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Let’s talk about the strong connections Neal has on this show outside of Emma Swan.
There’s his father, Rumplestiltskin. The Dark One. The one who created the curse for the sole purpose of finding Neal. They love each other so much. They also have a complicated, painful history just begging to be fully explored onscreen. (If you ever want to read a story that does their reconciliation justice, check out antikryptonite’s Too Human. It’s raw, beautiful poetry.)
There’s his stepmother Belle. Now, there’s relationship fan’s were salivating over seeing progress onscreen. Whether a step parent relationship or a sibling bond, people wanted it for ages. The two people who love Rumple the most in the world talking and interacting? Quite possibly ganging up on him in the process? Yes, please!
There’s his son Henry. Once Upon a Time is supposed to be a modern take on fairytales. Parent’s don’t always end up together. But no matter where Neal and Emma were in their relationship, the moment Neal found out about Henry he was there for him. Their bonding was beautiful to see onscreen and could have continued even if Neal and Emma did not end up together romantically.
There’s Hook. Hook ran off with his mother, is part of the reason Neal grew up without a mother, tried to kill his father, and sold him off to the Lost Boys. And yet there’s a small part of Neal the remembers and cares for the man who pulled him from the water and taught him to sail and navigate. Now that’s complicated and interesting drama right there.
There’s Regina. Regina raised Henry for years and Henry loves her and wants her to be a part of his life. Inevitably, they would have wound up talking. And I would pay good money to see that happening.
These are ALL main characters essential to the show. What about side characters?
There’s Tinkerbell. How did they meet? What was their relationship? Did Tink help him escape the island?
There’s Robin Hood. Robin and Neal have a great deal in common, both being fathers and former thieves. They seemed to enjoy seeing each other again in the EF and to respect each other a great deal. There’s a broship just waiting to happen here.
There’s the Darlings. Wasted, wasted potential. Brother and sister relationships are solely lacking on this show and Neal and the Darlings could have helped solve that. Plus, can you imagine Rumple trying to come to terms with the fact that his Bae has another family besides him?
There’s the Lost Boys. Neal was a lost boy and he clearly knew Felix. What was their backstory? What was Baelfire like in Neverland? All interesting questions. All gone unanswered.
There’s Mulan. Of course Jamie Chung’s schedule is a factor, but still. It would be amazing to see Mulan and Neal team up again. They had a very interesting dynamic and Mulan is very loyal to her friends.
Neal had so many connections and ties on this show it’s not even funny. His importance does NOT hinge on whether Swanfire was endgame or not. There are a million different possibilities here, a million different paths the writers could have chosen to explore with this character. And none of them are contingent on Neal’s relationship with Emma. NOT. ONE.
"I will be kind but I will speak my mind."