I think my reaction to this episode can be best summed up by Jean-Luc Picard.
Last episode ended with the Nevengers discovering Gold/Rumpelstiltskin was alive and was being kept prisoner by the Wicked Witch. Or at least he had been, as he somehow managed to break out of his cage off-camera. The rest of the episode is spent with them trying to figure out how Gold came back to life in the first place. While Killian and Belle search Gold's shop for something that would provide answers, Emma and Charming search the woods, with Regina returning to the farmhouse in the hopes that she’ll find something the Wicked Witch left behind. Snow, however, ends up staying behind for the sake of the baby, despite her statement that she was the best tracker. Which isn’t necessarily true; why couldn’t they just recruit Ruby/Red to serve as a tracker? She is a wolf, after all, right? Was Granny’s Diner just too swamped with the breakfast crowd and she couldn’t be spared at the moment? I suppose that’s as good an explanation as any.
Anyway, while Killian and Belle are at work searching the books in the back of Gold’s shop, someone forces their way through the badly-barricaded door. No joke; who uses old file boxes to barricade a door? Wouldn’t it have been more practical to shift around something heavier? Or better yet, get Emma to put up a protection spell over the place. We know she’s capable of doing so. She’s done it before. Anyway, it turns out the person at the door is Neal, who passes out the instant he gets through the door. He’s brought to the hospital, where it’s discovered he’s got a symbol burned into his hand, but when everyone goes back out to continue searching for Rumpelstiltskin, he up and decides to sneak out after them. (And there is NO WAY he could have just pulled that IV out like that. Just try it sometime- I bet you couldn’t do it without spurting out blood all over the place.)
ANYWAY, while Emma and Neal are continuing looking around in the woods for Rumple, Emma gets a call from Belle, who had pretty much figured out the stuff we’d been seeing in the Enchanted Forest flashbacks. During the Lost Year, Nealfirebagelperson and Belle teamed up to try and figure out a way to bring Rumpelstiltskin back from the dead in the hopes that he’d know of a way to help Neal reunite with Emma and Henry. (So much for what Charming and Snow told him in the ‘New York City Serenade’ flashback, about letting them be so they could have a chance at a happy life together.) With the assistance of a man trapped in the form of a candelabrum (Lumiere) the pair tracks down the Vault of the Dark One, where the very first Dark One came into existence. Of course, it turns out that Lumiere was actually an underling of Zelena, who wanted to use Nealfire and Belle to bring Dark One Rumpelstiltskin back so she could place him under her control via the dagger. And this is when it starts getting stupid. Nealfire, even after finding out that Zelena was using them, still decides to go through with bringing Rumple back, deliberately ignoring the sage advice and wisdom of Belle, who urges him to try and think of another way and not make the same mistake Dark One Rumpelstiltskin made when he forged the curse.
As one would expect, Neal’s statement of ‘to hell with the cost’ comes back to bite him in the butt, as the method he used followed the same rules as that double-sided candle from season 2. In other worlds, Rumpelstiltskin’s life in exchange for Neal’s. To keep Nealfire alive, Rumple merged with him, because apparently you can do that. (This episode is just too sci-fi, even for me.) But because of the merging, Rumpelstiltskin becomes completely unhinged because of the dual voices in his head. Which is strange because when Neal was in control, he seemed perfectly fine, up until it was all revealed and he started writhing around on the ground. Of course, we’ve already seen enough evidence that Neal was never the sharpest tool in the shed. (As much as I detest Zelena, we were in complete agreement over her ‘dumber than a box of hair’ comment.) So I suppose it’s not too surprising how there was no crowding in Neal’s head when Rumple was the one lying dormant.
So, Neal, deciding that it’s vitally important for Rumpelstiltskin/Gold to regain full control of his mind so he can tell Emma and the others who the Wicked Witch is, has Emma un-merge them. Which results in Neal dying. Again. Only this time, it’s for good. Cue the sappy, sad music, but I’m not really torn up over it. I was already over Neal at the end of season 2. (And apparently, so was Emma, who, prior to this episode, was showing as much emotion to Neal being M.I.A. that I display when we’re out of Nutella. And she can’t have been too heartbroken over his second round of death, since she left his body lying in the woods.)
As for you, Snow, how can you be such a horrible judge of character! I get you’re getting pre-labor jitters and all, but come on! Who even dresses like your ‘midwife’ anymore?! She looks like she crawled out of an old 50s sitcom. And she’s once again got that creepy smile while offering you something to drink! Snow, why aren’t the alarm bells in your head not reaching at least DEFCON 3 level? You were such an awesome, strong woman, if the Enchanted Forest flashbacks were any indication. Why are you now channeling your cartoon counterpart? At least there didn’t seem to be anything sinister in that orange juice she gave you. If there had been, it couldn’t have been good for the baby.
This episode also kick starts Emma’s plans to not restore Henry’s memories and just return to New York when the whole mess with the Wicked Witch is over and done with. I have my own thoughts on that matter, but I’ll address that in a later episode analysis.
Of course, there were still some bright spots in this confusing mishmash of an episode. We get a great moment when Emma gets a reluctant Killian to offer Belle his assistance in scouring Gold’s shop for information on how Gold came back to life with just a look. That was such a married moment between them, and we do get another moment of their non-verbal conversations when they’re at the hospital, when Nealfirebagelperson asks for a moment alone with Emma. It almost looks as if Emma is looking for Killian’s permission or something. There’s also the moment between Killian and Nealfire, which I will admit was quite sweet. It was a welcome reminder that Killian genuinely loved Boy Baelfire. The relationship between these two was woefully underplayed, particularly since we never really got to see Nealfirebagelperson’s thoughts on being reunited with Killian again. After all, the circumstances of their parting in the ‘And Straight on Till Morning’ flashback wasn’t exactly amicable. They don’t meet again until ‘The Queen is Dead,’ but Killian had been knocked out at the time because Emma hit him over the head with the umbrella stand, so they don’t get a chance to actually have a conversation until the Neverland arc. But even then, we don’t get to hear any of their conversations unless it had something to do with the stupid love triangle the show writers were trying to instigate. There really was a LOT of wasted opportunity to add more depth to these two characters. Particularly Nealfire, who never really had much in the way of character development to begin with. (Plus, we also got a reprise of sorts to the Jell-O deleted scene from ‘In the Name of the Brother.’ Again, I REALLY wish they had left that scene in the actual episode.)
And then there’s the scenes with Regina, who meets Robin Hood for the first (second) time. Just like their initial meeting during the Lost Year, they really make quite a strong first impression on each other. Seriously, how awesome was it that Regina can just catch Robin’s arrow in mid-flight? And they’re really laying out the fact that these two are soulmates on thick, with Regina getting the feeling that she’s met Robin before and Robin shamelessly flirting with her. They even resorted to the old kiss fake out. You know, when someone leans in and you THINK they’re going to kiss, but it turns out they’re just reaching for something behind the other’s back. Of course, Regina turns and runs off with her tail between her legs when she spots Robin’s tattoo and realizes he’s the guy Tinkerbell once tried to set her up with. Lady, you never do learn, do you? What’s holding you back this time? You clearly have a solid connection with this man, who is obviously into you as well. And he’s got that adorable son, which is a huge plus in my book. Where’s the downside?