In the enchanted past, Rumpy is excited to serve in the King's army during whichever Ogre War that was. He wasn't always a coward, but apparently he started life as the son of one. He and Milah agree that joining the army is his big chance to prove himself. Before he leaves, Milah encourages him to be brave and fight honorably. After he has served, they can start the family of which they've always dreamed.
While with the army, Rumpy meets a prisoner -- a seer -- who changes his life in all the worst ways. Although she is but a little girl, her eyes have been cut out of her head, and she has magical eyeballs embedded in her palms, which I can't discuss without gagging, so that's all you're getting about that. The seer tells Rumpy that Milah is pregnant, but because of his coming actions on the battlefield, their son will be fatherless. When Rumpy asks the girl what he can do to avoid his fate, she tells him the truth: nothing. Too bad Rumpy didn't watch Joss Whedon's Angel, because he needs to learn that if nothing we do matters, all that matters is what we do.
Like most of us, Rumpy proves to be his own undoing. He hobbles himself to escape service. Once he limps all the way home, he is met by a disgusted and disappointed Milah, who is holding their newborn son in her arms. When Rumpy says Baelfire is a good strong name, Milah hisses that the boy will need it, considering his father is such a sissy.
Years later, after Baelfire has left L'enchantement, Rumpy (now the Dark One) meets up with the seer again. Although she can tell him he will see Bae again, years from now, she cannot provide the specifics Rumpy wants, so he takes her powers from her, only to realize what a curse they are. He is overwhelmed by knowledge of the future and can make no sense of it.
Storybrooke. Present. Hook wants to go to New York and kill Rumpy, but Cora has other plans. She tells Hook and Regina that while Rumpy is out of town, they need to find the Dark One dagger. Then they can control him. Regina goes to Belle's hospital room, magically puts her to sleep, then magically rifles through Belle's purse. When the contents float before Regina, she grabs a yellow index card. On it is the number 915.63.
The evil troika goes to the library and, thanks to the Dewey Decimal system, they find a drawing hidden in the stacks (915 is Geography and Travel; Asia). Pirate that he is, Hook instantly recognizes it as a treasure map. He lays it over a map of Storybrooke, and shows Cora and Emma the location of the dagger. Cora tells Hook that she and Regina will take it from there. Hook understandably objects, so Cora whammies him across the room. Regina asks her mother if getting the dagger and Rumpy's powers was Cora's goal all along. Cora's answer, while less than direct, satisfies Regina. If they possess the dagger, they control Rumpy, which means they can make him kill Emma, Snow and Charming, but Regina will be blameless in Henry's eyes. Regina, this could be your undoing.
As a side note, the funniest scene of the night is a small one between Snow and Charming. When Emma calls and tells them that Rumpy's son is Henry's father, the couple tries to figure out Henry's family tree. My son and I had that conversation, almost to the word (including the confusing bit about Regina being Henry's step-great grandmother rather than just his step-grandmother) during a commercial break. Well done, Show. I should also mention here that by episode's end, Gregor Mendel places a phone call to someone on the outside (undoubtedly Her) and shares a video of Regina standing in front of Belle's levitating belongings. Dun dun dun! I hope he doesn't put it on YouTube.
Manhattan. Present. When Gold, Emma and Henry arrive at Bae's apartment, Emma puzzles out which one is his, rings the bell and pretends to be UPS. Rather than buzzing her in, Bae flees. Emma chases after him. Once she finally catches up to him and sees that Baelfire is also Neal, she is floored, because even when you're Princess Savior, it's not every day you learn you've given birth to Rumpelstiltskin's grandson. Jennifer Morrison mines priceless emotional gems throughout this episode and if we DQ the impossible Robert Carlyle, she is the episode's MVP (the entire cast brings its A game). Bae doesn't want to see his father and although he's disturbed to learn Emma made a deal with the Dark One, he persuades her to lie that she was unable to find him.
Emma does lie to Gold, but he hasn't come all this way for nothing, so he insists upon breaking into Bae's apartment. While the threesome is poring over Bae's belongings, Emma is taken aback when she spots the dream catcher that, Once Upon A Time she and Neal found in that motel room. Gold realizes Emma is covering something. He demands the truth, and when Emma doesn't give it to him, he gets loud and threatening. Bae bursts in to save her from the consequences of breaking a deal.
During the conversation, Henry (who had been banished to the bathroom) wanders in. It's not long before Bae realizes that Henry is his son. Henry is heartbroken that Emma lied to him about his father, and hops out onto the fire escape. When she apologizes to Henry, he tells her she is as bad as Regina. Adolescent hyperbole or not, that's gotta sting. Meanwhile, Rumpy and Bae talk. Don't expect them to go fishing or play catch, any time soon.
Emma tells Bae that Henry wants to meet him, but cautions him not to break the boy's heart. After they trade accusations, Bae acknowledges they're both messed up, but they have to try not to mess up their son. Emma agrees. Once he's out on the fire escape with Henry, Bae tells the boy he's sorry it took so long for them to meet. Henry says, "It's okay. You didn't know."
Back in the enchanted past, the fallen seer tells Rumpy that over time, he will learn how to piece together the puzzle -- how to discern between what can happen and what will. As the grateful seer is dying, she offers him one last bit of information: a boy will be responsible for reuniting Rumpy and Bae, but that boy is more than he appears. He will lead Rumpy to what he seeks, but there will be a price; the boy will be his undoing. Rumpy shrugs this off. "Then I'll just have to kill him."
Manhattan. Present. Looking through the window, Rumpy watches his son and grandson -- his undoing.
Except for a couple of clunky moments (Emma's line where she asks Gold if his son is expecting them, and the revelation of what August showed Neal that convinced him to leave Emma) "Manhattan" may be Once Upon A Time at its best. I'm sitting here, listening to the wind howl, staring at the ice blue sky and thinking about destiny, free will and how often I am my own undoing. I've seen comments berating the Baelfire is Neal revelation as predictable, but shocking twists are not what draws us to fairy tales. Fairy tales tell us who we are and why -- how we should be, and what we need to do to make it come true. They're about faith, love, fear, pain, fate, choice, and in this case, redemption. They're about the journey.
I have so much I want to say about this episode, but I think I have to save it for the full recap to come later this week. In the meantime, please grade the episode at the top of the page and then come on over to the forum, where we're nursing Hook back to health.
"Manhattan" is about self-fulfilling prophecy, how we are often our own undoing, and how we need to learn to discern between fate and free will. I've read a lot of comments from people who are dislike the fate or destiny focus in "Manhattan," but our genre is Fairy Tales, so it would be odd to me, were fate to play no part (or even a smaller part) in these stories.
To discuss this episode, I have to delve a little into religious thought -- specifically some Christian (and I think Judeo-Christian) thought. I am religious, but please know I'm not trying to proselytize here. I'm trying to explain how I understand free will in the face of fate and am speaking only of my own understanding. I am not trying to tell you how to understand the world, but I hope I can explain how I think fate and destiny are used in Once Upon A Time.
In my understanding of God, God is, among other things, omniscient and omnipotent. What's more I believe that God's will will ultimately be done. I'm trying not to quote Whistler's speech from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, "Becoming, Part I," but am having little luck because I keep hearing him say, "What are we -- helpless? Puppets?" No. I don't think so. I think we have free will. Whistler would tell you, "The big moments are going to come. You can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that counts. That's when you find out who you are." And in my understanding of how it works, because God's will will come to pass, it is down to us to decide if we're going to work to further that, or if we will oppose it. In other words, we have to pick a team. It matters what we do after (and before and during) the big moments -- which are out of our control.
In the cosmology of Once Upon A Time, True Love serves as the deity -- a.k.a., the most powerful magic of all. Certain things are fated to happen, but that doesn't mean the characters are puppets. It is up to them whether they will work for Team Love or Team Evil. When people say hate is the opposite of love, they're often corrected by those who believe that hatred is passion gone wrong, and that indifference is love's true opposite. I hate to get in the middle of all that, so let's look at it a little differently: If True Love (emphasis on true is intentional and doesn't have to mean romantic love) is the ultimate good, then its opposite is Evil.