This week’s new Once Upon a Time episode “The Return” (airing on ABC) answers many questions, yet poses several others. As well, it presents evidence for a theory, a possible key to the curse and what might end it.
With the focus on Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin (the amazing Robert Carlyle, whose intensity is beautifully layered with humanity and grace), we begin to understand his game and the origins of the curse—and more importantly, what drives him. But more importantly, his actions in this week’s Once Upon a Time hold some subtle clues to The Evil Queen’s (Lana Parrilla) curse upon the realms of Fairy Tale land.
Is the enigmatic Mr. Gold friend or foe of the good people of Storybrooke? Mayor Regina certainly believes Mr. Gold is her ally; after all, it was Gold’s alter ego that conjured up the queen’s curse in the first place. On the other hand, he doesn’t seem too enamored Regina, and it was his alter ego that gave Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) a way to save them all and end the curse once it was in place. So, who’s side is he on?
“The Return” makes it clear that Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin is on his own side. Everything from the curse itself to its ultimate ending serves one purpose: to reunite Rumplestiltskin with his beloved son Baelfire (Dylan Schmid). All else is mere collateral damage.
Picking up Rumple’s story from last fall’s “Desperate Souls,” “The Return” continues to explore Rumple’s relationship with his son. We learn that Baelfire hates what his father has become—is becoming. And despite the fact that Rumple stopped a terrible war and saved the children, he has sacrificed his soul to do it.
He is feared—even by young Baelfire, desperate to have his father back, coward or no. When Bae wonders if Rumple will give up his power should he find a way to transform him back to his old (albeit powerless and fearful self), Rumple reluctantly agrees.
Calling upon the Blue Fairy, Baelfire obtains a magic blue bean, which will transport him through a wormhole-like portal into another realm—one without magic. It is in this new realm that the power of The Dark One evaporates, Bae will have his father back, and Rumple will be rid of the curse that controls him. It is there he plans on leading his father, but the whirlpool through which they must descend is a terrifying cyclone, and Rumple, for all his newfound power, is terrified of making this leap of faith with his son. He hangs back while Bae slides down the portal and away from his father, who has let go his hand. It is something Rumple regrets from the second that happens.
So this has been his motivation from the start—to find a way to make amends with his son; to reunite with his dear son Baelfire. It’s an elaborate plan borne of desperate love.
If I didn’t love Rumple before (which I did), I certainly do now. Not that Rumple/Mr. Gold is an especially “good” man. He can be brutal wielding his power both as Rumple and as Mr. Gold; as Bae, the Blue Fairy and Belle all knew, there lies within him a darkness. But there is a profound sadness within him, and a desire to do right by his son. And it is a desire borne of true and unconditional love. But Rumple is also controlled by the curse of The Dark One, and these two sides battle within both Gold’s and Rumple’s soul.
The Blue Fairy points out that Bae is the only thing keeping Rumple human; when Bae slips out of his hand into another realm (likely our “real” world), Rumple is in danger of losing that last glimmer of humanity. But although the loss of Bae certainly drives Rumplestiltskin mad (his obsession with names and babies, at the very least), the hope of one day finding Baelfire may yet keep within him that spark of humanity, something of which we see ample evidence in “Skin Deep,” both as he talks about his son—and in his vulnerability in Belle’s presence. Certainly someone truly evil would either not care at all about the loss of his son—and would not spend “every waking hour” trying to find him and put things right.