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TV Review: ‘Once Upon a Time’ Midseason Finale

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From the start of season one, I have always felt that in a very important way, Once Upon a Time is the story of Rumplestiltskin’s (Robert Carlyle) journey, his search for redemption from the mistake made hundreds of years before, when he let go the hand of his son Baelfire (Michael Raymond-James). It is fitting that Rumple’s journey (or at least this phase of it) ends here, without magic, and calling on his internal strengths, and the courage he can command from it and the strength his great love has given him to end Pan’s potential reign of terror. This act of self-sacrifice saves the life of not only Belle (Emilie de Ravin), Baelfire and grandson Henry, but the lives of everyone in Storybrooke. As he tells his father, waiting for his dagger to put end to both their lives “villains do not get happy endings.”

EVANS JOHNSON, JOSH DALLAS, MICHAEL RAYMOND-JAMES, COLIN O'DONOGHUE, ROSE MCIVER

I do not for a moment believe this is the last we’ll see of Rumple or of Mr. Gold. Full stop. The brilliant Robert Carlyle is too important a character to simply let go. The show cannot live happily ever after without his presence. Written as the most complex character on the show, his absence would be devastating to Once Upon a Time.

The aptly titled “Going Home” marks an end and a beginning. It almost feels like a series finale (and would have served exceptionally well as the end-end). But in any event the reset button is pushed, and Emma is a happy mom, never having given up Henry for adoption. She has no recollection of Storybrooke or Regina (Lana Parrilla), or even, I’m guessing, Neal.

The episode is a story of sacrifice and doing the right thing, even if it means there’s a very high personal price to pay in order to secure the welfare and well-being of those you love. Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming (Josh Dallas) had given up Emma to save her; Emma had given up Henry to ensure a happier and better chance in life. And now it is Rumple’s turn — and Regina’s.

I really loved this episode (and I’m saying this despite the apparent death of my favorite character). I thought the performances were spot on, particularly from Robbie Kay, Lana Parrilla and Robert Carlyle. The confrontation between Pan (Robbie Kay) and Rumple was beautifully constructed and acted. It had been inevitable, but actual execution of it still manage to surprise me.

There was almost an operatic quality to the showdown. Pan’s seeming victory and humiliation of Rumple, rendering him impotent, without magic and panicked. But then the understanding of what Belle has said all along: that Rumple does not need the crutch that magic provides. If only he would draw strength from his reserves — and from his great capacity to love. Finally, Rumple acts upon what he knows: love is a strength (perhaps the greatest and most powerful magic), not a weakness. And so girded and in the presence of all he holds dear, he finds the resolve to no longer fear: his father, his destiny or his demise. Beautiful.

Where the show goes from here on out is anyone’s guess. There is a preview of the next episode (airing March 9, 2014), and it shows our heroes (minus Rumple) back in the Enchanted Forest. We also see what appears to be Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West skulking around Storybrooke. (Hmmm. I thought Storybrooke no longer exists!)

We know a year will have passed (in human time), because that is where tonight’s episode epilogue leaves us. But what of the fairytale characters? How far back has the clock been set (if at all)? What do they remember (if anything)? Is Fairytale Land the ruin it had become in the aftermath of Regina’s curse? Or are things as they’d been before? Had Emma been born yet? How are all the pieces set upon the chess board in the finale’s aftermath?

The episode is not without its flaws. It was a bit (more than a bit) deus ex machina for Rumple’s dagger and his shadow to magically appear. How can he call them without magic at his disposal? Also, the show has never explained why Pan’s death requires Rumple’s as well. Is it just what Rumple believes — a prophecy provided by his seer abilities? Or is it something more “real?”

I will have more to say on my radio show tomorrow night on BlogTalk Radio with fellow Blogcritics TV writers JeromeWetzelTV and RHeart Chrissy. So, please do join us to tell us your thoughts on tonight’s episode and what you think is in store for the second half of the season.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • WML

    They never actually showed Rumple dying. They showed him disappearing with his father. That was an incredible scene. Not only did Rumple show courage and love, he showed regret and forgiveness. How he takes his father’s head and kisses it before disappearing. As they say, villains don’t deserve happy endings. But at that moment, Rumple was not a villain. He was a hero. And so, perhaps, his happy ending will yet come.
    OUAT without Robert Carlyle? That’s like Spiderman without Tobey McGuire. Seriously, why bother?

    • http://blogcritics.org/writers/barbara-barnett Barbara Barnett

      Completely agree WML. There were no bodies. Maybe they were transported to another realm when they vanished. Maybe R was wrong that he needed to perish to get rid of Pan. I cannot imagine OUAT without Mr. Carlyle’s considerable talent, and I’m guessing neither can the producers :)

      • WML

        Carlyle has mentioned that he signed a five year contract. It seems that this contract has provided him with a certain amount of financial independence. Surprising, he’s always been a terrific actor and should be in greater demand than he already is. I suppose he is in the same mold as Severus Snape (oops, I mean Alan Rickman, another fantastically talented actor).

        Now, if they can only bring back Robbie Kay. He is a fantastic young actor.

        It does appear that Tink may become a recurring character in the future. And what about Wendy and her brothers? Where are they going (or where did they go)?

        I am still not sold on Hook and Emma. Although I think Tinkfire could work.

        • smk

          if rumple is gone, the series is not worth watching.

          • http://blogcritics.org/writers/barbara-barnett Barbara Barnett

            A couple of things: Rumple has had a full story arc: humble beginnings to dark one/regret/remorse and now his sacrifice. I wonder where they would go with him. I can’t imagine RC would be happy playing a “good” guy with no flaws long term.

            So I’m curious about that. He plunged the dagger through both of them: his father and him. It destroyed the Dark One. He no longer exists: stabbing the Dark One through the heart with the dagger. But has it destroyed Rumple? Clearly Rumple will not have magic even if he is alive. We shall see.

      • WML

        It was somewhat amusing that Rumple was insisting (to Emily de Ravine) that his son was not dead, he was just lost.

        I mentioned somewhere else that now that they’re bringing Elpheda to OUAT, they might as well bring Glinda into the show. Maybe cast Kristin Chenoweth as the spritely good witch? Heck, that would certainly defy gravity.

    • calvin

      Spiderman is better without Tobey Mcguire
      But OUAT is really ordinary without Rumple to … just do what he does best

  • WML

    I rewatched the Rumple death scene and I am really impressed with Robbie Kay, Stephen Lord and especially Robert Carlyle. You have the cocksure Pan, relying on magic and lies for strength. You have Rumple, who shows everyone the depth of his love not only for Bae, but especially for Belle. That is what true love brings. It doesn’t make you perfect, but it makes you do things for everyone else but yourself. The difference between the two fathers (Pan and Rumple) is striking. The self centeredness and inability to truly love exhibited by Pan. The strength, the courage, the regret, the forgiveness – the redemptive power of love. It was beautiful. It is in this redemption that Rumple becomes undone but ultimately finds himself.

    I have to say, again, how Carlyle gives a master class in acting. You can feel his love for his son and especially for Belle, You can see his anger and disappointment in his father. You can see his determination in setting things right. You can see, at the end, his final act of courage, after condemning himself and his father to “death.” The act of forgiveness, in how he grabs his fathers head and gives him a kiss. Forgiveness, the greatest manifestation of love. A metaphor for why we celebrate this season (at least for some of us anyway).

    Going Home may be my favorite episode of OUAT. The writers did a great job. Lana Parilla was fantastic, in her own sacrificial story. It’s just that OUAT is really, as Barbara said, the story of Rumple’s journey, that perhaps I can’t quite stop talking about Rumple and Carlyle.

    Robbie Kay deserves an Emmy nomination for his turn as Pan. As this episode more than amply shows, Carlyle is one of the best actors working in television today. What more does he have to do to get an Emmy nod and win? Cast a spell on the committee? His acting was sublime.
    Kudos to the writing team. Kudos to Emily de Ravin, who makes Belle one of the more interesting (if underutilized) characters in OUAT. She and Carlyle really are an electric couple. Jared Gilmore, hopefully they make Henry a more complex character in the future.

    I really like the way they developed Tinker Bell. It’s weird. OUAT started with Snow, Charming, Emma and the EQ poised to become the center of the series. In my view, at least, this show is heart lies in its multi layered hero, the fallen, but hopefully not gone, Rumple.

    This was a truly great episode.

  • Joan

    I also thought Jennifer Morrison was outstanding in this episode.