Once Upon a Time "Manhattan" Review: In the Name of the Father
Oh Once Upon a Time, what are you doing to me? Like a fickle, chain-smoking French girlfriend in a black and white movie, you drive me mad with love and frustration. This was obviously an important milestone episode, and it set up a clear-cut and nicely conflicted trajectory for all the major characters, and yet why do I feel we should have landed here, on this excellent episode, in the middle of Season 1? Should it really have taken us all a full two seasons to reveal that Henry’s dad was Mr. Gold’s son—something you commenters and myself have been discussing as a given since about four episodes after the series premiere.
As many strides forward as we made last night (Henry met his dad! Mr. Gold found his wee Bae! Cora got a blowout and a pantsuit!), you just KNOW we’re going to spend the next few weeks finding out, like, why Smee’s hat means so much to him or why Tinkerbell has allergies or whatever. Again, like a fickle French movie girlfriend OUAT gives you one magical night you’ll never forget interspaced with three weeks of sighing in a corner, writing slam poetry about her dad and ashing into a Mountain Dew bottle.
But I’m digressing. Let’s celebrate OUAT at its best and most ridiculous, because it was both last night, starting with the line, “My weaving days are behind us!” when Rumplestiltskin came barging into his own house with an exquisitely calligraphy'd draft notice. LOL, he was like, a weaver for realz before he became magical. Mila, learning that her beloved husband had been called to the front, immediately started worrying that he'd act like a coward on the battlefield. Because Rumple’s dad was a coward? Are cowards still a thing? Certainly in this day and time we’d interpret “coward” differently than someone who, say, didn’t want to bare-knuckle fight a herd of ogres, and our cultural model for masculinity has more to do with avoiding adult responsibilities than embracing them yeah, even unto death, but whatever. To follow Young Rumple’s thread (LOL he did not look a day younger in the flashbacks, they don’t do shit for age makeup for guys because no one calls guys out on aging the way they do with women, haha I am going to have a face full of plastic in another 15 years and it’s all society’s fault), he excitedly got dressed up in a chainmail gown and went to the front and then got spooked by a Seer.
I know one thing this Seer saw for sure, and that is Pan’s Labyrinth. Look at this blatantly ripped off character design! Good God, subtlety zero, you effing image plagiarists! ABC better hope and pray that Guillermo del Toro's lawyers don’t watch OUAT because as far as I know Esperanto films isn’t a Disney property.
Anyway, Rumple was so spooked at the idea of abandoning his wee baby that he pulverized his own leg with a sledgehammer and then rolled around screaming in pain as only Robert Carlyle can. Hey, Carlyle, we know you’re a for-real actor but this is basically a children’s show. Maybe tone it down a little? Yikes.
It got really long and awkward and raw, and then he limped home to find out that his child had been born, but Mila had heard about his cowardly ways and, much like Jane Fonda in Coming Home, it turned her way off. Instead of being glad her hubs was alive and well, she plopped the kiddo in his arms and headed out to find some new dick, which as we already knew would arrive aboard some tailored leather pants.
In Storybrooke, those same exact leather pants were making tracks around town as Hook refused to modernize his wardrobe. While Cora had picked up a copy of Glamour magazine and gotten herself on-trend, Hook was still rocking the guyliner, lacy cuffs, and slouchy boots of a true cosplay maniac. He, Regina, and Cora spent the episode basically twirling their mustaches and looking for Rumple’s dagger so they could use the Dark One to kill all the Charmings. Sure, that’s a fair-enough conflict, although by far the evil-est thing Regina did last night was go through Belle’s purse.
The crime would have been the punishment if she had tried that with my purse, such a whirlwind of lint and small change and yes, a smattering of boxcutter blades. I absolutely loved the reveal that sneaky, morally ambiguous Ethan Embry had caught a video of this on his phone, though of course with the special effects and word-of-mouth marketing campaigns popular today he’ll have a hell of a time convincing people it’s not just a viral video tampon commercial.
Anyway, now that we’re 700+ words in, it's time to get to the real meat of the story, namely that Emma found Mr. Gold’s son and learned he was also the car-stealing shower thief she'd had unprotected fun times with all those years ago. The element of surprise was not present, because this was something we’d all predicted and yes, even started to take for granted in our predictions for the season. But the show still gave the moment a huge music sting like it'd BLOWN OUR MINDS. No, no we knew this was coming from way back, but the meeting of Emma and Bae and the reveal to the characters was handled in a completely gratifying way, if only because of Jennifer Morrison’s performance.
Emma seemed legitimately shocked and horrified and happy to see her old flame, and the two actors across from each other in the bar made an implausible scene one of my favorite moments of this season to date. Seriously, all praise is due the actors in this case because some of the lines they had to say in a stricken tone of voice included “Your father Rumplestiltskin,” and “You left me because Pinocchio told you to?!” and no lie, that is not easy. Try saying either of those lines, right now, with a straight face.
Still, they really pulled it off and I loved how Bae called Emma out on still wearing his keychain, and she had the perfect response, that it reminds her not to trust people BURRRN. Less successful was the reveal of what August had in his plot-spackle box that convinced Bae to abandon the love of his life to jail.
Like, what? Writers, why are you so hideously lazy? That August couldn’t just have said this sentence aloud is the first thing wrong with this picture (anyone overhearing someone say “I know you’re Baelfire” in an alley would immediately think, “These tranny hookers and their stage names!” and roll over and go back to sleep). Secondly, to see that sentence and then have absolutely no follow-up questions, as you will remember from the episode, is mind-boggling. Also, what does August knowing he’s Baelfire have to do with August knowing what’s best for Emma? None of that makes a whit of sense. Plot coupon NOT redeemed. Plot coupon EXPIRED. Take that plot coupon and get out of my store.
It was touching that Bae had kept Emma’s dreamcatcher out of love for her all these years (cause he sure didn’t keep it because it looks cool), and I loved when she reacted to it after a little B & E with Gold, and that Gold immediately confronted her on knowing more than she was saying about Bae. And then of course the climactic scene of Bae coming in and Mr. Gold being all warm but sad at the same time and big feelings looming between Emma and Bae and suddenly Henry came in and Bae was all, tears in his eyes, "How old are you, kid?" and suddenly Henry started shrieking “ELEVEN!!! ELEVEN Y’ALL MOTHERF-CKERS AAAHHHHH I HATE Y'ALL SO MUCH!!!” Like, take two kid, take two, maybe try that with a touch less rage. What was the direction there? “In this scene, Henry, you’re just so confused and so riled up you just start screeching like a banshee. I want the people two sets down to hear you scream ‘Eleven’. Then you calmly walk over to the window and hop out.”
I’m going to skip over pointing out that Manhattan was green-screened behind them because it’s apparently more expensive to recreate than a legit enchanted forest and talk about how gray and heartbroken Emma looked when Henry said she was just like Regina, who had always lied to him. Emma take heart, Henry is a master emotional manipulator who punches holes in Regina’s ego as a hobby, so don’t take him too seriously. Also, I can kind of see Emma’s logic in concealing her past from Henry because OMG, is her backstory with Bae seedy. He framed her for stealing watches! Emma went to jail for stealing watches! Like, watches!? Something about that is just so embarrassingly smalltime. Couldn’t the booty at least have been like a nice painting? Something a little classier? No wonder she wanted Henry to believe he was the product of a pity-sex sesh with a firefighter.
While Emma patiently endured a tongue-lashing from an 11-year-old, Bae and Gold had a tete-a-tete in which Bae got really touchy about that one time Rumple let him fall through a portal into the modern world (and presumably a life of embarrassingly smalltime crime). How could he ever, ever forgive his dad for abandoning him?! Except, isn’t that exactly what he did to Emma? Totally abandoned her to jail and a broken heart for um, 11 years?
There was a lot of talk this episode about abandoning your child, which literally every character on this show has done (EXCEPT Cora and Regina, who are admirably ride-or-die for their kids), and of fate. I’d like (begin rant here) to point out that sometimes the feeling of “fate”—that you’re fated to love someone, or succumb to some kind of morally questionable path—isn’t so much the inexorable pull of destiny as being caught up in a destructive compulsive behavior cycle, of modeling the behaviors of your parents subconsciously, even if you consciously don’t approve of them. Sure, it feels big and bigger than you and written in the stars, but it's actually just written in your brain chemistry. That Emma was abandoned as a baby and was drawn overwhelmingly to a man who would abandon her and her baby isn’t fate, it's psychology. That Bae is angry at his own father for abandoning him but just found out he has a kid shows is really self-contradictory. Basically every good guy on this show needs to pull their nose out of their own ass and forget how hurt they are and worry about not passing their ill behavior to their own kids—which in everyone’s case is ultimately Henry. Snow made this point herself on the phone to Emma before suggesting to Charming that everyone being related might “mellow everyone out.” Optimistic! Didn't seem to work the last time you were all living in the same pointy house, tho. And who taught you the word mellow?
Suffice it to say, this was a waaay important—if not-at-all surprising—episode, and while there were plenty of ridiculous elements it was definitely one of the good ones. And if the show would just build off the momentum of this episode we could have a really stunning series to look forward to every week, but I feel like OUAT is fated to focus on filler.
1. Have you ever found yourself in a relationship with someone and realized they were almost exactly like your mom or your dad?
2. How long ago did you figure out that Bae was Henry’s dad?
3. Emma concealing the truth from Henry: unforgivable or the sensible thing to do?
4. Did August’s typewriter reveal make you furious?
5. Will Gold try to kill Henry?
6. WTF how did Charming not realize people have more than one grandpa? What do you think he would score on the SATs?
7. What is Ethan Embry up to?
8. How long until Hook finds a men's H & M or something?
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