All magic comes with a price. Guess it was finally my turn to pay.Rumple
Starring Lana Parrilla, Colin O’Donoghue, Andrew J. West, Dania Ramirez, Alison Fernandez, Mekia Cox, and Robert Carlyle
Episode 18: The Guardian
All magic comes with a price. Everybody who watches Once Upon a Time knows that. And nobody knows it quite like Rumpelstiltskin: not that he’s ever paid it personally, that is. Not until now, anyway. “The Guardian” puts the focus on series veteran Rumple, and fan favourite Robert Carlyle, in what turns out to be a quietly emotional instalment.
When we were first introduced to Rumplestiltskin way back in Season 1, we grew used to the maniacal, impish, scaly creature that resided in the Enchanted Forest, who thrived upon tricking those around him with the promise of everything they desired, at a cost. The Mr Gold we met in Storybrooke was just as ugly on the inside, it transpired, as Rumple was on the inside, and the next few seasons saw him struggle with his competing desires: that of his love, and of his addiction to power.
Over the course of the series, Rumple is a character who has had lofty highs – sacrificing his own life to defeat his father, Peter Pan – and tremendous lows – gosh, where to start? Continually gaslighting and deceiving his wife is probably the most egregious, especially since it was a heavily repeated and intentional move, never really granting her the respect of truly knowing her. Rumple as a character is definitely one that acts in his own self-interest, and never really showed much commitment to being a “good” person.
That’s not to say that he’s lacking depth. Far from it, in fact. Rumple and Regina were probably the two characters who have been the most developed through the show’s run. From the discovery that Rumple engineered the Dark Curse so that he could be reunited with his son, Bae, to finding out that Rumple’s own father had abandoned him so that he could be unencumbered and youthful, becoming the needlessly sinister Peter Pan, or the revelation that his mother, ultimately the Black Fairy, changed his entire destiny from that of heroism to protect him from doom, Rumple’s character has been enhanced massively throughout the past six seasons of the show.
Throughout all of that, Rumple’s priorities have remained broadly the same. He has always been incredibly committed to his family, and his loved ones. His pursuit of power all derives from his need to protect his family, though his seduction by darkness has certainly pulled him away from those he loves. We have seen Rumple do noble things, and selfless things, in service of those he holds dear, even making the ultimate sacrifice. However, Rumple has never actually been motivated by a desire just to be good. He’s always been driven out of self interest; about the need to help those important to him, regardless of the consequences to others.
Season 7 has seen that change. The loss of Belle for Rumple could either have gone two ways, and the direction that the writers have taken here has been massively respectful to Belle’s legacy and her impact upon Rumple. For a character who spent most of her time in the show being disregarded and kept out of the loop, it’s appropriate that Belle’s ultimate impact on Rumple is one for the better.
Throughout Season 7, we can see that Rumple is completely devastated by Belle’s death, and his motivations have wholly shifted compared to what we’re used to seeing. Season 6 was all about how Rumple cared for his son, Gideon, but this sees a shift, and it’s something that Once Upon a Time hasn’t really explored before, and it’s incredibly relatable for the audience. Dealing with the loss of a loved one, as all inevitably will do, is a different kind of shattering heartbreak that we have seen from Rumple before, and throughout Season 7 he is purely motivated by his desire to reunite with Belle. Robert Carlyle’s performance throughout this episode is massively touching as he conveys that empty kind of sadness that comes with all consuming grief. Him breaking down in tears is just as emotional as the lines where he is trying to be strong.
In the past storyline, we see Rumple attempt to reunite with Belle using the powers of the Guardian to rid him of his immortality and connection to the dagger (if you remember from Season 5, Rumple did, in fact, willingly commit to being the Dark One, so my sympathy is present, but I still feel like he knew what he was getting himself in for). As it transpires, Alice is a guardian – which makes sense, because if anybody embodies pure of heart, it is most certainly that ball of pure delight. Realising that in using her guardian powers, he is condemning her to the same fate he currently suffers, however, Rumple stops Alice before it is too late and, in doing so, becomes his scaly Dark One self once more. Though he “succumbs” to the darkness, he has done the right thing, which, as he points out, brings him closer to Belle.
In the present, however, Rumple strays from his quest to do the right thing, panicked as he is by the fact that his dagger has gone missing. Stealing Regina’s magic that she needs to keep Henry from dying when the curse breaks, he finds the dagger in Tilly’s backpack, where she has, unknowingly, been protecting it.
This act drives a wedge between Regina and Rumple. Though we haven’t seen much of the pairing in this season, the two had eased into a steady and friendly dynamic that tends to come with increased time together. However, with this act, Regina swears that they are through. Hopefully it isn’t too long before the pair make up, as the two longstanding and popular members of the cast.
This episode is one of highs and lows for Rumple, and unfortunately the lows come in the present day, where they are more likely to make a lasting impact. Though he remained committed to Belle in the past by stopping Alice making a terrible mistake, and sacrificing his own happy ending in the process, through stealing Regina’s magic, he’s definitely taking further steps towards the darkness in his heart, threatening his ultimate reunion with his late wife.
The highlight of this episode, however, has to be the moment that Rumple, newly turned into the Dark One in the New Enchanted Forest, walks away from Hook, murmuring “spin, spin, spin” to himself. The emptiness and the loss conveyed in those wistful words were absolutely heart rending, and it really goes some way to demonstrating how profoundly lonely Rumple is, and how ready he is to give up his power, in a way that we’ve never seen before. He’s utterly beaten and broken down at this juncture, and there simply isn’t any justice if he doesn’t end this season without being reunited with Belle, wherever she is.
Elsewhere in this episode, there was some really sweet development in Alice and Robin’s relationship. There were little hints and allusions to the pair of them back in the Enchanted Forest, but we also saw them go on a date in the present day. The opposite dynamic of the two between the Enchanted Forest and Hyperion Heights, as a girl who longs for adventure and one who has had them is a really touching and sweet detail and really helps the two to riff off each other in equally charming ways. The way that Margot was so understanding of Tilly’s needs at the end of the episode when Tilly opened up about her good and bad days was also a brilliant moment of vulnerability and reassurance. It really goes to show that when there are two really strong performers with brilliant chemistry that they do not need massive amounts of scenes if they sell them as well as Rose Reynolds and Tiera Skovbye do. I’d be horrendously surprised if there are any sane audience members who do not root for the two of them to get together.
The final sting of this episode comes as the characters within Hyperion Heights begin to become aware of the fantastical events that are occurring around them. Not only is Rogers realising the bizarre nature of Nick’s death, being stabbed from the inside, but Henry finally reveals to Jacinda the results of the blood test that show that he is Lucy’s father. Is this enough to convince them that Lucy’s been correct about the curse all along?
There’s a lot to look forward to from the coming episodes of Once Upon a Time. The final chapter seems to be drawing ever closer to its end, and it’s nice that the regular inhabitants of Hyperion Heights are starting to cotton on to the strange events that have been occurring around them. Honestly, it’s a wonder that it’s taken this long. Still, with Regina having lost the one bit of magic she could use to save Henry, hopefully the curse isn’t broken too soon before she can find a remedy. Additionally, Tilly/Alice could have a huge role to play now that her status as a guardian has been revealed, though the intentions of both Facilier and Gothel are still massive question marks at this point.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. Seasons 1 – 4 are now available on Disney+ in the UK. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.