Wow, Oncers! I must admit, I really didn’t see that coming. I know that a series regular’s death was teased during ‘Once Upon A Time’s’ hiatus, but I kind of put that dreary thought on the back burner. Although it is always sad to see someone leave the ‘OUAT’ family, I have to give them credit for really making this death count. It is so upsetting to see a character die in vain and to feel as though his passing doesn’t serve a greater purpose. However, this was a conscious death full of compassion, selflessness, forgiveness and unconditional love. This loss moved me more than I could have imagined.
CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Like many heartfelt episodes, “Quiet Minds” captures the essence of True Love. When Snow White and Prince Charming were ready to let Emma and Henry go for the greater good, Neal and Belle picked up their crusade to reunite with their loved ones. During their lost year in Fairy Tale Land , Belle and Neal discover a way to bring Rumple back, unfortunately, they are unaware of the cost. In present day Storybrooke, Neal valiantly pays the ultimate price to save his family and friends.
Fairy Tale Land, One Year Ago: “I love him. All of him. Even the parts that belong to the darkness.”
Belle and Neal scour Rumple’s castle for clues. Surely there must be a way to resurrect the Dark One. They light a candelabra in Belle’s library and Lumiere’s face magically appears above the flames. Apparently, he awakens whenever the candles are lit. His current waxy situation is part of the price he must pay for making a deal with the Dark One. Belle says that if Lumiere helps them bring Rumple back, then he can be released from his curse. Lumiere leads them to a key hidden with a book. This special key will open a vault that contains the original Dark One, the first one born out of darkness. I already don’t like the sound of this, so of course it only means that things will get worse. Much worse.
Lumiere is in cahoots with Zelena! The Wicked Witch is using one of her entrapped victims to coax Belle and Neal into releasing Rumple into her custody. Zelena is taking advantage of Belle and Neal, since they have been blinded by their desperation. Unfortunately, almost everything goes according to her evil plan.
Belle and Neal take Lumiere to the site of the vault. They ignite him for further instructions and he gives himself away. Belle catches him in a lie and he confesses that Zelena made him a candelabra, not Rumple. Belle cautions Neal not to go through with their plan because it must be a trap. Belle says that Rumple would not want to be a slave to evil and she begs Neal not to make the same mistake his father did years ago, but he doesn’t care.
The key ignites and burns Neal’s hand as he uses it to open the vault. The Dark One arises from the depths and Zelena finally shows herself. Zelena laughs off her “sin of omission” and has no regret for hiding the cost of Rumple’s freedom. As she wickedly snickers, Neal suddenly becomes absorbed into Rumple’s body. Father and son are now entwined. Rumple can hear Neal’s voice in his head and feels tortured by what has happened. Zelena taunts him and carelessly quips, “Your madness is your burden.” She then turns to kill Belle, but Lumiere magically holds Zelena back, giving Belle a chance to run away.
Well that explains the crazy voices in Rumple’s head, but what happens now that Neal and Rumple have become one?
Storybrooke, Present Day: “Thank you Papa for showing me what it means to make a true sacrifice.”
Get ready for the waterworks, Oncers.
Rumple is out of Zelena’s cage and the gang needs to track him down. They all meet up at Mr. Gold’s to tell Belle the news. Emma gives Hook a look and he offers to stay behind to watch after Belle just in case. He apologizes for trying to kill her in the past and considers his humble service as a peace offering. (Can Hook be any more boyishly charming during this apology?)
While Belle is left under Hook’s protection (a place many of us wouldn’t mind being), Neal stumbles into Gold’s shop. Who? What? Where? How? It doesn’t matter, the dude has been missing and needs to get to the hospital ASAP.
Emma and the others reconvene at the hospital. Like everyone else, the last thing Neal remembers is saying goodbye to Emma and Henry. All he has to account for the past year is a weird symbolic scar on the palm of his hand. He is ecstatic to see Emma in Storybrooke with her memory intact and he assumes Henry is in the same position. Emma breaks the news to Neal and he is naturally bummed. He laments, “I’m his father. I want him to know who I am.” But Emma can’t risk putting that burden on Henry right now and Neal understands. She leaves Neal in Hook’s care and heads out to search for Rumple in the woods, while Regina double checks the Wicked Witch’s farmhouse for clues.
Regina carefully approaches the farmhouse when she suddenly catches an arrow flying towards her head. It looks like Robin Hood and his merry men have been keeping an eye on the place and he thought Regina might have been their Wicked Witch. Now that the former Evil Queen has arrived, Robin of Locksley is at her service and offers to be her partner. Let the adorable flirtations begin!
While Regina and Robin look through Wicked’s kitchen, Robin lays on the charm saying, “I doubt I’d ever forget meeting you.” He sees Regina as “bold and audacious,” but not evil. He finds a little bottle of whiskey and pours Regina a drink. As his sleeves rises up his arm, Regina notices the lion tattoo and remembers what Tinker Bell said about her True Love. Yay! Regina knows. Will this make things better or worse for Robin? He’s been smooth so far, but this knowledge might scare Regina off. (The lack of chemistry between Lana Parrilla and Sean Maguire isn’t really working for me, but I like the way their gradually unfolding love story is written. The flirtatious verbal jousting is fun to watch.) We’ll just have to wait and see. Back to the urgent matter at hand. Neal cannot sit back while his father is running rampant somewhere in Storybrooke.
When Hook returns with a bowl of green jello, Neal can’t help but comment on the progress the swashbuckler has made. Neal admires Hook’s transformation from villain to hero, although this new noble title feels very unfamiliar for the poor pirate. Hook also notes how much Neal has changed. Surely Neal ventured into villainous territory if he was willing to use dark magic to bring Rumple back. Neal can’t take it anymore. He will not sit idly by when he can be out there helping Emma track down Rumple.
Neal rips out his IV and gets out of bed. Hook looks at Neal and stands in his way. He then throws his arms around Neal and embraces him in a moving man-hug, saying “This is long overdue.” Hook feels bad that they let a woman come between them. Sometimes he forgets the bond he forged with young Bae all of those years ago. He just wanted Neal to know that he has not forgotten their past and he still cares about him. Aww. (Feel free to treasure the moment in this GIF-set.) Hook gives Neal a ten minute head start before alerting the others about his escape.
Neal quickly catches up with Emma and she doesn’t put up a fight. She and Charming are following a lead they had on Rumple after bumping into him in the woods earlier. As they follow his tracks, Neal and Emma have an all-encompassing heart-to-heart. She fills him in on almost marrying a flying monkey and confesses that she kind of doesn’t want to tell Henry the whole truth about their past because he has been so happy in New York this last year. Neal understands and he honestly just wants Emma to be happy. While they’re catching up, Belle solves the mystery of Neal’s mark.
Belle finds the meaning of Neal’s scar in a book. The price of bringing Rumple back is a life for a life. If Neal used the key to resurrect the Dark One, then he should be dead. Cut to the woods where Neal suddenly hears Rumple’s voice in his mind. He realizes what has happened and asks Emma to use her magic separate them. If she brings Rumple out, he can name the Wicked Witch and they can save everyone else.
Emma hopes that Rumple will be able to save Neal once they are split apart, so she does as he asks. Rumple regretfully sees what Neal has done and quickly tells them that Zelena is the Wicked Witch. There is nothing Rumple can do to save Neal. Magic has already been set into motion and the price has been paid.
Emma cradles Neal in her arms and apologizes that he never had a chance to see Henry again and have him remember. Tearfully, Neal replies, “He doesn’t need to remember me. He just needs to know that in the end I was a good father.” Neal turns to Rumple and thanks him for leading by example. Rumple ultimately achieved the redemption he so deeply desired. Neal tells his father, “Thank you Papa for showing me what it means to make a true sacrifice.” Before he passes, Neal begs Rumple, “Please, let go.” (And there I go tearing up again…)
Emma and David rush back to the apartment to warn Mary Margaret. Zelena had been with her the whole time and just sneaked out the bathroom window. MM was afraid that the baby hadn’t kicked in a while and Zelena gave her some orange juice to drink. Suddenly, the baby started kicking and all seemed well. (Seriously, what was in that OJ?!) With Zelena in the wind, they break the news of Neal’s death. Hook and Belle take it pretty hard, but Emma is left with the worst task of all: telling Henry.
Emma sits Henry down and tells him he had a right to feel suspicious. Emma brought him to Storybrooke because his dad needed her help. She couldn’t save him, but she will find the person who killed him and bring her to justice. Emma assures Henry, “He was a good man and he would have been a great father.” Ultimately, Neal gets his wish. Emma honestly tells Henry, “Your dad was a hero.”
Well done, ‘Once Upon A Time.’ You have managed to break our hearts yet again. What a wonderfully moving and artfully crafted episode. Kudos to the whole cast for really bringing it this week. Michael Raymond-James delivered such a beautiful performance that it still makes me weep.
What did you think, Oncers? Did you see this coming? Are you sorry to see Neal go? How do you feel about his send-off?
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Check out the embedded promo for Sunday’s Wicked West showdown.
‘Once Upon A Time’ airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.