"Once Upon a Time" is known for its twists and has had more than its share of tragedy in both the present and in the flashback past, but the "Quiet Minds" episode ranks near the top of the tragic list. Warning: This is a recap, so there are spoilers.
The heroic crew -- Emma Swan, Snow White, Prince Charming, Captain Hook and Evil Queen Regina -- meets up at Granny's restaurant, and Hook tells the group that it's possible Neal was the one who actually resurrected his father, the Dark One (a.k.a. Rumpelstiltskin), because he was intent on making it happen. So they're after both Zelena and Rumpelstiltskin.
Speaking of the Wicked Witch, even though Zelena is summoning Rumpelstiltskin using the dagger, he's running away through the forest somehow. Belle is told that he's alive, and she and Hook will scour Mr. Gold's shop to find any clues about how his resurrection might've happened. As they search, they're interrupted by Neal, who has finally returned, running in through the back door of Gold's shop.
Neal and Belle, back in the Enchanted Forest a year earlier, are trying to figure out a way to bring back Rumpelstiltskin after his timely death at the hands of his father, Peter Pan. And we meet Lumiere, who is but "a humble servant of the castle." He is a French-accented candle holder -- like in the animated movie -- that apparently only awakens when his candles are lighted. He says he got that way due to a curse put on him by Rumpelstiltskin.
He leads Belle and Neal to a key that will take them to the vault of the Dark One, helping them revive Rumpelstiltskin under the promise that he can be turned back into a person. The vault seems to be the only way to bring back Rumpelstiltskin -- except that something is amiss. Zelena is actually pulling the strings of Lumiere, but to what end?
Robin of Locksley, or Robin Hood himself, joins with Regina on the trail of the Wicked Witch. He's a thief; she's the Evil Queen. They work to see if Zelena has left any magic trail that Regina can track. They get a little close, a little intimate. Then she sees it: Robin's lion tattoo. The same one that Tinkerbell foretold would be on the man who was destined to be her true love. It'll be interesting to see how Regina navigates this partnership -- without taking her heart out again.
It's a bit creepy watching Zelena help Snow White as her fake midwife, touching her belly and giving her juice, all of which we realize is for a wicked purpose. Her smile is even freaky to see now.
Back to Neal and Belle as they bond a bit while searching for the vault a year ago. When they find it, they enlist Lumiere's help, but Belle discovers that he's lying and that he is under the employ of one Wicked Witch.
Neal, though, doesn't care. If this is the way to get Rumpelstiltskin back, and in turn get back to Storybrooke, and in turn get back to Emma and Henry, no price is too high to pay. So, he burns his hand on the key, and up oozes an evil-looking blob of a creature that turns out to be Rumpelstiltskin.
But what Lumiere failed to mention was that in resurrecting Rumpelstiltskin, a life had to be paid. Zelena knew it, though, and came right on cue. Rumpelstiltskin though, saved Neal by taking his life force back into his own body. He had to give up his dagger to do so, and Zelena took control.
Luckily, Belle and Lumiere were able to escape, but Rumpelstiltskin was left a bit crazy by having two personas inhabit one body.
Emma and Charming find Rumpelstiltskin -- that is, Rumpelstiltskin and the voices that he hears in his head -- in the forest in the present. A flying monkey finds them as well, but Charming fights it off as Emma goes after a fleeing Rumpelstiltskin.
She loses him in the forest, but Neal, who was basically let out of the hospital by Captain Hook, who was supposed to be watching over him, finds her and they both resume the search.
They have a cool moment commiserating about almost marrying people who were there to do them harm, but while everyone searches, Belle finds out exactly what the burn mark is on Neal's hand -- and Emma simultaneously watches as Rumpelstiltskin's face appears on Neal's body.
She knows that they are both in the same body still, and that they can't survive. Emma magically separates them, though they all know that Neal will die because of it.
Neal sacrifices himself so that they can all know who the Wicked Witch is and can make sure she's taken down -- pretty touching moment watching Emma and Rumpelstiltskin hold on to Neal as he takes what looks to be his final breath.
Zelena, leaving Snow White and just making it out before Emma and Charming arrive. arrives in the forest as Rumpelstiltskin grieves. Despite some threatening words and threatening movements, Mr. Gold can't do anything to her because she has possession of the dagger. She has wicked intentions for the town and will use the Dark One to triumph. For now, he is ordered back to his cage.
Henry knows that something is going on. The people in the town of Storybrooke whisper when he's around, his mom is off doing something that is not the normal bail bond case and things are weird. After Neal's death, Emma finds Henry and tells him about his father -- that he was a hero and not the villain that she had painted him out to be. She'll find the person who killed him -- though while its still unknown by her, it won't be that hard to do.
So, the question of who the major character to die would be is answered: Neal. Baelfire. A child who was abandoned by his father to a cruel London world, then a stint in the weird world of Neverland. A redemptive father who, once he found out that he had a child, fought harder than anyone to keep him safe and be a part of his life. Not particularly fairy-tale qualities, but ones relatable nonetheless.
Could Neal return? Who knows? It's still a magical death, and watching that heart-to-heart he had with Hook made me realize that their relationship in Neverland was never fully explored. So there's at least a flashback possibility.