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This week's winter finale "Heroes and Villains" ends on an intriguing, even if unsatisfying, note, with the banishment (albeit temporary) of Rumplestiltskin.

‘Once Upon a Time’ Midseason Finale Review

I, for one, am glad to see the end of the Frozen storyline on ABC’s Once Upon a Time. This week’s winter finale “Heroes and Villains” ends on an intriguing, even if unsatisfying, note, with the banishment (albeit temporary) of Rumplestiltskin (the first time actor Robert Carlyle–has been given anything of substance to work with in portraying him).Once Upon a Time Winter Finale

In a way, as Belle, now in possession of Rumple’s real dagger, is a stand in for us Rumplestiltskin fans. She is betrayed, having been manipulated, perhaps by rose-colored glasses to have misread all the signs throughout the first several seasons of the series to believe that Rumple has at least a streak of humanity within his ancient, immortal body?

But is this, too, a ruse? A manipulation–this time by the show’s creators? We have seen more than signs of Rumple’s essential humanity, haven’t we? Or have we all seen the character through the filter of our own romantic lenses–and Robert Carlyle’s ability to suggest something more of Rumple and to Mr. Gold than the manipulative b*tard we now have before us?

Is that glimpse of something more in evidence during the gauntlet swap really reflective of something deeper in Rumple, or are we to understand that the gauntlet, presumably swapped for Belle’s life, had merely been manipulation? No matter how much we’ve (and Belle) wanted to believe that beneath it all Rumple has the ability to love and be loved. But everything he’s done is chicanery, smoke and mirrors, the basest sort of manipulation?

Belle now believes it, and rightfully banishes Rumple from Storybrooke–alone–and into a land with no magic. And as rumpled and destitute as he seems six weeks on (in the episode’s epilogue), I cannot feel sorry for him. How can I (or any of us), duped as we have been for three and a half seasons into thinking that Rumple is a tragic anti-hero, give a flying frack about him?

So now the half-season of revisionism is complete, and we have a Rumplestiltskin in love most of all with power. This is no tragic figure, victimized by his own fear, humiliated by Captain Hook, and driven only by his desire to find his son Baelfire (after all, the original curse had nothing to do with power–at all!). We are now to believe that Rumple has never loved anything above power. His pleas for understanding are the sniveling of a slimy coward–a despicable manipulator. His promises are not spoken from the recesses of a broken heart and weary spirit, but the lies of a power-hungry villain. There is nothing redeemable about him, so why should we care? And maybe that’s the point the writers are trying to make. Belle–and we–have been duped, manipulated and sold a bill of goods. Feh.

Do we draw that line back to before he’d become the Dark One as well? To the time when Hook stole his wife Milah, leaving him to raise Baelfire on his own? And then there’s the promise, the vow, made at the start of the season at Baelfire’s graveside to honor his son’s memory–something important enough to put in the season premiere, but essentially forget. Had that, too, been manipulation? And for whose benefit?

Sigh.

I have to say, I loved the final confrontation between Rumple and Belle, full of Belle’s righteous fury (and as I said, she, in a sense, is “us”). It was a beautifully acted scene by both Emilie de Ravin and Robert Carlyle. I’ve missed them both sorely this season. So, did I miss something (please tell me in the comments), or can people now freely leave Storybrooke–memories intact? Rumple crosses the town line, and presumably cannot return–nor should he be able to recall who he is (unless some curse or another erased that problem). Yet, he does seem to quite well recall who he is when he gets to New York. I’m confused. But curious.

As for Regina (the wonderful Lana Parrilla), she really has changed, hasn’t she. She does the right thing–again–despite having to say goodbye to the love of her life–her happy ending. How very Rick (of Casablanca) is that. I can almost hear her say to Emma (Jennifer Morrison) as they share shots, “I think this may be the start of a beautiful relationship.”

Both Rumple and Regina have in common an interest in locating “the author.” Henry’s mystery library filled with blank storybooks (have to wonder if Rumple had anything to do with that–somehow) could be the key to reuniting Robin Hood with Regina. And Rumple’s plan has everything to do with visiting “the author,” who apparently lives in the Big Apple. Hmm.

I can’t end this commentary without talking about the introduction of the next vilenesses to come on the scene: Maleficent, Ursula, and Cruella de Vile. I’ve always liked Maleficent as a villain, and I’m glad she’s back. Although I could probably do without the triple threat, especially Cruella.

Now, I loved 101 Dalmatians as much as the next kid, but Cruella is a strictly Disney creation, and I’m not sure she really belongs in Once Upon a Time. Even less-so than the Frozen gang. Yeah, OK, so Archie (Raphael Sbarge) has always had Pongo, which was clever, but a far cry from actually incorporating the Disney villain. Anyway, if their introduction is any indication, it will be a bit (?) over the top. Then combining with Rumple? Oy. His transformation is complete. Done. And, frankly, if this is the “real” Rumplestiltskin, I’m sorry I’ve bothered to care for him at all these past years. Whatever.

Like I said, the liked the episode itself, even if I finished watching it feeling I’d been manipulated for several seasons into thinking Rumple isn’t at his core a true villain. The hour was well-written (please someone, tell me what I’d missed about the town line, though). I even liked some of the kitschier moments, including the reappearance of the “broom,” and, hokey as it was, the Star Wars shout out. (Raise your hand–or better yet, Tweet me, if you know what I’m talking about). Anyway, Once Upon a Time will return in March on ABC.

We’ll talk Once Upon a Time, Walking Dead, and more on this week’s Let’s Talk TV Live this Tuesday night on the Blogcritics Radio Network.

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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)."

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20 comments

  1. I am never watching this show again. I hate what they did with Rumples character. The writers took a well written three dimensional, extremely deep character who is well loved by fans, and threw him to the curb for what? A pirate and a bunch of frozen characters.what a waste of Robert Carlyles talents. The writers are idiots.

    • I actually rather thought the finale did a brilliant job with his character and gave Robert Carlyle some awesome material to work with. That scene at the town line HURT and that was due to the amazing acting.

  2. Wow…….I’m sorry you’ve given up on him so completely, Barbara. I think he behaved terribly this season as well, but he was clearly screwed up… Yeah Belle has the right to believe what she said and I’m glad she said it because the way he acted, how could she not think he loves power more than her, but she’s wrong and I firmly believe he’ll show it. Maybe some fans have given up, but most of them have not. He absolutely is redeemable and he will be. He broke my heart at the end……so did she.

  3. Actually, Cruella is NOT a Disney creation. 101 Dalmatians originated as a book, first: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hundred_and_One_Dalmatians

  4. I don’t understand why everyone is confused about “Bad” Rumple or thinks he’s just pure evil. It’s not random at all, look at it from his perspective. He works really to become a better man for belle and his son. And in doing so enables him to do the heroic thing and sacrifice his life for those he loves. But what did being good get him? He ends imprisoned in a cage wishing he were dead then having the son he spend well over 250 years searching for die in his arms.
    (Its no coincidence that after his son dies he starts doing bad things like killing the witch and lieing to belle.)
    Did no one think that his sons death would have any longterm effects?
    He even mentions in the episode that the witch imprisoning him had changed him. He thought that changing would get him his happy ending. Then his son dies. This shows him that trying to be good only leads to misery (and seeing Regina attempt as he did to be good then having the love of her life takin away(over and over) only proves this point).

    • But the promise made to Baelfire was supposedly sincere. If the series creators had chosen to show him in conflict, they would have given us at least a look, a clue. But instead they focused on all the other character. We got very limited Rumple POV. Nothing to go and, but a throwaway line in the finale.

      • He may have been sincere about the promise at the time but thoughout the series he has struggled with his addiction to power. It’s like an alcoholic trying to quite hey promise to stay off the booz and are sincere but in times of weakness slip up. Then go, I already broke my promise might as well finish the bottle.
        I don’t think he’s evil, he’s just a man who makes wrong choices. And one who can’t see the consequences of those choices until it’s way too late.

  5. You do know that Sean Maguire is returning to the show . . . right?

    [“I don’t understand why everyone is confused about “Bad” Rumple or thinks he’s just pure evil. It’s not random at all, look at it from his perspective. He works really to become a better man for belle and his son. And in doing so enables him to do the heroic thing and sacrifice his life for those he loves. But what did being good get him? He ends imprisoned in a cage wishing he were dead then having the son he spend well over 250 years searching for die in his arms.”]
    Is this supposed to be an explanation of Rumpel’s actions since his murder of Zelena . . . or an excuse?
    It’s amusing how so many thought Rumpel’s one grand gesture in “Going Home” – saving Storybrooke by killing Pan was supposed to be a sign that he had become permanently good. One grand gesture didn’t work for Regina or Hook. Why would anyone assume it would work for Rumpel?

    • Um.. I think death is more then just a gesture, he did what he did knowing he would be dead. Which completely went against his self preservation nature. For him to have been able to do that he had to not be a coward. And that was the first time that ever happened. It’s not the action it’s what it represented which was that he had changed for he won’t have been able to do it if he hadn’t. How can u possibly compare that with what Regina and Hook did? And I never said he was good, what I’m saying is it’s not black and white. Sometimes he’s good other times he’s not. This has been the case since the beginning of the series that’s what makes him interesting. The struggle between doing the right thing or the selfish thing.

  6. I understood your thought, but for me the real Rumpelstiltskin is still the one who we had known in first several seasons and thus at limit I’m feeling I’ve been manipulated by the show’s creators in these last months, in where they have portrait him very differently than before, muddying a wonderful and complex character up to turn it in a banal power-hungry true villan. Whatever it is, what is certain is that the people who follow a television series for years don’t like being manipulated, as shown by the ratings drop (even yesterday episode – a mid season finale – scored a series low!). I’m sorry for my english but isn’t my native language…

  7. Well, this might just be the worst review I’ve read in a long time. Talk about not getting the character at ALL. Did you conveniently FORGET the first three seasons? The sacrificing of himself for those he, yes, LOVES? Did you forget what happened to him last season? That’s not something one comes back from easily and STILL beneath it all, he is a man doing this all out of fear and love. He wants to protect those he loves (Belle and Henry, mostly) and he is desperately afraid to lose the power as he thinks that is the only way to protect them. But you know, he’s just a cold-blooded manipulator who’s been faking his way through three seasons. Geez.

    • That’s the whole point. He’s not! It’s the way he’s been written this season. No subtext, no conflict, no struggle. We’ve seen nothing from his POV. I love Rumple (you should read the many articles I’ve written about him!)

  8. I watched the last few minutes of the show. While well acted, I don’t like what they have done to Rumple. Robert Carlyle is a great actor. I feel betrayed by the series creators. This was a show that I loved. Now, the writers have decided to take the show to a different place. A place I am unwilling to follow them to. Haven’t watched a whole lot of OUAT this season. I suspect March is only going to mark a change of seasons, not the show’s revival. At least the second series of Broadchurch is almost here.
    I can’t believe that the OUAT overlords found it so easy to destroy what was once the most fascinating show in television. I was annoyed and dismayed when they killed Neal. And unbelievably, they decided to crush the most interesting character in the show. Robert Carlyle is a great actor. He deserves a LOT better than what the OUAT writers have given him. As Dalia yells at Wallace as he gets thrown out of the car – “Good Bye!”

  9. Slight diversion but if I ever find out who came up with the term “midseason finale” I may have problems resisting the urge to kill them!

  10. In regards to the town line, I think this was answered by one of the writers on twitter (although I can’t remember which one, sorry). The “lose your FT memories” was part of the original curse, not the second curse enacted by Snow/Charming/Regina. I don’t recall it ever being addressed in the show though (as many things aren’t).

  11. theyre prob gonna answer this in 4b but we dont know how cruella and ursula got to our world, but also how do they have their memories of FT land?