TV Time: Once Upon a Time 3.15

quiet minds

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.

Favorite Lines
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.

31 thoughts on “TV Time: Once Upon a Time 3.15

  1. You hit EVERY SINGLE nail on the head. I’m not kidding – every single one. I stayed up late just to read your wonderful synopsis and I wish I wasn’t so tired so that I could tell you in every detail why I agree so much with everything you wrote, my head hurts from nodding 🙂
    I am so grateful to you for finding all these wonderful words for what I’m feeling and thinking exactly but that I don’t have the words for! Thank you!!
    I wanted to ask your input on one or two things – if that’s all right with you?

    • Thank you so much—I hope you got plenty of sleep after staying up late to read this (my “mother hen” side is kicking in)! And you can always ask me anything—either here or via Twitter or email. I love answering questions and offering input! 🙂

  2. OK I hardly know where to start to organize my thoughts, feelings and ideas about the themes as well as the plot turns in this episode. I do agree that this episode was about the consequences that arise from the choices we make. One of my favorite music lyrics is from a RUSH song called Free Will and the chorus line reads “If you chose not to decide, you still have made a choice”. It is a truism we see played out in real life and here in this fantasy show we adore. We are as much defined by the things we didn’t do as the things that we did.

    I agree that my favorite sequence of the night was the one I had been waiting for since Neal landed in Neverland. The reconciliation of Hook/Neal Killian/Bae was worth the wait. It was impressive to me that they were in a series of very subtle moments able to abandon the personas that had dominated their interactions and see through to the reality that these were two men who had been a family to one another for a period in which they both were viscerally lost. When Hook helps him escape the hospital it truly is the act of Killian letting the boy who came to be his family fight for his own. It was poignant moment that I should have known would not exist in isolation and was the tell tale of the fate reconciliation to come.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Neal’s decision to open the crypt in spite of knowing Lumiere is lying and not knowing the price that would inevitably need to be paid was a moment of “Like Father, Like Son”. In spite of Belle’s pleas that they would find another way, Neal’s desperation won the day. His motives, blind action and desperation mirror that of his father’s when Bae was a child and Rumplestilskin deliberately chose to become the dark one. It is the act of a man trying to prove himself worthy. You wrote that losing love in the worlds of OUAT turns us towards the darkest versions of ourselves. I am not sure it does. I do think it makes us blind to consequence and that is an action we’ve seen taken by Snow and Charming as well. Snow when she took the memory loss potion and Charming when he takes the sleeping curse. Or when they struck the deal with Rumple that sent Emma into the tree trunk. The inherent need to change fate is innate in all of us, it isn’t a sign of anything more than a willingness to act in the absence of proof of consequence. Baelfire’s quest throughout this show has always been singular. It has been about keeping families together. When he is lost to Rumplestilskin it is through the actions of a boy desperately trying to preserve what is left of his family. When he goes to Neverland it is to save Wendy and her brother’s from his lonely fate. And again here when he sacrifices his life it is not just to save Emma and Henry, but the fate of her whole family – including Snow, Charming and the baby they are about to have. I don’t think he ever gives into dark magic as much as he comes to understand it’s necessity. He may not have known the price (as Rumple shouted to The Wicked Witch), but I absolutely believe he understood the consequences would ultimately be his to bear.

    One thing you wrote that struck me was when you talked about Neal/Emma and said ” it took away some of her bitterness towards Neal’s role in forcing her to give up her son.” I beg to differ. No one forced Emma to give up her son. That choice was hers. She like so many of the characters in this show made a choice in fear of the future and ultimately what she believed was best for her child. As parents, we make the choices we believe are best in the moment we make them, but no outside force or circumstance can force you to give up your child. And perhaps I read it this way because of my own personal journey to parenthood. Emma’s choice when she first has Henry isn’t drastically different than the choices all the parents on OUAT make. For example in spite of the outcomes, Rumplestilskin took on the power of the dark one to protect Bae, not to lose him. Neal leaving Emma was about understanding the fate that had been bestowed on her because of the curse. It is why he tells August to let him know when the curse is broken, he never intended to leave her and certainly wouldn’t have if he had the knowledge of her pregnancy. Just as Neal owns the consequences of that decision, so does Emma own the consequences of giving Henry up as a baby. I think that is why she doesn’t want to tell Henry about Neal when they are in the hospital together. She knows what the road not traveled looks like. She knows what Henry’s life could be (and is) because of that year. She got her “do over”, Neal does not.

    I find it interesting that Neal is intrinsically connected to the two people who get second chances in OUAT. Rumple gets a second chance when he is resurrected and chooses Bae over the dagger, a choice he didn’t make when he let go of Bae as a child. Given his journey and sacrifice when it came to destroying Pan, Rumplestilskin learned the sacrifice that sometimes must be made to protect those we love most when he destroyed Pan. Emma too is given a second chance .When the curse that sets Henry and Emma on that year long journey Emma is given a second chance to be Henry’s mother. She is the only other character that gets to do over her original choice of giving Henry up. That Bae/Neal is connected to both made the moment of Bae/Neal’s death all the more poignant, because it created a path, a release to change the path and cycle that had come before. Henry won’t know the childhood, life that Bae or Rumple experienced. That for me is what made Emma’s telling Henry his father was a hero important. He was a hero not because of the ultimate sacrifice he made with his life, but because in spite of everything, misguided, misinformed choices Bae/Neal always fought for family. Emma giving Henry a good impression of his father makes their family picture whole in spite of the sad ending. Because as you said, not everyone gets a happy ending. But being whole or complete doesn’t mean everyone is happy, it means the questions are answered and the doubt is gone. By the close of last night’s episode there was no doubt of the willingness, love and choice of these three characters. All would chose their families above all. None would sacrifice their children regardless of the uncertainty that future held and all have found peace in the forgiveness that love provides.

    • I believe that Neal was very much the reason Emma chose to give up Henry and that is left her bitter. Psychologically, the way he left her without warning or explanation only compounded the lack of self-worth that she’d felt all her life. She grew up with the understanding that her parents didn’t want her; foster family after foster family sent her back because they didn’t want her. Neal told her that he wanted her and it was probably the first time she started to feel that she was worth something. Then mere hours after leaving him with the watches with the promise of Tallahassee so close, he not only didn’t show up to meet her, she was in handcuffs and on her way to prison with the cop explaining he had turned her in. To her, the only person who’d ever wanted her had either changed his mind or lied about wanting her in the first place. Finding out she was pregnant, yes she had a choice about whether or not to keep her baby but from her mindset, why would her son want her when no one else did? Neal’s actions were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. She didn’t really start to re-evaluate that idea until Henry showed up at her door and told her he wanted her.

      More than the bitterness of Neal being the reason she went to prison, after her time in Storybrooke, coming to realize that Henry wanted her all along and she missed out on that because of how Neal made her feel, I think that might have made her more bitter towards him. A year of alternate memories and quality time with Henry in New York very much took the edge off of any lingering bitterness. She believed she was able to hold on to the best part of that relationship when she was under the illusion she’d kept Henry.

      I also think that Neal chose the easy way out when he left Emma. There were other options but he took the path that kept him as far from his father as possible and convinced himself it was what was best for Emma. It certainly wasn’t the only option available (for instance, he didn’t have to call the cops on her and add insult to injury, whatever benefits August prophesied about her time in prison) and as wonderfully outlined in the article, the price he paid for leaving Emma the way he did was not getting to see Henry one last time.

      I loved your point about the inherent need to try and change fate (and love the way the Once writers continue to address the question inevitability involved). So often, the actions characters take to solve a problem ultimately prevent them from achieve their goal. I’m always reminded of Cora removing her own heart to keep herself from stopping before achieving her goal only to realize as she was dying that she would have been content if she’d only kept it in place (and then Regina making the same decision to lessen the pain of losing Henry before Snow talked her out of it).

      • I think this is about point of view. Many people watch the show through Emma’s perspective. I understand it, because of her role withing the pantheon of the show. But I don’t, which is perhaps part of my take on Neal/Bae. Neal’s story of abandonment isn’t much different than Emma’s. Mila abandoned him when she left Rumple, Rumple chooses dark magic over Bae when he tries to save what remains of their family. He spends a lifetime alone. Of course he has other choices he can make in Tallahassee, but so does Emma. While I don’t disagree that Neal’s perceived betrayal played heavily into her decision to give Henry up, it is still ultimately her choice and therefore her consequences and responsibility to own. Just as it was Neal’s to step aside and allow for her to break the curse. Is walking away instead of standing up for Emma cowardly? Sure, but it is also in keeping with Bae’s psychology. Both of Bae’s parents walked instead of prioritizing him. His decision may have been misguided, but I actually don’t think that Emma’s bitterness plays a role in Sunday’s episode. I think it is fan bitterness. What I mean is that I believe that Emma overcomes her guilt and anger surrounding Neal when she confesses in the cave in Neverland. I watched the episode again and there simply isn’t a trace of it in their scenes from Sunday. I think that has to do with the combination of understanding Neal’s choices, having lived with the consequences of her own and been given a second chance with Henry. Emma has the opportunity to come to a place of peace that some of their fate is not of their own making. It’s like when she becomes resolved a few episodes back about her role as the savior. It’s reluctant, even a twinge of bitter, but resolved and accepting none the less.

        I also think because of some of the gaps in storytelling Neal gets a bum rap. He takes the brunt of ‘responsibility’ for Emma’s decisions yet Snow and Charming often get a pass. I don’t think Snow and Charming’s decision to send Emma through the portal was cowardly, but it did have unforeseen consequences including Emma growing up believing she was unwanted. Neal’s decision came with its share of unforeseen consequences as well. I feel like in the woods before his death that Neal and Emma land in a place of understanding that their choices and mistakes were not intended to hurt one another. You make decisions based on the information in front of you, in the moment. Hindsight will always be 20/20. The question is whether you allow that 20/20 perspective define you. I think in the woods both Neal and Emma decide that the answer is no, their past is a part of who they are but doesn’t ultimately define them. They realize they have to power to forgive both each other and themselves and ultimately want each other’s happiness. I think that common truism plays out in the funny, but very telling exchange about how both were duped by people they believed they were in love with (flying monkey and Pan’s minion).

        I do believe that Neal’s sacrifice is for family and that his true reconciliation in that moment is with Rumple, and that holds true to the story of Bae’s quest to reconcile his family. He does so in giving peace to Rumple that he loves his father. Emma’s able to give Henry a similar closure neither Neal nor she had in their childhood – a resolution to their family history and the knowledge that he is loved.

        • Yes, yes, yes to all of this. While my less than stellar feelings towards Neal throughout his time on the series was largely due to the pain he caused Emma, there was no part of ‘Quite Minds’ where I felt like Emma had not moved on from Neal and had come to terms with their past. My anger at Neal after the episode was all because of what I wanted for him as a character, not because I thought Emma needed Neal to do or tell her certain things. If anything that’s where I got annoyed with the episode. They still made it about Emma and Neal’s past, and I didnt think it needed to be. I wanted Neal to own up to his mistakes with Emma for his own good, not because I thought Emma needed to hear it. I am angry that I didnt get to see Emma and Neal having this new friendly relationship. I am angry that I didnt get to see what kind of relationship he could have had with Henry. I am actually angry there is no more Neal, and I never thought I would care if he was gone! I am interested to see how she handles Neal’s death, but I really dont see her going back to super “walls up” Emma, it just wouldn’t seem consistent with her growth. I actually really love this “year in NY” Emma. Between her new appreciation and concern for Regina and her ability to move on from Neal, I feel much less protective over her. Here is an Emma that I think can handle anything that comes her way, and I am enjoying that.

    • I’m so happy you’re here to offer a different perspective on things because it always opens my eyes to connections I didn’t make or thematic elements I didn’t process because my emotions were running too high both as I watched and as I wrote.

      I also like that we approach this show from very different viewpoints. I think I spent so much time “with” Emma while writing my essay about her character that I am often more prone to seeing things through her eyes rather than any other character’s, especially Neal’s. You outlined Neal/Bae’s whole arc quite beautifully here, and I think reading this comment made the tragedy of this episode hit me even harder. As you said, Bae’s whole story was about family and keeping/bringing his family together. It’s what made his choice in “Tallahassee” even more painful: By leaving Emma, he unknowingly left the possibility of having a family of his own. I agree that if he and Emma had known about Henry prior to her going to jail, he might have chosen differently. But I still think his abandonment and the fact the he played a role in her going to jail directly influenced her decision to give up Henry for adoption. I do think my choice of the word “force” was probably too strong; Emma did have a choice, but she would have still had to give Henry up for the duration of her time in prison. I think Emma associated Neal’s abandonment with the idea that she wasn’t worthy of loving or being loved by anyone, which also played a role in her decision to give up her son. But after having that year with Henry, that anger is gone, and I loved seeing her finally able to move on from the pain that hung over all of their interactions previously. It makes me grieve for what could have been had these two parents been given time to grow as friends and get to know one another in the present.

  3. I will admit when I woke up this morning, I found myself angry. I wasnt expecting myself to have this reaction from Neal’s death, especially since I already knew going in that it was coming. I have always loved child Bae, and been lukewarm about adult Neal mainly due to the fact that he hurt Emma so badly, and I honestly didnt think his departure from the show would have an effect on me. But it did. I have clearly been in the second stage of grief most of today, until of course your wonderfully thoughtful critique of the episode has allowed me to work through some of my feelings (mostly). The fact that I was honestly angry just shows how much I did care about this character and what he meant to the other characters. I think I was just trying to grapple with whether I was upset over bad writing choices, or if the writing wants me to be upset with Neal. After all, its never easy when a character dies as a direct consequence of their own misguided actions. Usually I can place my anger on whoever did the killing and know that there will be payback and said dead person will be avenged. Today I am angry that Neal is dead, but I am angry at Neal for making himself dead. I didnt want him to make the same mistakes his Father made. I wanted him to own up to the fact that he did have a choice when it came to abandoning Emma. But these things didn’t happen. As you pointed out, he is a tragic hero, and apparently I kept wanting him to just be a hero hero.

    That said, I do believe Neal’s story arc had its weak spots. Neal’s main arc was about the relationship with his Father and his role as a father to Henry. Neal has always been a very important part of Emma’s story, but I don’t believe Emma was an equally important part of Neal’s. The problem with Neal’s character came when they tried to also make his story about Emma. When Neal decided that he wanted to get Emma back, I never believed it was Emma he truly wanted. I think in his head he liked the idea of being a family with both Emma and Henry, but I always saw that as more for the sake being there for Henry rather than being there for Emma. Instead they brought him in as a roadblock to Emma and Hook, and it was unnecessary. Even in his dying breaths, again they made this partly about Emma, and it didn’t need to be. Everything Neal said here were things we could have inferred from his talk with Emma a few minutes prior in the woods. They were happy once. He wants her to be happy again. He regrets that things worked out the way they did. These things did not need to be said again. His final moments could have been about only two things, Henry and Rumple, and it would have been satisfying. So, if I still have any major issue about the writing of his character this would be it.

    Ok, now that I have gotten that off my chest, I do have to applaud this episode for checking off two major bullet points from the “scenes Shauna needs to see” list, and that is the minor bullet of Hook making strides to redeem himself with Belle, and then of course the HUGE major bullet of Hook and Bae acknowledging their past. I never would have forgiven the show if they didnt give us that Hook/Bae scene. It was well done, and I have to think that moving forward Hook’s protectiveness over Henry is going to intensify, since it will not longer just be about projecting the thing that is precious to Emma, it will be about trying to be there for Henry since Neal cant be. I also love that Hook has apparently become the town babysitter, because its allowing him to make amends with those he has wronged in the past. I hope he gets to babysit Mary Margret next now that Zelena has been ousted.

    I have to admit I am kinda obsessed with symbols, so I absolutely love that Emma’s swan keychain that was once a symbol to “never trust anyone again” no longer has a negative meaning assigned to it. Its now a symbol that she was in love once. She was happy once. And in order to be happy again, she has to take the leap of faith and open herself up to it. (I just maybe wish it got back to her in a different way than Neal taking 5 minutes to die)

    I also loved your choice of best quote. Neal and Emma are the only two people that can truly appreciate and understand the absurdity of becoming an adult in our world while also being entangled in fairytale drama, and I love that they had that moment, and as you said, it was a bittersweet look into the kind of friendship they could have had if Neal didnt make stupid choices (ok maybe I am still a little angry).

    I am also so glad you brought up Regina believing she isn’t meant to have a happy ending by holding herself back from Robin, because this brings me to the current (as of last night) number one item on my “scenes Shauna needs to see” list, and that is another conversation between Hook and Regina paralleling their discussion on the Jolly Roger at the beginning of Season 3. I want a moment of both of them acknowledging together that they didn’t waste their lives, and that villains can redeem themselves and get their happy ending.

    • P.S. Can every outdoor scene on Once happen in the snow like the past few episodes? That scene in the forest with Belle and Neal was just ridiculously gorgeous. Just like Hook and Emma in the forest last week was ridiculously gorgeous. I know the actors would revolt, but still, soooooo preeeeety.

    • We are so often on the same page when it comes to OUaT, and I love that you did such a great job highlighting what you felt were the problems with Neal’s story because they’re problems I saw as well.

      “…apparently I kept wanting him to just be a hero hero.” – You and me both, sister. 😉 It’s not easy to watch someone choose a path that you know won’t end well, and, while I can appreciate the symbolic nature of his “like father, like son” choice, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t screaming at the TV as it was happening for him to make another choice instead. (Not that I ever scream at the TV over choices made by fictional characters…Only on days of the week that end in the letter “y.”)

      I completely agree with you that Neal’s story should never have become as Emma-focused as it became. His story is a story of fathers and sons, and it lost some of its power when it became a story about wanting a second chance with Emma at the expense of diving more deeply into his feelings about being a father and about his relationship with his own dad (and even with Hook as the father-figure he once was). You’re so right in your assessment that Neal didn’t want Emma for Emma; he wanted a chance to be a family with her and Henry. I think the show realized this mistake too late because so many people jumped on the idea of Neal and Emma having a second chance romantically, when I’d like to think his story was about familial love more than romantic love.

      I also loved your take on Hook and Henry’s relationship in future episodes. I agree that we’re going to see him take a more active approach in being protective towards him. It will be his way to honor Bae’s memory in the same way that joining the effort to save Henry in Neverland was originally a way for him to honor Bae after he thought he died at the end of Season Two.

      Two final notes: 1.) Your analysis of the change in the symbolism of Emma’s necklace was perfect, and I will now always see it that way. 2.) I now NEED that conversation between Hook and Regina that you wrote about.

    • I couldn’t agree more with you about Neal’s story not being about getting back with Emma, but about the chance of a family with Emma and Henry. I never liked the whole ‘love triangle’ concept (regardless of my personal view about who makes more sense as Emma’s love interest) because it seemed unnecessary and ‘soap-operish’ IMO. I actually cheered when Emma made perfectly clear in Neverland that she wasn’t going to choose between Hook and Neal and that the only man she had a place in her heart for was Henry.

      And that scene between Hook and Regina? It needs to happen asap. It is now my new ‘head canon’. 😉

  4. [“The problem with Neal’s character came when they tried to also make his story about Emma. When Neal decided that he wanted to get Emma back, I never believed it was Emma he truly wanted. I think in his head he liked the idea of being a family with both Emma and Henry, but I always saw that as more for the sake being there for Henry rather than being there for Emma. Instead they brought him in as a roadblock to Emma and Hook, and it was unnecessary.”]

    I think the above is one of the reasons why I have never been a firm believer in Emma and Neal’s relationship. If you look at their relationship from the moment when Neal received that postcard from August in the Season 2 premiere, I have always found myself wondering how much he really loved her. I don’t think the writers ever really intended for Neal’s story to be about Emma, now that I think about it. He has always been more focused on either Henry or Rumpel.

    • I agree that Bae’s story has not been about Emma nor do I believe It was designed to be. It was always about Rumple and a continuity about ‘sins of the father’ and the reconciliation of fathers and sons. Perhaps that is why I don’t feel angry or that Emma has been wronged in this as much as they are merely a part of each other’s story and share common backstory.

    • I definitely agree that, in hindsight, it seems clear that Neal’s story was less of a romantic love story and more of a familial one. The decisions he made were because of his father or his son, and I think that reading of Neal’s motivations (rather than reading them in a romantic light) makes his character come off as more understandable.

  5. Wow. This made me cry. I wasn’t a big Neal fan but this was so insightful it made me really miss Neal because I finally “got” what they were trying to do with his death. Before I read this I just found his death abrupt and kind of weird, but it actually closed so many loose ends and was symbolic on many levels. Thank you for writing such a beautiful recap.

    • Thank you for leaving such a thoughtful and honest comment! I’m so happy I could help you see Neal in a new light because that’s what this episode did for me.

  6. With all the spoilers going around and the promo and everything else, I was pretty sure that Neal was going to die in this episode, so that didn’t really come up as a big shock. What shocked me though was how sad it made me. I didn’t expect to feel so bad about it because the show’s development of his character hasn’t made me care much for him. I’ve always thought he was underused and underdeveloped, and focused mainly on how unnecessarily cruel he’d been to Emma, so it certainly was a surprise to find myself practically in tears during that final scene.

    What you wrote about Neal was beautiful so I’m going to (mostly) save everybody from another one of my lengthy soliloquies and just say ‘ditto’. Just a few comments:
    – I was not ok with Neal not acknowledging “that he did in fact have a choice in leaving Emma (and not coming back for her)”; more precisely, I was not ok with Emma saying that she did know that he didn’t have a choice. One thing is having moved on and not needing him to be ok with that situation, and another completely different thing is agreeing with him about his lack of choice.
    – I liked the contraposition of Neal’s and Regina’s reaction at having Henry back, and of Neal’s and Hook’s reaction at Emma’s failed relationship with Walsh. I thought it said a lot about the characters as individuals and about their priorities.
    – I was also reminded of “The Doctor” and liked the parallels of Emma/Neal and Regina/Daniel: first loves, had to watch them go twice, the second time had to actually ‘help’ them die with magic.
    – You expressed it brilliantly, but it bears repeating. I absolutely loved the perfect balance between both times Emma has told Henry that his dad died a hero. In season 1 Henry had his memories and knew about the curse and Emma lied to him about his father having died a hero. In this season Henry doesn’t have his memories and doesn’t know about the curse, and he is being lied to about basically everything and yet Emma gets to tell him this one truth, that his father was a good man and he died a hero. It was one of my favourite scenes in the episode and I can’t wait to see the outcome of this when Henry regains his memories.

    Now, about Regina… Like you, I didn’t expect the whole lion tattoo thing to be brought up so fast. I was somewhat ok so far with the interactions between Regina and Robin in the EF, but in Storybrooke? Definitely not a fan.

    More than the ‘ship’ aspect of the situation, what ticked me off about this episode was that Regina was spectacularly out of character during her encounter with Robin Hood. Him too, actually, if we go with the little development of his character we’ve been shown so far. The guy shot her an arrow; aiming for the head; not even asking who she was; after she quite loudly said “show yourself you winged freak” (which certainly doesn’t sound as something the WW would say to one of her minions). And five minutes later he’s shamelessly flirting with her?
    Also, while in my experience having someone I’ve just met get up into my personal space is not appealing at all, I can understand how some people could think it sexy; different strokes and all that. What I don’t understand is why Regina is ok with it, because in every sexually charged interaction we’ve seen so far for her character, she was the ‘aggressor’; in this OOC version she’s basically reduced to a giggly schoolgirl. For a guy she technically just met. Who, again, tried to put an arrow in her head minutes before.
    And really, let’s just stop this super-important mission of looking for clues to stop the big baddie that’s terrorising everyone so we can have a drink, from a bottle we found in the house of our suspected villain who is certainly incapable of having left poisoned items around. Regina didn’t want to lose focus on finding the WW by worrying about how Mr. Gold was brought back, but drinking whiskey with some random guy is ok… Again, so OOC.

    As always, I don’t really want to start a discussion about ships because I know that it’s a completely subjective matter and there’s not really an invalid pairing, as it were. But I wanted to put something out there regarding this ‘Outlaw Queen’ business: one thing that seems off to me about the whole Regina/Robin pairing is the idea of choosing a character that actually has a canonical TL as Regina’s soulmate. We have Maid Marian, who almost died but was ultimately saved by Robin Hood with the help of Belle and a reluctant Rumpel, and who then died for real at some point for unknown reasons. I believe this is the consequence of the whole pixie-dust-lion-tattoo-soulmates storyline being improvised and shoved into the story but alright, let’s say that they had it planned from the start. OUaT has consistently respected the canon pairings so far. If there’s a not canon pairing appearing in the show, it’s either because the character(s) didn’t have a canon TL in fairytales (Red Riding Hood, Hook, even Grumpy), or because their canon TL hasn’t made an appearance in the story yet (Mulan, arguably). But they’ve never outright killed one canonical half of a fairytale couple so far; they even brought back Prince Phillip for Aurora. So I’m worried that they’re doing this for Regina because it’s a bit suspicious and it might not end well for her.
    But then, Soulmate may or may not be the same thing as True Love, so who knows.

    I’m also wary about how much of a choice Regina is given in this whole issue. You’ve tackled in different posts the problem of taking away the characters’s right to choose. While it’s true that Regina chose not to go to the man with the lion tattoo when Tinker Bell used the pixie dust, it seems to me that the message being given to us is that as long as she doesn’t choose him she won’t have her happy ending (Tink even went as far as saying that not only did she ruin her own life, but his too). So yes, she chose not to follow fate once, and this is a second chance, but how much of a choice is it really? The only choice she can really make is to either go for her fated happy ending, or not. It doesn’t seem much of a choice if you ask me. I like to think that her happy ending is Henry; I like that she chose to adopt him, and to open her heart to him, and to love him and to keep him even when she knew that he was the son of the Saviour. Now we are seemingly being told that if she wants to be happy, her only choice is to be with that man and his son (still worried about the ‘replacement family’, too). I’m not sure I’m ok with that.
    There was this interview a while ago where Eddy Kitsis said: “I think that in all life there are the people that are right for you and there are the people that are wrong for you. Then there are the people you just choose.” I really hope they let Regina choose.

    • Like you, I was spoiled for the fact that a death was going to happen soon and that it was more than likely going to be Neal, but I also found myself much sadder than I thought I was going to be about his death. I think it’s because all three actors in Neal’s final scene are capable of breaking my heart, and they held nothing back in those last moments.

      I definitely agree with your feelings about Emma being so quick to say she knew Neal didn’t have a choice when he left her. I’m happy she’s able to move past that pain now, and I’m even okay with Neal telling himself that he had no other options because that feels true to his character. But I still wish Emma would have just dropped the conversation in a different way instead of agreeing with him. It was a small moment, but it did bother me.

      As far as Robin and Regina are concerned, all of your worries seem like valid ones to me, especially given the way you feel about Regina. As you said, subjectivity plays a big part in the couples we choose to root for, and it allows for many different interpretations of moments between them. Which is why it’s nice to have you offering a different opinion than mine on Regina’s romantic future.

      I’m not so sure I found Regina’s interactions with Robin to be out of character so much as showing a different side to her character. I found her giddiness endearing (mainly because, like Emma, I just want to see Regina have more reasons to smile), and I think her change in demeanor is reflective of the fact that they had a past relationship in the Enchanted Forest. We won’t know for sure until we see more of it, but I saw their moments in Storybrooke as an attraction that escalated quickly because—like Snow and Charming back in Season One—they were meant to find each other again and were supposed to feel drawn towards this person they’d already formed a connection with during their lost year.

      The question you bring up about Robin’s canonical “true love” is interesting, and it’s one that I’ve thought a fair amount about because of my love for Maid Marian. It’s my belief that she simply won’t be a factor in his story going forward, but that does make me sad for one of my favorite parts of all Robin Hood tales. I wonder if the fact Robin Hood isn’t a traditional “fairytale” has anything to do with the writers being able to diverge from canon more strongly than with “fairytale” true loves (in the same way that Peter Pan not being a traditional fairytale allowed them to diverge from that story’s traditional hero/villain roles).

      I also believe Regina should get to make her own choice about Robin, which is why I really want her to fall for him in the Enchanted Forest without seeing his tattoo. That way, when they get their memories of that year back, she will know that she still chose this man of her own free will instead of feeling predestined for this relationship.

      • I loved seeing Regina smile and it was certainly endearing, but it still felt extremely rushed to me. Their encounter in the EF was quite realistically done, but I feel they’ve fumbled this one.
        When I first saw the sneak peek of that scene, I had similar thoughts but I know better than to judge this show out of context. The actual scene, with Regina and Robin having just met and him attacking her, was IMO even worse in terms of characterisation. You say you think that Regina’s “change in demeanor is reflective of the fact that they had a past relationship in the Enchanted Forest”; let me point out that Emma, who was in a similar situation with Hook in “NYC Serenade”, took –quite in character– a lot more convincing. And even Snow and Charming, the TL champions, took longer to get to the point where R&R were taken in a matter of minutes; and Snow has never been as reluctant as Regina in whom she lets get close to her (both physically and figuratively).
        I still think that Regina was dismally out of character so we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. But I do agree wholeheartedly in hoping that in the EF the tattoo doesn’t come to play until after she has the chance to decide if she likes the guy or not.

        It’s interesting that you mentioned Peter Pan because I have a different take on the show’s divergence from that story’s traditional hero/villain roles. For me, and this is a very personal opinion of course, Peter Pan has never been a hero; well, maybe when I was a kid I found him really cool but once I was old enough to really read the book and understand it, I always thought Peter Pan was the child part inside every one of us that’s selfish and just wants to have fun. Every ‘heroic’ deed that he does in the story, it’s more for his own amusement than anything else (and I used ‘heroic’ because I’ve never considered his actions truly heroic; they’re not selfless or for the greater good, just a part of his game, and if they looked heroic in general terms, well that’s always a bonus). He’s flighty and whimsical and doesn’t care much for others as long as he gets what he wants. If there’s a hero in that story, I think, it’s Tinker Bell.
        So when OUaT took his character and turned him into a villain, it actually made sense to me. A lot of sense. A kid who’s lived hundred of years without adult supervision, with the absolute belief that he’s entitled to do as he likes all the time, and with no desire at all to ever grow up? Screams sociopath in the making to me. The show took this darker interpretation a few steps further and gave us a terrific villain.
        I never liked the ‘Rumpelstiltskin’s father’ twist; I remember thinking, before the reveal, “if they pull a Darth Vader I’m going to be pissed” but well, A&E are hardcore Star Wars fans and this show sure loves its twisted family tree. And Robbie Kay was absolutely fabulous.

    • I was so eager to defend Neal/Bae, I bypassed Regina’s piece of storytelling this week, but I knew you’d address it so I would get my shot. I agree with much of what you have laid out here and that everything in this storyline feels rushed. Perhaps it’s because of the Neverland back story and the inside knowledge the viewers were given. But I agree wholeheartedly that the set up at least feels like Regina doesn’t have a choice, not a real one. And what bothers me is unlike Rumple there seems to be a challenge in the writing of her character when it comes to this ‘not pure evil’ aspect. What has made Regina an interesting character is her definitive take on the world and her place in it. That decisiveness has been a good counterpoint for Snow and for the series as a whole. This storyline reminds me of the muddled middle of season 2 when we watched Regina get lost in the manipulations of Cora.

      I loved what you wrote about her and Henry. Because unlike everything else in life it is clear that Henry is Regina’s TL. And I want to see movement towards their reconciliation. Just like Emma got that year in NYC. I want Regina to get a second chance with Henry. I think she’s earned it. And just 100x yes to your final thought.

      • You and I need a “Team Regina” t-shirt. 😉

        I agree with the similarities with S2 Regina and her regression to being a bit of a puppet in Cora’s hands. Only in this instance, she’s in the hands of pixie-dust-infused fate. It makes me think of the conversation between Emma and Mr. Gold in “Queen of Hearts” after she and Snow came back from the EF, when she confronted him about the game being rigged (her name on the scroll and all that).
        I think all her life, Regina has been manipulated by people who were supposed to care for her; her mother, her mentor, even Snow White, and Henry to a point. And all because everything she’s ever wanted from life was to love and be loved in return. When she’s lashed out, it’s generally been in an attempt to regain control over her life, after making herself believe that she was never going to get that love she was after, and that second best was power and control.

        Regina has definitely earned that second chance with Henry, and I hope too she gets it. I’m still very worried about the whole ‘replacement family’ issue with Robin and Roland but I have faith in the writers because even though they make her suffer a lot, they are very loyal to Regina as a character and are developing her beautifully.

    • I have been thinking a lot about this whole pixie dust / true love / free will scenario. I mean, technically, Robin was revealed as her true love before she was known as the “evil queen”. Regina has changed a lot, I am curious if that would actually change who the pixie dust would lead her to now. I do think that it is completely relevant to look at this scenario in a way that Regina is seeing what she “could of had” if she chose a different path. She sees that Robin is a good man and Father, and while their family would have been different, I think she sees that she missed out on something good all those years ago when she let the fear get the better of her. And if anything, that should be the motivation for her being open to love again, regardless of if its when Robin or someone else.

      I also dont believe that Regina running away from Robin in the past “ruined” Robin’s life, but it probably did expose him to pain that he wouldn’t have experienced otherwise, so perhaps that could be the point? But I am always someone that doesnt really believe in regret. Every choice you make leads you to where you are at this moment in time, and if thats a good moment, then the pain wasn’t for nothing. Regina said this in Neverland, and Neal has acknowledged this as well “perhaps something good came from us being together” (Henry). So dwelling too long on “what could have been” seems kinda pointless. I dont really know where the writers were going with this one, but its not like Tink had any idea how Robin turned out. Just like Snow/Charming/Belle having opinions about Neal and Emma when they didn’t really know the whole story.

      I also think its worth noting that while it seems like Regina is not being given a choice in this scenario, she still has the power of choice here. Not having a choice would be if someone else intentionally kept Robin and Regina apart (Emma and Neal). They are also not being forced into a relationship, even if the setup kinda makes it feel that way. I am actually interested to see how she chooses to react to this new information. If Rumple has proven anything its that seeing the future or trying to change your fate has interesting consequences. But again, I am still just confused as to where the show wants to go with this “fate vs free will” idea…

      Really I have no answers, just lots of questions, but I guess the point is I am trying to remain open until we see how this plays out. There is one thing I completely agree with you about, and that is not wanting this to become a “replacement family” type thing. It would be a real shame if her relationship with Henry is pushed to the side for any reason.

      • I’ve never been ok with the pixie dust twist. I understand the magic appeal and everything but it seems a bit too similar to what a forced marriage looks like, and Regina already had one of those. That Cora set Regina to marry King Leopold could arguably be compared to Tink/pixie dust setting Regina to follow her Soulmate. She did have the choice to not follow through; in the first case she decided to stay in the hopes of finding a way to bring Daniel back, and in the second she decided to leave, maybe because she was scared to open up her heart again, or maybe because she didn’t want someone/something to dictate her life anymore. Whatever her reasons, while it is true that she does have this ‘yes or no’ choice, it still doesn’t look as much of a choice when so far we are being told that saying ‘no’ means no happy ending.

        That line about ruining Robin’s life was terrible. Granted, it’s Tink point of view, and she’s quite bitter towards Regina, but it’s still a very mean thing to say. The man found his supposed TL in Maid Marian (if we go with lore canon) and had a really cute son, how is that ruining his life? The only way I’d agree with this would be if Regina as the Evil Queen was directly responsible for Marian’s death; which could be the case, since we’re talking about OUaT, and Robin could be pretending in hopes of revenge and pull a ‘Hans’ at some point, or be working for the WW, or be controlled by her, or some many crazy possibilities… There’s that spoiler that says the WW is after Regina’s heart, who better (willingly or not) to have access to it than her Soulmate?
        Besides, I don’t particularly trust fairies. I’m convinced that Blue has quite her fair share of destroyed lives on her back, even if she’s not considered a villain, so I don’t really trust anything that has to do with fairy magic or pixie dust.

        I like your point about people changing and the possibility that their ‘intended’ Soulmate/TL could change too. It’s something I’ve considered before and it links perfectly with the idea of whom I think is currently Regina’s TL: Henry. =)

  7. No matter what anyone feels about Robin and Regina, I think it’s a general consensus that Lana Parilla and Sean Maguire have RIDICULOUS amounts of chemistry. WOW. I had to keep pausing the episode because they were hot.
    I actually shipped Neal and Emma, but not in the romantic way. I adored the scened where MRJ and Jennifer Morrison just laughed and talked. Their interactions always reminded me of two adults who share a lot of history and will probably never stop loving each other but realise that they will never have the same thing that they used to and that’s OK. Their scenes were very mature, very fun and had such hints of nostalgia. I do feel that every time they tried to incorporate a lot of potential future romance in Neal’s and Emma’s dialogue, that it felt out of place. The actors did very well playing off each other as just friends.
    Also the little micro-moments like Regina staring at Robin or Emma telling Regina to be careful…they are what warmed my heart.
    Also I love how there was an emphasis on FAMILY and friendship. Rumple and Bae, Charming and Hook, Snow and Belle, and Neal and Hook. These interactions are honestly what drives the show for me. That and Captain Swan.

    • Thank you so much for the comment! Like you, I was very happy that this episode chose to emphasize family and friendship because those are such foundational elements for this show. As you said, Emma and Neal’s scenes worked so well for me in this episode because there was a real sense of shared history between them, but you could feel that both of these people were willing to accept that the romantic love they had was a part of their past and not their future. It made both of them feel lighter and happier as characters than they have in a long time because they could both move on from the pain in their past, and it made Neal’s fate even more devastating because it really felt like they were about to enter a new, healthier, and happier stage in their relationship.

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