“The Price of Gold” does three things in the narrative arc of Once Upon a Time: Introduces another Princess, (Cinderella/Ashley, played by Jessy Schram) reinforces that Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) may be the real villain of the piece, and beats the motherhood-is-everything horse way past dead.
Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) doesn’t have, “Roots,” in Storybrooke, Maine. Regina Mills (Lana Parilla) likes to twit her about it. We get it, Regina is a witch in the most literal of senses.
We get the obligatory backstory of Cinderella, with a few minor tweaks and hear again about magic having a price. A price Rumplestiltskin exploits for his own ends in the Enchanted Forest just as his Storybrooke persona, Mr. Gold exploits the weaknesses, flaws and foibles of the townspeople for his own ends. Pregnant teenager Ashley, (nice change from naming the character Ella or Cindy) decides to fight back, much as Cinderella does. The consequences may be dreadful in both worlds.
Writer David H. Goodman seems intent upon expanding the world of the Enchanted Forest, but not in giving the audience motives for the echoed circumstances in the real world. Ashley’s desperation may make sense in the context of her life, but we don’t really get to see why. This serves to make Cinderella incredibly unsympathetic as Goodman relies on the audience expectation of the fairy tale, and it makes Ashley seem absurdly melodramatic.
With the root story of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) giving up Emma, Emma giving up Henry, (Jared Gilmore) and Regina trying to hang on to Henry for reasons of her own, adding a Cinderella/Ashley who’s been tricked into surrendering her firstborn is trope overload. Goodman could have made the deal with Rumplestiltskin/Gold about giving up Prince Thomas (Tim Philipps) or had this be an instance of sexual blackmail, but no: another baby.
Once Upon A Time is teeming with female characters at center stage, and it’s a well-made show with actors who have great chemistry and sink their teeth into their roles. So far, the men in the writers’ room don’t seem to have a grasp on the fact that if Jiminy Cricket can become therapist Archie Hopper (Raphael Sbarge) then Snow White, previously a BAMF outlaw, doesn’t have to be a primary school teacher. How much more interesting would it be to have Mary Margaret Blanchard as a town council-member in conflict with Mayor Mills? How much more intriguing would it be if Ashley and Ruby were in love with each other?
Once Upon A Time is an engaging fantasy show, but its primary failing is that it’s refusing to break the fairy tale mold and let its characters be original.