Note from Stephanie S.: As I've pulled myself off the Terra Nova beat, I will now be taking over for SABR Matt here. And yes -- this makes me very happy. I always thought it was a little unfair that SABR Matt got all the decent-to-good new shows while I was left with all the crappy ones.
You know what? I take back my lament in the final line of my previous Merlin post. There is one American television show that pulls off compelling storytelling while also being relatively "family friendly," and that show is Once Upon a Time -- especially when the script is written by Buffy alum Jane Espenson and features Rumpelstiltskin, who is totally my favorite character at the moment. Yeah -- I don't know what that says about me either, but I'm pretty sure I'm not alone on that one.
Emma runs for the office of sheriff after Graham's death and finds herself mixed up in some very dirty politics. Meanwhile, we learn that Rumpelstiltskin was once a coward who essentially made a deal with the devil to prevent his young son's conscription into a local noble's war. If you're itching for more details, Entertainment Weekly has a comprehensive recap here (though, FYI, the opinions of the recapper may not always line up with my own).
I don't think this has been emphasized often enough, so I'm going to stress it once again: Robert Carlyle is freakin' awesome. He was the best performer in the SGU cast, and he's turning out to be the best performer in this cast as well. Thus, it is to the show's eternal benefit that the writers finally got around to penning a back-story for Rumpelstiltskin -- and what an interesting back-story it is!
I've always had a thing for characters who get mixed up in Faustian bargains. See also: Londo Mollari. There's something about the mechanism of temptation that I've always found endlessly fascinating. And so it is with Rumpelstiltskin, whose personal fall - like Londo's - cleaves to the ancient Christian belief that evil emanates from perverted good and strikes us when we are weak. Even before his transformation into the "Dark One," Rumpelstiltskin is not a particularly admirable character -- but he is fundamentally sympathetic. We understand the very human fear that once drove him to desert in the middle of a battle -- and we can comprehend the paternal terror that motivates him to protect his child at all costs. But, of course, because Rumpelstiltskin lacks courage and fortitude, he is ripe fruit -- easily plucked when the devil comes his way.
Rumpelstiltskin is fond of telling the others that "magic always comes with a price." Now we know how he came by that knowledge. He may have rescued his son from a grueling and dangerous life in the army, but in doing so, he forever alienated himself from that same son's affection. Once again, this canon seems to be presenting magic as a kind of Monkey's Paw; it might get you what you want, but not in the manner you'd prefer. And personally? I love that. A magical system with consequences is the best sort of magical system a fantasy writer can devise.
Meanwhile, in the "real" world, Emma finds herself mixed up in a Faustian bargain of her own. Rumpelstiltskin's Xanatos Gambit is absolutely classic here. I can't wait to see how he finally calls in his "favor"; given this show's track record, I'm sure the results will be deliciously disturbing.
As I discuss above, Jane Espenson really hits one of my kink buttons here. Bravo!
An episode that heavily features Robert Carlyle is always going to get a high acting score.
Like I said: Kink button! Accurate explorations into the nature of evil always merit an A rating in my book.