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.