Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 2 Episode 14 – Manhattan:
I don’t think Once Upon A Time ever meant for it to be a huge secret that Neal (Michael Raymond-James) was Gold’s son, Baelfire. Almost from the first moment he was introduced, fans of the show were quick to start speculating as to this mysterious stranger’s true identity. The flashback episode in which we see how he and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) came to know one another only added fuel to the fire, particularly now that it was apparent he was Henry’s (Jared S. Gilmore) father. Yet none of this foreknowledge prevents “Manhattan” from being the best episode of the season so far. In fact, it never has the chance to harm the episode, as we dispense with the cliffhanger of Baelfire’s real world identity almost immediately, leaving us the rest of the episode to explore how Baelfire feels about his father, as opposed to simply having Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) acting as our only window into this father-son dynamic. “Manhattan” also gives us an opportunity to explore the newly-shaped family dynamics among our ensemble. Gold realizes that Henry is his biological grandson, which unnerves him since, as we learn in the flashback, a Seer (Shannon Lucio) gave him a piece to the puzzle of his future: that a boy would lead him to his son, but that said boy would be his ruin.
The episode wastes no time in cutting to the chase, as Emma chases Baelfire down and discovers that he’s Neal. In a complete fit of heartbreak and shock, she demands answers, at which point he reveals that the reason he left her to take the rap for the stolen watches is because of what August (Eion Bailey) told him – that he knows Neal is Baelfire, and that he needs to let Emma go so she can fulfill her destiny to break the Curse. Emma isn’t exactly forgiving, and to make matters worse, she doesn’t tell him about the existence of Henry. Ultimately, it all comes to a head when Emma and Gold get into an argument after breaking into Bae’s apartment. Returning to make sure his father doesn’t hurt her, Baelfire comes barging in. He has no interest in hearing his father out, as he still remembers the sting of their parting. Gold doesn’t help his case by trying to get Baelfire to come back with him to Storybrooke so he can use magic to erase his memories of their messed-up past, or change him back into a 14 year-old so they can have another chance to bond as a father and his young son. I feel it’s kind of a misfire for the character of Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin to think this would work. It just undermines whatever personal growth he’s made to think he can wave away his mistakes with magic. Granted, it’s not that unbelievable to imagine that the old Gold would subscribe to the idea that magic could fix anything, but it doesn’t help matters if showrunners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz want us to believe he’s changed. Baelfire, for his part, doesn’t want to visit the sins of his father upon his own son, so he makes an honest effort with Henry.
In a wonderful bit of dramatic restraint, Henry takes the news that Emma lied to him about his father being a dead fireman extremely well, given the circumstances. I was expecting several episodes of stony silence from Henry, lambasting Emma for lying to him, and railing against Baelfire for not being the father he wanted. But Henry immediately forgives Baelfire for not being around, saying “You didn’t know.” Baelfire not only wants to give fatherhood a chance, he also gives his own father three minutes to explain himself (of course, he only does this so that Emma can no longer be held to the terms of Gold’s bargain with her). The conversation doesn’t go terribly well, with Baelfire holding old wounds against his father, but at least a dialogue has been opened, and the possibility of Baelfire coming to Storybrooke doesn’t seem implausible, particularly since he seems invested in being a father to Henry. It’s an interesting dramatic mirror between Baelfire and Rumpelstiltskin, with neither man wanting to become his father. This is evidenced in the flashback to the Fairy Tale Land, as Rumpelstiltskin is a recruit in the Ogre Wars, and intends to serve honorably to overcome his reputation in town as a coward, owing to his father’s own cowardice in an earlier conflict. However, Rumpelstiltskin meets a Seer who tells him that his wife is will give birth to a son, but that his actions will leave the child fatherless. Thus, in order to save himself from a certain, though honorable, death, Rumpelstiltskin gruesomely wounds himself in order to be sent home. He returns to his family in disgrace, but alive. Unfortunately, we know that the Seer is ultimately right. His actions will leave Baelfire without a father. Encountering the Seer years later, as the Dark One, Rumpelstiltskin learns of the prophecy of his ruin at Henry’s hands. This is one of the clunkier elements of the episode, but it at least gives Rumpelstiltskin a direction for the rest of the season, as we see him viewing Henry, in the present, with malicious intent. His good and evil halves are brought into conflict. Will he be the cowardly man Baelfire expects him to be, or will he prove himself worthy of his son’s love? It’s an interesting dynamic, if nothing else.
Meanwhile, Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Cora (Barbara Hershey) concoct a scheme to discover the whereabouts of Gold’s dagger. They plan on using the dagger to make Gold their thrall, ordering him to kill Emma, Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin), Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) and whoever else is in their way, leaving Regina blameless in the eyes of Henry. To this end, Regina uses magic to render Belle (Emilie De Ravin) unconscious in her hospital bed. She then sorts through the contents of Belle’s purse with her magic, floating them in the air until she discovers a yellow card with a set of numbers. Unfortunately for the citizens of Storybrooke, Greg Mendel (Ethan Embry) sees the whole thing and records it on his phone, sending the file to his wife, or whoever “Her” is (because why would you save your wife/girlfriend’s name in your phone as “Her”?). This storyline isn’t as interesting as the A plot of the episode, but it provides a real sense of danger to the possibility of Storybrooke no longer remaining a secret.
“Manhattan” is a well-constructed hour of television that gives us plenty of answers to long-lingering questions, while also creating new issues to address down the line. This has been a pretty good season for Once Upon A Time, and it’s episodes like this that will give viewers a better sense of what they can expect, going forward.