Rumplestiltskin & Mr Gold
By Kristy Mikos/MythLoverK
Rumplestiltskin. Rumple. Rumpy. And the darkly dapper Mr. Gold. Yes, I’m obsessed. I’m addicted. And I’m not alone. Since OUaT’s premiere, Rumpy & Mr. Gold have been many fans favorite character(s). While much of this is due to Robert Carlyle’s fabulous acting (I do love watching him chew the scenery), the impish Rumplestiltskin & ominous Mr. Gold are compellingly written characters, in and of themselves. Combine that with an adroit actor bringing them to life & you have an utterly dynamic one-two punch.
Although the Evil Queen/Mayor Regina is touted as "The Villain" of the series, Rumpy/Mr. Gold has been a more powerful & menacing presence from the start. In “The Thing You Love Most” (ep. 2), we learn Rumpy’s the one from whom the EQ got The Dark Curse that sends everyone to Storybrooke. And it’s to Rumpy she returns, to learn why her first attempt to cast the spell failed. We also learn Mr. Gold has power over Regina in Storybrooke via his “please clause” and it’s very likely he remembers everything from Fairytale Land. Whether Rumpy/Mr. Gold’s more powerful position in both worlds makes him “The Real Villain” of the series is open for debate.
Before “Desperate Souls” (ep. 8), I simply delighted in Rumpy’s gleeful dirty deeds & Mr. Gold’s Machiavellian schemes. Did I consider them villains? Most definitely. Evil? Oh yes. But it was a delicious brand of evil. Rumpy steals every scene he’s in with his mischievous attitude, grandiose gestures, & witty dialogue – usually delivered in a comical voice. Throw some ridiculous giggles into the mix and even if you don’t like his character – you can’t help being entertained. Mr. Gold, on the other hand, is much more subdued. He’s quietly powerful, furtive, mysterious, & almost certainly dangerous. I loved these characters because they were evil, but “Desperate Souls” changed that feeling.
In allowing us a look at Rumpy’s backstory, “Desperate Souls” was a total game-changer. You mean Rumplestiltskin wasn’t always this exuberant, deal-making little imp, spreading chaos in his wake? He wasn’t born a goblin, gnome, sprite, or some other type of creature? He was once human? And an arguably decent human being, at that? He was a good father, desperately grasping at straws to protect his son’s life? The pathos of this episode grabbed me & refuses to let go.
One of the things I love about OUaT is how no character is oversimplified into being all good or all bad. The Evil Queen does most of her horrible deeds out of pain – Snow White ruined her life, shared a secret she shouldn’t have, and is responsible for the death of someone the EQ deeply loved. Snow White even admits part of this to Prince Charming. Far from being the pillar of innocence and moral virtue Disney’s Snow White was – OUaT’s Snow is a thief with snarky attitude, who physically fights Charming several times. Mary Margaret is much more restrained, but even she has a one night stand with Dr. Whale and an affair with a married David Nolan. Continuing the theme of extramarital sex, Ashley Boyd is an unwed, teenage mother & Ruby is basically portrayed as a slut who wears revealing clothing. In the pilot, Granny yells she’s sorry her heart-attack interfered with Ruby’s plans to sleep her way down the eastern seaboard. Even Emma Swan, the proclaimed “Savior” of the series, has a checkered past: she was also an unwed, teenage mother – who gave birth to Henry while in jail. With some dirt on the “good” guys and some sympathy for the “bad,” there aren’t really any “white” or “black hats” here – all of OUaT’s characters come in various, shifting shades of gray.
“Desperate Souls” literally gave Rumpy/Mr. Gold a human side. At first, I really disliked seeing Rumpy as a weak human being. I thought it’d be more fun if he’d always been some sort of wicked creature. But I soon saw how fleshing out the characters to be more human & morally ambiguous made the show much more poignant & interesting. Showing Rumplestiltskin as a basically good single father, doing whatever he can to save his son’s life, evoked the audience’s sympathy for a character previously portrayed as mostly malevolent. From the opening scene, it’s shown physically fighting the knights (who take the peasants’ children to become soldiers in the Ogre Wars) is futile – since The Dark One can neutralize anyone with magic. When Rumple & his son Baelfire attempt to flee, they’re caught by the duke’s knights. Rumple humiliates himself & is assaulted by Hordor, just to spend 2 more days with his beloved son. Rumple can see no other way out – until a beggar tells him the duke controls The Dark One with a “mystical dagger.” When the beggar suggests Rumple steal the dagger in order to protect his son, Rumple says he can’t – the idea of keeping The Dark One as a slave terrifies him. The beggar responds, “Then, perhaps, instead of controlling the power… you need to take it.” With that, the trap is set & our poor Rumple takes the bait.
Rumple does as the beggar suggested. But instead of just sneaking into the duke’s castle to steal the dagger – he also burns it down. After getting the dagger, Rumple sees the “true name” of The Dark One on the blade: “Zoso.” Rumple prepares to summon & murder The Dark One – but not before disregarding his son’s plea not to because he has “a bad feeling.” After sending Bae home, a terrified Rumple summons The Dark One – who does his best to goad Rumple into killing him. After The Dark One says, “Have you ever wondered – is he really your child at all? Unlike you, he’s not a coward & yearns to fight & die in glory. What a poor bargain that would be – to lay down your soul to save your bastard son. So I ask you… what would you have me do?” When Rumple replies, “Die” – it’s not the insults that finally push him over the edge. The look on his face, as he stabs The Dark One in the heart, is not one of anger – but of sadness, weakness, & desperation. It’s difficult for him to kill The Dark One, but he does so because he sees no other choice.
The human Rumplestiltskin did wrong (arson, theft, murder) for understandable, perhaps even noble reasons. He was simply trying to protect his child’s life. Does doing bad things for good reasons make one evil? Or do the ends justify the means? During this episode, Henry is constantly telling Emma that good has to play fair. In “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” (ep. 11), Mary Margaret & Sidney Glass both try to convince themselves that doing something wrong for the right reasons is ok. Emma tells them they’re “rationalizing.” When Emma decides to fight dirty, later - by breaking into the mayor's office - she’s punished for it & feels guilty. The series appears to be pretty didactic when it comes to morals – whether that’s sincere or they’re going to subvert it in some way remains to be seen. If sincere, I fear that doesn’t bode well for Rumpy/Mr. Gold.
As if discovering The Dark One/Zoso was really the beggar all along wasn’t enough, then Rumple gets another shock. After Zoso breathes his last, human Rumple’s transformation into “Dark Rumpy” begins. We hear an ominous noise as a golden sheen appears on Rumple’s fingers & creeps up his hand – the hand still holding the dagger embedded in Zoso’s chest. Rumple’s fingernails turn a putrid olive green. He notices & pulls the dagger out – revealing “Rumplestiltskin” is now etched on the blade. He stares at his name, frightened & confused as to what this means.
By the time Rumple comes to his son’s rescue, his physical transformation into Dark Rumpy is complete. Although hidden behind his hair, the irises of his eyes are a bit bigger than a human’s should be. They’re a sickening shade of green & appear almost reptilian. The golden sheen has also crept all over his body. He declares himself “the new Dark One,” before awesomely snapping Hordor’s neck. Dark Rumpy quickly & viciously kills the 5 knights that came for Bae, despite his son’s protests. Bae, confused & scared, asks what we’re all wondering, “Papa, what has happened to you?” Dark Rumpy doesn’t answer the question, but tells his son he’s safe now. He asks if Bae feels safe, while walking towards him with the dagger. With a close-up on the bloody blade & foreboding music, it’s somewhat ambiguous whether Bae really is safe. We’re given the unsettling impression Dark Rumpy may be a threat to his own child. As he inches closer, Bae keeps his distance by inching back. He says he’s frightened, to which Dark Rumpy replies, “I’m not! I’ve protected what belongs to me. And I’m not scared of anything.” Bae looks on in frightened confusion, while Dark Rumpy laughs, showing his disgustingly transformed teeth. This is the last we’ve seen of Bae. The flashback seems to end with him & Dark Rumpy staring at each other.
We’re left to wonder what’s actually happened to Rumplestiltskin – what this transformation has turned him into and what the ramifications of that are. Did the spirit of The Dark One/Zoso possess him and now there are 2 spirits fighting for control of his body? Or did Rumple give into his own dark side? Is there any of the good, human Rumplestiltskin left to fight from within or is the evil takeover absolute? It’s unclear. We’re also left to wonder what happened to his son, Baelfire. Did he run off, terrified? That wasn’t shown on screen. Did Dark Rumpy chase him away for his own good… or kill him? And what of the rest of Bae’s life – if he survived? Did he go to the Ogre Wars & get killed or become a hero? Did Dark Rumpy make Bae immortal, too, with some of his newfound magical powers? Perhaps Bae found another magical item & vowed to stay alive until he “cured” his father? We don’t know. And that’s driving me absolutely crazy!
So until (or if) we’re allowed to know – I decided to try figuring it out. That’s how this ongoing project was born. My impression of Rumpy’s & Mr. Gold’s characters changed drastically with “Desperate Souls.” We’re obviously supposed to feel sympathy for the human Rumple. He seems to have sacrificed his humanity & very soul to save his son’s life. If so, does that make him a tragic hero? Is there any chance Rumplestiltskin’s soul can be saved? I so want Rumpy to be redeemed. Are Rumpy & Mr. Gold actually "Evil Villains," after all?