In which we say a final goodbye to a member of the Once family. Probably.
Credit: Katie Yu/ABC

Perhaps there’s no need for that question mark. After all, way back in January, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz swore that a Once series regular would die “for real” in the second half of season 3 — meaning no takebacks, no reversals, and no 11th-hour resurrections.

That said: Considering Once‘s history, I’m still not totally convinced that this is the One True Death we were promised. For every really, most sincerely dead character on this show (Cora, Pan, Sheriff Skinnyjeans), there’s one whose death stuck about as well as an old Post-It note (the Blue Fairy, Rumpel, Prince Phillip). Until we see Emma spreading Neal’s ashes in a Tallahassee swamp, I will refuse to believe that there isn’t the slightest possibility of him returning just in time to make the twisted Charming/White/’Stiltskin family tree whole again. [UPDATE: Eddy and Adam say that Neal is 100 percent for realsies dead. Guess that settles that.]

If he is gone for good, though, let’s take a moment of silence to remember dearly departed Nealfire: the noble mumbler who inadvertently spearheaded Once‘s master plot. (If he hadn’t been sucked through a portal to Earth, Rumpel never would have devoted his life to finding his son, which means Regina never would have gotten her evil little hands on a certain Dark Curse.) While his passing may be celebrated by Captain Swan ‘shippers, the rest of us will miss the grounding influence he brought to Once — in no small part because Michael Raymond-James never looked totally comfortable fighting computer-generated beasties and reciting magic mumbo-jumbo. Farewell, sweet Glumsy Magoo; I’ll steal a motor vehicle in your honor as soon as I can wrap up this recap.

Let’s begin with tonight’s one-year-ago fairyback, which finds Nealfire, Belle, and Belle’s gnarly wig plotting to resurrect Rumpelstiltskin. They’re looking for clues in the Dark One’s library when suddenly, they find help from an unexpected source: A candelabra. With a French accent. Named Lumiére. This is pure ridiculosity presented in a totally straightforward manner, and I love it unconditionally.

So Lumiére isn’t exactly a talking partial menorah — he’s a spirit trapped within the candelabra, one that manifests only when the candles are lit. Upon lighting, he appears as a floating Oz-esque head who informs Belle and Neal that there’s a way to bring Rumpel back. A fairly simple way, in fact. All they have to do is take a key hidden in the library and stick it in a magical manhole in the woods. Sounds easy, right? And as we all know, performing magic like this never comes with an unforeseen price!

NEXT: Don’t go chasin’ Rumpelstilts

So the Dark One’s spawn and his girlfriend head to a snowy clearing, where they quickly discover the seal Lumiére described. They’re a bit hesitant to take the plunge and actually unlock the thing, until Lumiére declares that he knows what he’s talking about because he’s been in Rump’s library for 200 years. And that’s when Belle knows he’s been lying this whole time. (As every good Rumbelle supporter knows, the Dark One built the library for Belle — meaning it’s existed for barely 30 years, not two centuries.)

At this, the candle holder comes clean: He’s working with the Wicked Witch, who wants to bring Rump back to life so she can control him. Upon hearing this, Belle is ready to cut their losses and go home to finish reading A Dance with Dragons. But Nealfire takes the news differently — if this has been the Witch’s plan all along, that means Rump really can be brought back to life. So he slides in the key, quickly gets branded by its Illuminati-esque symbol, and sits back to watch his father emerge from the goo within the manhole, like T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli‘s much creepier great-uncle.

Father and child reunion? Not quite. This is when Zelena decides to swoop in and crow that Lumiére forgot to mention one teensy detail: The Dark One can be resurrected only if the resurrector sacrifices his own life. Whoops! But revived Rump isn’t ready to let his son go once again, so he elects instead to absorb Neal’s spirit, consciousness, and body into his own being — which would be why in the present day, Rumpel has been driven just a little bit nuts. This would be the perfect moment for Belle to grab the Dark Dagger, depriving the Witch of control over Rumpel. Instead, the princess flees the scene with Lumiére in tow. Which all in all isn’t a bad consolation prize; the feather duster tells me he’s very good company.

Present-day Storybrooke gets shaken up when a beloved missing person staggers into the pawn shop. It’s not Rump, though — it’s Neal, looking worse for wear and sporting a mysterious Illuminati symbol on his palm. (Maybe it’s the key to electing the next pope!) Naturally, he can’t remember anything past Emma’s yellow Bug fading into the distance. Now that he’s back, though, he’s determined to make up for lost time… especially once he learns that his father’s alive. (This would be the perfect moment for “He Lives in You” to start playing.)

NEXT: Snow is Dopey

If only Rafiki were around, Nealfire wouldn’t have to waste time searching for his father. But because Once hasn’t yet hit the Lion King well, he rips out his hospital IV — kids, don’t try this at home — has a surprisingly un-macho heart-to-heart with Hook, and heads off to find Rump.

Meanwhile, Snow is still not even a little bit suspicious of Zelena. She’s so trusting, in fact, that even though she and Charming have chatted since the Prince’s nightroot-induced fear manifestation — which happened after he drank the tea Zelena made for him; put the pieces together, guys! There are literally two pieces! — she sees no reason not to accept the orange juice the “midwife” has brought her. The Witch’s giant honking emerald is practically glowing with malevolent glee as Snow downs a glass of the stuff. Prediction: Snow just guaranteed herself a green baby.

In happier news, Regina and her second Twue Wuv have finally crossed paths in Storybrooke. Like the Queen, Robin Hood is casing the farmhouse for signs of the Witch; like the Queen, he’s feeling some immediate chemistry, enough to momentarily call off the investigation to share a few sips of liquid courage. (Yo Hood — I’m all for drinking on the job, but when will you people realize that ingesting the stuff you find in a witch’s house is probably not the best idea?) Regina, sensing a spark, is about to imbibe… when she notices the lion tattoo on Robin’s wrist. Just like that, she realizes that this is the guy she’s destined to fall for — and the thought freaks her out so much that she immediately turns to make an Irish exit.

While Rump-hunting, Emma and Neal’s paths cross once more. Everything’s going hunky dory as they swap stories — “I almost married a monster from Oz;” “I almost married an evil minion of my grandfather, Peter Pan, so I know what you’re saying” — until Belle calls with an explanation for the burn on Neal’s hand. Her research has revealed that it’s the seal of the Dark One’s vault, which can only be opened via human sacrifice. Meaning that if Neal did, in fact, free his father, he should be dead as a doornail.

Cue Neal collapsing… and his face briefly morphing into Rumpel’s. Whoa! I give Once plenty of crap for its effects, but this is legitimately cool. It emerges that the only way to de-crazify Rump is to get Neal out of his head for good — and so, using her convenient magical powers, the savior easily manages to do just that. All’s well that ends well?

NEXT: Nope!

Yeah, not so much. It seems that once the ‘Stiltskins have been separated, not even the combined powers of Rump and Emma can save Neal’s life. And so Emma’s first true love gets a long, teary goodbye with two of the people he cares for most, telling Emma to promise him that she and Henry will be happy, then directing his very last words to the father who sacrificed everything for his only son: “I love you, Papa.” Excuse me, but I believe there may be a bit of pixie dust in my eye.

And so Rumpel can finally tell everyone that Zelena and the Witch are the same person — but it hardly matters, since she still holds his dagger and can therefore control his every move. The Dark One slinks back to his cage as Emma takes a deep breath and confesses to Henry that the father he can’t remember has just died. Instead of ending on a sad note, though, the episode concludes on a vengeful one: Emma promises to get the person responsible for Neal’s death. (Which, technically, would be Neal himself, though perhaps this is the wrong moment to split hairs.)


– Snow is so totally shocked to learn that Zelena is the Witch that I kind of hope her baby is born with three heads.

– Belle promises that Rump can make Lumiére human again… and the candelabra somehow resists the urge to burst into song.

– There’s magic in Storybrooke, but not the kind that can make a decent bagel.

– Zelena’s assessment of Belle and Nealfire: She “isn’t as smart as she thinks,” and he’s “dumber than a box of hair.” Ooh, do Charming and Snow next!

– Before Neal leaves the hospital, Hook presents him with some radioactive green Jell-O: “I gather it has great medicinal properties.” Hee!

– Robin’s a bit of a spin master: Regina is “bold and audacious, perhaps, but not evil.” Yeah, she’s gonna get some of that Loxley for her bagel, if you know what I’m saying.

– Be straight with me: Are you sad to see Neal go, maybe-probably for realsies? Or can you hardly wait for the Emma/Hook-up his death clears the way for?

Episode Recaps

Once Upon a Time

Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.

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