The TV show Once Upon a Time has recently(ish) begun its newest season. It’s been a bit chaotic, but I think things are settling into a specific focus in its plot.
But after one episode (there’ll be a few spoilers here) where Mr. Gold (Rumplestiltskin) traps Belle on Hook’s ship, where Dr. Jekyll tries to kill her, I had a thought. It came after seeing Rumplestiltskin threaten Belle (if that wasn’t threatening, it came pretty dang close). I began to wonder why Regina has been able to cast off her darkness, or suppress it (never minding her pure evil double for the moment) while Rumplestiltskin continually fails to.
I realized it might be because he is tethered to the magic, whereas Regina is not. But that’s not meant to excuse Rumplestiltskin’s behavior. Regina is different. She has something she values more than power: Henry. She would rather lose power than lose him. That’s how she can fight her dark tendencies. It’s not easy, and sometimes it springs up, but she’s changing, if slowly.
Rumplestiltskin is another story. He is the Dark One, essentially possessed by dark magic. It clings to his heart and it’s not letting go, and that is where he stumbles. He loves Belle, and he wants her desperately. But the magic and its alluring promises of power pull him away from what he wants to value. It’s a tether, and while it might give him slack for a while, he’ll be drawn back sooner or later. He might try to use it to get Belle back, but it always backfires. As the Dark One, the power is too tempting. He’s made himself a host for it, and it desires him as much as he desires Belle. It’s greedy, and that leeches into Rumplestiltskin’s personality. He lusts for power, and it overpowers his need for love.
In contrast, Regina isn’t necessarily tethered. It’s hard for her to give it up. It’s hard to give up that power and control after years of having it. She probably feels vulnerable without it. But when she lets go, it leaves room for love, for redemption.
It’s going to be a lot harder for Rumplestiltskin, but that’s what his character needs to do. Let go and walk away. He has the tether. It’s a chain that drags him back again and again. But I think that gives him a huge amount of potential for an amazing redemption arc. I’m hoping the show will have a plot for this. Perhaps Belle leading the charge to rid Rumplestiltskin of the Dark One. But this time nobody gets it instead. He might resist at first, but it would be an interesting plotline.
It was an interesting contrast I saw in these two characters. One learns to let go, while the other still struggles to walk away. Both are powerful character arcs, really. One shows redemption, the other the fall into deeper darkness. Both can make excellent villains, and both have the capacity to be the hero.
It just depends on how long they use either role.