“Once Upon a Time” – Manhattan episode review 1

Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) watches over his son.

Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) watches over his son.

★★★½☆

Oh February sweeps how I love you and your ways of extracting the extremities of dramatics out of television dramas. It’s the season for groundbreaking reveals, for true romance to falter or blossom, and for climatic scenes of action to take place. It’s all about the ratings and the audience holding enough interest and attention span to come back each week for a new episode.

This week’s episode of Once Upon a Time did its best to try and jam pack every leading bit of interest into their episode, all of their juiciest compartments, and for the most part they succeeded: for the first time in a while the show held my attention and I was interested in seeing where it would go next.

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Most of this is because of Rumpelstiltskin and Emma, both of whom got some big character development moments this week. Now in New York the two, with a side of Henry, are trying to desperately try and find Rumple’s son. Once they’ve gotten the apartment building narrowed down they go there for some incessant button smashing. Just as hope seems lost, Rumple notices a man rushing out from his fire escape, trying to go unnoticed by the trio lurking about. Realizing that the man running is probably his son, he sicks Emma on him to chase him down and try to convince him to give Rumple a minute of his time.

After a well shot, if not brief, chase scene by director Dean White (Pretty Little Liars, V) Emma catches him and tackles him to the ground. And here is our first big revelation: the man she’s been chasing, Rumple’s son, is Neal her old flame and coincidentally Henry’s father.

It would have had an ounce more impact if most of the internet and fans alike hadn’t already guessed the reveal. It also may have helped if the twist was allowed some impressive buildup, rather than just dropping it in the audience’s lap so that the writers could move on.

What this does is manage to intertwine characters in ways that we never would have originally expected. After believing that we’ve gotten the most exposition of dynamics that we could on Rumple and Emma’s relationship, or Rumple and Henry’s or Emma and Henry’s, this storyline comes along and as an audience we’re introduced to numerous new possibilities.

We just have to wait and see if show creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz will lead the show in a direction we’re excited to follow.

Rumple is now technically Henry’s grandfather, just think about that.

Neal and Emma fight about old wounds, how Neal knew about her past and never tried to seek her out and let her in on the secret, how Emma is now trying to help Rumple, Neal’s father and a man he’d believed and hoped was out of his life for good. They separate and Emma finds her way back to where Rumple and Henry are waiting for her and tells them that Neal managed to escape before she caught him.

I may have yelled at the television for this because I’d come to believe that Emma would know by now that deceiving Rumple was always a bad idea.

With the flashback this week we get Rumple as young as we’ve ever seen him, about to abandon the army because of a seer’s premonition that he has a son and will leave him because of the war. Rumple takes this to mean he will die and doesn’t want to leave his son without a father. It isn’t until years later that he realizes that the seer wasn’t too thorough with the details and he ended up abandoning his son because of the war because of being labeled as a coward by his community and wife alike. And the term coward has always weighed heavily on his psyche.

However, trying to convince Neal of such is a more grueling matter, one that he was warned about when he reunited with the seer years later.

The three of them go back to Neal’s apartment, Rumple determined to face his son no matter the consequences. While they’re rummaging through his things Rumple realizes that Emma knows more than she has been letting on. Emma sends Henry into another room as Rumple begins to shout and threaten and throw his temper tantrum about her giving him the information she has no matter the means.

It;s times like these that I forget that the show is dead set on making the audience believe that Rumple is in fact a good guy, or at least a bad one with a mushy center. Word of advice; make him a little less abrasive about every single thing that rubs him the wrong way.

Just as things begin to get a little too heated Neal rushes in to Emma’s aid and it’s the wonderful family reunion we’ve all been waiting for.

And it’s just as uncomfortable as we’d all hoped it would be.

Neal angrily backs away from Rumple as he advances, telling Emma to leave and Rumple realizes that the two know each other and demand to know how. It’s in that moment that little old charmless Henry walks into the room, apparently bewildered (not that you’d know from Jared Gilmore’s painful overacting). Neal puts two and two together and realizes that his son is standing right in front of him and says as such, throwing Henry into a fit. Henry runs out, Emma chases him and Rumple and son are left for some awkward attempts at reconciliation from the fathers end.

Neal won’t hear of it.

He says that he wasn’t allowed any sort of closure when he was left to discover an unfamiliar life with no one to help him and with the memory of his father’s abandonment haunting him for most of his childhood. If he can’t get closure neither can Rumple.

It doesn’t help that Rumple’s main selling point is to magic Neal back to fourteen so that he can relive his uncomfortable puberty years just so Rumple can play Daddy. Yeah, totally not weird or creepy at all.

Emma goes to talk to Henry about Neal and tries to make him understand why she did it. She was ashamed of her past life, Neal broke her heart, she should have told him but was afraid and hey, she only really became a mom herself like, what, a couple of months ago and didn’t really know what to do. And after this heartfelt, well played by Jennifer Morrison, speech Henry choose the hyperbole of the year and compares her to Regina for lying.

Because those two people are totally similar except Emma’s lie was to protect him, not manipulate him and oh, yeah, Emma’s never actively tried to murder people on multiple occasions.

Good logic you’ve got there, kid.

He tells her he wants to get to know his dad and she agrees to let him.

Over in Storybrooke much less interesting plotlines are taking place. Regina and Cora undermine Hook into helping them find the source to Rumple’s dark magic: his dagger. Regina gets caught doing magic by the mystery guy who crash landed into town, and Charming and Snow continue to enjoy married life. Yawn and so forth. My annoyance at Regina’s character destruction is overpowering any nice thing I could say except that Cora letting her hair down must be a sign for impending doom.

The last bit of the episode has past Rumple receiving information from the seer that some little boy is going to be his undoing and he responds by saying he’ll simply have to kill him then.

But in present day Rumple realizes that this very well might mean Henry and now that he’s his grandson and possible only link to his son, things aren’t so cut and dry.

I’d also like to believe that he isn’t so awful that he’d kill a child in cold blood, but who knows since the show never quite manages to zero in on his characterization.

Overall not bad, not bad at all. The pacing seemed quicker due to the focus on capable actors, namely Robert Carlyle who really gets to shine with episodes that let him play multiple facets of Rumple’s character. Jennifer Morrison continues to be propped up by his acting and rather than ranging from overacting to underacting find some nice middle ground. The scenes in Manhattan were fresh to look at and engaging and it’s a shame that in two weeks’ time we’ll be back in dull old Storybrooke.

The only problem with this episode is the promises the showrunners are making without any evidence that they can sufficiently back it up and carry through. The family dynamics could be outstandingly interesting unless the writers find some way to mess it up. We could have a push-pull between different sides of the family, we could have bonding between characters we’d never thought to see, we could have the entire town ganging up to overthrow Cora and reclaim Regina as a wounded but fascinating character.

I’m worried that the show will give us the plot idea without the growth or exposition, turning it into a missed opportunity once again.

But hopefully that won’t be the case.

A storm seems to be brewing in the next episode which airs in two weeks (Oscars taking obvious priority next Sunday) and hopefully it will deliver what we all want to see.

A well shot, well-acted and interesting episode. One can only hope with this show.