Once Upon a Time
Episode 14: Manhattan
By: Carlos Uribe
Once Upon a Time is a show about fairy tale characters who got sent to our reality, which has magic now.
Fairy Tale Story:
It's time to find out why everybody thought Rumpelstislkin was a coward before he became the Dark One. He joins the army in the ogre wars this episode. He's excited to be going to the front lines because he has a lot to prove. His father was a coward and he's hoping to save his family's reputation. He believes that fighting in the war is the best way to accomplish this goal as people will see him as a hero. His wife doesn't like this because he might die but she has no choice but to go along with it. Once he's at the army camp, he's made guard over a small prison cage that's holding a seer. This seer, that has fake CGI eyes on her hands, tells him that his wife is pregnant but his baby is going to be fatherless based on Rumpelstilskin's actions on the battlefield. She's not very specific and Rumpelstilskin is afraid he's going to die in the battle. He decides the best way to get out of it is to injure himself. In order to ensure his son had a father, he crippled himself and became the one thing he was hoping to prove he wasn’t. There's also some father issues at play here because Rumpelstiltskin didn't grow up with a father. Which I guess adds a layer to the character except they really only apply to this specific episode as it hasn't played a role in previous plots. Interesting sidenote: Rumpelstiltskin never met his dad which means he might still be alive and in Storybrooke. I wonder if the show is going to go in that direction or forget about this in future episodes.
The fairy tale story actually works fine up to that point but then it had more to tell. The first is when Rumpelstiltskin returns home a coward. If you remember, his wife was worried about him going to the frontlines because he might die. What's her reaction? She's pissed off that he didn't die because he's a coward now. This is very inconsistent characterization where the show is creating conflict for the sake of it. Oh, and it apparently took Rumpelstiltskin nine months to return home after crippling himself. The seer had mentioned how Rumpelstiltskin's wife was already pregnant, presumably from the last night of sex they had together, but he returns home and the baby is already born. I'm not sure how long pregnancies are in the fairy tale world but I could have sworn Emma was in her womb the average nine months. The timing of the plot didn't make sense. Oh and to make matters worse? Rumpelstiltskin, as the Dark One, goes to the seer and she gives him the motivation to manipulate events so that the curse happens. What's important is that before she dies because Rumpelstiltskin stole her power, she revealed that the boy who would lead Rumpelstiltskin to his son would lead to his own downfall. This boy is Henry and Rumpelstiltskin is now thinking of killing him. It's a random plot development that's introduced via magical prophecy that's also perplexing because Rumpelstiltskin didn't seem to realize as it was happening despite knowing it would.
The fairy tale flashback ties into the Manhattan plot. Mr. Gold, Emma, and Henry have arrived at the Big Apple to look for Rumpel's son. They manage to find his apartment but then the episode makes it's big reveal that everyone saw coming: Neal is also Baelfire. This is the plot move that the marketing department promoted as “changing everything” and “that you won't see coming”. I'm sure some people didn't but I think the mass majority did. Neal doesn't want to talk about his father and Emma tries to avoid the reunion because Neal is also Henry's father. She doesn't want Neal in his life nor does she want to explain to her son why she lied about his dad. It all comes in a huge scene where the truth about Neal comes out. It leads to a scene where Neal and Henry seem to bond right after Mr. Gold failed to get through to his son. Considering that Mr. Gold was insisting on using the very same magic that his son had left him for and it's easy to see why. Mr. Gold might have developed so much but he's still basically the same character. That is assuming this magical prophecy doesn't offset all of his growth just like how Cora's reappearance made Regina a full-on villain again.
Over at Storybrooke, the three villains decide to find Rumpel's dagger while he's still out of town. This involves Regina using magic at the hospital where that out-of-towner is able to capture it using magic. Once they figure out to look at the library, they find a treasure map. After Hook is able to decode it by layering one map over another, Cora betrays him. She's supposedly planning to use the dagger not to kill him but to use him to kill Snow, David, and Emma. This would leave Henry back with Regina. This is assuming that Cora isn't just using her daughter to gain power for herself. It's a plot that's supposed to lead the narrative momentum over to the next episode as the threat builds up but it fails because it never really feels like the characters are in enough of a rush. There is very little tension and the plot still fails because it remains frustrating to see a three-dimensional character reverted to a two-dimensional one.
Manhattan is an episode that is okay. It has it's entertaining moments but there are also a lot of trouble spots. The show needs to get better at presenting consistent characters. The sheer difference between the wife that Rumpel left than the one he came back to is too big. It's simply bad writing. The drama back in Manhattan was supposed to be a big moment in the show but it came across as largely predictable. The Storybrooke story lacked the tension it should have had. Still it was fun to watch and escape to this world-as long as you didn't analyze it or think too hard about it.
David and Mary Margaret spend the episode trying to sort out Henry's relations to all the major characters. From their count: Emma is Henry's mom which makes them his grandparents. Since Regina is Mary Margret’s step-mom, Regina is Henry's great-great step-grandmother AND his adoptive mom. Now that Neal is Henry's father, this means Mr. Gold is his grandfather. I also loved how Daniel forgot people have two grandfathers.
Small little stupid plot point: So when Neal was first introduced, August showed him something the box that proved there was magic and that Neal shouldn't mess with Emma's destine. So what was in the box? A typewriter with a piece of paper that stated “I know you are Baelfire”. Now he could have just said this and still gotten the point across but then the show wouldn't have been able to have this “twist”. The writers decide to come up with a convoluted and stupid way for August to reveal the truth to Baelfire. It's so idiotic that it really took me out of the episode. Gah, this show can be so frustrating at times.
Mr. Gold buys Henry a hotdog. What does Jared Gilmore do with his prop? Awkwardly hold it and not even pretend to eat it. Not sure if this was on purpose or not, but it was really distracting that he had a hot dog and was doing nothing with it.