TV Time: Once Upon a Time 3.04


Title Nasty Habits

Two-Sentence Summary After Neal arrives in Neverland, he joins forces with his father to rescue Henry, but his discovery of the prophecy of Rumplestiltskin’s undoing leads him to run away with his son—only to have both of them captured by Peter Pan, whose plan to turn Henry into a Lost Boy appears to be working. In flashbacks, we see Rumplestiltskin trying to free Bae from the clutches of the Pied Piper, who turns out to be Pan himself.

Favorite Lines
Emma: According to uh…
Tinker Bell: Tinker Bell.
Emma: Yes, I know—still weird to say.
Tinker Bell: Tink is fine.
Emma: Not sure that’s any better.

My Thoughts I’m still trying to process what I think and how I feel about “Nasty Habits.” I’ve been picking apart this episode in my brain ever since it ended, including a stretch of a few hours in the middle of the night where I couldn’t sleep because my head was swimming with thoughts about Emma Swan and what this episode meant for her as a character. If pressed, I would say that it was my least favorite episode of this young third season, but I still think it was better than the majority of Season Two. It ultimately had enough moments of solid twists and strong acting to make up for its circular storytelling.

If we’re talking about strong twists and solid acting, we have to start with Robbie Kay’s Peter Pan. I cannot say enough about this actor and the way this character has been written. There is so much controlled malice in Kay’s performance; he’s a beautiful little psychopath and he’s a phenomenal addition to the great pantheon of Once Upon a Time antagonists. It takes a great actor to command a scene that’s shared with Robert Carlyle, but Kay more than held his own throughout this episode. I cannot wait for more of Pan and Rumplestiltskin’s relationship to be explored. It has the potential for more fantastic plot twists and even more fabulous interaction between two of the show’s most powerful actors. And just what do I think their relationship is? I honestly have no idea, and I love that. This show is at its best when it surprises me, and I have a feeling this particular storyline is going to be full of surprises.

I wasn’t surprised by Pan’s “Pied Piper” identity, but that was okay because there were already so many similarities between both of those stories that it seemed almost inevitable. The flashbacks themselves weren’t as emotionally engaging as some of the best ones involving Rumplestiltskin and Bae, but they did set up one of my favorite moments of the episode: Pan stating that Rumplestiltskin’s biggest fear isn’t his son being taken from him; it’s his son leaving him. That ability to draw out and prey on people’s deepest fears seems to be playing a huge part in Pan’s psychological gamesmanship with Emma (and her parents), but I’ll say more about that later.

Every second Kay was onscreen, I found myself believing everything he was saying while also trying to remind myself that this version of Peter Pan is a master manipulator who no one is supposed to trust. Did he really orchestrate everything from Neal’s escape from Neverland to Henry’s birth? I hope not—because my favorite thing about Emma and Neal’s relationship is that their love was something real and human and messy in the midst of their fairytale lineages. But I found myself wondering if Pan is as much of a master manipulator as he wants Neal (and Henry) to believe he is; he’s just that convincing.

Pan’s powers of persuasion also worked to make the end of the episode a bit more palatable. I loved that Henry couldn’t hear Pan’s music at first because we know he’s not abandoned and unloved, and we know that he knows that. So when he heard the music at the end of the episode, I was initially angry that this “Truest Believer” would give up on his family so easily. However, there is a part of Henry that did grow up feeling lost and alone (Regina did send him to a psychiatrist, after all), and even with the knowledge of his mothers’ love, he might be more susceptible to Pan’s mind games than we previously thought. And I think even the most faithful people might start to doubt when put in such close proximity to Pan. He’s just that good a villain.

While Kay is so good because makes Pan so completely unsympathetic, Carlyle is so good because he always makes us feel for Rumplestiltskin regardless of the horrible things the character has done. In this episode, he had me cringing in the flashbacks because of his cowardly decision to force Bae to come back home rather that letting his son choose; holding my breath as he attacked the son he thought was dead; and crying when he told Neal that he was his happy ending. I believed every single one of those complicated emotions, and it’s only because Carlyle is so brilliant. He brings out the best in Michael Raymond-James, too. Each of their scenes was filled with such distrust and pain but also so much love. I was angry that their relationship was ignored for so much of the second half of Season Two, but their scenes together in this episode continued this season’s theme of giving the audience the deep moments of character interaction that last season lacked.

This was a strong episode for Raymond-James. I enjoyed the way Neal fell back into a sort of comfort zone in Neverland, using his experience to his benefit rather than letting his history on the island bring him back to a dark place. The stuff with the squid ink was done very well (and was a great callback to earlier seasons). I loved the moment when Neal revealed that he coated the shaft of the arrow rather than the tip in the ink. That moment, and his immobilizing of his father, were great glimpses into how strategic Neal can be, even if all his careful planning went to hell when his emotions got the best of him and he stopped in the clearing Emma and Co. were using. (Hey Neal, I’m sure you know that stopping anywhere in the open is a bad plan when you’re carrying something Pan wants. If you didn’t know that, you know it now.)

I’m curious as to what the Lost Boys are going to do with Neal, but I’m even more curious to see how this latest abandonment is going to affect Rumplestiltskin. The ambiguity of the end of his storyline in this episode was chilling. In sending Belle—his conscience—away I couldn’t help but think he was now planning on killing Henry or at least letting him die at Pan’s hands to save his own life and attempt to repair his relationship with Neal. But he has to know that letting Henry die would be the worst way possible to win back his son, right?

Neal’s presence and absence were felt in every corner of Neverland in this episode. It was interesting to see both Emma and Hook dealing with their grief in such different ways. Hook was unusually subdued in this episode, but his focus and attention seemed to always be on Emma, who was struggling with her grief more overtly than she has since Neal fell through the portal. In Neal’s cave, you could feel the tension between these two characters who were both coming to terms with Neal’s loss and all it means for them. For Hook, seeing Neal’s Neverland home brought back centuries of guilt and reopened the wound Milah’s death cut through his soul. When he mentioned Neal’s mother to Emma, it was his turn to draw away uncomfortably from her empathetic gaze, and that small moment spoke volumes to me about the ways Hook and Emma are similar—hiding behind self-constructed walls that are struggling to stay up in the presence of a kindred spirit. It’s why Hook was the first one to notice Emma wasn’t okay when they were in the cave; he understands her and her loss on a level no one else can, and he’s willing to put aside his own guilt and grief to make sure she’s alright.

That selfless side of Hook is something that’s been slowly coming out more and more this season, and it showed itself again when he confronted Charming about keeping his secret from his family. Hook has no real reason to care—as Charming points out—but he does care. It’s not just that he knows what it’s like to lose a loved one; it’s not just that he’s beginning to really care for Emma and doesn’t want her to lose her father without warning. In his exchange with Charming about heroes and hope, it’s clear that Charming’s own sense of hope matters to Hook because he’s trying to find reasons to hope again in his own life. I really do believe these two men have so much in common, and it’s so interesting to see their roles reversed in a way—the hero’s hope faltering and the pirate encouraging him to hold onto it.

For now, though things aren’t looking too good on the happy ending front for any of the characters. Charming is trying to help Snow find the strength to deal with his death without telling her he’s dying, but she’s not having any of it (Josh Dallas’s subtle expressions in that scene blew me away). And Snow is devastated over not knowing how to be a parent to her suffering daughter. That moment when Snow tells Charming that she has no idea how to comfort Emma was almost intrusively painful. Ginnifer Goodwin’s performance in that moment was filled with so much believable self-loathing and guilt that it physically hurt to watch.

Neverland is a place that is forcing these characters to come to terms with their pasts and who they feel they are rather than who they really are. In Season Two’s “Lady of the Lake,” Snow stated that she feared she had no idea how to be a mother because she grew up without one. That fear is being preyed on in this land, and, like Emma feeling like the orphan she always believed she was, Snow feels like the terrible mother she always feared becoming and has worried is her identity since the curse was broken and Emma found her.

The ability of Neverland to bring out the insecurities in these characters came to a head this week with both Snow’s breakdown and Emma’s. Nobody on television can “angry cry” like Jennifer Morrison, and her grief-stricken monologue was one of her most powerful moments of the season so far. What struck me about it was how much her voice and facial expressions felt similar to her breakdown in front of Henry in the pilot when she talked about being abandoned by her parents. This is how Emma Swan cries when she’s forced to confront the pain of her past, when the emotions she’s kept bottled up for so long come spilling out, and I love that little bit of character continuity given by Morrison.

I’ve seen a lot of people both complaining or rejoicing about Emma’s speech (depending on their feelings about Neal), but this speech was really about closure—and how Emma was denied that twice in her relationship with Neal. What struck me most was how angry she was. This was a woman who was so angry that she never got to tell Neal how much he broke her or how much she loved him. And she did love him—a part of her always will. Neal was the first person Emma ever really loved, and she was right; a part of her never stopped loving him. And a part of him never stopped loving her. That kind of love—first love, foundational love—leaves a mark on you that you can never fully deny or erase. And that’s what Emma had been trying to do for so long. But now she said it; she admitted that this man will always have a part of her heart, but she also admitted that she lost him a long time ago. Emma felt like a lost girl again. But this time, it wasn’t because she felt like that orphan in the foster system; it was because she felt like that 17-year-old girl who loved a man who left her without any warning.

Neverland is messing with Emma’s psyche more than anyone else’s—it’s preying on her insecurities, abandonment issues, and ideas about herself that she knows aren’t true anymore. But by admitting she felt like an orphan, Emma was finally able to begin to heal that part of her heart. Maybe by admitting she still loved Neal even after how much he hurt her will allow her heart to continue to heal. I know it sounds ridiculous because she’s a fictional character, but I want happiness for Emma Swan. Here’s hoping that next week’s episode gives her at least one moment of hope and happiness and healing with someone who might need it just as much as she does.


10 thoughts on “TV Time: Once Upon a Time 3.04

  1. You’re review is just so insightful and so true in every way! I look forward to reading your opinions on Once every week! 🙂

  2. Personally, I loved how angry and emotional Emma got. From the beginning, she has never been comfortable with expressing what she feels and why. The only person who can consistently get an emotional reaction out of her is Henry, but it was so good to finally have her purge some of these intense feelings for Neal. I’m deliriously glad that she addressed Mary Margaret’s “she just lost Neal” comment, because more than any other character, she has consistently misunderstood Emma’s feelings about everything. She doubted her own daughter’s “super power” when it comes to Neal because somehow Snow is convinced that it is “faulty” and unpredictable when Emma is emotional (2.19 ff). The one time in recent memory that it hasn’t worked? With Cora, when she was concerned for Mary-Margaret’s health and still lost and confused about where they were (2.03). Otherwise, there has been nothing wrong with her lie-detector; yet Snow asserts the existence of an emotional glitch. And further, I loved that Emma was finally opening up and communicating with her parents, just as she did in 3.01. Granted, they are not the target of her anger this time, but it’s as if, one by one, she’s dealing with the traumas inflicted on her by various people/figures in her life and purging the anger that is poisoning her spiritually, psychically, and emotionally.
    Regarding this season’s big bad, you said a great deal, but I think that enough can’t be said about Mr. Kay. Despite being decades younger than both actors, he has a gravitas that pulls you away from both Carlyle and Raymond-James. Especially in the flashback episode, you can see Rumplestiltskin’s fear of this other magical creature; and even though the audience may intellectually know that he hasn’t fully “grown into” his bad-assery as the Dark One, we ourselves are in turn further terrified to see Rumple cowering before this child (just as powerlessly as he once cowered before a certain pirate captain). Kay eats up the scenery and clearly takes malicious glee in doing so. That he has such a pull and power over people, such dark charisma while at the same time able to be believably innocent as he was in 3.01 is absolutely frightening in the best possible way for the show.
    I was also struck by a poignant similarity between the two angry speeches–one given by Emma and the other by Baelfire to Rumple. You have elaborated so well one her speech, but the core of her anger (which I think is strange that she hasn’t yet come out and said it) resonates with Baelfire’s anger because they both stem from the same action–a denial of choice and agency. For Bae, it’s that Rumple doesn’t ASK him to come home with him; for Emma, it’s that Neal never gave her any CHOICE in his decision to leave.

    • What a fantastic comment! I loved what you said about Emma purging all of these negative emotions from her past. She’s held on to so much hurt for so long, and it’s good to see her finally letting some of it out, which I hope is the first step to letting it go. Everything you said at the end of your comment about agency is so true. Emma has been robbed of agency and choice for so much of her life; so many of her life’s defining moments occurred without her having any say in the matter. More than anything, I want to see this character in a relationship or environment that’s defined by her choices and her agency.

  3. Yes to the entire first paragraph and I just nodded along with your take this week. A lot happened and while it wasn’t an episode I loved, I feel almost compelled to go back and watch it again. I think I am most upset about Henry hearing the music at the end. I think it was too much of a leap, especially because I was so elated when he didn’t here it at first. In the subsequent 30 minutes of the show I didn’t see Pan do anything to waver Henry’s belief, especially given the idea that he thought he heard Neal. Henry was out cold for 80% of the episode, I think expedience won the day in having him hear it and as a result instead of being a ‘shock’ it was just a plot point instead of feeling like the game changer it should have been.

    I will however co-sign on the fact that not enough good things can be said about Robbie Kay. He has blown such energy into this show that was lacking last season. Especially with the path that both Rumple and Regina were taken down. Kay’s scenes continue to be a highlight and a driving force behind what is truly magical about the unfolding story in Neverland.

    • My family and I are still talking about Henry hearing the music and how unbelievable it felt. (We just brought it up again at dinner, actually.) As you said, we didn’t see Pan do enough for it to feel like he made a major breakthrough in breaking Henry’s spirit. It moved the plot along at the end, but it was at the sake of the emotional buildup such a scene should have had, which is interesting because the rest of this season has been about emotion over plot.

        • You both are not alone! I also don’t understand Henry hearing the music at the end. His experiences thus far plus his shown ability to believe in things even against much opposition makes me skeptical that he would be swayed that quickly, even with Pan being a master manipulator.

  4. I agree with you on pretty much everything, as usual! 😉

    Robbie Kay is brilliant in his creepy, manipulative Peter Pan, and while I’m still not really sure what Pan’s end goal is here (which is a tad annoying for me lol), I am enjoying seeing how wonderfully Kay’s acting his part.

    The sequence of scenes with Emma’s statements about being angry at Neal and hurting at not having closure, and then Snow’s painful anguish at not even knowing how to comfort her own daughter were probably my favorites of the episode. Ginny and Jennifer are so wonderfully genuine and real in their portrayals of these characters and I love it. Emma’s comments were so painful but I’m glad the show is showing not just the side of mourning that everyone seems to know and expect (the grief and sadness), but also the anger and what if’s and all the unresolved things that come about when a death is unexpected. It made it feel that much more real to me and made me hurt for Emma. Ginny’s scene also tore my heart out; one of my favorite things about this show is when they explore the complicated relationship between Emma and her parents, and seeing Snow’s pain at not knowing her daughter well enough to even be able to do this basic thing hurt in the best way (in a “this is good television” way). I think that Charming and Snow are finally starting to really deal with the fact that they missed out on so much of their daughter’s life and they don’t really know her all that well – Season 2 barely skimmed the surface on this and I’m glad we’re exploring it now, as Charming and Snow basically lost a baby but never really had the time to grieve over that loss.

    I’ll admit I have an unpopular opinion in that I am not a huge fan of Hook (or Hook/Emma), but I am quite enjoying his developing relationship with Charming; it’s a relationship that I feel was unexpected when it started but is a very fun dynamic to explore, and seeing them interact in almost every episode now has been very interesting. I just love the way they’re sort of frenemies now in that they don’t necessarily like or trust each other much but their banter and ability to work together has developed into a sort of friendship.

    Neal and Rumple’s scenes were painful for me this week, as it felt very honest and true and I was annoyed with each of them at different points lol. Seeing Neal abandon his father had me split into two mindsets – I can totally understand how after everything that’s happened Neal cannot trust his father anymore, especially on the things that are most important to him (aka Henry). On the other hand, I feel like Rumple was really being genuine this time – I think he finally decided that he was going to save Henry no matter what happened, in honor of his son and because Henry was family – the thing Rumple has prized above all after making his huge mistake in not following after his son all those years ago. Unfortunately, unlike the audience, Neal has not been able to see how his father’s every action after abandoning his son was part of his attempt to find him again, and so he does not have the weight of those actions affecting his decision here.

    (Ultimately, I think it’s more likely that Rumple’s “undoing” spoken of by the prophecy won’t result in his death, but rather something like having his magic/the Dark One powers taken away from him, and considering Rumple has done so many deals with other people he should know how important wording is for things and consider “undoing” to potentially have other options as well. The prophecy never explicitly said he would die, but I suppose it makes Rumple’s potential redemption greater if he believes he will and tries to save Henry anyways, so narratively it’s a better storyline to go that way.)

    Finally, I was a tad annoyed by the ending with Henry hearing the music and dancing. Yes, I understand that Henry has felt unloved by Regina (at first) and perhaps his father (briefly until he learned the truth) and now he thinks he has lost his father, but it’s hard for me to imagine that the “truest believer,” the boy who hardly ever stopped believing in the fairytale book being real in Season 1, is going to be swayed by Pan this quickly. I find it hard to believe that Henry feels unloved or completely lost, so unless the music works in a way that if someone feels even slightly that way they can hear it, then I’m going to be a bit annoyed with the way this is going. Pan is a master manipulator, and perhaps Neverland has some sort of magic of its own that affects everyone on it, but I still find it hard to believe that Henry is going along with Pan so easily. In my opinion the Henry we know, the one person on the show who has faith in what he knows/believes 98% of the time, the one person who has been able to unite everyone in Storybrooke to work together to save him and has himself seen this happen multiple times throughout the past two seasons (see: Henry falling down the mine, Henry under the sleeping curse at the end of S1, Henry convincing Regina to let Emma and Snow through the portal even though it might mean Cora would make it through, etc), would believe that at least Emma and Regina were coming for him and that at least they love him. If he’s forgotten all of that so soon than either Henry’s not the believer he’s been made out to be, or there’s some weird magic messing with his personality/memory/etc. I really hope they continue to develop this storyline to make more sense or to explain more how the music thing works, because right now I’m not buying it.

    (SORRY THIS IS SO LONG I apparently had a lot of feelings and needed somewhere to share them :p)

    • I love when you leave long comments because I agree with so much of what you say and you always articulate your thoughts so perfectly! I could read your OUaT comments all day, to be honest. 😉

      I kind of love that we don’t know Pan’s endgame yet. It’s frustrating, but it also reminds me of Rumplestiltskin/Gold back in Season One, with the manipulations and the ambiguity that’s keeping my eyes glued to the screen every time he’s on because I don’t want to miss anything important. And it’s even more impressive because Robbie Kay is so young and still manages to be so captivating.

      I really like what you said about Ginnifer and Jennifer being incredibly real in their performances because it’s so true. They both ground their characters in such honest emotions, and the two of them are the show’s heart and soul. I think both of those women are criminally underrated as actresses because they have the ability to make me cry basically every week.

      And YES to the Hook/Charming grudging friendship being something I always want to see more of. I love the idea that the pure goodness and hope that Charming represents is something that resonates deep inside of Hook as something he used to believe in, something he wishes he still had because he wasted so much of his life looking for revenge. I can’t wait for their interactions in this upcoming episode to shed more light on their relationship.

      Finally, I am so happy you said something about the definition of “undoing.” I am 99.99999% sure it has nothing to do with Rumplestiltskin dying; it’s going to have something to do with him losing his magic/powers. I don’t know why someone as smart and cunning as Rumplestiltskin hadn’t thought of all the different connotations of the word undoing, but I suppose you’re right—it makes for better TV this way.

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