What a terrible place poor Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) is in during this week’s fabulous Once Upon a Time episode “Nasty Habits.” He is trying so desperately to do the right thing, to make a decision not based on his self interest but in the noblest of intentions. With his beloved son Baelfire (Michael Raymond James) presumed dead, Rumple feels he has nothing to live for and is willing (more than willing) to sacrifice his own life to the prophecy that “the boy will be his undoing” and save Henry. But can he do it.
In an exclusive interview with Blogcritics, the writer of this week’s episode David Goodman explained that “Mr. Gold is trying to save Henry, and he has basically determined that he is going to sacrifice his life and do whatever it takes to defeat Pan and to save him. Because he believes he has nothing to live for because Neal has died.”
(More of my interview with David can be found here.)
But the situation is turned on its head when Mr. Gold learns that Baelfire (Dylan Schmid) is quite alive. “And in the context of learning Neal is alive,” Goodman said, “we have to ask ourselves, well, is Gold now willing to sacrifice his life? You know, if we said he had nothing to live for when Neal is gone, now that he knows Neal is there, maybe he does have something to live for. And if he does have something to live for, would he consider letting [Peter] Pan (Robbie Kay) have Henry (Jared S. Gilmore), and not doing the righteous thing?”
And that is the question we’re left with at the end of the episode. Has the wind gone out of Rumple’s sails after learning he does, in fact, have his son to live for? On the other hand, with Baelfire not at all trusting his father, is such a noble sacrifice all that Rumple has left to offer?
“Belle says early in the episode,” explained Goodman, “that Rumple has a nasty habit of craven self-interest, and that’s a hard habit for him to break. And in the episode, Neal learns about the prophecy, which is something that he didn’t know before. And as a result, Neal has a very hard time believing that his dad is going to do the right thing.”
But Belle does — or at least Rumple’s vision of her does. And will that be enough?
In the end, it’s really about whether Neal can trust Rumple, and it seems that, no, he can’t. But Neal hasn’t got the answer either, and when he paralyzes Rumple and takes Henry, he immediately gets captured by Pan.
The episode, according to Goodman only “shows us part of [the Rumple-Pan] backstory together, and also makes it very clear that their backstory goes back even further in time than this episode. This is kind of a middle episode for us, and it definitely kind of teases a little bit more the idea of what was this original history between these two.”
Goodman added, “I think the audience knows that Gold wants to do the right thing. And it’s this awful situation where the audience knows he wants to do the right thing, he knows he wants to do the right thing, but the person he cares most about doesn’t believe he’s going to do the right thing. So I think, yeah, it’s like the nobility in that character, and knowing that he’s struggling to do what’s right, is super-interesting.”
Once Upon a Time has always been about belief and believing — in something. I think in order to prevail against the truly evil Peter Pan and his Pied Piper alter ego (the great young Robbie Kay), each of the characters has their belief systems challenged. The question is, will they meet up to that challenge?
“All of our characters, all of the characters that we’ve seen that have come to Neverland, really are going to have to sort of face themselves as much as they have to face Peter Pan. And whether that’s Mr. Gold in this episode or our other characters coming up, Pan really has shaped up as a villain that holds a mirror up to these characters and makes them stare at themselves in the face, and stare at their weakness and stare at their strengths,” Goodman offered.
“Nasty Habits” continues the season-long Once Upon a Time exploration of belief. In a land based on belief, where the enemy seeks to possess the heart of the truest believer in Henry, Belief is everything. Emma (Jennifer Morrison) must believe in herself, as evidenced in “Lost Girl.” Mr. Gold as well must believe that he can overcome his fear (which is really at the core of his insistent choice of self-interest) and lack of confidence.
The three abandoned, presumed-to-be unloved children, the “lost” of Once Upon Time are the only ones who can save Henry, I think. And this is where the narrative is headed. Each character is challenged, and each must face him or herself in the end to prevail.
The parallel paths: Emma’s, Neal’s, and Gold’s continue this sort of classic heroic journey, each with its own persecutors and mentors. In “Nasty Habits,” Belle (Emilie de Ravin) is Gold’s mentor and the one who believes in him when he cannot believe in himself. At his core, Gold is a lost boy: self-protective, wary of belief in anyone but himself because through his young life, eons ago, he was betrayed in the most fundamental way: abandonment by his father (and presumably also by his mother). Pan derides Gold with the truth, which rattles him to his bones — and sets up further conflict with Baelfire. Pan is indeed a formidable, psychological enemy — a demon of self.
In the end, confronted with the truth and a choice, Belle tells him in a vision that he can overcome himself; he can be the strong man — the noble man — she knows him to be. But Gold isn’t sure, and clutching the little doll, the last thing his father gave him before he vanished, he is at a crossroads. And one only he can navigate.
I loved this episode. It’s not secret that I’m a huge fan of Rumple’s narrative, and I find his story and his character to possess the most complexity of any of the characters on the show. And this episode in particular lays out in high relief the inherent conflict within him: is the dark one, always seeking what’s best for himself? Is he the little lost boy, terrified of what lies ahead, wary in the extreme of trusting anyone? Is he the noble man who seeks nothing more than to overcome his father’s legacy (and his own) of abandoning those nearest to him? The man who injures himself in the Ogre so his son would not suffer the fate of growing up fatherless — even if it means saddling himself with the label of coward in to eternity?
At the end of “Nasty Habits” we still do not know.
There are numerous memorable moments in “Nast Habits.” The two scenes between Rumple and Belle are heartbreaking and beautifully done as Belle tries to bolster her beloved. But Rumple knows she is but a vision, and not real. When he tells her that he expects her “real self” to move past him, presume him dead and go on to her own life, it is incredibly revealing. I think Rumple is not only willing to sacrifice himself for Baelfire, but also for Belle. As long as he is alive, Belle will go on loving him. If he dies, she has no choice but to move on with her life and forget him. It is as if he realizes all too well, that despite his love for her, he is toxic and she will be better served without him!
I also loved Rumple warpaint. It’s an interesting mask he chooses, but perhaps the only one available to him. The solemnity of that scene speaks of Rumple’s resolve and how much he knows it will cost him. Carlyle is simply brilliant in that small, wordless moment.
And then there is the reunion scene! Bae and Rumple together. Powerful emotions, and there is nothing Rumple can do to prove to Bae that he can be trusted. I think Rumple will have to simply do what he has to do and hope for the best. He had done far too much damage to their relationship (and all the years that has festered) for it to be repaired by a vow. In that way, Bae and Emma are similar. She can’t quite forgive the abandonment of her own parents — and they are the “good guys!”
We see in this episode, perhaps more than in any other what it has cost Rumple to be the Dark One. The Enchanted Forest scenes (and the early Neverland scenes) show us that despite his love for Bae, he cannot help being the Dark One. But even as early “Dark One” at his most ruthless, that scene where Rumple is sitting on his roof desolate and alone makes us feel nothing but sympathy for him.
What a great episode! Kudos to David Goodman for a wonderful script, and to the amazing Robert Carlyle for giving us such depth to a character who could be unlikeable, but continues to surprise us week after week.
David Goodman will be visiting with me again after his next episode (episode eight), live on my Blogtalk Radio show, Let’s Talk TV Live, which airs Monday nights at 9:00 p.m. ET. Tune in tonight for more on Once Upon a Time with my fellow Blogcritics writers JeromeWetzelTV and RHeart Chrissy. Be sure to follow me on Twitter for the latest on Once Upon a Time and more.