Once upon a time…Rumplestiltskin visited a rat hole of a town.
It’s all about “Nasty Habits” on “Once Upon a Time” this week as Rumplestiltskin struggles with his while, sadly, the show itself is starting to develop one of its own.
Since last spring’s finale, it was clear that the mission to save Henry from Peter Pan and Neverland was going to be the major dramatic arc of the third season, especially once it was announced that the first batch of episodes would air consecutively, almost as a mini-series. It’s an entertaining set-up that I have been enjoying – the evolving mythology about Henry and what exactly Pan wants him for, the character moments for Emma and Regina the past two weeks, the addition of fine performers like Robbie Kay and Rose McIver.
But a story like this one, stretched across eleven installments, is going to require a fair bit of stalling. That’s what the writing was doing in this week’s Neverland-set scenes, with a distinct lack of subtlety. Rumplestiltskin and Neal temporary rescuing Henry from Pan would have made for a cool cliffhanger, but fell flat when it occurred only halfway through the hour. I rolled my eyes when I realized Henry was going to remain asleep the entire time he was with them. And as Pan literally crows about resetting the board, the episode ends exactly where it began – Rumple alone, Neal isolated and believed dead, Henry a prisoner, and the rest of our heroes wandering the jungle in circles.
For the third episode in a row, Emma and her band were presented with a MacGuffin to find or solve, one that almost immediately becomes immaterial to the mission. First the map to an unfixed location. Then the recruiting of a reluctant Tinker Bell. But before the first commercial break, the fallen fairy reveals that she’s actually not going to help them, not until they give her an exit strategy off of Neverland. This does, however, lead to by far my favorite moment in the episode. After Tink (whose name Emma continues to react to with deliciously dry amusement) informs them of Greg and Tamara’s grisly demises, the camera then cuts to a wide, wicked grin from Regina. Beautifully played, Lana Parrilla!
Long story short, Hook then leads them to an old hideout of Neal’s (why Hook wouldn’t have told them about it to begin with, as a jumping-off point or a potential base camp, I dunno), where they discover a map of stars on the ceiling. It clearly will be key later in the season, but since Neal is the only one who can read it, the team closes the hour as directionless as ever. The trek did result in a nice moment for Jennifer Morrison; she really sold the jumble of emotions Emma feels for Neal.
Charming’s dream shade poisoning continues to be a dud of a subplot. I guess we’re supposed to view his suffering in silence as noble, but it’s actually coming across as idiotic, especially when he’s wasting his strength macho posturing for Hook’s benefit. And Snow constantly waxing on about how she couldn’t live without him while Charming looks pained and says nothing is bad soap opera.
My earlier complaints about narrative stalling aside, the Rumple/Neal team-up was definitely the stronger part of the episode. In fact, this was the first week I really liked Neal. He was clever and confidant in his plan to use magical ink from a squid (the CGI of which was pretty cool) to paralyze Pan and I liked how he was able to slyly employ it both with Pan and later with his father. And I got a twinge when Neal, trying to convince Rumple that he wasn’t a hallucination, called him Papa. There’s so much interesting history and hurt to delve into between these two; that’s why it’s a shame they were separated so quickly.
I’m also a sucker for the show’s mash-ups of multiple fairy tales (Rumplestiltskin being the “crocodile” in Hook’s backstory, for example) so I dug the twists in the flashbacks that Peter Pan was also the Pied Piper and that he used his magical music to round up the Lost Boys. I knew the Roberts Carlyle and Kay would be great scene partners and the confrontation between Rumple and Pan really crackled as a result. Also, we learned some interesting tidbits about Pan (he and Rumple knew each other as children, Pan wasn’t always immortal, etc.) that I’m eager to see explored further.
Finally, as I’m getting ready to post this review, one of our “Once Upon a Time” alums is making major pop culture news – Jamie Dornan (our dearly departed Sheriff Graham/Huntsman) has been signed to star in the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie. Never read the books so I’ll turn it over to you readers – what do you think?