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ONCE UPON A TIME Has Daddy Issues

Episode 308 “Think Lovely Thoughts”

Did Once Upon a Time just jump the shark? Because it really, really feels like the show just jumped the shark.

I think the show has been trying to be too clever by half. The idea that Rumpelstiltskin not only is the imp that spins gold, but also is both Belle’s beast as well as Captain Hook’s crocodile, really takes things about as far as they can go. Now to have the reveal that we have, that Rumpelstiltskin is also the son of Peter Pan, really stretches credulity almost to its breaking point.

One of the things that has bothered me of late is the show’s tendency to telegraph a reveal. Throughout the season, we’ve had numerous scenes in which Rumpelstiltskin makes the point that Peter Pan is not someone to be trifled with. Up until now, it’s been very clear that they have a history, but no one has said what it is.

Now we finally get those scenes in which we see Rumpelstiltskin’s early encounters with the boy who never grew up. And to be honest, it’s a little disappointing. Because it’s very cliche in that the boy had daddy issues which of course lead to family problems down the road. But we also get the beginnings of his skill in spinning, so… half a loaf?

Meanwhile, The Rescue Rangers pick up Tinkerbell and finally close in on Pan’s camp, only to find that Peter Pan has already spirited Henry away to Skull Island. Discovering Wendy in her cage, they learn Pan’s plans — which is not to restore magic to the island as he claims, but to restore his immortality as a child using Henry’s heart.

The episode feels very thick with soap opera emotions and contrived relationships. By now Henry’s family tree is so convoluted and interconnected, that I would not be surprised to discover everyone in Storybrooke is somehow related to the boy, because so far most of the main cast of characters have discovered a secret relationship. That only goes so far in storytelling.

Despite that, there were some good moments in this episode. I enjoyed watching everyone pointing weapons at Rumpelstiltskin before learning that he would probably be the only one who could pull off a rescue of Henry. The moment when Rumple handed over Pandora’s Box to Neal, as a sign of good faith, you would almost think he’s really trying for redemption.

I also think it’s an interesting notion that Neverland was a complete dreamland outside of existence until Rumpelstiltskin’s father used the magic bean to conjure a portal to go there. For it to become real simply because someone wished it to be… that’s powerful magic. And that the shadow existed before Peter Pan did is also a nice touch. The idea that even in Neverland, Rumpelstiltskin’s father is a rule-breaker and a cheat, seems at least consistent with the character we see in the other realm. But it also raises the question of whether or not the portals can go to any world — real or imagined. If that’s the case, it opens up new storytelling possibilities — if the writers ever get this group off the bloody island.

But one little quibble among a few big ones: where did Emma get the black turtleneck?

Then of course, there’s the moment when Henry pulls out his own heart. Who does that?

Last recap, I noted the fact that Henry seems to be familiar with just about every fairytale he comes across, which is a little bothersome and too convenient to me, but this week he seems most especially gullible when it comes to Peter Pan’s story. He has seen enough in the last few days on Neverland to form a healthy skepticism if he were paying attention. The last couple of seasons have shown Henry to be fairly intelligent. For him to buy into Pan’s story so easily seems a little bit contrived. Plus the fact that through the mirror, he’s seen his family and knows they’re on the island, so he shouldn’t be as vulnerable to Pan’s machinations because he actually has the hope of being rescued.

Of course, what boy doesn’t want to be the hero to save the girl? It’s very likely that Wendy’s story sealed the deal for Henry and made it less likely for him to examine Pan’s motives with any degree of skepticism. Admit it, guys; how many of us have been taken in by feminine wiles?

Pan’s capture of Rumpelstiltskin also has been telegraphed, for anyone paying attention. In several episodes, we’ve been told that Neverland allows you to wish for whatever you want. So it’s not much of a surprise that Pan was able to manage a switcheroo and get the real Pandora’s Box to trap his son.

And that leads me to my biggest quibble — really a complete violation of the story logic established in this episode: the deal Pan made with the Shadow to stay young forever requires that he forget being a father, so all of the other times he’s dealt with Rumpelstiltskin should have been from a position of ignorance on Pan’s part. If Pan remembers being a father, wouldn’t he revert back? Or is the “forget my son” part only necessary to induce the “forever young” spell in the first place? Because that could easily be one of these “What the what?” moments that keep one up at night.

Of course, it’s almost a foregone conclusion — because it’s that kind of show — that Henry will survive, Rumpelstiltskin will escape, and the Rescue Rangers will manage to come together to defeat Peter Pan once and for all.

I just wish we would have been at this point in the story 5 weeks ago. The Neverland arc has been drawn out and stretched for so long it’s thinner than spaghetti noodles. It almost feels like we’ve been lost on Gilligan’s Island. It’s time to get back to Storybrooke.

[Official Show Site at ABC]     [Previous recap: “Dark Hollow”]

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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