Once throws a curveball by revealing the identity of Rumpelstitlskin's long-lost son. (Hint: He's exactly who you think he is)

By Hillary Busis
April 30, 2015 at 08:48 PM EDT
Jack Rowland/ABC
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Last week, Once promised that “Manhattan” would contain the show’s “biggest… bombshelll… yet.” But unless that gravelly-voiced announcer was talking about how surprisingly easy it was for Cora, Hook, and Regina to track down the Dark One’s dagger, the truth about Baelfire’s identity wasn’t anywhere near as big of a bombshell as, say, Rumpelstiltskin bringing magic back to Storybrooke at the end of last season, or even the fact that Red and the Big Bad Wolf are actually one and the same in the world of Once.

Anyone who’s been paying attention to this series — and even those who haven’t — figured out long ago that scruffy, pseudonymous Neal Cassidy (also known as Emma’s baby daddy) is really Rumpel’s long-lost son. And to the show’s credit, it didn’t spend the entirety of “Manhattan” building up to this supposed revelation. By the end of our first commercial break, we knew who Neal really was; the rest of the hour was more concerned with character and emotion than plot, showing how Emma, Bae, Henry, and Rumpel respectively dealt with the fallout from that big reveal. “Manhattan” may not have been Once‘s most gripping episode, but it was one of it deeper installments — as is generally the case when Rump takes center stage.

Speaking of the man eventually known as the Dark One: Our Fairyback concerns a younger, limp-free Rump who’s eager to join the army in order to prove he isn’t a coward like his blasted father. (Take a sip every time someone says the word “dad” or “father” tonight, and you may not survive to see the scenes from next week.) His wife Milah — still a loving, supportive soul at this point — fully cosigns this plan, because she cares more about “honor” than, you know, still having a husband by the time the war is over. But when Private Rump gets to the front of the Ogre Wars, he meets a blind, captive, Pan’s Labyrinth refugee child seer who changes the course of the rest of his life. She tells him first that Milah is going to have a son — then reveals that the would-be dad’s “actions on the battlefield tomorrow” will leave that child fatherless.

At this point, Rumpelstiltskin’s all, “Yeah, and I’m the Blue Fairy.” But when another one of the seer’s predictions comes true — she told him that his army would ride into battle on “cows,” which turns out to mean the troops’ fine leather saddles — Rump finds himself reevaluating everything Creepy Ginny Weasley told him.

But I’m getting ahead of myself (and our heroes). Let’s backtrack to when Rumpel, Henry, and Emma arrive in New York City. The trio takes a trip to an apartment building, where Cora’s magical globe has decreed Baelfire will be waiting. Unfortunately, Bae has no intention of inviting them in for tea; when the group buzzes him, he high-tails it out of there faster than you can say “daddy issues.” On Rump’s orders, Emma follows the guy on foot, chasing him down through the kind of alleys that don’t actually exist in Manhattan. Eventually, she tackles her mark — only to discover that he’s none other than Neal, a man Emma hasn’t seem in over a decade.

NEXT: So that’s what was in Pinoch’s box

After a Simba/Nala-esque “what am I doing here? What are YOU doing here?!” exchange, the pair head to a bar, where Neal — whom I’m just going to call Baelfire from here on in — tells Emma that he learned the truth about her parentage only when August showed him the contents of that box we first saw way back in “Tallahassee”: a piece of paper that read, “I know you’re Baelfire.” How did Pinoch know Bae’s true identity? Why did he write that info down instead of just, you know, saying it out loud? (Obvious answer: because “Tallahassee” didn’t air during February sweeps.) We don’t know — but we do know that an emotionally bruised Emma wants to go back to Rumpelstiltskin and pretend like none of this ever happened.

And at first, that’s precisely what Ms. Swan does. When she returns to the apartment building, she simply tells Rump that she lost track of his son. But the Dark One hasn’t come all the way to the Big Apple just to give up on his decades-long quest. He breaks into Bae’s apartment, then grows suspicious of Emma when she seems to linger a little too long over a dreamcatcher she finds hanging in the man’s window.

Rumpelstiltskin tells the ex-bounty hunter that he knows she’s hiding something, then starts threatening her for breaking the deal they’ve made — and is stopped from hurting Emma bodily only when Bae finally shows up, demanding that his father leave the poor lady alone. Which is really too bad, since I’m curious which of these two would win in hand-to-hand combat.

Meanwhile: After learning the truth about the “cows,” Past Rump despairs that he will die in battle, thus leaving his unborn child fatherless. (Too bad dude isn’t familiar with the story of Croesus and the Oracle of Delphi.) He sees only one way out of this predicament: punching the side of a wagon like it’s a rogue toilet seat cover dispenser, then lifting up a hammer and slamming it down on his own leg so that he’s too lame to fight. Thomas Barrow, you’ve officially been seen and raised.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Rumpelstiltskin isn’t too pleased by her husband’s bloody sacrifice. When he finally arrives home, Milah acts cold, even when Rumpel expresses his enthusiasm about their newborn son — then tells her husband that dying would have been better than leaving poor Baelfire to be raised by a dishonorable coward. Next stop for Milah: Smelly pirate hooker junction.

Back in the present day, Rumpelstiltskin is delighted to discover that Bae has come back for him. But not so fast — the prodigal son says he’s returned only because he didn’t want his father to hurt Emma, since he’s seen what the Dark One does to people who break deals… let alone those whose donkey carts happen to be standing in inopportune spots. Then Henry decides to emerge at precisely that moment, effectively ruining and complicating everything (as is his wont).

NEXT: Father of mine/tell me where have you been?

Bae realizes that Henry is his son. Rump realizes that Henry is his grandson. Emma realizes that she’s screwed. Henry realizes… that his dad’s a heroic fireman! And that he’ll take him away from all this, just as soon as the Angels win the pennant! No, wait: He’s figured out the truth, and he’s furious that Emma’s been lying to him, just like a certain adoptive parent who is still technically his legal guardian. What’s next, another poisoned turnover?

Also furious: Bae, who’s decided to give Rumpelstiltskin precisely three minutes to try to explain his horrible actions. Rump tries to win over his long-lost boy by promising to bring him to Storybrooke and make him 14 again. Come on, Rump; you should know that any adult wouldn’t wish that fate on his worst enemy. Naturally, Bae isn’t moved; he (obviously) doesn’t want to be taken back to the age of pimples and voice cracking, and he also still hasn’t gotten over Rumpel abandoning him way back when.

Bae has, however, gotten over Emma keeping his son’s existence from him — and he’s cautiously thrilled about getting the chance to finally meet and speak to Henry. (If you don’t initially see the parallels between Rumpelstiltskin/Baelfire and Baelfire/Henry, don’t worry — Once will not hesitate to remind you of them over and over and over again.) They’re reunited, and it feels okay! There’s just one wrinkle…

Back in the Fairy Land that was, a now-empowered Rumpel meets with his old seer pal, who’s now grown from a creepy child to a creepy woman. He’s eager to know how to find his son, and she tells him that he will — only after someone else casts a great curse that rips everyone away from this land. The prophetess also reveals that a boy will lead the Dark One back to his son — but that Rump should beware of that boy, because he will be the imp’s undoing. After imparting that last bit of information — and passing along her powers of prophecy for good measure — the seer dies.

Rump’s grand idea for dealing with this mysterious boy? “I’ll just have to kill him.” Uh oh; who knew Henry annoys his grandfather just as much as he annoys the rest of us?

NEXT: Twisted family tree breadcrumbs!

– The best part of “Manhattan” has to be Snow and Charming trying to de-tangle their twisted family tree. Snow notes that Rump is Henry’s grandfather, and Charming replies, “But I’m his grandfather!” Her brilliant reply: “You can have more than one.”

– And also, of course: “It’s a good thing we don’t have Thanksgiving in our land, because that dinner would suck.”

– Stranger Greg has captured Regina doing magic on film, or at least its digital equivalent. Will season 2 end with all of Storybrooke’s magical denizens banding together to repel invading muggle forces?

– Speaking of other plot developments — after the easiest treasure hunt ever, Regina and Cora are now thisclose to securing the Dark One’s dagger. (And that’s why he and Emma should have just driven to New York City; if they hadn’t taken a plane, Rump could have just brought the dagger with him.) Their new brilliant plan is to force Rump to kill all of their enemies for them, which will leave Regina blameless in Henry’s eyes. So much for character development!

– Baelfire lives in apartment 407, which must have some greater significance (if not here, then certainly in Lost). And did anyone catch the other names written on his building’s buzzers? My screener was a little too fuzzy for me to read them.

– Rumpelstiltskin may be plotting to murder his grandson, but at least he bought the kid New York City’s most delicious-looking hot dog first.

– So how, exactly, did August know that “Neal” was actually Baelfire? And who, exactly, twisted fate so that the scion of the Charmings and the scion of the Rumpelstiltskins would procreate? Who’s zoomin’ who?

– Rump’s ability to see the future is awfully convenient, yet he rarely seems to use it. Is there a reason for this, or should we expect it to come into play more now that we’ve learned the origin of his prophetic powers?

After a week-long hiatus for the Oscars — let’s go, Amour! — Once will return with an episode ominously titled “The Queen is Dead.” In the meantime, let’s talk “Manhattan”: did you enjoy tonight’s installment, even if you saw its “twist” coming a mile away?

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