‘Once Upon A Time’ recap: Will Mr. Gold be the one to take down Pan?

It looks as if this long, dark tea-time of the soul that has been our stay in Neverland on “Once Upon A Time” might actually be wrapped up sooner rather than later, and I hope that means Emma and the gang can head home to Storybrooke. Really, I don’t care where the story heads, as long as it’s off this misbegotten island (I’d like to ask Ed Kitsis and Adam Horowitz what’s their deal with islands).

While this episode promises to tell us what the hell is really going on in Peter Pan’s skull (and which may put many, many elements into sharper focus — I hope), so far this season has been a little graceless in the storytelling. Our core characters have been presented with challenges that have done a great job of testing their weaknesses, but feel a bit like they’ve been borrowed from a self-help book turned video game. You need to build a big, stone bridge! With secrets! Sigh. 

Sidebar: Marilyn Manson is in the credits — anyone think the shadow sounded familiar

This week, we get to dig into Rumple’s backstory. It’s pretty basic — Rumple’s dad was a cheat with a bad reputation, and some kindly spinners (whom I would love to see more of!) give Rumple a path to freedom in a portal. They’re hoping Rumple will skip town (and planes) so that he can get away from his dad. But no, Rumple takes him along for the ride and even lets him pick the location. Off to Neverland they go!

Meanwhile, Emma and the gang is hard at work hunting Henry — and, just by luck, they stumble across Regina and Rumple. I get the sense Neverland is about the size of three city blocks, don’t you? Anyway, everyone argues about methodology, and finally there is some more forward movement — at which time Wendy is stumbled across. There’s a spot of hugging between Neal and Wendy, but the reunion isn’t as poignant as I expected, especially given that Wendy got stuck at Neverland on Neal’s account. Yeah, I know, there’s a rush to get Henry, but still, I was expecting waterworks.

There’s a great deal of searching for Henry and, in Rumple’s flashback, a fair amount of time spent revealing what an ass Rumple’s dad was. And then, we get the big twist — Rumple’s dad lets the Shadow take the poor kid away so that he can stay in Neverland and become a little boy. It’s truly awful to see Rumple’s dad yelling at him to go and to be glad he doesn’t have him anymore, but it’s not a huge surprise when the old guy transforms into Peter Pan. He simply knew way too much about Neverland, and let’s face it, he personifies the middle-aged guy who can’t grow up, doesn’t he?

The shadow then reveals that Pan/Rumple’s dad is breaking a “rule” by staying on Neverland, and the ridiculous looking timer on the skull rock is there to let him know when his magic runs out — and he dies. So, that’s the deal, Pan is only semi-immortal, and he figures nabbing Henry’s heart will allow him to bypass his expiration date. It’s all coming together!

This does add another layer when Pan and Rumple finally face off. Pan offers to take Rumple back, to let him live with him, and reminds him they have a great deal in common as crappy fathers. But, as we know, Rumple has decided to rise above. Robert Carlyle does a lovely job playing the conflict here, and I’m sad this is resolved so quickly and, well, easily. Rumple tries to make Pandora’s Box work, but it doesn’t — Pan just wished for it and left a replica in its place. Well, that’s cheating, isn’t it? Thus, Pan sucks up Rumple into his box, keeping him on ice until someone else realizes he’s in there, I guess. I really thought this face off would be much bigger, especially given the prophecy, and Pan barely breaks a sweat.

Of course, Pan (who is always, always a step ahead) has Henry in his clutches as Regina, Emma and Neal arrive to rescue him. They try their best to convince Henry that giving his heart to Pan is a dumb move, but it doesn’t matter. Henry wants to be a hero! He wants to save magic! He’s an idiot! I’m pretty sure this trio could have said something that got through to Henry (you know, like mentioning Wendy is rooting for them, not Pan), but I guess that would have been boring and killed whatever big episode we’re getting next week. No, we needed to see Henry make a really dumb decision right in front of his three parents, then drop to the floor like a dead rabbit while Pan flies above, grinning.

Things are now at their darkest, but somehow this in-between episode was still frustrating. Rumple was dismissed too quickly, Wendy spat out some exposition and then receded into the background, and Henry’s bad decision didn’t feel particularly well-played. I realize that Henry needed to commit fully to Pan, but I didn’t feel Pan’s case was ever entirely convincing — not for a kid who only recently found his “real” parents. I guess Henry, being the good kid that he is, just wanted to do the right thing — even as his parents had tiny heart attacks watching him do it. I bet he’s getting grounded when they all get back to Storybrooke!

Do you think Peter Pan can be killed now? What do you think will happen to Henry? How do you think Rumple will get out of Pandora’s box?