“To hell with the cost!”Neal Cassidy
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Michael Raymond-James, Jared S. Gilmore, and Robert Carlyle.
This episode highlighted several key relationships throughout the instalment, which largely focussed upon Neal, Rumple, Belle and Emma. The premise of the Wicked Witch’s curse continues to be a key strength as the quest to bring her down remains as a undercurrent but doesn’t wholly dominate proceedings. The episode continues to develop this storyline, however, with the Storybrooke inhabitants finally discovering Zelena’s true identity, helping to protect Snow for now.
Throughout the instalment were delightful character moments, such as Neal and Hook’s sweet interaction in which they made up after their squabbling in the previous half of the season. It is easy to forget their history, so it was nice for the pair to make up, especially considering the later events. Also disarming were the seeds of Regina and Robin’s relationship. Harking back to events earlier in the season really helps to instil faith in the writers that they have a cohesive master plan, even if it might not initially be obvious – it definitely appears more together in the latter part of the season compared to the meandering tangents we took in Neverland.
Listing all of the sweet interactions throughout the episode would be almost impossible: they are strewn throughout. Of particular note is the bonding that Emma and Neal do about their respective pasts and their relationship with each other before, of course, Emma faces a horrendous decision. This leads us to the big shocking moment of the episode: Neal’s death.
It is a testament to the bravery of the creatives that they are willing to get rid of core characters in such a final manner, instead of having them fade into obscurity like some of our old regulars have done (looking at you, Ruby). Ultimately, it is a fitting conclusion for Neal. His character had run out of storylines to pursue. His presence within the show was informed by his relationship to his father, and without Rumple around, there’s nothing much left for him to do. His story arc was tied into Rumple’s feelings of guilt at having abandoned him and now that Rumple had died a hero, so too had Neal’s storyline come to a close. Though the show could have pursued the ongoing effects of Neal’s relationship with Emma and Henry, he never really made too much of an impact upon the show as a whole, despite Michael Raymond-James’ delightful portrayal.
The impact of Neal’s death is somewhat hampered, however. Though the episode really knuckled down on the emotional moments as he died, and Jennifer Morrison, Robert Carlyle and Michael Raymond-James really knocked those scenes out of the park, it was really hard to feel too bad or upset that this has happened. Part of this is for the aforementioned lack of impact that Neal really had upon the wider show, which is still slightly odd considering his massive narrative importance. Ultimately, Neal never really did live up to Baelfire, who was so plucky and fiercely independent that Neal’s brooding adult angst couldn’t quite hold up to it.
Moreover, Neal has been absent from the show for a couple of episodes now, and it has been a while since he has been meaningfully featured, which means that the audience has slightly forgotten their attachment to him. When he does appear as he does here, it’s hard not to feel as if he’s behaving slightly out of character. The idea of Rumple and Neal being fused into one being is brilliantly creative, and it successfully manages to resurrect Rumple without the audience feeling cheated. Ultimately, however, it just doesn’t make that much sense that Neal would go to such extreme lengths to revive Rumple.
Neal’s attempt to bring his father back to life makes human sense. Who wouldn’t do that if they were given the chance? The writers really had a brilliant opportunity here to explore Neal’s feelings of denial over his father’s death, as well as his feelings of guilt and regret at not having made up with him sooner, bearing in mind his heroic sacrifice. However, Neal going against what happened to try and bring his father back doesn’t make narrative sense apart from writing Michael Raymond-James out and keeping Robert Carlyle in the cast. Neal’s entire storyline has revolved around his abhorrence of magic and the significant costs that it has, and his desire to get back to Henry and his belief that Rumple can help him achieve that just isn’t compelling enough. What’s more, considering Neal’s profound distrust of magic in the first place, it seems strange that he wouldn’t have thought through the exact consequences of the resurrection. His desperation to return to Henry also doesn’t seem to match up with the feelings that we have seen of him so far in his experience in the Enchanted Forest, so it all seems a little too convenient a plot contrivance, as tragic as it is.
The worst part of it is, it makes Neal seem foolish, and now his character is forever marked as a character who underestimated the cost of magic. This is bizarrely out of keeping with Neal and Baelfire’s wariness and awareness of the dangers of using magic, so it seems strange that he would throw himself into it just out of his own desperation. These small irritations make it difficult to feel anything more than annoyed that Neal is now dead and, despite the tearful scene at the close of the episode between Emma and Henry (who doesn’t even remember Neal and will be unable to mourn him properly), it’s doubtful whether or not Neal’s absence will actually make a palpable dent in the show moving forward.
This aside, the episode was engaging. The pacing of the Wicked Witch storyline seems to be working nicely, as Zelena’s true identity is revealed. This is helpful at keeping the audience engaged without too much misunderstanding from the main cast. It’s always frustrating when the audience know something that the characters don’t, so it’s wise of the writers to keep our characters up to date and the plot moving purposefully forward.
This episode was also visually stunning. The Vancouver mountains where the Dark One’s crypt scenes were shot was brilliantly atmospheric, and the effects used to achieve Rumple’s resurrection were excellent. The snow in the background of the Storybrooke scenes is also gorgeous and adds a completely different colour palette and feel to these scenes.
- Belle and Neal are led to the Dark One’s vault, where they can restore him to life.
- Ignoring the costs, Neal brings Rumple back, to discover they have been tricked by Zelena and Neal must trade his life for Rumple’s.
- To save Neal’s life, Rumple absorbs him into his body.
- Rumple/Neal flee from the Wicked Witch, and Emma manages to separate the two, causing Neal’s death.
- Rumple reveals The Wicked Witch’s identity to Emma.
- It’s slightly disappointing that Emma plans on returning to New York as soon as this business is over to carry on living her “normal” life with Henry. It would be alright if they were to unpack this rejection of her family in Snow and Charming, but I’m not confident that it will actually be properly explored.
- Poor Belle. The writers just do absolutely nothing with her unless Rumple is involved. She has no meaningful connection with any other member of the core group, and it seems that it’s even the first time that she’s interacted with Hook all season, as she points out that he tried to kill her – twice – and that happened at least a season or so ago. Jeez, writers. Use her better, for Christ’s sake!
- It’s curious that Zelena doesn’t seem to care that Rumple has revealed her identity to the Charmings. She says that it doesn’t matter anymore, but what did she actually achieve in her short time as Snow’s midwife? Anything of particular note?
- Charming and Emma are going to feel so stupid when they now have to fit locks back onto their bathroom. Speaking of which, why does their bathroom have two doors so close together?
- What was up with those random people walking through shot when Emma was telling Henry about his father? Also, isn’t Henry going to be a tiny bit worried by the revelation that his father was murdered and that you haven’t caught his killer? Surely if you’re going to lie to the kid, you could reveal all of this stuff to him once his memory is, eventually, restored.
- Regina discovering Robin’s identity was wonderful, and her reaction was hugely in keeping with what we’ve seen from her before. Her fear of love is making this slow burn romance more satisfying, and Lana Parrilla and Sean Maguire have heaps of chemistry (though, at this point, I think that Parrilla would probably have insane chemistry with a bag of flour, such is her talent).
- Only one small spot of janky CGI this episode, which was Zelena’s overlooking of the city, though even that was quite beautiful and far more realistic than some of our Enchanted Forest interiors.
- What on earth was Belle wearing in the Enchanted Forest flashbacks? Some weird ruffled blazer and tights? She must have been freezing the entire time the poor girl.
- Also, why did she bother taking Lumiere with her when she left the glade? Rumple wasn’t moving very fast to kill her on the Wicked Witch’s orders.
- I wonder what the Wicked Witch stands to gain from having Rumple on her side. She clearly engineered his resurrection for a reason. She has little reason to have killed Neal, so I wonder what advantage he grants to her in her master plan.
An emotional and engaging episode, which doesn’t cheapen Rumple’s sacrifice in his resurrection and continues to explore Rumple and Bae’s bond.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.