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TV Review: Once Upon a Time – “The Stable Boy”

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So now we know what it was that made the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) so…evil. As they say, evil isn’t born, it’s made.

This week’s Once Upon a Time opens with Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) still in prison, now awaiting her trial for murdering David’s (Josh Dallas) wife Kathryn. Regina knows Mary Margaret is innocent of course, and has engineered the entire thing with the dubious help of the ever-one-step-ahead Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle). Regina doesn’t care if Mary Margaret knows it or not (and in fact confesses her knowledge of Mary Margaret’s innocence!)

We still don’t know Rumple’s game. He always honors his deals, as his motto claims, yet I can’t help but think a big double cross is on the way. Rumple, as he said a couple of weeks ago is “invested” in Mary Margaret’s future. If she’s disappeared, then what?

The episode opens with a flashback. As Regina, reflects on something from her past, Mr. Gold enters hoping that Mayor Regina intervene and get the battery charges dropped against him (for beating the florist—and Belle’s father—senseless a few weeks ago). In exchange, he offers an idea for Regina to rid herself of her “Mary Margaret problem” once and for all. Engineer a tragedy to befall Kathryn, blame Mary Margaret and run her out of town. And as both Regina and Mr. Gold know, no one ever leaves Storybrooke and comes to a good end!

Regina likes the suggestion, and so the plot is hatched—and Gold, with his own agenda, has won this battle. The battery charges are dropped. He, of course has no intention of helping Regina rid herself of the Mary Margaret problem. On the other hand, he does reassure Regina that she should trust him because “I always honor my agreements.” But I have to wonder if Rumple’s actions are part of a larger deal, made with Snow White and Prince Charming long before this day in Storybrooke—because this is one deal that Rumple will not keep.

And by the end of the episode, when Emma (Jennifer Morrison) believes she can’t trust him, and that her faith had been misplaced by believing that Gold could prevail against Regina, Kathryn turns up, making the murder charge moot. “There’s still time,” Gold explains to Emma.

“Time for what?”

“Time for me to work a little magic.”

Has Mr. Gold used magic to bring back Kathryn? Has he used the “please” word with Regina and “persuaded” her to release her? Or has he directly brought her back? Either way, I think Gold has double crossed Regina—for his own agenda.

Back in Fairy Tale Land, we learn what secret Snow White disclosed to ruin The Evil Queen’s life. And it’s a biggie. Barbara Hershey guest stars as Regina’s mother—an even bigger Evil Queen than her daughter. Bet you didn’t think that was possible, huh? Overbearing, bitchy, and unbelievably ruthless, the queen’s mum only succeeds in in destroying her daughter’s life, setting in motion the series of events that brought the entirety of Fairy Tale Land to Storybrooke. And it all started with innocent and innocent love. But as the show always says, love is the most powerful magic of all.

Not only, however, does love lead to simple happiness, as Regina explains to the very young Snow White. The emotions it evokes can be unbelievably destructive, causing chaos and leaving an entire world on its head.

So Regina was in love with a simple stable boy, a commoner with no money or position. Can’t have that, can we, even though Regina’s mother started off as a miller’s daughter. Okay, hang on a moment. Can we hit “pause” here? Did they say “Miller’s Daughter?” That little tiny, almost throwaway line may be a very big clue as to the connection between Rumple and the Evil Queen. How, you say? Thanks for playing.

Taking a quick look back into the Brothers Grimm and the actual story of Rumpelstiltskin (note the altered, i.e. “real” spelling of Rumple’s name here), I will note that Rumpelstiltskin’s deal was with a miller whose daughter had promised a king she could spin straw into gold. Could it be that Regina’s mother is in fact Rumple’s Miller’s Daughter?

We do know that Rumple is ageless. Robert Carlyle has noted that his character is “very old” and had been around for a long time. So, perhaps the original deal was struck with Regina’s grandfather, and that, in a way, as the story goes, would have belonged to Rumple, except that the Miller’s daughter tricked Rumpelstiltskin and kept her daughter? Regina’s mother possesses powerful magic, and I wonder, too if that magic came with the deal—and that magic was then passed along onto Regina at some point.

It’s only speculation on my part from an admittedly very small clue—as I said nearly a throwaway line of dialog. And we shall see if it bears any fruit—and apple, let’s say.

In the end, Snow White’s infraction against Regina had destroyed her life. Learning that Regina is in love with someone else, and doesn’t wish to marry her father, she is tricked into disclosing the information by a very manipulative mother. Mom then goes on to tear the heart out of the poor stable boy, killing him, breaking Regina’s heart and turning her into a cold, unfeeling witch—a real chip off the old block. And maybe that’s what mom wanted in the first place!

Again Once Upon a Time explores the tension between love and power—emotion vs. cold, calculation. “Power endures,” explains a wronged Regina in Fairy Tale Land; love does not—it’s fleeting.

Which, in the end is stronger? Which has a stronger pull? I suppose for those with a pure heart, never wronged, innocent in the world, love might be the strongest pull, allowing it to prevail against power. But for those whose heart are broken enough, damaged enough not to have faith in love—because it does not last, power is the stronger draw.

For Regina, ever since the day her mother murdered the stable boy, it’s all been about the power. For Snow, for Charming—and for people like Grumpy and Red, they’ve kept faith that love will prevail.

For Rumple, whose heart has been trampled so many times in his long, long life (and is not able to forget any of those times), he is pulled towards the dark. He has much power—more than anyone. But I wonder (I believe, actually) that he can still believe in the possibility of happiness and love. He is, ultimately, sentimental enough to be called a romantic. He still, so many, many years later pines for Belle, and his often wistful comments to his Storybrooke neighbors suggest that love still drives him deep beneath that cold, hard exterior.

So who is August (Eion Bailey) in all of this? Far from being an observer of life in Storybrooke, he is now becoming much more an active participant in pushing Emma towards her destiny. And what has he to do with Mr. Gold/Rumple? The next episode, it would seem, will explore that further.

The next episode of Once Upon a Time doesn’t air until April 22. With only four episodes to go, I believe the season will continue to heat up as it draws to its climactic ending in May. So stay tuned! I will do a post-episode chat on April 22, and I will be tweeting the exact time and place when we get a little closer.

This afternoon I taped an episode of Blogcritics writer JeromeWetzelTV and Nick Nitro’s “The Good, The Bad & The Geeky” podcast, which will air Tuesday night. We talked Once Upon a Time as well as House, Game of Thrones and other things television. So please do tune in or catch it iTunes shortly thereafter.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • Good catch. Thanks Action Kate 🙂

  • Action Kate

    Quick typo fix: Regina does not (at least in this episode) say “Power endures”; her mother Cora does.

    We rewound to see what Mr. Gold “agreed” to do for Madame Mayor. He doesn’t actually agree to anything, does he? He says that Regina will plant a key and MM will run, “and we all know what happens when someone tries to leave town”… but he never actually says “I will do X.” “A trial is messy” is not “I will prevent a trial.” He does say, “Do we have an agreement?” but I don’t know what he agreed to do for Regina. “MM will be ruined” is not “MM and David will not be together.”

    Were we the only ones staggered by how much Bailey Madison looks like Ginnifer Goodwin, particularly when she smiles? I would swear that child was her daughter. (Fun fact: Madison also played Lucy, the precociously calm 6YO with cancer, on House in “Act Your Age.” She and Jennifer Morrison must have had a fun moment catching up. Or maybe Morrison got her the job.)

  • Thanks! You could be right about Baelfire and August, and if that’s true, then Rumple may have set the entire thing up ages earlier.

  • mahnvee

    The next episode is called The Return and many are saying that August is actually Rumple’s son Baelfire. I guess we’ll find out what happened to him.
    By the way, loved your insight on this episode!

  • Pixie Michele

    Bravo again Barbara! I heartily agree on Rumple and the love point. I remember at the end of Belle’s episode when he replaced the big golden chalice (I think) with Belle’s chipped cup in a place of prominence. To me, that action reveals what he prizes most.

    I see where you’re going with August too and his connection to Rumple. That stumble August took sure did hurt. The writing team redrafting Rumple’s Grimm tale perhaps?

  • Hi Sylkie (love the name and reference to Celtic mythology–The Great Sylkie of Sule Skerry was my signature performance song for years).

    Glad you found my little corner of the Internet!

  • Sylkie

    I read every Google Alert of Once Upon a Time and Robert Carlyle, having discovered him in Canada in Hamish Macbeth in 1995. Your blog is the most thoughtful and intelligent review of OUAT I have seen. Have bookmarked you. Thanks very much – I missed the Miller’s Daughter connection.