Title Quiet Minds
Two-Sentence Summary In Storybrooke, Neal joins Emma on the quest to find Rumplestiltskin, a quest he began in the Enchanted Forest during the lost year. Flashbacks reveal how Rumplestiltskin returned, why Zelena has his dagger, and who was prepared to pay the ultimate price for using dark magic.
Emma: Go ahead and laugh. I almost married a monster from Oz. It’s hilarious.
Neal: I almost married an evil minion of my grandfather, Peter Pan. So I know what you’re saying.
My Thoughts “All magic comes with a price.”
This has always been one of the core themes of Once Upon a Time. Actions have consequences, and the choices we make have lasting ramifications on not only our lives but the lives of those around us. “Quiet Minds” was an episode about choices—both the good and the bad ones; the smart and the foolish ones; the ones we make and the ones made for us. Yes, it had some confusing magical/supernatural elements, but the moments that stayed with me had nothing to do with special effects or fairytale mythology. What I’ll remember about this episode long after this show is off the air (hopefully many years from now) was the story it told about a group of fairytale characters struggling with the very real and very human choices they’ve made.
In this season’s “Quite a Common Fairy,” we were shown that Regina made a choice to run away from the prospect of a second chance at love and happiness with Robin Hood. Ever since that episode, I’ve been waiting for her to come face-to-face with the consequences of that choice, but I’ll admit that it happened much sooner than I expected.
I still predict that Regina and Robin fell in love during the lost year without her seeing his lion tattoo. They definitely shared more than just that one adventure during their missing year; they were immediately drawn to each other in the same way Snow and Charming were back when they were cursed Mary Margaret and David. The way Regina showed a flicker of recognition after they repeated their dialogue from the beginning of their Enchanted Forest relationship reminded me immediately of Charming knowing that Snow was the only thing that felt right about his life in Storybrooke back when they were cursed. Once Upon a Time always has fun with dramatic irony, and I’m having fun watching it play out with this relationship. Another thing I’m having fun with in terms of this relationship is the chemistry between Sean Maguire and Lana Parrilla. Their scene in the farmhouse was as blatantly driven by sexual tension as any scene in Once Upon a Time’s history.
Parrilla did a superb job of showing that Robin could actually make Regina happy. Her smile when she talked to him about whiskey absolutely melted my heart. But there is still a part of Regina that is afraid to open her heart, which is why she bolted the second she saw his tattoo. However, this Regina isn’t the young woman who ran away from Robin in the pub in the Enchanted Forest. She’s grown so much since then, and she’s become a woman who has made choices—both awful and good—and has finally learned to own up to the consequences of those choices. It doesn’t surprise me that she finally met the man who was destined to make her happy after selflessly giving up her true love—Henry—to pay the price for casting the first curse. Just as casting the curse had a consequence (giving up Henry), so did Regina choosing to undo it (meeting Robin Hood).
At the end of “Quiet Minds,” Regina had to once again own up to the consequences of a choice she made. Watching Robin play with Roland, Regina was watching the life she could have chosen for herself; the happiness that could have been hers had she chosen differently all those years ago. Parrilla broke my heart in those silent moments because you could feel her being drawn to this man whom she believes she’s finally ready to love but has missed her chance to be with. I can’t wait for her to discover that she can still choose to open her heart to him; she can still choose happiness, and it’s not too late.
You could see it written on Parrilla’s face as Regina watched Robin and Roland: She believes she isn’t meant to have a happy ending. That was a running theme in this episode as well: Is it really as simple as “heroes get happy endings and villains don’t,” or is the real world a whole lot less black-and-white?
Not all love stories end in happily ever after. Not all endings are happy ones—even for people who tried to do the right thing. Some stories stop in the middle, and others barely get a chance to start.
Neal is dead. Baelfire is dead. He died without seeing his son again, without his son even knowing who he really was. He was a hero, but he was a tragic hero. And tragic heroes don’t get to live to see the end of the story.
I found it interesting that Neal’s willingness to awaken dark magic to get back to Henry and Emma harkened back to the show’s running theme that losing love turns us into the darkest versions of ourselves. It was a desperate move from a desperate man, and it broke my heart knowing that little Bae—the boy who hated dark magic so much—would grow into this man who had to embrace dark magic to reunite with his family. Dark magic cost Bae so much in his life that I suppose there is a certain poetry that choosing to give into dark magic himself is what ultimately cost him his life.
Although Once Upon a Time hasn’t always been great at exploring Neal’s character, they did always know how to write young Bae. And for the first time ever, I could actually see that young boy in Neal’s eyes, and that’s a true credit to Michael Raymond-James. It made sense to me that, for the first time since they came back into each other’s lives, this was also the first time Hook could make that correlation between the man standing in front of him and the boy he wanted to raise like a son. Hook and Neal’s scene in the hospital was one of my favorite moments in the episode because so much was communicated without having to cheapen the moment with too much dialogue. Raymond-James and Colin O’Donoghue worked really well together and created a true sense of history between these two men. I was sad not only to know this was the characters’ last moment together but also the last moment these actors would share a scene together.
There was so much subtext behind Hook telling Neal “I am in your way.” Hook is still very much “in this for the long haul,” and Emma is more than aware of the possibility of tension between those two men. But what I loved about that moment is what could have become another “lighter fight” instead turned into an exploration of why these two men are so much more than points in a love triangle. As soon as Hook said his line to Neal, I could see the little lost boy hiding behind those brown eyes, and so did Hook. This wasn’t just another man who loves Emma standing in front of him; this was Bae.
That’s why Hook hugged Neal—because he finally saw in Neal that brave boy who just wanted his family to be whole again. “Long overdue” was the best way to describe that hug; these two characters both needed that moment of reconciliation. Once again, O’Donoghue floored me with his sincerity; you could feel Hook’s remorse and love as he hugged Milah’s little boy after so many years. Hook doesn’t do well with public moments; he reverts to sarcasm because he’s uncomfortable (see his forced apology to Belle, which was all kinds of awesome because both she and Emma were having none of it). But when he’s alone with someone he loves, he feels safe enough to be vulnerable, which is exactly what happened with Neal. I was so proud of both of them for admitting that they let a woman (both Milah and Emma) get in the way of what could have been a healing relationship for them. And when Hook touched Neal’s heart—calling him “her boy” (Milah’s boy), followed by Neal calling him Killian with all the weight Raymond-James could give that one name, I cried for these two men and the hope I could feel between them—the hope that this could be a new, happier chapter in a story that had seen too much pain in the past.
Speaking of new, happier chapters that ended before they could be written, I adored the way Emma and Neal’s relationship was handled in this episode. Gone was the angst and baggage of their past moments; instead, I saw two people who were finally ready to make peace with their relationship as it is now instead of hoping to repeat the past (Neal) or forget it completely (Emma). While I would have liked for Neal to acknowledge that he did in fact have a choice in leaving Emma (and not coming back for her), I don’t think Emma needed that anymore. Her year with Henry and her memories of their life together took away some of her bitterness towards Neal’s role in forcing her to give up her son. Rather than being unable to move on, Emma seemed finally ready to accept that there was good as well as bad in her memories of Neal; they were happy once, and she can finally say that without either of them disagreeing or pushing for them to be happy together in the present.
Emma and Neal have always represented messy reality in the middle of fairytale romance, and I loved seeing them genuinely laugh together over the absurdity of their respective romantic partners following their relationship. Like the scene between Hook and Neal, this scene between Emma and Neal felt like a fresh start for these two characters while still acknowledging their past. Neal wants Emma to be happy, even if it’s with someone else, and that’s a huge step in the right direction for rebuilding a healthy relationship as Henry’s parents, as friends, and as people who loved each other deeply but have accepted that they’ll never be each other’s Tallahassee—each other’s home—and that’s okay.
But, because this is Once Upon a Time, Emma Swan can never be happy for long. Of course, Neal would collapse in front of her. Of course, she would discover that he and his father had merged into the same person (which was excellently foreshadowed with Rumplestiltskin’s “All the voices in my head will be quiet when I’m dead”). Of course, she would have to use her magic to separate them, all the while knowing it would kill the man she had just started to find reasons to smile with again. Can this girl please catch a break sometime soon?
Jennifer Morrison was devastating as Emma said goodbye to her first love. When Neal told her to go find Tallahassee and to promise that she and their son would be happy, I was reminded in the saddest way of Daniel telling Regina to love again in Season Two’s “The Doctor.” Emma shuts her heart down after it’s been broken, but Neal doesn’t want that for her. After she lost him the first time, she closed herself off to love for 10 years. But this time, she has their son and she has as much closure as she could ever get with Neal, so it will ultimately be her choice to look for something good after having her heart broken again—to find a home and to accept that someone else can and will love both her and Henry.
For as important as it was for Emma to be with Neal when he died, it was even more important for Rumplestiltskin to be there. Neal’s story wasn’t really about Emma in the end; it was a story of fathers and sons. In the flashbacks, I was moved to tears by Rumplestiltskin choosing to give up his dagger to Zelena to keep Neal safe. He lost his son once because he was too afraid to give up his power, but then he was given the chance to make a new choice—and this time he chose his son.
But ultimately, Neal followed in his father’s footsteps, choosing a dark path to get back to his son, and a price had to be paid. The story of this side of Henry’s family tree is about the “sins of the father” and whether or not we’re destined to repeat history. Each generation moves further away from Pan’s sins, but they still made grave mistakes. For Rumplestiltskin, there was a price to be paid for creating the dark curse to get back to Bae, and that price was that he would watch Bae die as a result of using dark magic. Everything he spent centuries working towards died with Bae, and that is tragic but also a darkly beautiful kind of poetic justice for all the sins the Dark One committed in the name of finding his son.
However, Rumplestiltskin didn’t just influence Neal by the mistakes he made; he influenced Neal by the sacrifice he paid to make things right. By giving up his life to save those he loved from Pan, Rumplestiltskin forged the path that Neal followed, giving up his life so that Rumplestiltskin could tell everyone the Wicked Witch’s identity. Bae was a brave little boy who just wanted his papa to hold onto his hand and not let go of him. Now Neal was a grown man, a father himself, asking him to let go; the brave little boy was ready to pay the ultimate price for magic. The full-circle tragedy of that moment was only made more heartbreaking by Robert Carlyle’s performance. That man brings the pain like no one else.
Neal’s story is one of fathers and sons, but he died without his son by his side. I saw that as Neal’s price for abandoning Emma all those years ago. If he would have found another way, Henry would have had better memories of his father, and Emma could have let Henry see him before he died. But actions have consequences, and Neal understood that in the end. Emma’s heartbreak over Neal dying without Henry seeing him again was awful to watch, but it hurt more to see Neal accept that it had to be that way. He fought so hard to get back to his son, only to die without seeing his little boy again. I don’t think it gets more painful than that.
In the end, Emma could finally tell Henry that his father died a hero. That scene on the bench between mother and son was brilliant—and not just because Morrison conveyed Emma’s grief and halfhearted attempts at stoicism perfectly. In Season One, Emma lied to Henry and said his father died a hero. Now, that’s the only thing she can tell him that’s the truth. Henry’s father loved him so much that he was willing to do anything to get back to him. Neal made a lot of mistakes, but Emma was right; he would have been a great father. And Henry—with or without his memories—deserved to know that.
The final moments of the episode were stunning in a way that can only come from the quality of actors on this show. Beyond Emma and Henry’s beautiful conversation, the wordless grief shared by Snow and Belle as well as Hook and Charming reflected the even more painful moment of Rumplestiltskin returning to his cage a man even more broken than he was before. And his grief over his son’s death was contrasted poetically by the love and warmth between Robin and Roland as well as Emma and Henry. Families were broken in this episode, but from their grief there will be action—this is Emma Swan we’re talking about. I have never been more excited for a showdown than I am for Emma (and Regina—and hopefully Rumplestiltskin) to make Zelena pay for all she’s done. Neal’s death won’t be in vain, and that thought alone makes what happened in this episode at least a little easier to take.