Finally, we get Rumplestiltskin’s backstory, and I get to fall in madly in love with all the many faces (and voices!) of the amazing Robert Carlyle.
We start our story in the humble hut of poor, widowed father Rumplestiltskin, the village coward. As Rumple looks on in horror, the army has come to town and is pressing into service any youth aged fourteen or older (male or female, so let’s hear it for equality in Fairytale land) to fight in the ogre wars – a certain death sentence. They’re able to enact such a horrible thing because they command The Dark One, an evil wizard with the power to Darth-choke pretty much anybody. Rumple’s beloved son, Baelfire, turns fourteen in two days, and the Captain, a nasty piece of work by the name of Hodor, swears he’ll be back for him.
Rumple is then shown as Mr. Gold in present-day, sitting in his shop, using sheep’s lanolin on a restoration job, and encouraging Emma to take over Sheriff’s Graham’s sadly vacated position. He offers Emma Graham’s personal things – apparently Graham rented a room from Gold when he wasn’t banging Regina at Granny’s. Gold gives Emma Graham’s walkie-talkie set to give to Henry, reminding her how precious time is when spent with your children.
Emma finds Henry in his “castle” – the wooden playground set where he likes to hang out, and Henry tells her they need to stop Operation Cobra. He’s worried about Emma now that Graham’s been struck dead – he’s sure Regina did it, and of course, Emma isn’t believing.
Regina shows up later at the Sheriff’s station to let Emma know that she’s putting a new Sheriff in power, since she’s the mayor and she can do that. She appoints Sidney Glass, the newspaper reporter that she has most firmly by the balls. Emma stands up to Regina and gets fired for it.
So she goes home to drink and blast rock music and attack toasters with knives like any sad, undersexed woman whose almost-boyfriend had his heart crushed before she could sex him up. Mary Margaret gives her tons of smarmy empathy, but the real solution arrives in the form of Mr. Gold, who informs Emma that there’s a town charter that somehow evaded Regina’s notice (this curse sure has a lot of loopholes, doesn’t it?) and according to that charter, the town is allowed to vote for the Sheriff.
Back in the Enchanted Forest, Rumple (with his charming rustic Irish accent) takes his obviously Canadian son oat into the woods in an attempt to escape the army. He’s caught, and gets a pass – but only if he licks the captain’s boot. Whimpering, simpering Rumple does exactly that, much to his son’s shame. To add insult, Captain Hodor tells Baelfire the story of how Rumple ran from the Ogre war, leaving his comrades to die, and that Rumple’s wife couldn’t bear the sight of his cowardly face.
Enter a kindly, if dentally-challenged old beggar, whom Rumple agrees to feed, even though they’re most likely eating boiled rocks themselves. Aw. Rumple’s a sweetie. A sad, pathetic sweetie.
Rumple confesses to the beggar that he’s going to have to give up his son because he has no other choice. The old beggar tells Rumple of a dagger, a dagger of enormous power. The Duke of the Frontlands holds the dagger, upon which is engraved the true name of The Dark One. If Rumple can steal the dagger, no one could ever take his son from him. If he can use the dagger on The Dark One himself, he could become The Dark One, and wield all that power himself.
Back in Storybrooke Regina pays Gold a visit in his shop and they trade pointed barbs and not-very-thinly-veiled insults with perfectly timed finesse. It’s like watching a fencing match between two masters. God, I love them when they hate each other. Rumple takes a moment to caution Regina about Emma.
“Never underestimate someone who’s battling for their child,” he warns her. It turns out, he’s a guy who knows all about that kind of desperation.
Sidney and Emma, meanwhile, are readying themselves to face off in a debate, and shots are fired, figuratively, of course. This is a show about fairy tales, you know. Sidney dug up dirt on Emma, and Henry learns that he was born in prison.
Emma tells Henry that Gold is helping her and Henry cautions her: don’t make any more deals with Gold. You don’t want to owe him anything else.
Emma confronts Regina about her smear campaign and Regina is completely unfazed, and deliciously snarky. She, too, warns Emma about Gold just before the Mayor’s office bursts into flame and Regina twists her ankle. Emma helps Regina through the burning doorway, just as someone’s there to snap a picture of Emma’s dramatic rescue.
Regina bitches instead of saying thanks, of course, and a very troubled Emma finds a clue – a lanolin soaked rag – that tells her Gold set the fire. She confronts Gold, who blandly uses the OJ Simpson form of denial. “If I did it,” he says, it’s because Emma won’t beat Regina without going over the top. He reminds her that there’s a lot at stake, and Emma leaves, clearly torn about this turn of events.
In the Enchanted Forest, however, there’s another kind of fire burning. Rumple is stoked and ready to become The Dark One. Baelfire questions the wisdom of this decision, telling his father he thinks he should probably fight in the war. Then he asks if it’s true – the coward stuff. He hears his father sidestep the story, but you can see on his face he knows it’s true. Still, he’s with Dad all the way, and together they go set the Duke’s castle on fire and steal the dagger.
Rumple summons Zoso, the name on the dagger, and a hooded figure arrives. Zoso taunts Rumple about his cowardly ways, reminding him that it’s now Baelfire’s birthday and he needs power to save his son. Rumple stabs The Dark One – who turns out to be the old beggar. The beggar thanks him – apparently being The Dark One is not all it’s cracked up to be. The dagger has taken a terrible toll, because all magic comes with a price. Rumple realizes he’s been used, set-up, and he questions why, prompting Zoso (with his dying breath) to utter an awesome line:
“I know how to recognize a desperate soul…”
Outside Storybrooke city hall, we see a very uncomfortable Mary-Margaret run into an obviously nervous David, and a stumbling, bumbling Archie practicing as emcee of the big debate. (Side note: you have to watch the bloopers for Season 1 too see just how hilarious Archie bumbles this. Comedy gold). Sidney gets up and promises “Honesty, neighborlyness and strength,” – all while Regina mouths the words she obviously gave him. I don’t think “neighborlyness” is a word, but I’m guessing nobody has the balls to tell Regina that.
Emma makes the decision that if she’s going to win this, she’s going to do it honestly, and not with Mr. Gold’s nasty, sheepy help. She tells everyone at the debate what Gold did, and she tells them she can’t and won’t win by deception.
We catch up with Emma later at Granny’s where she’s slugging back a few drinks, sure she’s lost the whole shebang. Henry arrives and gives her one of the walkie-talkies, telling her Operation Cobra is back on because she’s a true hero. Regina shows up and very, very reluctantly hands over the Sheriff’s badge. The people have voted, and Emma is now Sheriff. Regina smiles a sexy, cat-like smile and warns Emma again about Mr. Gold.
Back in the Enchanted Forest, Rumple trots out his new, crocodile-skinned look complete with black, soul-less eyes. He corners Captain Hodor, and as the new Dark One he demands that Hodor kiss his boot. As the man sinks down, Rumple twists his head, snapping his neck. Then he proceeds to slaughter all the guards as well, smiling that horrible, skin-crawling smile and assuring Baelfire that he is now “safe.” Baelfire clearly doesn’t feel the love inherent in mass murder, and has some clear misgivings about dear old Dad’s new look.
In Storybrooke, Mr. Gold shows up to bring Emma Graham’s formerly muscle-filled jacket (and yes, I am still pissed about Graham) and he reveals that his setting of the fire was a con within a con. “Everyone’s afraid of Regina,” he calmly, oh-so-calmly tells her, “But they’re more afraid of me.” Emma realizes that he set her up, he wanted her to become Sheriff. The question is why?
“I know how to recognize a desperate soul.” he says. And then he reminds her that she still owes him a favor, and as Sheriff, she’s now in a better position to grant it.
And with a cordial “Good Day,” he leaves, and we realize, just like Emma, that we’ve been masterfully, beautifully manipulated. And we love it. We love it hard.
Oh, Bobby Carlyle.
I give this episode five daggers of power out of five.
Damn, is that man a God with a script. And Rumple’s backstory is heartbreaking and wonderful.