‘Once Upon A Time’: The Neal Problem

I thought this topic was done and over with. And I was glad, really. I understand some people really like Neal (and I mean that in the I understand everyone can like whatever they want way, not in the I get why they like him way), and despite my contrary nature, I don’t set out to write stuff that alienates a part of the fan base. I try, and I think I mostly succeed, in being respectful and kind to everyone in this fandom. I have my preferences, just as everyone else, but I will never, ever insult your or belittle you for them. You should like what you like, and you should never, ever change your opinion to suit someone else.

But I …I don’t like Neal. I didn’t like him before, I don’t like him now. That doesn’t mean I don’t understand why he was around – he was a narrative device with supposedly emotional connections – it’s just that, for me, it didn’t work.

This isn’t a new thing. I have never been Team Neal, ever since his introduction. It has nothing to do with shipping, or Hook. Instead, it has everything to do with Emma, my favorite character.

Emma Swan was, by her own admission, a lost girl. Abandoned by her parents, she grew up thinking people leave you, happiness was temporary and joy was not in the cards for her. And then she met Neal. She met Neal, and she let herself fall into a world where all the things she’d ever dreamed of were possible.




And then she crashed back into Earth. Neal not only left her, which would have been bad enough, he framed her for a crime she didn’t commit. He didn’t know it at the time, but Emma was pregnant, and as a lonely teenager with a record, she chose to give up her kid. She made the ultimate sacrifice for Henry – his welfare over the possibility of finally having a family, someone that belonged to her.

That’s not an easy decision. That changes you. And yes, Neal had a reason. August told him that Emma had a destiny, and that destiny didn’t include him. As ridiculous as it sounds to us, in the real world, I’m not even going to discount his reasoning off-hand, because, we have to remember, Neal grew up in a world with magic. This meant something to him – perhaps, it meant everything. He took the easy way out, yes, but at least, this first time, there was reasoning behind it.

My problems with Neal, however, don’t end there. Not really. That’s just the prologue that justifies the decision you’ll end up making later – my problems begin in the exact instant when the curse broke and he did NOT come back.

Look, I get it. He’d moved on with his life. Sure, he loved Emma once upon a time, but he’d easily integrated into the world, he had a life, a girlfriend, and he did not want to give that up for a girl he might have loved ten years back. And, of course, there was also the matter of his father, who he did not want to face. So, what did Neal do? Once again, he was a coward. He behaved exactly like the father he always hoped would be better.

Before, I said I got it. And I do. Or, I might have, if Neal hasn’t reappeared later in the year, all high and mighty and mad because Emma kept Henry from him. Even if she only did that for like, a few hours, since there’s no way she could have told him before running into him in NY.

It would have been easier to feel bad for him if he weren’t responsible for a) Her having to give up Henry in the first place and, b) The time he missed with Henry since the curse was first broken.

The rest of his time in the show, the Tamara mess and him not believing in Emma, the Neverland arc and his supposedly rediscovered feelings, all of that I could have forgiven – I think. I’m not sure, of course, because I come about it with the perspective of someone who can never forgive him for the first wrong.

Neal was Emma’s first love. He promised her the happy ending she’d so desperately craved, and then, he left her in the cruelest way. It took her many years to pick herself back up and put herself together again – and later, many more years to open up to love, and even her family again. Fact is, Neal broke Emma, and because of that, I do not like him.

His reappearance also struck a weird chord for me – what was the point? He needed no closure with Emma, if anything; he’d achieved closure with her before his death. The scene would have been twenty times more powerful if the one he’d gotten to see was Henry – because Henry does need to know that his father loved him and is in a better place. Emma loved him, mourned him and let him go a long time ago. She’s moved on, not only romantically (and she didn’t really need to, Neal and her were over ages ago), but emotionally.

So, basically, Neal was just there to deliver a warning that Emma wasn’t going to listen to, and basically couldn’t listen to anyway, since she was already on the boat and he was only a hallucination. And that’s the problem with Neal, the main problem; he’s never been there for anything important, not by himself. He’s been other people’s motivation, and a nice possibility while he remained hidden, but he’s never been just Neal, the guy who does this, likes that or is friends with so and so.

And maybe, that’s why I don’t miss him. Well, that and the shitty way he treated Emma, yes. Let’s never forget about that.

Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.




35 Comments

  1. Agree. I dont like him and never have. His attitude and insensitivity towards Emma in season 2 and some acting like he is some saint, he wasnt and isnt.

    1. I think part of the problem is the fact that the writers wrote him this way and now they want us to forget all these things he did and remember him like a great man – and that’s almost impossible.

      1. This is what annoys me so much too

      2. This is what annoys me so much too

  2. I was going to read all of this, I really was, but you lost me the moment you got it all wrong about Neal. He did NOT frame her for a crime she didn’t commit. You need to go back and re-watch Tallahassee in the second season.

    It was EMMA’s idea to go the train station and retrieve the stolen watches. Neal was just planning on running. She didn’t have to keep the watch that he left with her, but she did – that is on her for being caught with a stolen watch! Pinocchio/August was the one that called the cops, not Neal. That is on August!

    If you’re going to argue against a character you should get your facts straight. You didn’t. Emma, along with Snow and Charming, was one of my favorite characters but they’ve absolutely ruined her as I knew that they would when they decided to keep a worthless character and cut a very necessary one.

    1. I have to ask. How August could possibly know Emma’s whereabouts if it wasn’t for Neal??

      1. You don’t think he was following them? How else did he “just happen” to have run into Neal?

      2. Neal and August set her up. So Neal knew where Emma was meeting him.So thats where the tip off to the police was. They both set her up to be caught! That was obvious. Unless you are ignoring that as well.

      3. But the fact that August was ALSO to blame doesn’t make Neal blameless. Neal was there. Neal participated. Neal also didn’t come back for her later when he had the chance. He cared more about not facing his father than he did about Emma – that’s a fact.

      4. But the fact that August was ALSO to blame doesn’t make Neal blameless. Neal was there. Neal participated. Neal also didn’t come back for her later when he had the chance. He cared more about not facing his father than he did about Emma – that’s a fact.

      5. RE: Lissete Lanuza Sáenz

        Oh I agree, I’m with you on this all the way. Neal is the one I blame more because Emma was in relationship with him, SHE LOVED HIM for god’s sake. Neal could hurt her much more than August ever could. And Neal certainly did. He BROKE her.

        I”d like to ask these Neal defenders to just take a second and imagine themselves in Emma’s shoe. If the man I love betrayed & treated me like the way Neal did? I could never fogive him. But then Emma is not me, she is such a forgiving person so I understand how she could find it in her heart to forgive everything and have closure.

        Buuuut me on the other hand, I will forever hold a grudge against Neal because I can! What a douche.

        Great article by the way. Thank you.

      6. RE: Lissete Lanuza Sáenz

        Oh I agree, I’m with you on this all the way. Neal is the one I blame more because Emma was in relationship with him, SHE LOVED HIM for god’s sake. Neal could hurt her much more than August ever could. And Neal certainly did. He BROKE her.

        I”d like to ask these Neal defenders to just take a second and imagine themselves in Emma’s shoe. If the man I love betrayed & treated me like the way Neal did? I could never fogive him. But then Emma is not me, she is such a forgiving person so I understand how she could find it in her heart to forgive everything and have closure.

        Buuuut me on the other hand, I will forever hold a grudge against Neal because I can! What a douche.

        Great article by the way. Thank you.

      7. No it isn’t. Eddy and Adam have said that August was the one who called the police. But let’s ignore the show’s creators and what they say about their characters’ actions right?

      8. Neal and August set her up. So Neal knew where Emma was meeting him.So thats where the tip off to the police was. They both set her up to be caught! That was obvious. Unless you are ignoring that as well.

      9. I could accept your headcanon, no problem. But, it still doesn’t excuse any of Neal’s action as stated in this article though.

        Neal didn’t go to see Emma when the curse was broken, because 1) He did move on, 2) he didn’t want to deal with his daddy issue (he said it as much on screen), which was clealy more important than seeing Emma… so I still don’t get why you think this article got it all wrong.

        Yes, it was Emma’s idea to go the train station and retrieve the stolen watches because she wanted to be with him. But Neal? He wanted to get the f*ck away from everthing (including Emma) the moment he doesn’t want to face his problems. He crushed her heart in a million pieces, at least I hope we can agree on that.

        Neal was one of the main reason Emma stopped trusting people and that should say a lot about this character and Emma/Neal relationship.

      10. You know the best way to avoid his dad altogether though was to never let Emma break the curse. He could have just completely ignored August, sold the watches, went back to Emma and just went on to Florida. He didn’t want to break Emma’s heart or his own (people always ignore that), but he let her go.

      11. You guys are acting like August just happened to randomly run into Neal and somehow managed to have figured it out in very short time exactly who he was and used his non-magical typewriter to type Baelfire’s name on paper to show him. Instead of him having obviously spent time watching Emma and Neal and figuring it out. Wait Pinocchio can read minds right? Oh, no he can’t.

        You really think that August wasn’t in the train station watching what Emma was doing? That he wasn’t following her around at all before HE met Neal?

      12. And really? Neal is the only reason she has trust issues? Really?

      13. I stated above “Neal was one of the reasons”, not “the only reason”. You admit you didn’t read the entire article, but you also clealy didn’t read my comments either, so I don’t see the point in responding to you.

        Let me just say stick to your interpretation. I’ll stick to mine.

      14. I could accept your headcanon, no problem. But, it still doesn’t excuse any of Neal’s action as stated in this article though.

        Neal didn’t go to see Emma when the curse was broken, because 1) He did move on, 2) he didn’t want to deal with his daddy issue (he said it as much on screen), which was clealy more important than seeing Emma… so I still don’t get why you think this article got it all wrong.

        Yes, it was Emma’s idea to go the train station and retrieve the stolen watches because she wanted to be with him. But Neal? He wanted to get the f*ck away from everthing (including Emma) the moment he doesn’t want to face his problems. He crushed her heart in a million pieces, at least I hope we can agree on that.

        Neal was one of the main reason Emma stopped trusting people and that should say a lot about this character and Emma/Neal relationship.

      15. You don’t think he was following them? How else did he “just happen” to have run into Neal?

    2. I have to ask. How August could possibly know Emma’s whereabouts if it wasn’t for Neal??

    3. The bottomline is Neal betrayed her! Set her up for prison! Left her (he didnt leave her stranded for a date and ran, he set her up to be caught!!!!!!!) That is all worst then making some excueses and acting like he was forced he wasnt, he made a choice just like he never came back and so on…. due to his daddy, and never wanting to go back to that world.

      Neal and August (and Neal gets the most blame is because he was the one in the relationship with) set her up after she got the watches and was waiting for him.
      He framed her for a crime HE committed because he stole the watches and when August revealed to him who he is was and he knows Bae (Neal was going to run the moment he knew where Emma was from and his daddy can look for him) then they both set her up and knew she has the stole watch too. Neal is in the wrong here, the way you are acting like he is so innocent.

      Worthless character is Neal (esp the one who you are putting it against). He was a plot device to push other characters. And he wasnt JUST cut, he was always going to die. And that other character who is worthy was made series regular before his first episode aired. So yeah the show knew who they were keeping since they also wanted that said character since season 1!

    4. The bottomline is Neal betrayed her! Set her up for prison! Left her (he didnt leave her stranded for a date and ran, he set her up to be caught!!!!!!!) That is all worst then making some excueses and acting like he was forced he wasnt, he made a choice just like he never came back and so on…. due to his daddy, and never wanting to go back to that world.

      Neal and August (and Neal gets the most blame is because he was the one in the relationship with) set her up after she got the watches and was waiting for him.
      He framed her for a crime HE committed because he stole the watches and when August revealed to him who he is was and he knows Bae (Neal was going to run the moment he knew where Emma was from and his daddy can look for him) then they both set her up and knew she has the stole watch too. Neal is in the wrong here, the way you are acting like he is so innocent.

      Worthless character is Neal (esp the one who you are putting it against). He was a plot device to push other characters. And he wasnt JUST cut, he was always going to die. And that other character who is worthy was made series regular before his first episode aired. So yeah the show knew who they were keeping since they also wanted that said character since season 1!

    5. It was her idea to get the watches, but he stole them. And the only reason she got caught was because August called the cops. Though Neal knew about it. Hence Augusts “We talked about this” to him in 2×06 in the scene where Neal gives him the money and the bug.

    6. It was her idea to get the watches, but he stole them. And the only reason she got caught was because August called the cops. Though Neal knew about it. Hence Augusts “We talked about this” to him in 2×06 in the scene where Neal gives him the money and the bug.

      1. Yes he stole them in the first place, Hence why he was on the FBI wanted list lol.
        And he wanted to run when he saw it.
        So yeah he was going to leave Emma the first chance he got, Until Emma said she will get the watcher HE HID in the locker to him. Which she… then he put the watch on her, and i assume they were also meant to meet later but then August gets to him and shows him his identity and Emma’s. And then Neal and August make a plan and set her up to be caught so yeah Neal knew where she was so overall it is Neal’s crime.
        Far as i can see no matter who called the police BOTH Neal and August are to blame because they set it up, more so Neal because he was the one she trusted and in a relationship with! .

      2. Yes he stole them in the first place, Hence why he was on the FBI wanted list lol.
        And he wanted to run when he saw it.
        So yeah he was going to leave Emma the first chance he got, Until Emma said she will get the watcher HE HID in the locker to him. Which she… then he put the watch on her, and i assume they were also meant to meet later but then August gets to him and shows him his identity and Emma’s. And then Neal and August make a plan and set her up to be caught so yeah Neal knew where she was so overall it is Neal’s crime.
        Far as i can see no matter who called the police BOTH Neal and August are to blame because they set it up, more so Neal because he was the one she trusted and in a relationship with! .

    7. I’m left at a loss as to how to respond to this, since it isn’t really a reply to my piece (which you admit you didn’t read all the way through). Neal put the watch on her, talked to August – we’re left to believe one of them called the cops …that’s setting her up to take the fall for him.

      Fact is, we don’t know if August did it or Neal did it. It hasn’t been specified. You can choose to believe Neal didn’t. That’s your prerogative. Even if he didn’t, though, he was there, he knew what was going to happen and he did nothing to stop it. He was at least partially responsible for Emma going to jail.

      And then, he didn’t come back for her when the curse broke. That’s what did it for me. He didn’t care enough to come back for her. That’s a fact. This piece has nothing to do with Hook or Captain Swan. This is about what Neal did – and what he did was screw Emma over. Again and again.

      1. No it really isn’t. How did Neal meet August? August chased him down. Therefore, he had to have been watching Neal and Emma.

      2. Surely August tracked him down. August, however, didn’t betray the woman he was dating, watched as she was taken away to jail and never returned when he had a chance to do so. And this post isn’t about August – it’s about Neal.

    8. I’m left at a loss as to how to respond to this, since it isn’t really a reply to my piece (which you admit you didn’t read all the way through). Neal put the watch on her, talked to August – we’re left to believe one of them called the cops …that’s setting her up to take the fall for him.

      Fact is, we don’t know if August did it or Neal did it. It hasn’t been specified. You can choose to believe Neal didn’t. That’s your prerogative. Even if he didn’t, though, he was there, he knew what was going to happen and he did nothing to stop it. He was at least partially responsible for Emma going to jail.

      And then, he didn’t come back for her when the curse broke. That’s what did it for me. He didn’t care enough to come back for her. That’s a fact. This piece has nothing to do with Hook or Captain Swan. This is about what Neal did – and what he did was screw Emma over. Again and again.

  3. I was going to read all of this, I really was, but you lost me the moment you got it all wrong about Neal. He did NOT frame her for a crime she didn’t commit. You need to go back and re-watch Tallahassee in the second season.

    It was EMMA’s idea to go the train station and retrieve the stolen watches. Neal was just planning on running. She didn’t have to keep the watch that he left with her, but she did – that is on her for being caught with a stolen watch! Pinocchio/August was the one that called the cops, not Neal. That is on August!

    If you’re going to argue against a character you should get your facts straight. You didn’t. Emma, along with Snow and Charming, was one of my favorite characters but they’ve absolutely ruined her as I knew that they would when they decided to keep a worthless character and cut a very necessary one.

  4. I completely agree with you. Neal treated Emma like she was nothing. Leave em and don’t weep is what I got out of him. I didn’t like him from the first 2 minutes of 2×01. I knew he was Henry’s father and he left Emma. End of story!

  5. I completely agree with you. Neal treated Emma like she was nothing. Leave em and don’t weep is what I got out of him. I didn’t like him from the first 2 minutes of 2×01. I knew he was Henry’s father and he left Emma. End of story!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.