and dealing with the fact that she hurt him like Regina as much as that stings. Baelfire is caught between suddenly finding his father again, whom he wants nothing to do with, and finding out he has a son with a woman whose heart he broke. Rumpelstiltskin is left with the knowledge that the boy who will be his undoing is his grandson. And Henry, as usual, is left trying to shoulder all these burdens that he’s too young to even comprehend; only this time it could break him. The acting is especially beautiful and tragic.
While the rest of the world is caught up in this private battle, Cora and Regina continue on their rampage against Emma, Snow White, and Charming, using Rumpelstiltskin as their weapon. They steal the knowledge of the whereabouts of the Dark One’s knife from Belle. After Hook outlives his usefulness to them, they betray him, too. This is only a small part of the story, but the threat of it feels as epic as the family drama.
Really, that is the spectacular thing about Once Upon a Time. There is a very epic scale to the story that really feels like it should be contained within multiple worlds. Even smaller episodes like “Manhattan” that focus just on this one family drama don’t feel like they’re too small for the world that’s been built. Now, if only they didn’t forget certain characters for several episodes at a time.