Once Upon a Time is teasing out a lot of stories – like how Snow and Charming ultimately come together and the secret that drove the Queen and Snow apart. But the January return of Once Upon a Time didn’t tease out Rumpelstiltskin’s origin story. In less than an hour we know exactly how and why he went from a mild-mannered villager and father to an evil and somewhat crazy creature capable of great magic.
This week’s Once Upon a Time was all about the episode title: desperate souls. As it turns out, Rumple had once been a solider. At least until he deserted his post and returned to a wife who didn’t want to be married to an AWOL soldier. She left him and their young son (Baelfire) and Rumple raised the boy himself. Just before Bae’s 14th birthday, soldiers visited the town, looking for children fourteen and older to draft into the army. Rumple’s first instinct was to run, albeit to save his son’s life. This is an understandable desertion, even if Bae wanted to be brave enough to fight.
Unfortunately, soldiers found Rumple and Bae trying to escape and one of them humiliated Rumple in front of his son, then sent them on their way. But how to ensure Bae would never be forced to live the life of a child soldier? Well, an old beggar provided the answer: all Rumple had to do was steal a dagger from the duke’s castle. This dagger controlled a man known as the Dark One, who wielded magic and was able to keep the townspeople in line. But the duke was controlling the Dark One. If Rumple could steal the dagger and perform a ritual, he could control the magic man himself….or kill the Dark One and take the power for himself.
Bae was worried about the plan, but Rumple went through with it. It wasn’t until later that he realized he had been tricked by the old beggar, who turned out to be the Dark One himself. As the Dark One told Rumple after he had been stabbed and his true identity revealed – magic always comes with a price. The Dark One’s life was horrific and he wanted to die, but he had to pass his magic on to another.
Rumple returned to his town to find the soldiers there with his son. In front of Bae, Rumple revealed his new power (complete with the scary Rumple face we all know) and demanded fealty from the soliders. Later, he killed them. Bae was frightened of the man his father had become, but Rumple was pleased that he managed to hang on to something that belonged to him: his son.
The only question in my mind is what happened to Bae as Rumple became more and more of a monster? And after watching Once Upon a Time this week I wondered whether this was the reason that Rumple made bargains for children. Did Bae go on to die or leave his father and Rumple spent the following years trying to replace his son? I loved that the writers didn’t bother to tease out Rumple’s origin story, but it’s what comes next that really leaves me intrigued. Rumple clearly did what he did for the love of his son, but was he also trying to overcome his own shortcomings? After all, the Dark One pointed out that Rumple’s son was brave where his father was weak, and was Bae even his son at all? Perhaps those harsh words were just a last-minute taunt, but they seemed to strike close to home.
Meanwhile, Emma was Once Upon a Time’s “desperate soul” in Storybrooke. Still sad about Graham’s death, Mr. Gold told Emma that she could take up the mantle of sheriff now that two weeks had passed since the old one had died. Emma seemed hesitant and was also sad to see Henry so depressed. As it turns out, he was worried about what Regina could do to Emma and wanted to put a stop to Operation Cobra, believing that Regina killed Graham no matter that Emma insisted he died of natural causes.
Regina put the kibosh on Emma’s plans to become sheriff pretty quickly when she fired her, which led Mr. Gold to offer to become Emma’s benefactor. After all, he had a secret weapon: the town charter. Using the charter’s regulations, Emma decided to run for sheriff against Sidney Glass, Regina’s pick for sheriff. Later, realizing he had interfered, Regina went to visit Mr. Gold. Mr. Gold’s conversation about children and his various actions since the show has started has led me to believe he remembers his fairytale life, just like Regina does. That may turn out to be wrong, but she is clearly wondering what his agenda is and why he is opposing her, even if she doesn’t know whether or not he remembers.
Later, Mr. Gold set up an explosion in the mayor’s office, allowing Emma to act as a hero when saving Regina from the resulting fire. But Emma quickly realized what he had done and confronted him about it, telling him that dirty tactics were not how she wanted to win the election. After all, if she couldn’t show Henry how good can triumph over evil the right way, what was the point? So Emma told the townspeople what Mr. Gold had done and they reacted favorably to her honesty by ultimately selecting her as the sheriff.
Regina seemed upset about the decision, naturally, but was thrilled that Emma had made an enemy out of Mr. Gold. Only, as it turns out, Emma hadn’t really won the “right way”. Because Mr. Gold had always planned for her to tell the townspeople the truth, knowing that would be the thing that would secure her the position. Now Emma understands the depth of his deceit and cunning and is still in his debt. A debt he feels will be particularly useful now that she is sheriff.
This was a great episode of Once Upon a Time. I loved how Regina managed to be gleeful after Emma having Mr. Gold as an enemy even after her preferred candidate lost as sheriff. There is literally no situation Regina could be in where she doesn’t attempt to wrestle back the balance of power. Meanwhile, Emma and Henry are becoming closer and it’s clear that Emma is softening towards her son. No doubt this will continue to be a point of contention with Regina.
The only thing Once Upon a Time needs is more David and Mary Margaret. Of course, I don’t want to experience the never-ending angst of a “will they or won’t they?” subplot, but I do want those two crazy kids to get together. Now that David is back on his feet with a new job, it’s high time he dumped his (fake?) wife for Mary Margaret.
A new episode of Once Upon a Time will air on Sunday, January 15 at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC. Watch a preview for the episode here.