Oh, so that’s where the wild things are.
Although tonight’s Once featured plenty of thumping music, rowdy dancing, and barbaric yawps, the episode’s plot wasn’t nearly as driving and insistent as the Lost Boys’ delirious bacchanals. Instead, “Nasty Habits” focused more on character than incident — namely, Rumpelstiltskin’s ongoing struggle to redeem himself, and his continually fraught relationship with his own lost-and-found son.
The latter forms the basis of tonight’s fairyback, a glimpse into Rumpel’s life after his Darkening and before he let Baelfire fall into the “land without magic.” (Unfortunately, actor Dylan Schmid looks and sounds a whole lot older here than he did in season 1’s “The Return,” when we first saw Bae go through that portal. Puberty, you scoundrel!)
The short version: Rumpel’s being all Mother Gothel, refusing to let Bae leave their increasingly claustrophobic cottage. The Dark One says it’s just for Bae’s own safety, but Bae knows the subtext — his papa’s really afraid that if his son steps foot outside Casa del Stiltskin, he’ll ditch his dad and never come back. And possibly join forces with a hot outlaw played by Zachary Levi.
Obviously, Bae eventually runs away. Less obviously, Rumpel tracks the kid to a little Germanic town called Hamelin, which has recently been beset by a mysterious kidnapper. Bae isn’t in Hamelin anymore; neither are the rest of the townspeople’s boys. Wait, does Once have the rights to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Nope — the child catcher here is, of course, none other than Peter Pan.
Wait, I totally buried the lede — Rump and Pan went to Pre-Evil Elementary together! Okay, not really. But they do know each other; according to Rumpel, they were close as kids before Pan showed his true, dark colors and flitted off to Never Land. But now he’s back and planning to lure the kids of Hamelin (plus Baelfire) to his evil island, where they’ll become his very first Lost Boys. As Pan smugly tells Rumpelstiltskin, all the adolescents who responded to Peter’s siren song have one thing in common: The sound made by his sinister panpipe is audible only to those who feel unloved.
NEXT: “Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?” [pagebreak]
This knowledge is a blow to Rumpel for more reasons than one. Sure, Bae could hear the pipe’s song — but so could the Dark One himself, meaning that Rump’s got his own daddy issues to work through. But this is no time for psychoanalysis. Pan offers to let Bae go if Rumpel just asks his son whether he wants to stay in the Enchanted Forest or go to Never Land. Unfortunately for Bae, Rumpel can dish out deals, but he can’t take them. Instead of giving his son any agency, he ends up simply magicking Bae away. Thus, Rump saves the kid from Pan’s clutches… but also strains his relationship with Bae even further.
We’ll see that strain get even worse when Rumpel and grown-up Bae meet again. First, though, let’s check in on the Magical Breakfast Club, which is currently planning its big Henry reconnaissance mission. Their schemes take a pause, though, when new ally Tinker Bell points out that saving the kid will be totally worthless if they have no way of escaping Never Land itself.
Alas, Ol’ No Wings is right. The gang shifts focus, heading instead to the cave where Child Bae made his home. (Hook knows an awful lot about what Bae got up to after he left the Jolly Roger. How is that, exactly?) Since Rumpel’s son is the only person they know who successfully left Never Land without Pan’s permission, they figure there must be some hint in the cave as to how he got out. Everyone does what they can to help the cause: Emma and Hook examine Bae’s drawings. Charming and Snow inspect some carved coconut shells. Regina leans on a wall and rolls her eyes and makes snarky jokes.
As it turns out, those coconut shells aren’t just great for creating cheap sound effects — when one with holes in it is placed above one that holds a candle, they create a map of the stars that holds the key to leaving Never Land. There’s just one problem: The map is encoded… and as far as the MBC knows, the only person who can read that code is lying dead in some unknown dimension. The whole thing seems so utterly, utterly hopeless and unfair that Emma totally breaks down — she never stopped loving Bae, you see — leaving her parents helpless to comfort her.
Oh, they of little faith! Even as the MBC is examining Bae’s handiwork, the man himself is alive and well and tromping through Never Land, having easily evaded his Lost Boy captor. (Life as a street rat will teach you a thing or two about escape artistry.)
NEXT: Father and child reunion
But Bae’s not out of the figurative woods just yet. The laws of coincidence send him barreling straight toward his not-so-dear old dad — and Rumpel isn’t exactly welcoming. He nearly kills Bae, convinced that his son is a vision conjured up just to remind him about his failures as a father. Wait, why would he attack if he really thought Bae were a vision? Can visions even be hurt? Anyhow, the whole brouhaha is soon rendered moot; Bae explains that he’s really himself, and before you can say “Cat’s in the Cradle,” he and Papa are joining forces to save Henry.
Have you been lukewarm on Bae as a character? If so, what follows will hopefully convince you that he’s actually pretty awesome. In short succession, Bae catches a giant squid, has his father extract its magical ink — which has the power to temporarily paralyze other magical beings — and breaks into Pan’s camp, with Rump’s help. There, Bae launches an inky arrow at Pan — who catches it with one hand and mocks his old captive for trying to shoot him. “Do you remember nothing?” Pan jeers. “I remember plenty,” Bae replies. “That’s why I didn’t coat the tip.”
Oh snap! Pan gets frozen after all, enabling Bae and Rumpel to snatch Henry. The kid, like the rest of Pan’s boys, has been knocked out by a sleeping spell, so he has no idea he’s been rescued — but he’ll find out the truth in a few short hours. Can victory really have been this easy?
Psh, of course not; season 3 just began! Thanks to Pan’s big mouth, Bae has just found out that his father has been keeping a(nother) secret from him. He demands the truth, and Rumpel tells him all about that pesky prophecy — which foretells (as if you need reminding) that the boy who reunited Rumpel with his son will also be the Dark One’s “undoing.”
“Oh, the wording there is interesting,” says Bae. “‘Undoing’ doesn’t necessarily mean death. Maybe we should grab a dictionary and really think this thing through.”
Just kidding — nobody says that! Instead, Bae flips out, by which I mean he acts just slightly less laid-back than usual. Rumpel tries to convince his son that he’s changed, and that he’s truly prepared to sacrifice himself to save Henry; Bae doesn’t believe him. He uses a bit more ink on Rumpel, heads off with Henry… and is promptly captured by Pan once again. Bae’s hauled off to Pan’s Pit of Despair; Henry awakens, his encounter with his father nothing more than a half-remembered dream.
NEXT: All aboard the Good Ship Captain Swan…[pagebreak]
And there’s Pan, swooping in to tell Henry that it’s okay his father is “dead” and his mother isn’t coming for him. Soon enough, Pan says, Henry will find new things to dream about. The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up whips out his panpipe to play a tune for his unloved lads. And though Henry couldn’t hear the pipe’s music earlier in the episode, when he was feeling more secure, things have changed. As the hour closes, he’s joining in the bacchanal, grinning and spinning and dancing — at least as much as his rhythm-challenged body will allow. Ruh roh.
– Seriously, it boggles my mind that not a single character has realized that the word “undoing” is purposefully ambiguous.
– When Rumpel calls his son “Bae,” Bae responds by booming, “It’s Neal now!” Does that mean I should respect his wishes and call him “Neal” as well — or at least Nealfire?
– Speaking of, let’s all cross our fingers and hope that Nealfire doesn’t escape from Pan’s house of horrors and track down the MBC next week… only to discover Emma and Hook sucking face. (It’s not a spoiler if it was in next week’s promo.)
– Never once does Fairyback Rumpel bellow “BAAEEEE” a la Michael from Lost; I admire your restraint, Once.
– I love Petulant Teen Bae: “I’ve already told you, I don’t want any more gifts from the people you terrorize!!” Bet he wouldn’t say no to a sweet new carriage, though.
– So did we ever figure out why Rumpel spent the whole episode wearing homemade war paint? Was it just a fashion choice, or…?
– A neat callback: Emma says Bae taught her never to break into a place you can’t break out of. Later, we learn that Bae learned that tip from Pan.
– Let’s overanalyze the sketches on Bae’s kid-cave wall! It looked like he drew the Darling house; what else did you catch?
– Emma didn’t know Bae liked to draw. Hook: “He got it from his mother.” What follows is the world’s most awkward pause. Things are gonna get reeaall weird after that aforementioned face-sucking.
– When tentacles began poking out of the water, did anyone else hope against hope that we might be getting our first glimpse of Ursula?
– Groaner of the night comes courtesy of Pan, after sneering that Rumpel is just an unloved, lonely, lost boy: “Hey, I like the sound of that! That’s what I’ll call my new group of friends.” Dishonorable mention: The three separate occasions in which a character uttered the episode’s title.
– Just for fun, Snow tells Charming — still secretly suffering from the world’s most slow-acting poison — that she’d never get over him if he happened to die. She could teach a master class on unintentional guilt trips.
– Your opinion on Ghost Vision Quest Belle is desired: Are you always glad to see Emilie de Ravin, or still sort of confused as to why she’s showing up at all?