Neal died again, guys! And this time, unlike with the shot through the heart + love’s to blame/ inter-dimensional fall, he probably isn’t coming back. Never say never, but Once Upon a Time’s Adam Horowitz and Eddie Kitsis promised a series regular’s death “for real”-sies in the second half of this season, meaning the actor would be leaving the show. It could be that Michael Raymond-James, who recently appeared in Jack Reacher and has two films currently in post-production, has more interesting opportunities lined up than playing Emma’s fifth-runner-up love interest and baby daddy, and I look forward to seeing him in many, many more productions (like another season of Terriers?! We love U Brit!!!) Still... WOW is it nice to think Neal the character gone. Before you come at me like a herd of rabid flying squirrels, he had a good run, living for 300 years and all. And he and Rumple got SUPER CLOSE before he passed.
Like, in each other’s body close! LOL it was like Freaky Friday except existentially nightmarish! Wait, Freaky Friday IS existentially nightmarish! LOL @ body cohabitation with parents/metaphors for erosion of all personal boundary lines/sense of autonomy! HAHAHA!
I did love that the episode started in Granny’s before the diner was open, it raised so many questions: First of all, why? Why not just meet at a house? Because the Mayoral Mansion is a crime scene and the Charmings’ studio apartment can’t fit five people at once? Emma started worrying about Neal and Regina and Hook got sort of annoyed.
Hook stewed in leather and in silence but Regina was all, “How about we focus on one thing at a time and find the Wicked Witch? Remember how we like recently found her farmhouse? I’m going to CSI that shit.” And Emma was like, “Okay... be careful.” And Regina was like, “I’m all-powerful, remember?” and Emma was like, “I mean a different kind of careful. Emotionally careful: Promise you’ll never fall in love / with a stranger / you’re all I’m thinking of / I praise the Lord above/for sending me your love / I cherish every hug I / I really LOOOOVE you” in the style of K-CI & Jo-Jo’s “All my Life.” And Charming was like, “Not sure what to say about that, but otherwise, how ‘bout the rest of us track down Gold? Except for you Mary Margaret, you maybe just figure out what’s going on in your Mystery Bump.”
So Mary Margaret returned home and called Zelena over, and darn if Zelena didn’t turn up wearing the cockiest little chapeau this side of France. It was straight-up a witch hat. At this point deceiving the Charmings has been so easy that Zelena is basically wearing a witch Halloween costume in the hope they’ll catch on and give her something to do. I fully expected her to come out of the apartment’s bathroom in a green face mask.
She made Snow drink some orange juice which made the fetal being inside her do backflips or something. Mary Margaret was making faces like she’d just gotten on a roller coaster. Is anyone else worried that Zelena has such control of the baby? That maybe that baby is going to come out looking... LIKE THIS?
So the good news is, Belle knows Rumple is alive now. Hook and Emma and Charming showed her the gold straw and she was like “Yes, my man loved his crafts,” and they told her to hang out at the pawn shop and search for clues while they went searching for him in the woods. “Hook will stay here to protect you!” said Emma. “You mean the drifter in the full leather suit who’s tried to kill me two times?” Belle said.
“Hahahahaha!” said everyone else.
“I’m serious.” Belle said, but they were already gone. And Neal was banging in the back door! “Who put these boxes in front of the back door?!” he screamed. “This pawn shop is seriously violating mandatory fire codes! P.S. There's Satan's stamp on my palm?”
Meanwhile in Fairy-Tale Land, Belle and Neal were exploring Rumple’s old castle, looking for clues as to how to resurrect Rumple, so Rumple could then transport Neal back to Earth so he could spend another week or two with Henry. (Let us never forget that in the timeline of the show, Neal has spent approximately three hours with Henry. They basically got pizza in New York that one time.)
And Belle was acting posthumously thirsty as hell, talking about how AMAZING Rumple was for killing himself and his dad simultaneously, and what a hero he’d been, and Neal was like, “I’m getting the feeling you liked my dad a lot?” and Belle was like, “I loved him. All of him. All the parts of him. His freaky side. His dirty side. His dark side. Your daddy could work it all night long all night strong, one time he tied me to the spinning wheel and—“ But then Lumiere showed up and props to the art department, the show conceived Lumiere in a super-graceful way.
True, CGI effects have never been OUAT’s strong suit, but conceptually I thought this was a fantastic way to interpret an otherwise problematic Disney character. Especially when you consider how the staged musical Beauty and the Beast handled Lumiere:
Zut alors! The OUAT version of Lumiere was a veritable encyclopedia of Black Magic. He instructed them on where to find a grimoire with a very Magie-Noires key with a rune on the top and then told them how, to raise Rumple from the dead, they needed to find the Vault of the Dark One. Part of me really wants to mention the fact that conceptually OUAT throws new places and magical objects at their script like rice at a wedding, and that if there was even a TINY bit of story planning from week to week, much less from season to season, we would have heard about the Dark Vault a long, long time ago, like maybe in the origin episode where Rumple became the Dark One, but whoops!! That troublesome part of me is just my brain. You go off when OUAT comes on, silly!! HAHAHA SO MANY COLORS!!! WHEEEE!!!!
At Zelena’s farmhouse, Regina had her head shot at by Robin Hood and did her Chuck Norris-meets-Neo thing where she caught the arrow without even looking and was like, “Oh, this yours?” Robin Hood was like, “Whoopsies, ma’am. I thought you were the Wicked Witch but you’re really the Evil Queen and ho-lee eff you are hot, Your Majesty.” and Regina was like, “Actually I prefer Mrs. Swan-Mills.”
Just as in their fairy-tale flashback when Regina went to take on the castle, Robin Hood insisted they partner up. and within moments he was smelling Regina’s hair and undressing her with his eyes as she tried to rifle through Zelena’s cupboards.
Then he spied some whiskey and suggested they tipple some drinks before continuing their crime scene investigation. Regina was totally game until she saw his wrist tattoo and was like OH NO this is the guy Tink wanted to straight wash me with! Gotta go! And she ran away.
Meanwhile Neal/Bae/Baelfire had woken up in a hospital with a sacred sigil burned into his palm. Emma was like, “Belle why don’t you research what this crazy mark is? I’ll send you a picture in your email. Look for a .jpg from me. Let me know if you have trouble downloading the attachment. Do you want it high-res? Maybe I can Dropbox it.” and Belle was like “BITCH I AM STANDING RIGHT HERE STARING AT HIS HAND. High-res would be nice, though.”
Neal was supposed to have a nice quiet recovery from his first-degree palm burn and fit of Pick's disease, but since a mischievous Hook was put in charge of him, instead he got a hug and some Jell-O and a 10-minute head start to GO FIND HIS DADDY! The hug between the two characters was our first clue that Neal was not going to make it out of this episode alive. Like, when does OUAT slow down this much and just allow its characters to emote, outside of mid-season finales and season premieres and MAJOR LOSSES (R.I.P. Graham)?
Charming and Emma found Gold right around then, but then Precious Mr. Peepers, Zelena’s flying monkey, swooped in and bared his fangs and reminded Emma of all those fights with Walsh about whether to start The Wire or Breaking Bad and the daddy-daughter duo/ Storybrooke’s police force were split up, with Charming staying there to make mincemeat of that monkey and Emma running after a rather hysterical Mr.Gold. That’s when Emma ran into Neal and they bonded talking about the terrible one-off villains they’d dated.
Neal also said that he was sad things hadn’t worked out with Emma and her guy in NYC, as what was really important to him was that she’s happy, not necessarily happy with him. Even Neal doesn’t ship Swanfire guys, just saying.
Emma said, significantly, that she wasn’t ready to tell Henry the truth about anything—let alone Neal. It’s true that outside of Storybrooke, Henry talking about his family tree would get him quickly dispatched to an insane asylum, so perhaps this is the best choice. But Neal was adamant his son know he had “no choice” in deserting Emma. And I’m sorry, I take issue with that: First off, simply bowing to Pinocchio’s will was a choice, not a necessity. Secondly, he told Emma directly that he never got in touch with her after she got out of jail because he was afraid she would be angry with him. That’s a choice, bro! Motivated by fear. Excuses are for mooses, dude.
But before I could start yelling at my screen, Emma got a call (amazing reception, since she was deep in the woods) from Belle, who had identified the sigil on Neal’s hand and had a bucketload of exposition to share. As we learned in a particularly CGI-filled flashback, Neal had gotten the burn on his hand when he used the key to bring back his father, but the cost of bringing back the Dark One was his life—a life for a life. The resurrected Rumple had tried to save Bae by subsuming his son’s body into his own, which is just not a good longterm plan. And Zelena, proving she is really awful, had tried to force him to kill Belle, but this was all too much for Lumiere.
I don’t remember Lumiere having these powers before, but apparently he could hold Zelena in a grip of fire for just long enough for Belle to run off into the woods. Sure! Candelabras do that sometimes? No they don’t. You shoulda used that on Gaston, man! It was what it was. And thus began the long, painful series of shots of Neal and Rumple’s faces morphing into each other.
This never stopped being awkward. It did no favors for either actor, and the conceit itself barely made sense. Both actors have extremely different body types, so what, they wore the same clothes? Their clothes also morphed? Also, two brains in one head sounds more like multiple personality disorder than “YOU FEED THE MADNESS. IT FEEDS YOU” mania that Rumple was experiencing earlier in the season. Like, ONE of y'all, if not both, is crazy. In all events it was a horrible thing to watch. And let me just say, it was a tit bittle convenient that a Bae-Rumple morph did not happen until moments after Belle had explained the whole thing to Emma over the phone.
Neal begged Emma to use her magic to separate him and his father so his father could help the Charmings figure out who Zelena was because obviously, they needed the help. We’ve almost never seen Emma do magic without Regina assisting her, but she managed to separate Neal and Rumple and Neal began to die. I say “began” because it took him about 15 minutes. You know the old rule: “A life plus a life will be exchanged with just enough overlap to say a whole lot of dramatic goodbyes.” Neal got a proper Swan Song, thanking his dad, encouraging Emma to love again, giving her his necklace, telling his dad he was cool after all, outlining which restaurants Emma should visit again in NYC, making several predictions about celebrity couples, telling Emma to buy a Yardgarita in his honor if she ever made it down to Tallahasse/the Florida Keys, etc. etc. It was heart-wrenching but really—shouldn’t Neal have expired a bit faster? The show was milking every last drop of pain from the tortured souls who identified with Neal—a character who has honestly not had much happiness in the course of his 300 years. I’m genuinely sorry for your pain, Neal fans. But also: why are you a Neal fan? I kind of need to know.
The most significant thing about Neal’s death was how much it angered Emma. She and Charming went searching for Zelena and knocked down the door of their own apartment and pulled a gun on very pregnant Mary Margaret, which I’d imagine is way more effective in inducing labor than some orange juice. (Mary Margaret’s reaction: “Whaaaaa? Zelena?!?!? The lady with the pointy black hat?! A witch!? Whaaaaa?!”) They then each knocked down a door to the bathroom (double entrances to a bathroom? Okay, that would make me super nervous, but whatever) to find Zelena had fled. Next week, the episode promos promise, there'll be a bitch fight between our two most powerful lady characters! Oh dear. Must Regina do EVERYTHING for this town?!
Then Emma hunted down Henry and told him his father was “a hero” and “a good man.” I honestly thought she was going to whip out the Fairy-Tales book and explain everything to him—his bizarre parentage, Neal’s reasons for deserting Emma, the truth that she gave him up. But she’s still playing it fairly close to the chest. If I had more faith in OUAT's writers, I’d say this is because we are supposed to understand that his memories of her as a mom are the most important things she has. Though she’s gone out of her way to have amnesiac Henry meet Regina (a courtesy she never offered Neal).
Zelena has the advantage of a Rumple completely under her control. She is also green and knows what everyone was up to last year. I’m still fairly confident that by the season finale, she’ll be roundly defeated. What’s far more interesting is how Henry will get his memory back, and how far Emma will go to prevent or make that happen. The most touching part of this episode was Regina watching Robin play with his son Roland from afar. Clearly she misses being a parent, though it’s an insult to families everywhere to say children are replaceable or interchangeable. More specifically, Regina misses being Henry’s parent, and the question of how the show will reconcile them is perhaps the greatest force compelling me to return every Sunday to Storybrooke, Maine.
... What does Zelena want with Snow’s bb?
... How do you feel about Neal’s passing?
... Were Belle’s instincts (to leave Rumple a dead hero) or Neal’s instincts (to raise him again, at any cost) the more correct, in your opinion?
... Is Zelena trolling Storybrooke with her costumes?
... Does Robin Hood as Regina’s love interest feel rushed?
AIRED ON 5/15/2016
Season 5 : Episode 23