Welcome back everyone. I hope the new year finds you well. I was all excited to get back into fairy tale world, because I'm sick of the real world, and what do I get? An episode about an election. Thunk thunk thunk. Sorry, that was just my head hitting my desk. "Desperate Souls" is the second Jane Espenson-penned episode of Once Upon A Time. I love me some Jane, but the Internets tell me she hails from Ames, Iowa, so maybe it's in her blood?
I kid. I kid because I love (and because I'm already sick of this presidential season). "Desperate Souls" is a solid episode, laced with themes of choice, consequences, power, corruption and good versus evil -- perfect fodder for a writer with Ms. Espenson's c.v. The main reason I didn't give it a grade in the A range, is because the structure of the plot (particularly in the Enchanted Forest) strikes me as a bit jazz handsy. I'll explain that with actual words and stuff, in the full recap. Where emotional resonance is concerned, though, "Desperate Souls" hits every beat, which surprises me not at all because that is Jane's gift.
In the Enchanted Forest, we are treated to Rumpelstiltskin's backstory. He is but a poor peasant. The Dukes' men regularly raid his village to conscript children for the Ogre Wars. Rumpy is a single father of a boy, Baelfire, who is just days away from his 13th birthday. The Duke's men will be coming for him soon. Rumpy decides his only choice is take his boy and run. Rumpy and Bae meet a beggar (Brad Dourif aka Grima Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings) asking for alms on the King's Road. Since it's nighttime on a dark, lonely road, this seems immediately suspicious. I mean, what kind of business is he going to do, there? Rumpy is a kind man though, and gives the beggar some of what little he has.
As soon as the beggar retreats into the forest, the Duke's men come charging down the road. Rumpy is known for having been a deserter in his day, and the Duke's men berate him for it in front of his son, and decide it's close enough to Bae's birthday to take him now. Rumpy pleads with them, and promises the head jerk in charge that he'll do whatever he asks. Head Jerk In Charge gets really juiced by humiliating Rumpy, so he makes him bow down and kiss his head jerk in-chargey boot and promptly kicks Rumpy in the face. When the jerks ride off, the beggar comes back out and promises to be Rumpy's benefactor, if only he'll take him home and feed him.
As Bae's birthday grows closer, the beggar tells Rumpy about the Dark One, a magical creature/man/thing to whom the Duke owes all his power. The Dark One's power is all tied up in an enchanted dagger that bears the Dark One's true name. The Duke stole the dagger, so now he controls the Dark One. The Beggar tells Rumpy if he can steal the dagger from the Duke, he can control the Dark One. What's more, if Rumpy kills the Dark One, he will inherit all his power. Rumpy decides he'll do just that, and use the power for good, to save all the children from these endless wars.
Rumpy and Bae set off for the Duke's castle. They will start a fire and steal the dagger. That they're able to do so without running into even one complication is a bit too facile for my taste. And the magical dagger -- this enchanted object that allows the Duke to wield the Dark One's power -- is it locked up, or under guard, or in any way protected? Um, decidedly not. It's hidden behind a banner. That's it. Anyhow, Rumpy gets the dagger, runs back out of the burning castle, finds Bae and sends him home, despite the boy's objections. Rumpy then reads the name on the dagger: Zoso, and suddenly, I want to go listen to my Led Zeppelin CDs.
Anyhow, Rumpy summons this Zoso, who we just know is going to be the beggar. Zoso gives the kind of thundering warning about power, choice and consequences that you'd expect, and then Rumpy stabs him in the heart with his own dagger. As Zoso lays dying, the gold cast disappears from his skin, and Rumpy sees that he is, of course, the beggar. It was all a set-up. Zoso was tired of living under the Duke's control, and being all magical, he knows a desperate soul when he sees one, so he knew he could manipulate Rumpy. He crows that magic always comes with a price, and laughs that Rumpy will probably never again make a deal he doesn't understand. Once Zoso is dead, Rumpy's skin turns gold. He pulls the dagger out of his victim's chest to see his own name MISSPELLED on the dagger. I chuckle, but only because it took me forever (and a clue sticking from a kind reader) to remember it's RumpELstiltskin not RumpLEstiltskin.
Rumpy returns to the village to find the Duke's men taking Bae. He makes the head jerk in charge kiss his boot, and then kills all the Duke's men. Bae is horrified by what his once kindly (if cowardly) papa has become. But Rumpy sneers through his creepy teeth that he is no longer afraid. "I protected what belongs to me. I'm not scared of anything."
Back in Storybrooke, Henry (like me) is still depressed over Sheriff Graham's untimely death and thinks they should put the kibosh on Operation Cobra, at least for a while. He no longer believes good can conquer evil. He even claims to be glad Emma doesn't believe the fairy tale world is real. Emma sets out to show him differently. Regina names Sidney (newspaper editor/Magic Mirror) the new sheriff. Gold shows Emma the town by-laws and points out that while the Mayor can name a candidate, she can't just install that candidate as sheriff. There has to be an election. He promises to be Emma's benefactor.
Gold sets fire to the Mayor's Office, when Emma is there, so that Emma will save Regina and be celebrated as a hero. Emma figures this out, and on the night of her debate with Sidney, she announces that while she doesn't have definitive proof, she knows Mr. Gold set the fire and she doesn't want to win based on a set-up. This act of honest defiance is enough to restore Henry's optimism. He finds Emma drowning her sorrows at Granny's Diner/Pub and tells her Operation Cobra is back on. It's not long before Regina and Sidney arrive. Regina gives Emma the sheriff's badge and says while the vote was close, the people seemed inspired by a candidate brave enough to stand up to Gold
man Sachs. Regina isn't as disappointed as I expected, though, because she's thrilled that Emma has made herself such a powerful enemy.
When Emma arrives at the Sheriff's Office the next day, Gold shows up and reveals that the set up was a set up. That is, he didn't just set the fire so that Emma would save Regina and win the election. You see, Regina and Sidney had run quite a smear campaign on Emma. They dug up her sealed juvie records and printed them in the paper. So Gold set the fire, so that Emma would save Regina and then stand up publicly to him. When Emma asks why he did this, Gold says it's simple. She owes him a favor (from the Cinderella episode). "Now that you're sheriff, I'm sure we'll find some way for you to pay back what you owe me. Congratulations."
I'll be back with the full recap, ASAP. In the meantime, please grade the episode at the top of the page and then join us in the forum, where TWoP Tennison has been sheriff, for as long as anyone can remember.
Enchanted Forest: Rumpelstiltskin is sitting at his spinning wheel, but he's fully human and is only spinning wool into yarn, not straw into gold. His skin isn't even metallic. His son, Baelfire (Dylan Schmid), runs into their cottage. "Papa, Papa! They've come for Morraine." Morraine (Conner Dwelly) has just turned 14, so she is being conscripted into the Duke's army to fight in the Ogre Wars. Her parents plead with the Duke's men, noting she's only 14, but apparently the "enlistment" age has been lowered, as Baelfire notes to Rumpy. When Morraine's mother draws her dagger and lunges at the Duke's men, both she and her husband are stopped and then choked by a magical forcefield. In the nearby meadow, a hooded figure sits upon his horse. It is the Dark One, who wields his magical powers to bring about the Duke's will. As the men ride off with Morraine, her mother keens. Bae looks up at Rumpy. "My birthday's in three days. They'll come for me in three days." Rumpy assures they boy, "We'll find a way." (And yes, I botched the age thing in the recaplet. My apologies.)
Sidebar: There's been some discussion on the boards about the Duke's army conscripting girls. Some people think that the Enchanted Forest seems to be a more egalitarian place, although others argue that it's anachronistic to have girls included in the army. That is the argument I'm most interested in addressing. Please remember, that while in our world (this one, with TWoP in it), fairy tales are folk stories that have been passed on for centuries and that is not the case within the text of Once Upon A Time. In Once Upon A Time, the "fairy tale world" is a real universe, which was -- at least until casting the Dark Curse -- inhabited by real people and real magical creatures, like fairies and dragons. Whatever they do isn't an anachronism, because they're not writing a story set in our Europe, in the Middle Ages. This is one of the reasons I persist in calling it "the Enchanted Forest" rather than "Fairy Tale Land (FTL)" as so many of our members do on the boards. Calling it "Fairy Tale Land" tempts me to think of it as less than its own reality and more of a fiction. Within the show Once Upon A Time, the Enchanted Forest is the real world, while Storybrooke is curse-conjured.
Other people have pointed out that perhaps the girls aren't being recruited so much to fight, as to service (and ugh, that's what they mean) the soldiers. So, okay fine. We're all free to interpret the story as we choose. I'm choosing to interpret it to mean that, as in prior episodes, we're getting more evidence that there is more equality between the races and sexes in the Enchanted Forest. If you want to think it's an anachronism, that's fine (but I think you're forgetting what is real within this work of fiction). And? If you want to think of it as little girls being kidnapped to pleasure rutting soldiers, I guess that's your right, but I reserve my right to throw up, reach for the brain bleach, and start singing, "La la la. I can't hear you, over here, in my little, egalitarian corner of the universe. La la la."