Almost from the very beginning, Henry has been Once Upon A Time’s sore spot. Some blame has been aimed at poor Jared S. Gilmore’s acting abilities, but let’s face it, Olivier himself couldn’t carry what the Henry character has had to endure. Although it was outright stated for the first time this season, he’s always been the truest believer, ever since he was the only one who knew that the residents of Storybrooke were fairy tale characters in season one, and now his belief in magic and his pure heart have carried him to Neverland. But Henry’s wide-eyed trust—in entirely the wrong person this time—leads to devastation for those who have sacrificed so much (and seemingly so much time) to save him, and his own apparent demise.
Whereas Henry is not OUAT’s most compelling character, Rumplestiltskin is. Fortunately, this week’s back story deftly lays out the parallel between Rumple’s abandonment by his father and his own abandonment of his son Baelfire/Neal. Kudos to OUAT’s casting for showing us not only a wholly believable father of Rumple’s (Stephen Lord), right down to the way he says “laddy,” and his way to con himself out of anything, but a child Rumple himself, right down to the odd accent. Rumple’s father’s horrific realization in Neverland that he never wants to grow up, that he wasn’t cut out to be a parent, reeks of being every kid’s worst nightmare, especially when all little Rumple wants is for his family to be together. But his father lets go, as Rumple will eventually let go of his son, and the middle-aged man is transformed into Peter Pan, of course, named after little Rumple’s doll. The main difference being, as Rumple himself points out, that he regretted letting go of Bae’s hand the moment he did, and has been trying to make up for it ever since. The new Peter Pan really just seems happy to be in Neverland, although he has to deal with the extra-creepy shadow (convincingly voiced by Marilyn Manson). But the showdown between Pan and Rumplestiltskin this time is all the more powerful because of this new backstory: even that doll that has plagued Rumple (and us) for weeks now make sense because of the father and son’s tortured history. Pan even still wants Rumple to stay in Neverland, and when he refuses, Pan traps him in Pandora’s Box, instead of the other way around (using his old sleight of hand tricks from when he was a con artist).
Our Neverland search party continues the theme of family, as their time in Neverland draws to a close (we all fervently hope) and they face the unresolved issue of Charming, and therefore Snow, having to stay on the island. Emma steadfastly opposes this, as “Family stays together.” Rumple offers a cure, and immediately goes into his old “now what are you going to give me?” mode. But after a talking-to from Neal, now Rumple’s just going to save Charming, When Snow thanks him, he comments drily, “Well, apparently, that’s all the thanks I need these days,” a far cry from the devious, constantly dealing Rumple we’ve seen in the past.
Unfortunately, Henry’s smarts lean more toward his dim Charming grandfather than his calculating paternal one. He buys Pan’s story of needing to save Wendy, and everyone, really, by saving magic. Somehow, the only way he can do this is by giving Pan his heart (which actually looks more golden than the show’s other plastic hearts, which must be from all that true belief). But then all three of Henry’s parents show up to save him so why, oh why, does he follow Pan over them? I guess the previous weeks of showing Henry dancing in drum circles and breaking magic compacts have been supposed to show us his eventual alignment to Pan, along with his crazed hero syndrome (Henry dialogue: “Heroes have to make sacrifices all the time. My family taught me that.”), but it still rings false. Henry, somehow believing he’s going to get to spend the rest of his days in Neverland without a heart, and ignoring the three people he knows for certain in favor of a boy demon, gives his heart to Pan, along with tremendous amounts of power. Everyone else is knocked out by a shimmering green wave (best is Snow and Charming, cheerfully strolling along to get water or something, like they’re just on a regular errand on a regular day), which apparently sucks all the magic out of them.
So how are they going to defeat an immortal, all-powerful enemy with Rumple in Pandora’s box and no magic? It’s a decent cliffhanger for the next episode in two weeks. But it’s hard to have much sympathy for Henry even as he lies still on the ground, as he really has no one to blame but himself. See you in December.
- Early Neverland seems a lot more woodsy, a lot less jungley.
- Relationships in Neverland: I enjoyed Regina and Rumple’s developing friendship and Bae and Wendy’s reunion.
- Who are the two nice ladies who take Rumple in? Sleeping Beauty is another fairy take with a spinning wheel in it; I was getting kind of a Flora and Fauna vibe from them.
- Bet Rumplestiltskin never wants to go looking for someone in a pub again, after finding both his father and then his wife in compromising positions.
- Emma’s crack plan that she’s had days to figure out involves going in, getting Henry, and leaving quickly.
- My theory regarding Rumplestiltskin’s eventual escape from Pandora’s Box: Hook’s sword, and possibly Hope?, will help Rumple escape, and then he’ll still have his magic because he was stuck in the box.
- Remember Aurora and Philip and Mulan? Do you think we’ll ever find out how they’re doing?