Modern television dramas that order twenty-plus episodes per season are faced with the delicate task of timing the story just right for the audience. Premieres set up what’s to come in the season; middle episodes build toward the minor cliffhanger (or two) at mid-season. After everyone comes back from the winter hiatus, the tone is set once again and again things build until the season’s story is concluded in the finale.
Timing can be a tricky thing, though, and for shows like Once Upon A Time that means sometimes you get episodes like last week in which very little progression is made in the story all around, followed by an episode like ‘Nasty Habits’ where the opposite is true.
All of that said, however, the mythology info dump is centered this time around the father/son dynamic, and like Neal (Michael Raymond James) what we all want to know at the end is if anything has truly changed. Because yes, Rumple (Robert Carlyle) was ready to go out in a blaze of glory, but he’s ambiguous now that he doesn’t have a dead son to avenge. In the same way, yes, Pan (Robbie Kay) is manipulative and has the dark, smoldering, Twilight look going on but we still don’t have more than a handful of hints as to why he’s the most feared baddie of the bunch.
Meanwhile, Tink (Rose McIver) might have made a wise move in bailing out now because the crew that sailed from Storybrooke has made an absolute art form out of going nowhere fast. Neal has been from Earth to the Enchanted Forest to Neverland and just about managed to accomplish what everyone else has been talking about. Rumple has come face to face with his biggest fear, chosen his path, and would have gone through with it had he not met up with Neal. The Storybrook five on the other hand have fought amongst themselves, wandered around the jungle, cried, fought some more, wandered to a different part of the jungle, and fought yet again.
The only meaningful information they manage to glean in this episode is that Tamara and Glen are dead; which the audience has known since the premiere. Oh, they did find Neal’s man-cave and possibly the map home, but the map’s coded and they think Neal’s dead so they’re still just spinning their wheels. Well, all except Charming (Josh Dallas), who is dying and lying about it but at least he got that pesky, “If I die, you have to move on,” speech off his chest so there’s some progress. Meanwhile the five are stuck in a holding pattern until Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) finally snap from pent-up estrogen, the inevitable Hookup comes (possibly next week), and Charming gets his 11th hour cure.
At the center of the season’s plot-line is Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) and just as it was for dad and gramps, this seems to be his episode for a big leap forward. All along Henry’s been doing a good job of keeping himself separate from the other boys and insistent that he will be rescued so at the beginning of the episode it’s no surprise he can’t hear the pan-pipes. But then he gets knocked out, rescued, recaptured, has a heart-to-heart with Pan and suddenly he can hear the pipes and joins in the dance.
But what does it mean? How did that change him and does it tie in with Pan’s promise to convert Henry into a Lost Boy? More importantly, what does Pan really want with the heart of the truest believer? Will Pan’s end-game be worth all of the secrecy he’s being shrouded in?
Once Upon A Time returns next Sunday with “Good Form” @8pm on ABC.