To be honest, I think this is the point when I started to lose interest in what was going on in Storybrooke. That’s not to say I considered stopping watching the show. It was just that they were reaching the part when you started saying ‘Okay, we get it now. Henry’s right about the curse, but he’s not having much luck in getting Emma to believe it. Can we please pick up the pace, already?’ For example, this episode’s Storybrooke plotline involves Emma and Regina’s stooge, Sidney Glass, both running for the position of town sheriff. And that’s basically it. Granted, there is a minor subplot of Henry temporarily losing his desire to fight against Regina’s curse, as well as him doubting that good can win against evil. And we also see more evidence of how good Mr. Gold is at being a manipulative snake in the grass, what with him resorting to arson in order to make Emma look good in the town's eyes, and how he more-or-less revealed he knew Emma would take the high road and reveal his trickery in the end, which would only result in her looking like an even bigger hero to the people of Storybrooke because not many people were brave enough to stand up to him.
There wasn’t much else in the Storybrooke plotline for this episde. So, for a good chunk of the remainder of season one, I was mostly just interested in the Enchanted Forest plotlines. And the one in this episode was particularly interesting. We finally are told some of Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold’s Enchanted Forest backstory. And what a backstory it is. Not to mention a vitally important one.
We’re introduced to Rumpelstiltskin’s young son, Baelfire, and shown that they lived during a time of unrest in the Enchanted Forest. More specifically the Ogre Wars, something that’ll be referenced a few times in later episodes. It’s clearly a very dangerous time to live in, as young preteen children are being taken away from their homes and families and forced to join the army fighting against the ogres. There is no logic to doing this that I can see. Yes, I know the old saying ‘there’s strength in numbers,’ but we’re talking about children who clearly have had no fighting experience or instruction. For that reason, I cannot blame Rumpelstiltskin at all for his desperation in the given situation. He knows it’s only a matter of time before the soldiers come to take Baelfire away and ship him off to the front lines, where he’ll be little more than a sheep lined up for the slaughter. That has got to be any parent’s worst nightmare. We’re also introduced to the whole mythos of the Dark One, who is basically an all-powerful dark wizard entity, with one weakness- he is essentially tethered to a magical dagger, and if someone possesses this dagger, the Dark One must obey that person. (Magical control over other people seems to be a recurring theme in this show. First we get the whole control-through-the-heart-possession thing, and now this.)
There are some very chilling undertones going on in this episode’s flashbacks. Dark One Zoso, as we’re able to see by the end, is clearly so willing to be free from his life as the Dark One, he’s even willing to die. Why else would he put the idea of taking up the mantle of the Dark One into Rumpelstiltskin’s head by filling him in on the whole secret about the Dark One’s dagger? It really makes you wonder, how horrible must it be to live as the Dark One that you’d be willing to die just to escape from it? Just think about that for a second. We do get a brief glimpse of what it must be like at the end of this episode, too. When Rumpelstiltskin was first starting to consider taking in that power himself, he fully intended to use the power to help people; to save his son’s life and make sure none of the other children in the village had to die. He clearly wanted to use the power of the Dark One for good. But, once he actually gets that power, his first act is to commit cold-blooded murder against the soldiers who’d bullied him earlier in the episode. So much for using the power for good purposes. It’s like the old saying goes: absolute power corrupts absolutely. Shame that no one told Rumple that beforehand.
It was also this episode when I actually recognized one of the actors for the first time. I realize that probably sounds odd, but in my defense, I don’t really watch that much television. I hold no interest in some of the other big shows with large fanbases like Lost, Game of Thrones, and I’ve only seen one or two episodes of How I Met Your Mother. In a way, I kinda prefer it this way. With few exceptions, I typically know actors by the name of the character they play, not by their real-life names. When I really get into a show, I tend to have a slight difficulty in seeing the actors from that show in another role. For example, I cannot see Fran Dresher in anything without thinking of her as ‘the flashy girl from Flushing.’ But in this episode, we are briefly introduced to the guest-star character, Zoso, the original Dark One. The instant I saw him, I knew I’d seen his face and heard that voice before. After a few seconds, I realized why- it was Brad Dourif, who I knew from his role as Saavedro in Myst III: Exile. But in this case, I think it’s great that I recognized Zoso as Saavedro, even though I kept half-expecting him to start calling Rumple Atrus, (the main NPC in the Myst series). In the game, Saavedro was a man who had all but completely gone insane because he believed his family and people had all died, and he’d spent I don’t know how many years alone and isolated with nothing but painful memories to keep him company. While fans of the show have yet to learn anything about the character of Zoso, I can only imagine the horrors he’s seen. Because of his role as Saavedro, I ended up incorporating some of Saavedro's traits into Dark One Zoso- borderline insane from his experiences and desperate for an escape, regardless of what it would take to achieve that. Doing so only ended up helping enhance my appreciation for what happened in this episode.