Episode two of Once Upon a Time‘s second season is a complex mix, with several stories running in parallel. Destiny, facing the past in order to confront the challenge of now so that the future can be secure and (hopefully) more certain are themes that weave in and out of “Lost Girl.”
Emma (Jennifer Morrison), Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle), Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin): each faces a challenge that can only be met by confronting a past all would rather not. In the season premiere, Rumple warns Emma that she is not up to the task of saving Henry. She lacks the imagination to do battle in Neverland and the lack of belief necessary to survive the place. In “Lost Girl,” she faces Rumple’s challenge because she has no choice. Confronted directly by Pan (Robbie Kay) himself, Emma is given a map and told that if she can decipher it, she will find Henry. But her lack of belief in herself costs the heroes. Allowing Regina to put a locator spell on the map is not the way. Shortcuts seldom work, and never here in Neverland.
Back in the Enchanted Forest that was, Snow also faces a challenge: to take back her realm from the usurper Regina. But does she have the moxie to do it? It is only when Charming (with a little help from Rumplestiltskin, who after all, needs Snow to win) concocts a way to trick her into a sense of self-belief does Snow recover the confidence she needs to prevail over the Evil Queen.
Then there is Rumple, who has little self-esteem, who believes himself to be a coward, afraid of his own shadow (and afraid of falling so far into darkness he would harm his grandson Henry). It is his self-portrait that he sees, not the courageous man who knows he will die, yet forges ahead to rescue Henry. He, too, will need to understand he is no coward if he is to prevail.
This trio of stories play separately in this week’s episode, but are very connected. The narratives are all about acceptance, self-awareness and then moving past the bleakest image of yourself and letting go of the anger and pain that causes it.
For Rumple, he must finally escape the past thrust on him by his own father. “He left me,” he tells his beloved Belle. Pan has offered him a deal: let him keep Henry and Rumple will live. Henry need not be his undoing. And it is something with which Rumple struggles, so much so that he has conjured a vision of Belle to be his guide, to keep him centered and anchored in this sea of self-doubt in which he finds himself.
What is it you’re not saying. He needs to confront the past and what he believes he is and change the outcome. Belle advises him to let go of the past, the pain of having been abandoned. He must break the cycle in order to rescue Henry and get back his true self.
He misunderstands Belle’s advice to get over the past, and tries throwing away the doll — the last thing his father gave him. He is trying to sever himself from his past, and it is not until he cannot rid himself of the doll that he realizes (if he yet does) that it’s not that easy. The act of finally placing the doll in his jacket is his first step towards acceptance.
But it is also incredibly telling that Rumple rather painfully cuts off his own shadow and tells it to hide his dagger (even from him) so that no harm will come to Henry. He does not trust himself to make the right choice, and if he had no dagger he cannot use it (nor can pan use it on him to become the dark one).
Something occurred to me last week regarding Rumple. He was on Neverland long before he became the Dark One, it seems anyway. He was exposed to magic, and perhaps somewhere deep inside himself there is good magic. I also have to wonder what freed him from Neverland? How did he escape? And at what cost?
Then there is Snow’s journey in the Enchanted Forest. The Evil Queen tells her, “Stop denying who you are: you may be a princess, but you will never be queen.” And Snow believes her. Not until Charming plants a sword in a suspicious stone and Snow retrieves it that she can believe in herself. It is only a symbol — a trick, yet it is enough for her to prevail and show her who she really is.
Her experience can help Emma in her quest, because she has been there. For Emma, she must embrace the painful truth that she still feels like an orphan, abandoned by her parents — so much like Rumple, like Baelfire, like Henry. I believe that Neverland is a sort of cult with Pan as its leader for abandoned children. He takes them up, provides for them, makes life a game. It is a distraction from the pain these abandoned children must live with.
As Pan says in the end, by the time they find Henry, he won’t want to go back home. He’ll have forgotten them all, living in a bubble of a word of not facing reality, pain, abandonment and suffering. I can’t help but think that Emma and Rumple are following the only paths they can in order to save Henry from the cult into which he’ll be sucked. Rumple knows only too well what Neverland can be (I have a feeling that we’ll learn much of his journey as the season goes on). And what it can do.
“It is not about finding Henry, it’s about how you find him,” Pan tells her. And she must follow this quest as only she can. “You can only read the map when you stop denying who you are.” The same is true of Rumple and his insistence that he is a coward, and Snow and her refusal to believe she can retake her realm.
I am looking forward to watching these quests move forward. My questions are where do Regina and Charming fit in? Regina’s advice is sour and misleading. Is she the tempting trickster to lead Emma off the right path? Sort of the opposite to Belle, who is much Rumple’s muse. His tether to the good that is in him and what will make him, in the end, the (albeit flawed) hero we all know him to be?
- Loving the bit of bromance between Hook and Charming.
- Regina’s costumes are spectacular. She looks amazing and she must be having a ball and a half wearing them!
- Really loving Robbie Kay as Peter Pan. He’s great at menace and really embodies Pan as Demon.
- I adored the scenes between Rumple and Belle. Obviously with Belle back in Storybrooke, the star-crossed lovers cannot be together. But it says a great deal about Rumple that his mind has conjured a vision of Belle to keep him centered. He trusts her like no one else, and she sees the good in him. And as she says, he can see it as well. He just needs to believe her and in himself. He is wrestling with his dark side and not giving in to the selfish easy choice. He doesn’t want to give into it or he would have already done it. I hope we will see Belle in this continuing role as long as Rumple is in Neverland.
- And what about Charming’s injury. That’s the same stuff that killed Rumple. How will they save him?
We’ll be talking about tonight’s episode on my Let’s Talk TV radio show tomorrow night. Once Upon a Time airs on ABC Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. ET.