Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 14 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," titled "Manhattan."
Mystery solved! As many of us had grown to suspect after August was revealed to be Pinocchio, the elusive Neal Cassady turned out to be Rumplestiltskin's long-lost son, Bae, and also had the chance to meet his own son, Henry.
Despite many of us predicting the outcome of the hour, "Manhattan" proved to be a surprisingly gripping episode of "Once Upon a Time," mostly because of the intriguing family dynamics at play. Emma was understandably paranoid that her relationship with Neal was all part of some larger scheme set in motion by Rumple, while Neal was in no great rush to reunite with his father after Rumple abandoned him to a land without magic, to grow up lost and alone in our world just as Emma did.
While Emma's initial mistrust seemed justifiable, given that she ended up in jail because of Neal, she couldn't claim the moral high ground for long -- not once it emerged that she had lied to Henry about his father being dead. Now Henry's mad at Emma, Neal's mad at Rumple, and Rumple is remembering the Seer's eerie prophecy that Henry would somehow prove to be his "undoing."
As with all prophecies, there are likely many meanings and many possibile outcomes at work; after all, Rumple's actions on the day of battle did end up leaving Bae without a father -- albeit not as a result of his death -- so who knows whether Henry will simply be the "undoing" of Rumple's time as The Dark One, or if he'll somehow be responsible for Rumple's ultimate demise. Only time will tell.
Watching Emma and Neal both struggle with their abandonment issues was surprisingly affecting (and a sign that they really are made for each other), while Rumple's attempts to reconnect with his son proved particularly poignant. I'm not certain whether he can really say that he's changed for the better as much as he claims that he has, given his outburst at Emma and his recent actions against Hook, but he's certainly made steps to improve himself. Perhaps in time, just as Emma has started forgiving Snow and Charming for letting her go, Neal will be able to see that it was better for him to be apart from his father than to witness the monster he became.
Back in Storybrooke, Regina and Cora were a vivid illustration of yet another dysfunctional family relationship, taking the opportunity to hunt for Rumple's dagger while he and Emma were out of town. Regina still doesn't seem to completely trust her mother (wisely), but she also didn't entirely veto Cora's plan to harness The Dark One's powers and use him to destroy the Charming family in order to regain custody of Henry without getting blood on her hands. It's heartbreaking that she's so desperate to be loved that she's willing to take Cora's manipulative and self-serving care over being alone, but people will do almost anything to be accepted. Sadly, given how mistrustful of her Snow and Charming are, it makes sense that they'll always believe the worst of Regina and in turn, she'll believe the worst of them.
Cora also used and discarded Hook without a second thought this week, so I'm somewhat hoping that he and Regina might ultimately team up and take Cora down, since she's bad news for just about everyone. While they're both self-serving, I don't think either Regina or Hook are inherently evil, just victims of circumstance, so their alliance would make sense in many ways.
Sadly for Regina (and the rest of Storybrooke) her penchant for theatrics might end up costing the town everything -- sneaky Greg got video of her magically going through Belle's purse (there's something to be said for doing your own dirty work once in a while), and that will undoubtedly draw the kind of scrutiny that the town's inhabitants have been trying to avoid for months.
If there was a weak link in the episode, it was undoubtedly Milah, who seemed to turn on Rumple insanely quickly considering how reluctant she initially was about him leaving to join the Ogre Wars. Sure, it's embarrassing to be married to a coward, but that seems preferable to being widowed and having a son grow up without a father. Of all the characters, she's the one who most lacks depth whenever she appears, whether in her treatment of Rumple or her sudden decision to run off with Hook -- she always tends to be whatever the script requires of her with no real justification, and her shrewish behavior didn't seem all that logical from a character standpoint this week. Hopefully we won't see her again after this episode.
The Seer was an interesting addition to the mythology, and a welcome reminder to Rumple that all magic comes with a price, for him just as much as for anyone else. It was a creepy and effective character design, and it will be interesting to see how her prophecy about Henry plays out in the coming weeks.
Overall, "Manhattan" was a satisfying and engaging hour, answering a few lingering questions in interesting (if not surprising) ways. I'm looking forward to seeing how Neal's relationships with Emma, Henry and Rumple progress, and kind of hoping we do get to see one of the dysfunctional family Thanksgivings that Snow and Charming were joking about somewhere down the road.
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.
What did you think of "Manhattan"? Were you glad that Neal turned out to be Bae? Weigh in below!