Some shows’ bread and butter is the middle episodes. The “filler.” Most procedurals can bang out something really entertaining that doesn’t move the plot or the characters further. Other shows struggle. Game of Thrones has a pattern they follow each season and you know that somewhere around episode 5 or 6 you can tune out and just show back up for episodes 8-10. Once Upon a Time isn’t quite as consistent with its quality or boring filler episodes. But it has the latter in spades and the former in enough quantity that it’s hard to tune the show out. “Nasty Habits” was one of those really boring filler episodes though. Ostensibly it was about letting the characters breathe and exploring their motivation and maybe pretending the plot was going to move forward. But really it was about testing the audience. Seeing how much “woe is me” white man pain they can sit through before crying uncle. Pro tip from me to you Once Upon a Time: if your audience is hitting the port by the midway point just to make it to the end of the episode you may want to re-evaluate these middle of the story arc episode. Or pay for your audience’s eventual rehab. Nealfire has returned from the Enchanted Forest looking very dreamy and reminding me why I loved him in True Blood and Terriers. Unfortunately he continues to be the most frustrating character on the show–coming off as a selfish know it all that’s a little too pragmatic, self-righteous and passionate to be fun. I mean, such a character CAN be fun. Long lost siblings? But such a character also has to be built up so the audience enjoys them. And they should, ideally, not come across as insufferable every time they open their mouth. Hermione has buck teeth and everyone calling her a nasty brainiac and she has to earn the respect of EVERYONE every day so we like her. Nealfire has everyone mourning his death and immediately forgiving him his considerable sins. He could assassinate the President and would get a slap on the wrist and a night on the couch. It’s a problem. A big, big problem. But interestingly enough I would hazard to say that Neal, as a character isn’t the primary problem. It’s Michael Raymond-James. Young Bae, played by Dylan Schmid, infuses Bae with considerable pathos that tempers his self-righteousness. He’s agonized by his decisions and those of his father. Raymond-James, playing an older and wiser Bae, has opted to give him a great deal of confidence and has done away with the pathos. When he lectures his father for what feels like half the episode it comes across as exactly that. A lecture. It’s an interesting choice on Raymond-James’ part–to play Bae as a man who has moved past the betrayals of his youth, but it isn’t pleasant to watch for an hour, and its double unpleasant when you have sweet precious Emma off in a corner remembering him fondly and neatly ignoring the hurt he caused her. The optimist in me would like to be patient and wait and watch things unfold and finally see Neal get knocked off the high horse he rode into Storybrooke on. The realist in me has to go fetch another glass of port. And possibly stop and consider poor Emma. Much has been made of her illogical romanticizing of Nealfire. And by much I mean–people have called it disgusting and out of character and a betrayal of the show. I’m assuming these people have missed some key things. One: this show is about love in all its forms–including the really unhealthy kind of love that allows people to forgive sins a sassy gay friend would not (like, half of last season was about Regina loving her horrifically abusive mother). Two: Emma has issues. It’s what makes her a wonderful and rare heroine. She’s reluctant. She gets scared. She likes to run. And once upon a time someone loved her. Neal was the first person that EVER loved her. They travelled and stole junk and had lots of moments where they nose nuzzled and Emma felt loved. And she loved back. And even after he hurt her–even after he left her to a jail cell alone, 17 and pregnant (son you got a Peter Pan complex as big as this show’s plot holes)–she kept on loving him. She couldn’t turn it off. She’s so good at crying that it almost makes me forgive the show for making her cry ALL THE TIME. Jennifer Morrison hits that on the head. She’s repulsed by the love she feels, and she’s angry, and yeah, she’s sad. It’s complicated when you love someone, and it isn’t east to turn off, and when you’re the product of True Love and have difficulties loving to begin with (Emma didn’t love Henry until the SEASON ONE FINALE) it’s going to be messy. And Morrison’s playing of ALL that emotion as once is a highlight of the episode–even if it’s sandwiched between some groan-worthy Snow and Charming moments. Charming is dying a slow and noble death that can’t come soon enough. He and Snow have become awfully reactive characters and I’m crossing my fingers that he may suddenly bite it soon and those two characters can gain a little agency. Remember when they had agency? And ran around in fabulous leather pants and wigs back in season one? Man I miss those not boring characters. Especially Charming. Goodwin at least gets juicy moments of regret to play. Charming just runs around looking pained and earnest. So earnest. I thought about taking a moment here to talk about Henry. This episode WAS about his descent into Lost Boy-dom after all, and that’s pretty major. Especially after he’s spent the last three episodes sassing it up like a good little Mills and steadfastly refusing to abandon the platoon of parental figures he has. But the episode got so lazy so fast with him that I’m having trouble discussing it without flying into an unproductive tirade. The kid gets roofied and wakes up brain washed. If you would like you may fanwank that away with talk of traumatic brain injuries or the effects of being drugged. I don’t particularly care though. Because I am annoyed. And also because I am deeply embarrassed. Like Jared Gilmore had best be taken under the wing of an extraordinary acting teacher (Carlyle why are you not helping this kid?!) and then he best eventually be nominated for an Oscar because I’m really looking forward to the day where the fangirls arrive in legion to talk breathlessly of his wonderfulness and attractiveness so I can then bust THIS screenshot out. It’s the only thing I’ll ever want. Notes Ginnifer Goodwin you guys. She conveys motherhood with a LOOK. She’s single-handedly sells the idea of a 30 something being the biological mother of a 30 something. I did not talk of Gold. That is because after his super cool drop the cane exit in the premiere he’s wandered around a forest talking to himself and finger painting. My nephew isn’t even two and has more productive days. THIS guy constructed a curse to end all curses? Seriously? As much as Neal irritates me he WAS wonderfully clever in taking out his dad and Pan. Pan and Rumpel grew up together. I look forward to those flashbacks and whatever floppy haired young actor they cast as Rumpel. Regina popped into the episode only two or three times, but she got the best lines and grinned evilly (but also sadly) at the news of Greg’s death. No wait I do want to talk about Gold. You know why Regina is fascinating and Gold is irritating? Because Regina’s crisis of self is all internal and Lana Parilla gets to ACT and SHOW that struggle. Gold’s crisis of self is externalized in long boring conversations with Belle and Bae and Peter Pan. It’s a complete waste of Robert Carlyle. Stop telling and star SHOWING us his struggle. Peter Pan as the Pied Piper is fantastic. Peter Pan as the Pied Piper who only collects boys is less fantastic. This is a plot point right? Regina or someone is going to call out his misogyny? RIGHT? Tinker Bell continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. She will probably die next week. Hook continues to hit on Emma while sharing his interesting and compelling scenes with Charming. Set sail on the ship Davy Jones. Mulan did not show up. Who wants to join me in refusing to watch the show until she comes back and is rescued by Aurora and they make out? Next Week: The good captain Killian Jones gets a shave, some hair extensions, and a little color. Also he and Emma make out. No one be surprised when THAT’S the moment Neal shows up to announce he’s alive. Whoknows I have to agree, this episode was way too boring for me. I’ve never been a fan of Neal, so I really don’t care to see the episodes focus on him. I will be even more bored watching them continue to do the Neal/Emma love story, like I know they will.