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.
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.