Once you give in to darkness, it’s almost impossible to resist its calling.Rumple
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Jared S. Gilmore, Rebecca Mader, and Robert Carlyle.
Episode 13: Ill-Boding Patterns
Putting Robert Carlyle centre stage is always something contentious with me. Maybe I’m super triggered by older white men, which is infinitely possible, as quite a few of them continue to make life quite difficult for many, many people. Furthermore, Gold as a character also embodies a lot of these traits that I find genuinely abhorrent, and I’m not sure whether the show really acknowledges this to the extent that it should. As a human character, he is more than just the monster from the fairytale. He continues to act entirely selfishly and abusively towards those around him, yet he never seems to get as much comeuppance as he should, other than Belle occasionally breaking up with him and making him sad for a few weeks. This is the problem with having such a character as a main one, as the show is tasked with handling his redemption, while also trying to do something different to show how ensnared in evil he is. It’s a programme built around the entire concept of coming back from evil and reforming your character. When it’s magical concepts, like when Regina burns down a village, it’s far enough from the audience’s experiences to be forgivable. But is there anything that an abusive partner could do in real life to make it up to you and it not be massively damaging? I don’t think so. That’s the dangerous line that Once treads here, and even though these episodes only aired about three years ago, I think it’s fair to say that the programme itself never really acknowledged or took ownership of how abusive Rumple is in the same way as they would have to in 2020.
On the other hand, I like Rumple as a character in the Enchanted Forest. When he’s being a trickster and making deals using his magic, he is much more likeable, especially when all of this comes from a place of genuine hurt. As originally written, he suffers from the loss of his son, and this is hugely relatable. Him falling in love with Belle and her seeing the man that lies beneath the physical monster is also plain, but it’s once he comes into Storybrooke’s that it becomes more messy, as he gets too wrapped up in that darkness, and it’s not just about the magic, but it’s about the way that he treats and involves others as well.
So this episode is somewhat of an attempt at a course correct for Gold, who has spent the vast majority of Season 6 so far mercilessly tormenting and debasing his “true love”, Belle. Who isn’t his true love anymore, because he couldn’t wake her with true love’s kiss, but also might be his true love because they hug each other now and maintain eye contact. Which I suppose means that Belle can forgive Rumple for the fact that he tried to magically alter their child’s future and put a magical bracelet on her so that he could stalk her to the ends of the earth. Not to mention, a history of choosing magic and screwing other people over in deference to her. All that to one side…
The flashbacks seemed strange to me. Ignoring the fact that the recast of Bae was just confusing as he looks far too old to have been from this period in history, it seemed superfluous and contrived, just to draw parallels between Rumple’s history with Bae and his present situation with Gideon.
You can entirely see what the writers are trying to pull off here. You have Rumple in the present trying to stop Gideon from giving into the darkness, and they then want to link this to the lengths that Rumple already went to in order to protect Bae from the darkness. It would be an interesting twist and concept if it didn’t reek of convenience. That’s not Bae’s way at all, and we know that because of countless years of flashbacks about his character. Sure, Bae has flaws like everybody else, but a memory potion to make him forget the past day or so is not enough to fundamentally change his personally.
I assume that when we saw Bae ordering Rumple using the dagger to kill Beowulf that we were meant to feel shocked and betrayed at this life altering revelation. Sure, it is interesting to believe that Bae’s entire distrust of Rumple (and his momentary and alarming change of face, body and height) stems from an event which he is actually the cause of, but it just screams of Season 6 attempts of creating drama where there isn’t any. Not to mention trying to show what dramatic lengths that Rumple will go to in order to protect his children from darkness. Specifically doing darkness themselves. He has no qualms in using dark magic around them, or indeed abandoning them to go through portals by themselves, but sure – this is where the line is, apparently.
Another frustrating thing about Rumple’s actions in this episode is that there’s no sort of acknowledgement that what he did to the Blue Fairy was okay. I understand that him committing this act instead of Gideon is more preferable to Gideon darkening his heart, but there’s also this idea that bad actions are only bad because they darken one’s own heart, and not the damage they cause to other people and like just generally being a decent human being? Isn’t the whole concept of a bad act darkening your soul implying that you’re being good just for the sake of yourself instead of the world around you? I don’t know. Either way, the fact that Belle hugs and thanks Rumple after he intentionally put the Blue Fairy into a coma doesn’t sit right with me, surprisingly enough.
The Black Fairy seems to be a credible and fearsome threat, regardless of how irritating this storyline with Gideon, Gold and Belle is. One small thing that is still prompting confusion, however, is that – if the Black Fairy is trapped to some other realm, stopping her from coming across to Storybrooke, then how did she kidnap Gideon in the first place? That seems to be a glaring plot hole, but everybody is communally ignoring it.
Elsewhere this week, Hook is torn between telling Emma the truth or just ignoring it as he was doing before, but ultimately Emma finds the ring he was going to use to propose and they end up getting engaged before he can come clean. It’s gripping, but it’s also frustrating. It should be a really satisfying moments borne out of a developing relationship over the past couple of seasons, but instead it’s marred and weighed down by this massive secret. It’s also surprising that such a big relationship moment comes in an episode which Emma is barely in and it’s hardly focussed on at all. Knowing Emma’s penchant for keeping her walls up, and the fact that she actively says “no walls, no secrets”, it’s set to be a fiery and climactic reveal.
Finally, new Robin continues to set himself apart from his previous self by ardently attempting to escape Storybrooke. For this purpose, he recruits Zelena, but, as pointed out by Regina, it turns out that they do not have the equipment to break the curse on the town line otherwise she would have done it already. This ultimately leads to a team up between The Evil Queen, now human again, and Robin. Plus, Zelena and Regina stand in a room for minutes without arguing, so that’s something. Oh, and Regina acknowledges that she should never have excised her evil half. So that’s a positive step.
Ultimately, “Ill-Boding Patterns” serves to help us learn more about Gideon, and tries to redeem Rumplestiltskin. Since I have no intention of forgiving him any time soon, it was an hour full of strenuous eye rolling and irritated huffing.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.