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A Closer Look: Once Upon a Time – “Manhattan”

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If there is one thing that bothered me in tonight’s excellent Once Upon a Time episode “Manhattan,” it was in the long-awaited answer to my question of what happened to Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) during the Ogre Wars. I say disappointed, not because I think the show’s talented creative team were wrong in where they took Rumple’s back story, but because I had hoped it was something more significant on a grander scale. 

I love the idea that Rumple went to fight in the war with a light heart, believing that he will overcome the stigma of his father’s reputation. “I am not like my father!” he insists to Milah. He sees his draft notice as an opportunity to be lifted from the quagmire of being the town coward’s son.

But while at the front, the brave Rumple comes upon information that causes him to act impulsively, on incomplete information, when he comes across a seer who tells Rumple his future. At first skeptical, Rumple realizes that she really does know, and when she suggests to him that his “actions on the battlefield will leave [his] son fatherless,” he acts, not out of cowardice, but out of the fear his son will grow up without a father, just as he had. 

So he takes a sledgehammer to his leg (which takes a considerable amount of courage) knowing he will be sent home injured.  I’m sure Rumple realizes before damages his leg that when he returns to his village, he will, like his father before him, be branded a coward for bailing out on his duty to fight (and die). 

But the prospect of Baelfire (Michael Raymond-James) growing up destitute and without a father is too much for him to bear, and so he makes the sacrifice. But Rumple had not heard the entire prophecy from the seer; he’d not asked about the circumstances. And Rumple’s actions only serve to set off a series of events that lead eventually to Baelfire growing up fatherless anyway, fulfilling the seer’s prophecy.

“Manhattan” is all about family dynamics, mistakes made, the prospect of redemption and forgiveness, and about trying not to make the same mistakes made by the previous generation. Rumple wants desperately not to be his father, who had abandoned him; Baelfire wants just as keenly to stay as far from his own father as possible. The episode also explores how impossible it to escape it from your destiny, at least not completely.

So Rumple has finally found Baelfire, but the timing could not have been less opportune. Caught virtually mid-threat with Emma, Baelfire/Neal, intervenes, seething with a centuries-old anger. Never mind that Gold has yearned for this moment and has vowed to make himself worthy of his son’s forgiveness. All Baelfire sees is a man threatening Emma, the same man who had apparently chosen power and magic over being with his young son. It’s hard to blame Bae for not wanting ever again to see Rumple, and no pleas or promises can erase all that hurt. 

And we also get the much-anticipated reunion of Neal and Emma, last seen together 11 years earlier in “Tallahassee.” Abandoning Emma (and their unborn son) to serve time in prison to take the rap for some stolen watches, Neal, too, wants forgiveness from Emma, and wants to get to know the son he never knew. But Emma is angry, her fury built up over more than a decade. And like Baelfire refuses to hear Rumplestiltskin, Emma refuses to hear Neal. 

Abandonment and reconciliation, regret and forgiveness: Henry and Emma, Neal and Emma, Gold and Baelfire, the Charmings and Emma. And now they are all one big dysfunctional family. As Charming so adroitly says, thank goodness they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in “their land.” Can you imagine those family gatherings? Sheesh. Makes Dallas‘ Ewing family look positively normal.

But I think this crisis point, all of this narrative merging, sets an interesting stage for the remainder of the season. How do these new, fractured relationships play out? Will Rumple begin to redeem himself in Bae’s eyes? Will Emma and Neal get back together? Can she ultimately forgive him? And what of Henry in all of this? What is his role in the greater narrative scheme? “He is more than he appears,” as the seer says to Rumple. But what?

I loved (as I mentioned in my preview article) the beginnings of a real relationship between Henry and his grandfather Rumplestiltskin. I loved their conversation during “Manhattan” in which Rumple acknowledges Henry’s role in bringing him to Baelfire. “You are a remarkable young man,” Gold tells him. 

Of course, we wonder what the future holds for him, as Gold is reminded of the seer’s prophecy “the boy will be your undoing,” she foretells. To which Rumple replies rather flippantly, “I guess I’ll have to kill him.”

But it’s possible to understand the term “undoing” in multiple ways. Does the seer mean undoing in the sense that Rumple’s Dark One persona, always lingering in the background of his soul will wither as his relationship with Henry deepens? As it has with his relationship with Belle, and even Emma?

And will that undoing eventually lead him to Baelfire not just physically, but in a more significant sense? Speaking of which, the episode digs very deeply into Rumple’s past letting us glimpse how he got acquired his gift of prophecy. But Rumple’s prophetic skills seems idiosyncratic at best. He’d not been able to foresee his reunion with Bae, nor his connection with Emma.

As he tells Henry, “Seeing the inevitable can be a terrible price.” And it is not the great gift one might think, nor reliable. “The future is like like a puzzle, missing pieces, difficult to read and never, never what you think,” Rumple explains.

I wonder if when he had been confronted with the onrush of information taken from the seer, whether over time, he had chosen to suppress that information to avoid going completely mad. The way in which he had seen the future, out of context and random bits of information (why do I keep visualizing the Stargate Universe episode “Human” and Dr. Rush’s experience with data completely out of context?) must have been impossible to deal with. Puzzling out how to distinguish “what will be from what can be” must have been a nightmare. The seer was only too happy to have someone else assume her terrible burden. 

I wonder, too, whether when we first meet Rumple in the pilot, so happy to be locked away in prison, whether this knowledge had already begun to drive him mad, and being locked away, solitary and alone had actually allowed him a sort of peace?

Back in Storybrooke, Cora (Barbara Hershey) has a pretty diabolical plan in mind to acquire for Regina (Lana Parrilla) the one thing she truly wants — Henry. And if mama can get her Henry, then she will of course have Regina’s undying gratitude, and perhaps, even love. And how to do this? Get Rumple’s dagger and control him, forcing him to murder the rest of Henry’s family: Snow, Charming and Emma. Regina (and Cora) will be blameless, and Rumple will be destroyed. 

Can they do it? Possibly. But how do their plans play into these newfound family connections? The battle lines are very clearly being drawn with Hook, Cora, and Regina on one side, and the Charmings, Emma (and perhaps Bae/Neal), and Rumple on the other. The outcome will have a huge impact on Henry, and with so much at stake, the battle will be epic.

In addition, Rumple has his future with Belle also at stake. He needs to win her back, presumably bit by bit. His actions over the next weeks will have an impact on her for better or worse. 

Monday night’s Let’s Talk TV Live will be an all One Upon a Time special, and once again will feature out panel from last week, Blogcritics writers JeromeWetzelTV and RHeart Chrissy. The  show will air live at 9:00 p.m. ET, and I’ll open the chatroom approximately an hour before showtime. Call in or discuss the episode from the chatroom with us!

Once Upon a Time will be back March 3 with “The Queen is Dead.” Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her debut novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse comes out October 11 from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • WML

    And this is why the final words from the seer, that the boy will be his undoing, can actually be Rumple’s salvation. The prophecy didn’t say that Rumple will be killed. It said it will be undoing. Undoing from what?

    Let’s say that it means that it will liberate him from his powers. Or perhaps, that through Henry, he finally undoes the label of cowardice that he has lived with for much of his life. Perhaps, in his defense of his family, of his grandson, he can finally show the courage that he has always had inside. If his heart is true, as Belle says, then he may be able to withstand the controlling powers of the dagger that Cora and Regina wield. And if he can withstand the dark powers of the dagger, what does that mean with regards to the curse of being the “dark one.” Will Henry, or more specifically, Rumple’s love for Henry, be his undoing as the “dark one?”

    This is but one possibility. Of course, we’ll have to see if Gold survives Hook’s attack. Drat. Two more weeks.

    A great episode. And I am so glad that the most mundane things can cause so much of what has happened to Rumple and the rest of FTL? As with life, the small things can make the biggest difference.

  • Great comments WML. What a beautifully done episode. brilliantly written and gorgeously acted, especially by RC, Jennifer and Michael.

    Can’t wait for 3/3/

  • Betsy

    Ugh, my other post got rejected.
    Ok, Bae:

    He was angry, REALLY angry. Referring to his father as “that man” and saying he has few memories of him that dont’ “suck”? Wow. That said, I have always, always believed that Bae would never have stopped loving his papa. He’s bitter and resentful, but that’s because he DID love his father, did worship him. He was left all alone – Rumple was his father and his mother and now he had neither. Bae was in SO much pain; their talk was incredibly emotional. I loved how Neal/Bae (not even sure what to call him) didn’t freak out and scream, but was calm and yet filled with emotion. However, that preview – he clearly can not abide anything happening to his papa. POOR Gold – he has no power to protect himself now. Hook!


    Bobby was absolutely amazing tonight; he played SO many emotionss – joy, love, hate, anger, grief, regret………I don’t know how he does it. I just don’t even know how to describe this man; he’s a consummate actor, a brilliant, brilliant performer. Emilie once said that he can go from one emotion to another in the blink of an eye, without even trying (this is the essence of what she said) – and it’s true.


    So much for meek, kind Rumple. When it comes to protecting the people he loves, he was always like DO Rumple and Gold. That scene with the seer……whew.

    I literally CRIED when he hobbled himself – that was an OMG moment to end all OMG moments. That leads me to:


    This is what I freaked out about? They were very sweet and loving, but you know what? That’s when things were easy – it’s easy to be that way when all is hearts and flowers. Sure Milha loved him – when it was EASY for her to do so. The minute she had to confront some “adversity”, she folded like a wet noodle. I don’t think her love for him ran that deep at ALL.

    She would rather a dead hero than a “cowardly” husband and father. What Rumple did was NOT cowardly, it was brave because he only wanted to raise his son and not abandon him. Instead, Milha treats him like scum. This really made me dislike and hate her even more; she only cares what others think…and she’s so cruel, wounding him where it hurts, calling him JUST like his father.

    JUST like in the Croc, he asks if she wanted him to die and this time she says nothing…………that’s a yes. What kind of mother would want her son to be fatherless? What kind of wife would want to lose her husband?


    He trusted her with the location of the dagger – obviously he told her about it. THAT is amazing!!! I’m just blown away.. What an incredible show of trust…….Let me just also say that I think that a comparison between R/M and Rumbelle can easily be made – but it’s one-sided because Rumbelle blows the former away. I’m not saying this because I’m biased, I’m saying it because Belle believed in the man she loved, she believed in the best of him – even as he was beastly. Belle hasn’t even met Bae and she already cares for him, I think. She cares because Gold cares, because she knows he needs him. Milha cared more about what others thought than about her own son’s welfare. I think for Rumbelle fans, this was a great episode. I will also add this:

    When Gold told Bae that he’s changed, he was referring to the fact that he’s loved again – he’s NOT that DO anymore, not in the sense that Bae knew him as. He’s loved Belle, her love has changed and transformed him. He’s trying to be that better man because of this love, this belief……..I never liked when Regina went around proclaiming she’s changed, but this is different. He’s pleading with his son to give him another chance, so he can show that he’s not what he last remembers.


    I’m sorry, but I loved seeing him get in her face. I don’t think he would have hurt her, but she lied to him. She broke their deal and she lied to him – about one of the two most important people in his entire existence. He was already on the edge of a breakdown before he left for NY, between Belle and worrying about Bae……and she pressed his buttons

    Prophesy: I’m not worried. Gold won’t hurt Henry and as I said before, the future is unwritten; people have free to control their lives. Also, I think Gold would die before he’d let anything happen to anyone he cares about or loves.

  • Betsy

    The Charmings really are useless.

    Gold flipped out on Emma and rightly so; think he might not do that against her parents? God I’d pay good money to see that. Good job – Belle is being drugged out of her mind and Regina just used magic against her. Good job Charmings upholding your end of the deal.

  • WML

    RC, Jennifer and Michael did a fantastic job in this episode. So did the two actresses who played the seer. Milah is still a shallow, unlikeable woman. Hook’s perfect mate.

    It’s a good thing that the OUAT producers signed RC to a five year contract.

  • Rachel Weatherford

    I LOVED this episode. Best one. Richard Carlyle’s acting was the best ever. I mean, he’s really keeping the show together, in my opinion. REALLY support Rumple/Gold. They have a chance in this new world – Bae just has to keep him out of Storybrooke and then Rumple/Gold won’t have any powers.

    We gotta get Belle’s memory back. I don’t like this Belle. I like the other Belle, the one who fights and supports and is a strong woman, not – whatever she currently is.

    I think the only complication to Rumple’s plan is Henry being Bae’s son – that’s the only thing that could put a damper in his plans of killing the boy who leads him to his son. I think he’d planned it all along – planned to do away with Henry until that moment when he realized Henry belonged to Bae. And hopefully he won’t do anything to Henry, because if Belle finds out, she probably really would leave him, for good, and that would be the end of Rumbelle, who really and truly ALMOST had true love (that episode where Belle kissed Rumple was causing his powers to go away for a brief moment before he closed that door). And if Rumple hurts Emma or Henry, chances are he will never, EVER be reconciled with Bae, because if the parents on this show are one thing, it’s that they are sacrificial for their children to the point of death, and they will do anything for their children. And he’d force a confrontation with the Regina/Cora faction, because of their obsession with Henry.

    Why is everyone obsessed with that kid?

  • Betsy

    Rumbelle definitely has true love – and it goes well beyond the cliche-ness of this term. Their love for each other is absolutely epic.

    On to Belle. I had and still have a very open mind about this storyline. I was really ok with the storyline because I felt it would give Gold a chance to fight for her and it would be beautiful. I think he’ll still do that, but Belle has been put on ice for now – she’s been put on ice for the whole season it seems. I don’t get it. Frankly, fans are already pissed off and if they **** this up, I think fans will let Adam/Eddy and Jane know it – before they dump the show. Some fans have already left.

    As to the dagger, I saw others raise good points, such as:

    *Why Gold or Belle would draw a map and leave it in a location that could be scoped out

    *Why she wouldn’t have the # memorized (this I’m not sure I agree with as see below):

    *Why would Regina even assume that the # had to do with the dagger?

    I still hope that the dagger they will find is a fake, but that would require that Belle and Gold know where the real one is and that they planted this # in Belle’s purse in case something happened to her. That makes no sense, lol

  • I don’t know if all fans of the show care so strongly about Gold/Belle. I know I don’t. I mean I like their storyline, but I’m not as convinced about their true love as some seem to be. What will ruin the show is making Gold completely good. That will make me stop watching.

    I thought Emma was being selfish in regards to Henry, but what does she really owe Gold? Yeah, they made a deal, but so what? Gold has never done anything for her. Neal said he didn’t want to see his father.

    I’m curious to see where Gold and Neal will end up. I do want to see them form some kind of relationship. But I wouldn’t expect Neal to just accept him. He was completely abandoned by his father. Gold’s suggestion that he could make Neal 14 again was ridiculous. I was a little surprised he would even suggest it – again it was a selfish thought. I’m thinking Gold is not ready to sacrifice any of his power for personal relationships. He is so set on trying to make both work, when it clearly won’t.

  • I don’t know if all fans of the show care so strongly about Gold/Belle. I know I don’t. I mean I like their storyline, but I’m not as convinced about their true love as some seem to be. What will ruin the show is making Gold completely good. That will make me stop watching.

    I agree with this Sherry. I need Gold to be flawed and the perfect Byronic hero he is. I want to see him struggle with being brave and being good.

    I thought Emma was being selfish in regards to Henry, but what does she really owe Gold? Yeah, they made a deal, but so what? Gold has never done anything for her. Neal said he didn’t want to see his father.

    She owes Gold nothing at all (well, except he was the one who arranged for Henry to come to Storybrooke in the first place and allowed them to reunite). I think she’s fulfilled her deal with Gold (and I think Gold thinks so as well). I do think she owes Henry the opportunity to know his father, and I agree about the selfishness. I loved JM in this episode. I think it was one of her best to date.

    I’m curious to see where Gold and Neal will end up. I do want to see them form some kind of relationship. But I wouldn’t expect Neal to just accept him.
    I don’t think that will happen. Too pat.

    He was completely abandoned by his father. Gold’s suggestion that he could make Neal 14 again was ridiculous. I was a little surprised he would even suggest it – again it was a selfish thought.

    Ah, his old fallback position to use magic. It’s what got him into trouble in the first place. I thought it was a silly idea (and I think it speaks of Gold’s having no actual idea how to be a father to Bae. After all, Bae has only been this idealized idea in Gold’s mind for centuries)

    I’m thinking Gold is not ready to sacrifice any of his power for personal relationships. He is so set on trying to make both work, when it clearly won’t.

    and it won’t work with Belle, either.

    I have to say, I do like the RumBelle relationship, but it’s not the whole force of my enjoyment of the show. I’m an unabashed Rumple-er. I think he’s the most interesting character on the show, with his tentacles everywhere and in everything. I like him conflicted and flawed, and I admit also like him suffering.

  • Patti

    I hope this is ok since this seems more like a rumple blog then a general show one but for me this episode was ruled by Michael Raymond James. He nailed every single scene and emotion.as always Robert Carlyle is a great actor but for once I didn’t care about ftl and was somewhat blah about him/milah and that backstory. Up until the henry prophecy reveal. I wanted to be in the present with Neal/Bae, Emma, and Henry. I love that Neal is Bae. I also figured Henry’s dad might be Bae but until meeting Neal, I didn’t get on board. Once we met Neal I wanted it. Michael,Jared and Jennifer killed it in the dad reveal scene. Henry’s little broken voice, Neal’s reaction was perfect. Kudos to Jennifer and Michael on their chemistry. I love the Neal and Rumplestilstkin confrontation. I totally understood and sided with Neal/Bae’s anger. Really didn’t feel Rumple was showing him change. He hasn’t earned the forgiveness yet. Kudos to Michael for the Rumple imitation.

  • Kelly

    Favorite parts – 1.Michael Raymond James’s performance 2.Jennifer Morrison and MRJ’s chemistry, 3.Henry’s cracking voice and Neal’s reaction to finding out about Henry 4. Neal/Bae confronting Rumple 5. Balcony scene between Neal/Henry 6. Charming’s thanksgiving line.

    I loved Neal/Bae’s anger at Rumple. He noted his overriding rememberance of the dark one and tells rumple he was once a good man. Rumple did not think this through. He once told bae his happiness was most important he didn’t honor that in the past and now in the present too. He didn’t care about what neal was going through with henry, he wanted his time then his crazy plan. Loved Neal’s reaction about not wanting to be fourteen and doing rumple’s flourish. It was all brilliant.

  • Patti–I totally agree! This was mainly Rumple’s back story and the beginnings of Bae’s life with him, but Michael did a brilliant job going toe to toe with RC. That scene (and you are so right, Kelly) bet Gold and Neal is very powerful (and we’ll talk it about on the show tonight for sure).

    Assured this is NOT a Rumple blog, but an entertainment magazine, and this is an article in that magazine 🙂

    Yes, I’m a fan of Rumple (not ashamed of that either) and of RC’s but Michael R-J was phenomenal as was Jen Morrison. I really think she has come into her own this season on Once.

  • WML

    Interesting talk last night. Do you know when Barbara Hershey’s turn at OUAT will be over? She’s been great as Cora and it’s great to see the interaction between mother and daughter. It appears to me that Regina is doing her best to please mom, that her approval means a lot to Regina. Kind of a love hate relationship that can be found in many families.

    I read somewhere else this intersting theory. That after Gold is stabbed, he is brought to the Storybrooke Hospital (with Neal going to Storybrooke). And it is perhaps this stay in the hospital that will start the rebonding of Rumple and Belle. I must confess that I did not look at it from that angle, and maybe that thought has a lot of merit.

    Needless to say, Manhattan has been the apex of OUAT so far this season, especially from an acting standpoint. The remainder of the season looks really promising.