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TV Review: Once Upon a Time – “The Price of Gold”

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There is a price for taking the easy way out of a situation. Changing your life is seldom easy, and finding shortcuts, through magic, lets say, exacts potentially heavy cost. That is the cautionary tale told in this week’s “The Price of Gold” episode on ABC’s new fantasy-drama Once Upon a Time.

It was great to find out more about the strange and menacingly soft spoken Mr. Gold and his Enchanted Forest counterpart, the flamboyant and powerful imp Rumpelstiltskin (the brilliant Robert Carlyle). Told from within a parallel renderings of the Cinderella story, we learn that it was no fairy godmother that made Cinderella’s escape from poverty possible.

Destroying Fairy Godmother with his own powerful magic, and purloining her wand, Rumpelstiltskin interrupts the familiar tale, warning Cinderella  that using magic to achieve your aims is costly, perhaps more costly than wise. But far from being a benign sprite, Rumpelstiltskin has a Faustian bargain to offer Cinderella; something she fails to read before signing on the dotted line.

Rumpelstiltskin transforms the put-upon Cinderella (Jessy Schram, Falling Skies) into the belle of the ball, complete with glass slippers, and ‘Ella lives happily ever after with her prince. That is, until she becomes pregnant with her first child, at which time Rumpelstiltskin returns to collect his precious prize.

But Snow White and Prince Charming convince Cinderella to double-cross her benefactor and save her baby by offering a brand new, and very tempting bargain. And although he is immediately suspicious, wondering why Cinderella would offer an even better bargain, he cannot help himself. Handing Rumpelstiltskin a red quill, complete, with a powerful spell spell embedded within, Rumpelstiltskin is captured and imprisoned in a dungeon within a deserted mine. Cast as the “most dangerous person in all the realms” by Prince Charming and Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin is stripped of his power and his magic and is left to languish in prison until the Evil Queen implements her curse, sending them all to 21st Century Storybrooke.

But as he’s captured he reminds Cinderella that magic has its price, and the magic used to imprison Rumpelstiltskin costs Cinderella her husband, who vanishes, leaving behind only his cape.

Back in Storybrooke, Cinderella’s story comes to life in the real world as alter ego Ashley, a pregnant 19-year-old kitchen maid must make good on her own deal with Mr. Gold, owner of the town pawn shop. But egged on by Emma (Jennifer Morrison), Ashley refuses, and instead flees town after breaking into Gold’s pawn shop, knocking him out and stealing the signed agreement. When Mr. Gold enlists Emma to help return his property—Ashley’s baby—Emma turns the tables on the sinister pawnbroker, forging her own deal with him, a decidedly dangerous game.

Agreeing to release Ashley from her bargain, Gold only asks that Emma grant him a favor to be called in at some future date. Acknowledging that Emma is unafraid of him, Mr. Gold decides he likes the Storybrooke newcomer.

So who does Rumpelstiltskin represent in this slightly twisted and highly comingled land of fairy tales and present day existence? He is enriched by deals made with those who want more; who want an easy way out or up. Rumpelstiltskin has always been a cautionary tale about overreaching and greed. Without preying on others’ greed and desires, the powerful magician/trickster would be a pauper (and probably awfully depressed).

He even seems to warn Cinderella about the danger in using magic to get what she wants. Or is he using reverse psychology to pull her in? But Rumpelstiltskin, too overreaches; his greatest weakness, says Snow White, is that he can’t help himself—he lives for making his little (and not so little) deals.

It is not only magic that has consequences. Change itself is hard, and starts with decisions often fraught with it risk and danger. One decision can change an entire life, as Emma warns Ashley, who has decided to keep her baby, despite the obstacles that will certainly confront her as the child grows. And Emma knows of what she speaks, having given up Henry when he was new born to give him the possibility of a better life. So is keeping the baby a good or bad decision? Who knows? Either way, you just know there will be consequences to pay.

I have to wonder about this seemingly so very evil Mr. Gold, who seems to know more about Emma’s past—and Henry’s—than he’s letting on. He’d engineered Henry’s arrival in Storybrooke, which of course triggers Emma’s return and the beginning of end of the Evil Queen’s (Lana Parrilla) curse on the people of The Enchanted Forest. Is it even remotely possible that Emma’s task to retrieve Ashley is simply Gold testing her resolve and resourcefulness to see whether she’s up to her destiny? (And no, I don’t mean that Destiny, SGU fans!) Will Gold and Emma eventually become uneasy allies against Her Majesty the Mayor? That would be an interesting prospect.

I really enjoyed this episode, perhaps because we begin to learn more about what has turned out to be my favorite character(s) in Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold. Robert Carlyle seems to be having an awful lot of fun hamming it up as the imp (as are, I’m sure, his costumers and makeup artists). Carlyle is always interesting to watch. His performances are textured works of art, even with a character so obviously menacing and broadly drawn as Rumpelstiltskin.

I also love the physical contrast between the grotesque Rumpelstiltskin and the almost-dashing Mr. Gold, complete with gold-tipped walking stick. Speaking of the walking stick, I loved the shout-out to the original Grimm Rumpelstiltskin story. Do you know what I’m talking about? No?

Notice that Mr. Gold walks with a pronounced limp? (Okay, no House, M.D. comparisons, if you please.) If you recall the original Grimm fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin is so enraged that the miller’s daughter has guessed how to break his spell in the end, he drove his leg into the ground, and tore himself in two. If that doesn’t cause a limp, nothing will! Cool.

Other snippets worth noting: The clock has moved 15 minutes since the series began. It’s now at 8:00. Is that significant? And, it seems that the Sheriff and Regina are more than in cahoots professionally. So I wonder why he wants to deputize Emma. Is it a matter of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer? Or will the sheriff double cross the mayor at some crucial point, and show his true (blue) colors?

Next week, Once Upon a Time is pre-empted by the American Music Awards, but the series will return two weeks from tonight at 8:00 ET on ABC.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • angelcat2865

    Loving this series so far.

    I think the sheriff may be the huntsman who spared Snow White life and therefore what Snow White took from the Queen as well.

    As for Rumpelstiltskin, he makes a delightfully fun villain playing both sides as it suits him. Is he secretly a good guy pretending to be bad or does he just enjoy the mayhem? Half the fun is in the guessing.

    To be truthful when I heard that this series was from the creators of Lost I was afraid that they might over do the mysterious turns which is how Lost finally lost me. But so far I feel that balance has been just right. I hope they can keep it up.

  • sara

    OMG Barbara! Your OUAT recaps are a masterpieces, I agree with every single words.
    Thank you.

  • siany

    I’m thinking that the sheriff is something along the lines of the Big Bad Wolf, seeing as how he and the Mayor are so close. He kind of resembles a wolf, or an anaimal, what with his scruffy beard and all.
    As for Mr Gold/Rumpelstiltskin, he is definitely becoming one of my ultimate favourite characters. I love the contrasts between the two, as you pointed out.
    Fantastic recap, keep it up!

  • http://barbarabarnett.com Barbara barnett

    Thanks so much. Please spread the word about my spot here on BC. I’d love to create a community for discussing the show, the narrative, etc.

    I think you are correct about the huntsman and the sheriff. And we met red riding hood last night as well.

  • Rachael

    We met Red Riding Hood in the beginning, with her grandmother (they ran the Inn). I’m thinking the Big Bad Wolf is no-more. I also think the Sheriff is the Huntsman, and him sleeping with Mayor Queen kind of confirmed it. However, I’m also not sure if he asked Emma to be his deputy IN SPITE of Mayor Queen or because of it. I thought she wanted her out of town as soon as possible, so I think this is another one of those “disobey the Queen, she doesn’t own me” things like not killing Snow White.
    So if time has stopped due to the curse, has Ella been pregnant all of Henry’s life?

  • http://barbarabarnett.com Barbara Barnett

    Rachael,

    I was wondering the same thing myself about Ashley/Ella. Hmmm. Or is it just finally payback time for Mr. Gold.

  • angelcat2865

    “so I think this is another one of those “disobey the Queen, she doesn’t own me” things like not killing Snow White.”

    I am thinking it may be more of a being caught between doing what he knows is right or doing what the Queen wants kind of thing than it is an act of defiance.

    Also been loving the play on names they are using (Ruby/Red Riding Hood, Ashley/Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin/Mr Gold, etc). I will have to pay closer attention to some of the other names and see how they correspond to the original characters.

  • Action Kate

    Barbara, since the clock in the pilot went from 8:15 to 8:16, I think you mean the clock is now at 8:30, not 8:00.

    The sheriff looked a little desperate in the final shot, so I’m assuming he’s hiring Emma in spite of Madame Mayor, not on her orders. Besides, the mayor is not written subtly so far, so if she wanted Emma hired, we’d see her giving some kind of order or gloating to the sheriff somehow.

    I think time does move in some respect in Storybrooke. Henry wasn’t always 10 years old; he had to have arrived as a newborn and aged. So maybe people hit a certain age and then stop. This isn’t “Family Guy” where Lois jokes that Joe’s wife has been pregnant for years! :)

    Given all the meaningful names, is “Swan” from “The Ugly Duckling”? (and whose idea was it to make Ruby look like Amy Winehouse?)