This review contains spoilers.
3.15 Quiet Minds
This week features a farewell to a major character, the effects of which will likely be felt much more in the Once fandom than within the plot of the show itself. Mostly that’s because the fans of Once made a much bigger deal of the character’s romantic relationships than the show itself has. But a bit of the blame also goes to the writers, who filled the show with more characters than they could manage.
But first, let’s talk about everything else that happens with week… which honestly isn’t a whole lot. The episode centers on the search for Rumple in both past Enchanted Forest and present Storybrooke. In the Enchanted Forest, Neal and Belle seek to resurrect Rumple, guided by Beauty And The Beast’s Lumiere (who both looks and sounds ridiculous). In Storybrooke, Emma, Regina, Snow, Charming, and Hook look for Rumple after discovering he has escaped from the Wicked Witch’s captivity.
It turns out that in the Enchanted Forest Neal and Belle succeeded in resurrecting Rumple, but doing so caused Rumple and Neal to morph into one body. Then the Wicked Witch took Rumple’s dagger and made him her slave. In present-day Storybrooke, Neal tells Emma to use her magic to separate him from Rumple so that Rumple can reveal the Wicked Witch’s identity, knowing that doing so will cause him to die. It happens just as he predicts: with father and son newly separated, Rumple tells them that the Wicked Witch is Zelena, and Neal dies.
Once has mired itself in the “fool me once” conundrum. In real life, death is permanent. That’s what lends it its power. When a TV show decides to change the rules and repeatedly fake-kill and/or resurrect characters, death loses its emotional grasp on the viewer. In recent memory, Rumple, the Blue Fairy, and Archie/Jiminy have all been victims of the dead-just-kidding-not-really trope. Even Neal has already been fake-killed once, when he fell through that evil-looking portal. During Neal’s death scene, I was so busy going “Wait, is it for real this time?” that I wasn’t at all emotionally invested in his loss. (By the way, Kitsis and Horowitz have confirmed that it is for real this time.)
The death scene is further robbed of impact by its tenuous claim to self-sacrifice. Neal’s death allows Rumple to inform the people of Storybrooke that Zelena is the Wicked Witch, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to slow her down much. Even worse, Rumple is now back in his right mind but still under the Wicked Witch’s power, giving her a powerful new weapon. If a major character like Neal is going to sacrifice himself, shouldn’t his death be worth more than that? The whole thing is a bit cheap and quite rushed.
That being said, removing Neal from the picture isn’t a bad move on the writers’ part. Neal had the potential to be really interesting, but there just wasn’t enough room for him among the huge cast. The greatest loss to the show is the disenfranchisement of all the Swanfire (Neal/Emma) shippers, who, though fewer than the Captain Swan shippers, still made a strong showing. I suspect that a lot of those fans won’t come back after this. For my part, I did think Neal would be a better match for Emma in terms of his reliability, respectfulness, and as a father for Henry, but mostly I’m just glad not to have to deal with that awful love triangle anymore.
So what now? Judging by the promo for next week, things will go on more or less the same, aside from the mourning. Eventually this opening will likely be used to push the Emma/Hook romance, but not until we’ve all had time to forget about Neal. The real question is, what will the fans flame each other about now?
In other news: Regina and Robin are flirting hardcore until she realizes he is the one Tinkerbell said would be her true love, which freaks her out. However, she is later charmed when she creeps on him being all cute daddy mode with his son. Meanwhile, Emma tells Henry that they came to Storybrooke to try to save his father, but were too late. It’s too bad Henry and Neal didn’t get to connect one last time.
Next week, in keeping with what appears to be a theme of genre-inspired episodes, it’s a totally far-fetched Once Wild West Edition.
Read Kylie’s review of the previous episode, The Tower, here.
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