Once Upon A Time SpotLight: Rumpelstiltskin

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Warning: Spoiler Alert

[Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of NJATVS Spotlights, a series of columns in which we’ll explore a character in-depth, from one of the shows we recap. These pieces give us a chance to explore an iconic character in great depth, as we attempt to determine what makes them tick. The first article of the series, focuses on the ABC Sunday night show “Once Upon A Time” and the author’s the woman we refer to as “MS. SUNDAY NIGHT,” Chelle Figler.]

These first 5 episodes have not contained nearly enough RumBelle and it is beginning to make me twitchy.

We all saw it coming, I think. Their wedded bliss was probably not going to be a focal point in the Frozen storyline, which is fine, because the multi-narratives this show runs are always fantastic. There’s just a self-indulgent part of me that wanted to see a whole lot more. It appears that next week might be what I’ve been waiting for all season, and so I’m excited! But even in their brief time together, this season hasn’t been full of happiness for The Golds, and I’m a bit concerned that next week could end messily.

Season three ended with Rumpelstiltskin and Belle married, it follows that season four should begin with their honeymoon. And, since they can’t exactly go to the Bahamas, Belle brings Rum to a giant mansion in the middle of the woods that “came over in the last curse and has been empty.” Belle doesn’t know who the house belongs to, but Rumpelstiltskin’s eyes immediately catch an odd-looking object laying out on a table in one of the front rooms. We know now that it’s the dumpling-basket-thing that held The Sorcerer’s Magic Stealing Hat.

It’s not a stretch to say that he knows who the house belongs to. Yet, he decides to go ahead and, ahem, honeymoon the hell out of it anyway. The Imp either has balls of brass (not a Rumpelstiltskin-like trait), or he thinks that he can get a leg up on the owner so that they’ll have no choice but to accept the situation (which The Dark One would do without blinking an eye). Belle has been around briefly, but kind of only when she’s being tricked about the dagger by Rumpel. I am a teensy bit unhappy about this because I don’t like to see women characters as accessories, and I’m willing to overlook that for now because it also makes a ton of sense that she isn’t a main character at the moment. But, I feel like the writers threw us a bone early on with the Beauty and the Beast dance scene so we wouldn’t notice that there isn’t much story between the two of them to start the season. Tough cookies, Writers! I noticed!

Even before they found their honeymoon suite, we found Rumpelstiltskin confessing to Baelfire’s grave that he had proposed to Belle with a false dagger, then used the real dagger to kill Zelena, then altered the security footage to make sure it looked like she magically committed suicide. All of this after he promised Belle that he wouldn’t go after Zelena. Belle’s going to get so angry she’ll change colors when she finds out. She very well may leave him again. And, she would have every right to.

He proposed to her with a lie. He killed someone he said he wouldn’t. He’s swapping the dagger back and forth presumably from under her nose. He’s running around Storybrooke doing all sorts of wicked things—like taunting The Snow Queen (who he obviously is quite familiar with), denying that he knows anything of Elsa or Anna when we know that isn’t true, as well as forcing Hook to play Smee to Mr. Gold’s Captain Hook, so that he can track down The Apprentice and trap him in The Sorcerer’s Magic-Stealing Hat that he’s had all this time. All of this while he’s sworn on the love of his wife and the memory of his dead son to become a new man and never engage in dark magic again. That’s quite a list of sins for someone married for approximately fifteen minutes.

But, I love Rumpelstiltskin, and I don’t want to believe this is all just a power grab on his part. He might be a little obsessed with power, but I think he really believes that it’s his only shot at protecting the people (well, person) he loves. He refused to part with his powers for the love of Baelfire, all along claiming that he was trying to protect him. Once Bae was gone, he needed his powers to find him. He brought magic back to Storybrooke after the first curse ended. Belle thought he wanted magic back because he is afraid to live without his power. He admits that he is, but only because he’s still looking for Baelfire. It might be easy to dismiss this as some sort of self-gratification justification, but let’s think of Rumpelstiltskin’s history.

He’s brought up as the son of a man who is known to everyone as a bum, a cheater, and a coward. He tries his very best to make a new life for himself and his papa. That blows up in his face, leaving him fatherless and with the scorn and spite of a very powerful magical being. Rumpel figured out quite early on that one must regard magic carefully, because it is a truly dangerous and powerful thing.

After he returns to his native land, ravaged by war with horrific ogres, and goes on to marry a woman named Milah and tries to make a good life for the two of them. He’s excited by his conscription into the army because he’ll have a chance to prove himself once and for all. Except then he encounters a Seer before he ever steps foot on the battlefield, who tells him that not only is his wife knocked up, but that his impending actions will leave his son fatherless. Considering that he was already King of Daddy Issues Island, the thought of leaving his son as alone in the world as he was as a child is enough to drive him to the madness it requires to smash one’s leg with an axe.

Then, he gets home, weeping with the agony of his ruined leg and the joy his son brings him, only to find that his wife is kind of pissed that he’s back. She would rather he died a hero than live as a coward. She’s not a very nice lady. That he shunned his duty to fight ruins his marriage, leading Milah to leave Rum and a seven-year-old Baelfire to sail off with Killian Jones (who will later become Captain Hook). Rum, of course, tries to save her because he’s lead to believe that she’s been kidnapped. Jones offers to fight Rumpel for Milah. Rum won’t fight, but begs for his wife back for the sake of their son. Jones refuses, Milah becomes a pirate hooker, and Rum spends the next several years being humiliated at every point imaginable, never once attempting to defend himself, because he’s afraid of doing anything that might cost him his son. And let’s not forget, he wasn’t looking to become The Dark One, either. He was trying to save Baelfire from becoming cannon fodder for the Ogre Wars, and got tricked by the previous Dark One (Zoso) into killing him and taking on the power.

His ruthless behavior, despite the life of misery and loss that he’d experienced up to that point, is still his responsibility. He’s finally in a position to not just protect himself, but to inflict suffering on to those who have caused him to suffer. He did not make responsible decisions with that power. There’s no denying that, or excusing it. He overindulged, and it frightened his son, and he should have behaved more honorably to bring himself in line with his son’s wishes. It’s absolutely true that he should have followed Bae through the Blue Fairy’s portal to go to a land without magic. However, given who his daddy is and his experiences with jumping through portals, I think that he’s earned the right to be completely terrified of that kind of that particular situation. It was not the right thing to do. But maybe you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t have made similar choices with the options he faced.

But even through all the dark magic and grief, he hasn’t lost his ability to love. He dedicated himself to finding Baelfire after he was lost through the portal. It took him a long time, and it was a pretty desperate plan to begin with, but you can’t say the man isn’t devoted. His son meant everything to him and he literally moved heaven and earth to try to find him again. Through all of that drama, he found romantic love again as well, even after having his heart completely shattered by Milah’s betrayal (getting even with her and Hook may have helped him get over that, of course). I don’t believe he meant to fall in love with Belle, but (especially in the Enchanted Forest), True Love can find its way to anyone. (And, I dunno, it seems like fact that she was wearing a gold dress when she met him, and he spins gold thread, seems to make it fairytale-perfect fate. Symbolism, folks!)

Even though he loved her, he still acted abominably when Belle kissed him and his curse began to break, and I believe that he was just as terrified of losing his powers because that would mean never finding Bae as he was that he and Belle were in love with each other. It’s not unreasonable for a man who has rubbed elbows with truly evil people and who has had his heart thoroughly broken so many times to be afraid of being in love. And, if Regina hadn’t lied to him and told him that Belle was dead (when really Regina had kidnapped her and was holding her captive in a tower), he would have tried to find her just like he was trying to find Baelfire.

And so, chewing on all of this, what do we really know about him, and what can we speculate the future holds for him in season four?

We barely know anything about The Sorcerer or His Amazing Magic Stealing Dream Hat, but it’s obvious that the story will circle back to its importance at some point. Magic-stealing-or-otherwise-containing objects have factored into the Frozen storyline as well, and it’s possible that the two seemingly unrelated elements may cross paths once either a) the Sorcerer returns, or b) The Snow Queen begins to really wreak havoc on Storybrooke. Specifically to Rumpel though, I’m sure that Mr. Sorcerer is not going to be happy that Rum and Belle had a party there while they’re supposed to just be watering the plants while he was out-of-town. Plus Rumpel stole his hat. And cursed his junior partner. A couple of times.

The Snow Queen is still a mystery, too. Sure, we know she was Emma’s foster mom for a while and that she said she’s Elsa’s aunt but Elsa doesn’t remember that, though that doesn’t tell us as much as you’d think. She and Rumpelstiltskin had a quick tete-a-tete in the woods when she first built the ice wall around Storybrooke. All we gleaned from that, though, was that she wasn’t happy to see him (no one ever is), and that he’ll be waiting to deal with her when she’s ready (which he promised he wouldn’t do!). Rumpel knew Anna in The Enchanted Forest but he denied knowing her in Storybrooke, even though it seemed like he was trying to hide behind a technicality as he spoke.

Supposedly, The Dagger Situation is NOT a mystery—there are two, and Rum has been switching them back and forth from Belle. Captain Hook knows this and tried to blackmail him, but it turned out that Hook, uhm, overplayed his hand (I couldn’t help it!) and now Hook is schlepping for him. I think there’s a whole lot going on with The Dagger Situation that we don’t know about. This show has a tendency to blow open story arcs and add a ton of subplots and far-reaching tie-ins, or even detailed explanations

for subtle plot points that were merely mentioned and dismissed much earlier. This feels like the perfect opportunity for OUAT to do its thing. I hope it does.

But, that’s not the only nagging, another-shoe-is-going-to-drop problem that I feel like Rumpelstiltskin might face. Remember when he and Belle broke up at The Dark Castle because she kissed him and it broke the curse of the dagger? Well, the two of them have swallowed each other’s tongues for four seasons now and he hasn’t lost his magic. He didn’t even physically turn into The Dark One when the first curse ended. There are shenanigans at work here, I know it!

Rumpelstiltskin may not have reverted back to The Dark One all over again, but he’s certainly using every sleight-of-hand trick with the truth. He knows his wife values honesty above all other things between them, and he certainly must know that she’ll be devastated if she discovers his lies. She will inevitably find out, though, so perhaps the real question is, will he be able to give her enough of an explanation to keep her from leaving when she finds out?

The Story Continues Sunday Night at 8:00pm on ABC.

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