At last we arrive at the original fairytale of “Rumplestiltskin” (played by the fabulous Robert Carlyle) in this week’s Once Upon a Time episode “The Miller’s Daughter.” In the Grimm tale, Rumple shows a poor miller’s daughter how to spin straw into gold so she can marry the king and live happily ever after. But there’s a catch. For his secret, Rumple requires payment, for all magic comes with a price. And that is possession of the girl’s first child.
There is, in the original tale, an “out” clause in the agreement. If she can say Rumplestiltskin’s name, she will no longer be bound to give up her child. And of course, in Grimm, she does, and therein escapes her fate.
Because this is Once Upon a Time, Rumple’s tale is altered, adding a layer of tragedy to Storybrooke’s most tragic of antiheroes. For us, the story also lends us a new layer of understanding that echoes back to last season’s brilliant “Skin Deep,” making Rumple’s deep self-hatred and his words that “nobody can love me” all the more resonant.
ABC has released several sneak peeks for the episode, of which I’ve embedded three. But be cautioned; they are very spoilery indeed.
“The Miller’s Daughter” embodies everything that makes Once Upon a Time a great series: beautiful writing, wonderful, emotional, passionate performances, and a story that propels the show’s narrative arc forward, involving every one of the series central characters in meaningful ways.
From the pen of the fabulous Jane Espenson, this pivotal episode is in expert hands, as Espenson understands this version of Rumplestiltskin as no one else can (well, except perhaps the series creators Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis).
The Fairytale Land story begins in classic fashion, well, except for the fact that the miller’s daughter is, in fact, Cora (Rose McGowan), none other than the woman who will become Regina’s (Lana Parrilla) evil, manipulative mother someday. Oppressed and victimized by snobbish royals, Cora is approached by our Dark One, who offers a deal, and one that will forward Cora’s ambitions for both power and revenge upon the condescending King and his arrogant family.
Complications ensue when matters of the heart get in the way. Cora has a potentially life-altering decision to make when Rumple offers to slightly amend their agreement. But how will Cora react to the offer, and what does it reveal about her character?
Back home in Storybrooke, Rumple’s injury from last week’s episode is serious, and he is dying. Cora views Rumple’s weakened condition as an opportunity, not only to manipulate him, but to take his power for herself. But will they be stopped? And, if so, how and by whom?
They say it “takes a village” (or, more appropriately here, a family) to do what has to be done, and Storybrooke is no different in “The Miller’s Daughter.” Each of the characters, from Emma (Jennifer Morrison) to Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) to Charming (Josh Dallas) have a role to play in stopping Cora and Regina. But the question remains: will they be successful and at what cost? Let’s just say that events irrevocably alter the story and several of the character arcs.
Mr. Gold barely hangs on through most of the Storybrooke end of the story, and he sees life evaporating as rapidly as his name vanishes from the blade of his dagger. He expects that no one will (or want to) save his life, philosophically stating at one point that perhaps it is better that way, that the evil within the Dark One is lost forever once he’s gone.
There is a very powerful scene between Gold and Belle (Emilie de Ravin) via telephone, and to my surprise, ABC made it one of their sneak peeks. It’s a very emotional scene (get the tissue box ready), and although I’ve embedded it below, I strongly suggest that you skip it here and watch it in the context of the full episode, as that adds depth and texture to its power.
In my opinion, “The Miller’s Daughter” is one of the best episodes in the series, and perhaps the best since “Skin Deep” on many levels. It sets the stage for the end run of episodes, changing the canvas and opening several new avenues for the series.
Jane Espenson will join me live on my Let’s Talk TV radio broadcast on Blog Talk Radio Tuesday night (not my usual Monday show, which will focus on Downton Abbey). We’ll debrief “The Miller’s Daughter” and talk about what we might expect in the coming weeks on Once Upon a Time. It’s a call-in show, so you may phone in and say “hi,” ask a question or comment on the episode.
Once Upon a Time‘s “The Miller’s Daughter” airs Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.