As the saying goes, “Every villain is the hero of their own story.” In the case of Once Upon A Time’s Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold, (Robert Carlyle) revealing the origins of his villainy may not have been such a good idea.
Desperate Souls is, in itself, a solid episode. Carlyle turns in a performance that is both sympathetic and repulsive, as the story requires. It simply doesn’t feel like a necessary episode. It’s all well and good that Emma Swann (Jennifer Morrison) has to seek support from the sinister Mr. Gold when Regina Mills decides to replace her as acting sheriff, but this is obviously a VERY BAD THING and it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. The story in Fairy Tale land is certainly more compelling than anything that’s happening in Storybrooke, but where it should illuminate, it undermines instead.
Rumplestiltskin is a character that works best when we don’t know his motives, and revealing that he started out as a cowardly, cringing figure doesn’t make him more sympathetic to the audience so much as it weakens the sense of menace he projects.
Writer Jane Espenson is in good form, but aside from reinforcing Emma’s role as burgeoning hero and giving Brad Dourif a few scenes in which he steals the show, the episode is a bit hollow.
Coming off of winter/holiday hiatus, it’s time for Once Upon A Time to start moving the plot forward. Is this a series that is simply retelling fairy tales from a different perspective, or is there a point to gathering all of these characters in one place?