Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 3, Episode 4 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," titled "Nasty Habits."
This week's installment was a Rumplestiltskin-focused hour, taking us back to the Fairytale Land That Was to show the further erosion of Rumple's relationship with Baelfire, as well as hinting at a history between Rumple and Peter Pan that stretches back even further than we might've guessed.
While the hour offered a few intriguing character insights, it also felt like we were treading water just to kill time. Emma, Hook and the gang were no closer to finding Henry at the end of the hour than they were at the beginning; Neal succeeded in rescuing his son only to lose him again (with Henry none the wiser); and Rumple was still wandering alone in the jungle, haunted by his mistakes.
Instead of actually showing us Rumple's past with Peter, the episode merely teased it, and all "Nasty Habits" really served to do was emphasize that Neal doesn't trust his father, something that was already patently obvious without needing further evidence of Rumple's questionable parenting skills. Episodes like "Nasty Habits" illustrate why many shows would benefit from being 13 episodes per season instead of 22, meaning less "filler" is required before the story is allowed to progress. For Neal to have come so close to rescuing Henry only to have him snatched away again was needlessly frustrating, as was Charming's decision to once again hide the seriousness of his condition from Snow and Emma, even after being given an opportunity to come clean.
There were a couple of things the episode did well, of course: Learning that Rumple and Pan grew up together was an interesting tidbit (as was the fact that Peter betrayed the imp first at some point) which explains why he knows so much about Rumple's weaknesses and his insecurities about his absent father. Likewise, it was a clever touch to make Peter the Pied Piper (should we just abbreviate to "Peter Piper"?), given the character's affinity for piping and hanging out with missing kids. It seems that Pan always had a penchant for kidnapping his friends, and it was a smart choice to note that only children who felt neglected or unloved could hear Pan's pipes, making it even more heartbreaking that Henry began hearing the tune at the end of the hour, having come so close and yet still so far from reuniting with his father. Michael Raymond-James and Robert Carlyle did a great job with the material they were given, fully selling the agony of all the years and misunderstandings between them, along with Rumple's joy at Neal's survival, while Robbie Kay continued to hold his own against more seasoned actors as Pan.
Last week's episode felt like it struck a better balance of juggling multiple storylines in a compelling way, and sidelining Emma and her superfriends in a cave for the entire episode felt like a misstep -- Rumple's story wasn't compelling enough to fill out the hour, and it would've been nice to have seen a little forward momentum on at least one of the arcs, instead of repeating the same beats we've seen before. Luckily, next week's installment promises to shed more light on Hook's past, which is an area still mostly unexplored.
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
What did you think of "Nasty Habits"?