We’re not in Storybrooke anymore!

If the Enchanted Forest is heavenly, Neverland is hellish. Sure there are ogres, evil witches, and dark wizards in the forest, but Snow White and Prince Charming keep them at bay and away from the castle and surrounding lands under their protection. There seems no similar safe haven in Neverland.

Once Upon A Time‘s Neverland is rife with shark-like mermaids that would as soon kill you as die themselves, a shadow wraith that steals souls, and Peter Pan, Neverland’s equivalent of the Dark One, and his sworn enemy. Claiming to be on the run from the Lost Boys who are after his vial of pixie dust, Peter gains Henry’s trust. When he learns Henry has the heart of a true believer, he reveals himself. Peter is now in possession of the body and heart of the true believer, a parallel to Rumplestiltskin’s possession of the Dark One’s dagger. I hope Henry gets to keep both to himself.

Meanwhile, back on the deck of the Jolly Roger, Emma and Snow pull a mermaid from the deep. The mermaid (could this be Ariel?) conjures a storm fuelled by the animus the crew has for each other. Fights ensue–Hook vs. Charming, Snow vs. Regina–and Emma realizes the storm can only be quelled when they agree to bury their respective hatchets. Emma nearly commits suicide jumping overboard; the crew works together to save her. When they arrive on shore, Emma proclaims herself their fearless leader and they go in search of Henry.

In the Enchanted Forest, Neal teams with Sleeping Beauty and Mulan on a quest to Rumplestiltskin’s castle to find an enchanted object that will help them contact Emma to let her know he’s still alive. Rumplestiltskin disappears from the deck of the Jolly Roger only to materialize in Neverland’s woods for a sit down with the head Lost Boy who throws a doll at him that reduces the Dark One to tears. Intriguing.

Season three’s opener was worth the wait. Not only does it turn the page on the old storyline (please forgive the pun), it sets up a chapter of new mysteries. What is the significance of the doll? Will Neal find his way back to Storybrooke? To Neverland? Is Rumplestiltskin really destined to die in Neverland? Are Neal and Tamara really dead? Will Emma and Hook ever get a room? Will Regina be content to assume the role of follower and to Emma, of all people? Do Neal and Mulan join Robin Hood’s band of Merry Men? Will there be any tie-ins between Wonderland and the Enchanted Forest? Between Wonderland and Storybrooke? Wonderland and Neverland? I’m certainly looking forward to finding out.

Weigh in on what you thought of the season première. Was it worth the wait?

Rumplestiltskin as a Tragic Hero

The classic definition of a tragic hero according to Arisotle is that he must be of noble birth, has a tragic flaw which leads to his downfall, suffers a reversal of fortune, his actions bring about an increased sense of self-awareness and self-knowledge and the audience must feel pity and fear for the character(1).  I submit that Rumplestiltskin, aka Mr. Gold on ABC’s Once Upon A Time (OUAT) is a tragic figure. While he is not of noble birth, he does have a tragic flaw (cowardess) which leads to his downfall, he suffers numerous reversals of fortune (the loss of his son, wife, and lover), his actions bring about an ongoing increased sense of self-awareness (recent confessions made by the character), and the audience feels both pity and fear for the character.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with OUAT, the show is about storybook characters coming from their familiar storybook existence in Fairytaleland (FTL) to our world and settling in Storybrooke, Maine (SB).  Robert Carlyle plays Rumplestiltskin in FTL and Mr. Gold in SB with menacing relish. In the original tale, Rumplestiltskin is an impish character that is able to spin straw to gold. He agrees to teach the miller’s daughter the trick, provided she pay the sum of her first born to him. The miller’s daughter marries the king and has a child but does not want to give it up. Unable to resist a deal, Rumplestiltskin agrees to let her keep the child, provided the (now) queen can guess his name. After the second try, certain that he would receive the child, he was praising himself by the fire when someone heard and reported his name to the queen. Upon hearing  his name come from the queen’s lips,  Rumple got so angry he tore himself in two (2). In OUAT’s version, Rumple is the village coward. Shunned by others in his village because he ran when the ogres attacked rather than fight, his wife (Milha) has run off with Killian Jones (aka Captain Hook). Determined to become powerful and earn the trust of everyone including his son, he kills The Dark One and assumes his powers. Shunned by others because they fear him, he saves his son from fighting in The Ogre Wars only to lose him when he falls into a portal to another land and closes before he can follow. Alone, he finds his wife and kills her by literally taking and destroying her heart. Lonely, he makes a deal with a king to save his subjects from the ogres in exchange for his daughter, Belle, with whom he falls in love. Believing himself unworthy of being loved, he banishes Belle from his castle and Regina, The Evil Queen, convinces him she returned to her village despondent and  ostracized for her involvement with him and she kills herself. After Regina enacts The Curse causing FTL characters to be transported to SB, he finds Belle when the curse is more changed than broken and reunites with her, but finds it hard to shake his beastly ways.

The Tragic Hero is of Noble Birth

Granted, Rumple himself is not of noble birth, but he does become elevated to the status of nobles when he becomes The Dark One. He has the same powers and wields them to his advantage as do the other royals in FTL. Take, for example, King George, who takes a peasant boy to replace his son when he dies only to threaten his mother and his twin brother’s life if he does not do the same when the replacement dies. Or Belle’s father, Sir Maurice, who is willing to trade his daughter for peace in his kingdom (granted Belle decides to go on her own, but in the long run, Maurice remains passive when his daughter leaved). Then there’s Regina who pushed her mother into a portal and has made her life’s mission to wreak havoc in Snow White’s life for a transgression occurring in her childhood. Like the other royals, Rumple is feared for his power and revered by those who come in contact with him by people who offer (as Macbeth, another royal and tragic hero laments) “mouth-honour”. As the owner and benefactor of SB, Rumple, aka Gold, maintains his power over the characters and seems to enjoy that they fear him. He is the proprietor of the local pawn shop which houses many of the character’s prized possessions with which they made deals with Rumple back in FTL.

The Tragic Hero has a Tragic Flaw Which Leads to His Downfall

As far as personality flaws go, Rumple has many. The story begins with him as a coward, then becoming addicted to and drunk with power as The Dark One. He clings to this power, valuing it even over the love he seeks. This is demonstrated when, after his magic seems threatened by Belle’s love for him, he sends her away rather than explore his heart’s deepest desire.  Betrayed by many including his wife, his apprentice (Regina) and many of the townspeople when they try to get out of the bargains he strikes, Rumple trusts no one. Rumple’s biggest flaw is his desire for acceptance and love. He places himself in a vulnerable position when he allows himself to mistake August (aka Pinocchio) for his son, and again when he prostrates himself to Belle in the library after admitting to her he is still a coward.  It is this flaw more than the others that will ultimately lead to his downfall, as a man as powerful as RumpleGold cannot afford to wear his hat on his sleeve in such a manner.

The Tragic Hero Suffers a Reversal of Fortune

When Rumple agrees to kill The Dark One in order to release him from his misery and gain his power, he thinks life can only get better. Rather than ostracize and ridicule him as being the village coward, the villagers will be forced to revere him or he will turn them into a snail and crush them like the bugs they are. Instead, people ostracize him further. Instead of their disgust, he garners their fear. If he is The Dark One, he surmises, his wife will beg to come back to him and he will win back his son’s respect. Instead, he loses them both. Perhaps worse, he loses himself in the bargain. As we have seen with Regina, magic is addictive. In a brilliant turn of events, Regina runs to psychiatrist Archie Hopper (aka Jiminy Cricket) when she falls off the magic wagon. Like Regina, Rumple is addicted to magic. He does not know how to interact with others without offering them some sort of magical deal and, as previously stated, he chooses magic over securing his deepest heart’s desire. It seems to me that there is no lower ground to which a man who kisses a soldier’s boot in front of his son can stoop, but Rumple seems to do it. At times I am left to wonder, which is better—being ridiculed for cowardess but still having my son, or having all the power in the world at my fingertips and being utterly alone in, not one, but two, worlds.

The Tragic Hero’s Actions Bring About an Increased Sense of Self-awareness and Self-knowledge and the Audience Must Feel Pity and Fear for the Character

As writers continue to flesh out Rumple’s character, we learn he is very much self aware. The mystery in season one questioned who, out of all of the characters, remembered their FTL past. I love the scenes in which Rumple and Regina verbally spar. In one of these scenes, Rumple is in SB’s jail and Regina is compelled to sit and talk to him (she must do whatever Rumple says when he says “please” as a part of the original curse). The moment where he reveals he remembers his FTL name is an incredible step toward his admitting he is still The Dark One and the audience can’t help but fear what will happen to him if the others regain their memory and learn of his name. In season two, the Rumbelle ship continues to sail on very choppy waters. As they battled a wave that threatened to sink their ship, Rumple admitted to Belle that he is still a coward. What a brilliant moment toward Rumple’s self-awareness of the man behind the beast. At that moment, I felt nothing but pity for the character played to expertly by Robert Carlyle. He still loves her. And in admitting that he needed her, he revealed a vulnerability that instilled fear in audience members such as myself who watch the show primarily for this character. Many in the blogosphere believe that Hook will seek revenge for Rumple’s killing Milha on Belle. Having begun his descent out of the pit that is his addiction to magic, I can’t help but fear that without Belle he will fall back to magic to seek his own retribution, and thus descend into madness as well.

Time, of course, will tell, and I don’t mean time on the clock swallowed by the crocodile in the original Peter Pan tale because in OUAT’s version, Rumple is the famed crock as well. As I write this, Hook and Emma, still trapped in the ruined FTL are about to discover Jack’s beanstalk in their quest to find a portal to SB so Emma and Snow can be reunited with their family and Hook can “skin” the crock that took his hand and his love. My hope for Rumple is that he remains intact for the balance of the series, however long that may be, and not fall prey to the death visited on most other  tragic heroes at the end of the tale.

(1)    http://shakespeare.nuvvo.com/lesson/4435-elements-of-a-tragic-hero-in-literature

(2)    http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/Rum.shtml

Flat and Round Characters

Colin O’Donoghue who plays Killian Jones aka Captain Hook in ABC’s Once Upon A Time is handsome, I’ll give him that. The blogosphere was abuzz with how Hook will give Rumple a run for his money, how he will be the biggest and baddest villain on the show. The problem with these theories is that Hook is flat whilst Rumple is rounded. Hook will be no match for Rumple due to Rumple’s multifoliate interior.

                Characters are of two types, flat and rounded. Flat characters are doomed to live their lives out in Flatland, the one-dimensional world created by Edwin A. Abbott and popularized by Sheldon Cooper in an early episode of The Big Bang Theory. That is to say, when looked at head on, they have shape and dimension, an appearance, names, a purpose, but when they turn sideways, they devolve into nothing more than flat lines, indistinguishable from one character to the next. Flat characters function as “phaser bait”, they serve a purpose, nothing more. They are the innocents Palmer and Michael (my characters) interview in their investigation that give up their information and then vanish, never to be seen or heard from again. They are Molly’s students who find an important artifact and then get about with their studying. They are the pirates who cheer on Hook in his bid to belittle Rumple and then fade into the background. They are the Milhas, the women who spur a duel between two characters, never to be heard from again. Last night’s Hook seems to have no motivation other than to kidnap women for the pleasure of he and his crew and then, later, to avenge Milha’s death. Or maybe it’s to get back at “The Crocodile” (a brilliant turn of events, nicknaming Rumple this) for taking his hand. OUAT’s Hook is narcissistic, and single-minded. Girls and wealth are his only motivator.

                Ever the round character, Rumple continues to amaze. All this time, the viewer was led to believe his sole motivation was to bring magic to Storybrooke so he could wield power over Regina, The Evil Queen. Now we learn his sole purpose is to overcome his cowardly past, to be reunited with those he loves and prove to them he is worthy. In a stroke of genius, the writers send Rumple to Belle to humble himself and apologize for his transgressions where she is concerned. He is a man who knows he is imperfect, someone who is capable of vengeful murder (Milha’s) and sweet gestures (giving Belle the key to the library), but at his core, he is a man whose sole desire is to be loved, and to love, but he doesn’t know how. Rumple looks upon people as possessions. He became The Dark One to keep Bae with him. He killed Milha (his wife) because he could not possess her. He imprisoned Belle in his dungeon because he feared she, like all those before her, would leave. Rumple’s motivation to bring back magic so he can leave Storybrooke and find his son is heart-achingly poignant and gives the character depth.

                Granted, Hook is a new character and we’ve only seen him in a single episode designed to facilitate getting Cora, Emma and Snow back to Storybrooke, and he will be fleshed out in the weeks to come. But so far, the simple fact that Hook was introduced to facilitate getting Cora, Emma and Snow back to Storybrooke supports my theory that he is a flat character. He has a purpose; he has no self-motivation to speak of thus far. Contrastingly, when we are first introduced to Rumple, he is already The Dark One, his origins a mystery cloaked in an impish exterior. He is jailed, he grants wishes, he is hated and revered by virtually everyone in Storybrooke. We know there is an age-old rivalry between he and Regina and we ache to find out what that is. Juxtapose that with Storybrooke’s Gold who may or may not remember his life before the curse, and Rumplegold is multi-dimensional from the start.

                Last night’s OUAT opened a multitude of possibilities for the season(s) to come. I like that, unlike while watching so much formulaic prime time tripe, I never know what to expect. And even when I intuit the formula, I am still satisfied with what I see. Kudos to OUATs writers and actors, but especially to Mr. Robert Carlyle who brings justice to the character of Rumplestiltskin, a tragic hero if ever one there was. 

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Graphic credit to http://hollywoodlife.com/2012/10/21/once-upon-a-time-captain-hook-rumpelstiltskin-kills-milah/