Once's twisted genealogy gets a little more tangled as we learn Rumpelstiltskin's true connection to Peter Pan

By Hillary Busis
April 30, 2015 at 08:41 PM EDT
Jack Rowand/ABC
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Well! I think it’s safe to say that none of us saw that coming.

Just when you thought Henry’s family tree couldn’t get any more complicated, Once threw us another genuine curveball. On second thought, “curveball” doesn’t seem emphatic enough. Let’s call it a genuine “oh-my-God, holy-crap, did-they-seriously-just-say-what-I-think-they-said?” ball instead.

The OMGHCDTSJSWITTSball in question: Peter Pan is Rumpelstiltskin’s father. Peter Pan is Rumpelstiltskin’s father! Good Lord. I can’t wait until season 4, when we learn that Pan became such a jerk only because he was abandoned by his own father — a ne’er-do-well pirate named Bluebeard. And Bluebeard is such a jerk because he was abandoned by his father, Puss in Boots. And Puss is such a jerk because…

Okay, I’ve made my point. Sense of history repeating aside, though, “Think Lovely Thoughts” really was full of surprises, thanks particularly to the fairyback that introduced us to a young, adorably big-eyed Rumpelstiltskin — back in the days when he was still being cared for by his ne’er-do-well dad, whose name is either Malcolm or Colin. (IMDB says the latter; the episode’s official press release says the former. It wasn’t listed in the closing credits, and I didn’t catch it spoken aloud during the episode itself. So let’s go with Malcolm, just because OUAT already has one Colin in its life. Update: Adam Horowitz himself says it’s Malcolm. Hi, Adam!)

Earlier reports indicated that Rumpel’s father was a grade-A coward. From what we see, though, Malcolm actually seems less fraidy cat than neglectful a-hole; he spends his days swindling other drunks out of their money at the local cyberpub, eventually pawning poor Lil’ Rumpel off on two middle-aged spinsters when he decides that he’s had enough of fathering. Before he goes, though, Malcolm hands his son a doll and tells Rump to give the toy a name. Remember this; there will be a test later.

The good news: The ladies are kind, if a bit creepy, and Rumpel’s a naturally talented spinner, so he fits right into their cottage industry. If things had gone differently, the kid may have grown up to be a simple craftsman who never went dark and always remembered to visit his batty foster aunts on the solstice, or whatever winter festival they celebrate in the Enchanted Forest. Alas, he just can’t help wanting to reunite with his deadbeat dad — and the spinsters sympathize enough to give him a magic bean, which will enable Rumpel and papa to travel far, far away to a world where nobody cares about Malcolm’s crappy reputation.

NEXT: They’ll head to the place where dreams are born, and time is never planned…

Lil’ Rump presents the bean to his dad, who comes up with the perfect destination: Never Land, a magical realm Malcolm visited in his dreams when he was a little boy. And off they go, to a country that looks a lot more like a Canadian forest than the tropical jungle Never Land has become in the present day. Also, there’s sunlight. Vive la différence!

Malcolm’s gotta crow. He and his son have arrived in a perfect fantasy land where there are no pub thugs threatening bodily harm — and, more importantly, they can have anything they want, so long as they just believe. There’s just one problem: While Lil’ Rump has no trouble taking advantage of Never Land’s magic, Malcolm isn’t so lucky. Look on the bright side, guy; there are plenty of ways in which unlimited cake isn’t exactly a good thing.

At first, Malcolm believes everything will be fine as long as he gets his hands on some pixie dust. But when he goes on a dust-finding mission, he learns the harsh truth: Never Land is a place for children, not adults. And as long as Malcolm has the responsibilities of a grown-up, he’ll never be able to enjoy its bounty. (Who delivers this news? Why, it’s the shade formerly known as Pan’s Shadow, who’s apparently been living alone on Never Land like a common smoke monster since the dawn of time. Also, he speaks with the voice of Marilyn Manson. Like I said — lots of surprises tonight!)

There is, however, one way for Malcolm to shake off his adulthood: by voluntarily letting go of his own son. As he tells Rumpel, “a child can’t have a child” — and the kid shouldn’t mind being renounced too much, since he was always a pretty lousy father. So the shade carries off a kicking and screaming Rumpel… and Malcolm is magically transformed from a 40ish sad sack to a fresh-faced teenager, with a kicky new outfit to boot. As he watches his son get carried away, his eyes seem to carry some genuine remorse. But after he discovers that he does, in fact, have the ability to fly, all thoughts of the son he abandoned soar out of his head like so many airborne British children wearing nighties.

The manchild who will soon start calling himself Peter Pan — a name first used by Rumpel for the doll his father gave him; this is what we call “coming full circle” — travels to Skull Rock, a formation that appeared when Malcolm grew young again. There, the Manson shadow informs Never Land’s newest resident that he’ll be able to hold onto his youth only until the sand runs out from the Rock’s enormous, ornate hourglass. (Shades of Aladdin, anyone?)

NEXT: Oh, Henry.

Eventually, though, Pan discovered that there was a way for him to stay young forever: by acquiring the heart of the Truest Believer, a.k.a. his great-grandson Henry. A reunited Magical Breakfast Club and company — including Rumpelstiltskin, Baelfire, and Tinker Bell — learn as much when they actually bother to launch Operation #SaveHenry. After weeks of buildup, they finally, finally invade Pan’s camp… but the Big Bad himself is nowhere to be found. Neither is  Henry.

Instead, the crew discovers poor Wendy Darling, still trapped within her bamboo cage. After some hemming and hawing, Wendy comes through with the truth: Pan has taken Henry to Skull Rock. He needs Henry’s heart so that he can absorb all the magic in Never Land. Once he does so, he’ll be immortal and all-powerful… and Henry will be deader than Sheriff Skinnyjeans.

Change of plans! Henry’s parents (all three of them) plus his paternal grandfather leave for Skull Rock to stop Pan. Snow and Charming trek back to Dead Man’s Peak, where they’ll gather some water from its magical spring; turns out the water is enough to keep David alive until the gang gets back to Storybrooke, where Rumpel says he’s got a cure for dreamshade poisoning. How convenient! Tink and Hook, meanwhile, head back to the Jolly Roger, where they’ll kick back and relax, perhaps with an early copy of Disney’s upcoming film The Pirate Fairy.

The new Core Four — Regina, Rumpelstiltskin, Emma, and Nealfire — discover that Pan’s placed a protection spell on the beach at Skull Rock; anyone who casts a shadow is prevented from crossing it. Rumpel intuits that the spell is meant as a signal for him, and elects to go to Pan alone, wielding Pandora’s Box — which has the power to Hoover up Pan, thus trapping him forever.

Rump approaches his long-lost father, magic box in hand. There’s a dash of “join me, and we can rule the galaxy as father and son!”; there’s a pinch of “we’re not so different, you and I.”  In the end, though, Rumpelstiltskin snarls that he’s nothing like his father, moves to open the box… and discovers that it doesn’t work. Why? Because trickster Pan has switched it with a fake version he conjured up by thinking lovely, malevolent thoughts. Rump can’t live out his Oedipal fantasies after all; instead, his dad’s the one who traps him inside the box. So much for a family reunion.

NEXT: Shoot for the moon! Also, Breadcrumbs

Wait, where was Henry while his great-grandfather was imprisoning his grandfather in a Greek myth? Why didn’t he hear any of their conversation? Who knows — but he’s back now, and ready to hand over his noble, loyal, stupid, stupid heart. And that’s when the cavalry arrives, in the form of Henry’s dad and two mommies, who have found a way to get past Pan’s spell by blocking the moon. Only on this show would that be a throwaway C-plot.

Anyhow, they’re here now, and they’re going to convince Henry never to trust a man in tights. Right? Right? Wrong! Henry hears their pleas, tells the trio that he loves them… and, like the sap he is, hands his heart over to Pan anyway. Hey, anyone got land in Florida they need to get rid of? Because I hear Henry’s buying.

Breadcrumbs

– So the shadow who told Malcolm how to become Peter Pan is actually just “the sole inhabitant of Never Land” — meaning he’s not technically Pan‘s shadow. Does this mean Pan never actually removed his own shadow? Does that little tidbit matter, like, at all?

– Man, now that we know he’s basically an adult man trapped in the body of a teenage boy, Pan is so much creepier.

– Have you been wondering why Emma’s surname (on Earth anyway) is Swann? Here’s the answer, straight from Jennifer Morrison herself: “It has not been shown on the show but it was her first foster parents’ last name.”

– Pan, surveying his opponents: “Nice to see you too, Baelfire, not to mention the savior and the Evil Queen.” When will Once start trusting us to remember who everyone is — as well as what happened on last week’s show?

– Speaking of: Nealfire initially asked that Rumpel give him Pandora’s Box, as a show of trust. Rumpel agreed to his terms. Later, on Skull Rock, Rumpel asked Nealfire to trust him enough to hand the box back over, and Nealfire did so. See — some ‘Stiltskins can change!

– Maybe Malcolm/Pan’s father wasn’t a pirate, but he did sell the kid to a blacksmith. Tough life. Also, what’s the deal with Rumpel’s mother — or did the show’s writers figure that the daddy issues are too complicated to introduce a set of mommy issues as well?

– Malcolm’s kooky laugh was a really nice touch; looks like we finally know where Rumpel got his giggle.

– Emma, explaining the MBC’s big “Save Henry” plan: Grab the kid, then leave. It’s taken them eight weeks to enact this cunning strategy because…?

– Next week, Once will be preempted by the American Music Awards — but the week after that, according to ABC’s announcer, the legend of Peter Pan will come to an end. Perhaps he’ll explode in frustration after being asked to draw an infographic explaining how all of Once‘s characters are connected to each other.

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