I actually enjoyed last night’s episode of Once Upon a Time. I decided to watch the show this season, even though I did not watch the first season, because the documentary summation of the show’s plot intrigued me, plus I read that the show has been received quite positively, and, being the sort of person who doesn’t want to wade into a show or movie that will end up disappointing me, I tend to put a lot of stock in that (as much of a non-conformist as I am). But, to be honest, until last night, I’ve not particularly enjoyed the show, for the acting has been rather stilted, the kid has been annoying, and I have had a hard time identifying with or caring about the characters.
Last night’s episode was different, however. It focused on the villain Rumplestiltskin. In the world of fairy tales, Rumplestiltskin was lampooned as a coward because he did not fight in the war against the ogres, and his wife was ashamed of him on account of that fact. She meets a sea-captain in the bar and is enthralled by his tales of the places he’s been, and she leaves her husband and son to go with him. Rumplestiltskin thinks that the sea-captain is kidnapping her, and so he goes onto the captain’s ship to ask for his wife back. The sea-captain responds by challenging Rumplestiltskin to a duel, but Rumplestiltskin cowers and flees.
Later on, Rumplestiltskin attains power, an ability with magic, confidence, and a reputation as the feared “dark man”. He sees the sea-captain at a bar, and the sea-captain bullies him. But Rumplestiltskin gains the upper hand, and he challenges the sea-captain to a duel. The next morning, when Rumplestiltskin goes to fight the sea-captain, he sees his wife where the sea-captain is living, and Rumplestiltskin learns that she was not dead (as the sea-captain told him the previous day), and that she left with the sea-captain voluntarily because she fell in love with him. In the course of events, Rumplestiltskin chops off the sea-captain’s hand (making the sea-captain the famous Captain Hook), and he kills his wife. Captain Hook tells Rumplestiltskin that, even though Rumplestiltskin is more powerful now, he is still a coward.
Meanwhile, there’s a magic bean, which can transport people across worlds. Rumplestiltskin made a deal with his wife because he thought that she had the magic bean, and Rumplestiltskin wanted it so that he could travel to a world where his son was. But the bean’s custodian is a little portly man. After Rumplestiltskin vanishes, the little portly man wants something in return from Captain Hook for the magic bean (or so I gathered), and Captain Hook offers him his life and a chance to be part of his crew. Hook asks the little portly man what his name is, and the man replies “William Smee”, who is Captain Hook’s famous sidekick in the Peter Pan story. Hook throws the bean onto the sea, creating a whirlpool that leads into another world. Hook wants to travel to another world so that he can plot revenge on Rumplestiltskin for killing the woman Hook loved. When Smee asks where they are going, Hook replies (of course), “Neverland!”
In the real world, where Rumplestiltskin is Mr. Gold, Rumplestiltskin also struggles against his cowardice. His girlfriend Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) is upset with him because she caught him using magic. Rumplestiltskin asks someone for dating advice, and the guy tells him that the key to a successful relationship is honesty. Belle is looking for a job and loves books, so she’d like to be the librarian at the local library that is re-opening. Rumplestiltskin gives her the key to the library as an act of kindness, with no strings attached that she will continue a romantic relationship with him. He also confesses that he was a coward for not being honest with her.
So why did I enjoy this particular episode? First of all, I could identify with the characters. There was Rumplestiltskin, who was a coward, and I rooted for him when he became powerful and could challenge his bullies. There was Rumplestiltskin’s wife, who wanted a bigger life than the one she had and thus followed Captain Hook. There was Captain Hook, who, although he was a bully and a scoundrel, loved Rumplestiltskin’s wife and knew enough about character that he recognized that power does not equal courage. There was Belle, who had her own dreams of becoming a librarian. And Rumplestiltskin chose to love her unconditionally—-whether or not she reciprocated that love.
Second, the episode was exploring what true courage is. I still do not understand how Rumplestiltskin was a coward even when he was powerful, but I’m sure that Captain Hook had something deep and profound in his mind when he made that accusation. Perhaps Rumplestiltskin was a coward because he did not accept life as it was—-he could not accept that his wife did not love him, and so he felt that he had to get his own way, even if that hurt other people. At times, courage may entail accepting unpleasant realities and being a bigger person, as Rumplestiltskin was in his relationship with Belle at the end of the episode.