Home > I will hug you, Once Upon a Time > Once Upon a Time: Love, Sacrifice, and Forgiveness

Once Upon a Time: Love, Sacrifice, and Forgiveness


Have you ever felt completely unlovable? Thought to yourself, I’m too this or too that? I’m awkward or unfunny. No one is going to be able to love me. How could they? I’m [x,y, and z]! This is for posterity, so be honest.

Of course you have. Because we all have those moments that shake us to the core. Things we’ve done or said, secrets that we carry like Sisyphean boulders – the bloody albatross hanging precariously from our necks. It is all to easy to believe that our flaws and our wrongdoings make us who we are. It is all to easy to accept the notion that we are defined by our past. And that past, perhaps, makes us unworthy of love. I think it was Stephen Chbosky who wrote that “we accept the love we think we deserve.” And, in our darkest moments when we cannot bear to look into the mirror, he is right. We get used to the idea that we are unworthy and cannot get around it. Even, perhaps, when the love of our life is standing in front of us. In that way, we are all occasionally broken in our eyes.

Last night, in the premiere of ABC’s Once Upon a Time (Broken), Rumpelstiltskin was reunited with Belle. Magic has returned to Storybrooke, but it is a different magic. A strange magic. One that no one really understands (at one point, Regina tries her magic and fails spectacularly – only to succeed a small while later). True love, however, is repeatedly called the most powerful magic of all. When you look at Rumpelstiltskin and Belle, there is love there. Palpable, tangible, heart-singing love. The kiss scene by the well? That was absolutely beautiful. But if true love is the most powerful magic of all, it also should be said that difficult love can also be true love. As David/Mary Margaret illustrated last season, the course of true love ne’er did run smooth. Belle makes Rumpelstiltskin promise not to kill Regina, not to let his need for revenge win – and if he honors that promise, they can be together. Robert Carlyle expresses more with a look and a kiss that previously thought possible, and Emilie de Ravin was beautifully sincere and hopeful as Belle. She is a strong character. More about that later.

Elsewhere in Storybrooke, happy reunions occur, a mob tries to kill Regina, who is rescued by the Royal Family. (Interesting exchange between Charming and Dr. Whale. Whale vehemently retorts that Charming is not his prince, either implying that his allegiances lie with a different royal family OR that he knows that Charming isn’t really a prince. He is, technically, the prince’s twin brother.) Emma is still reeling from the revelation of her parents (Snow and Charming), and eventually she explains that while the intentions were good, being abandoned as a baby left deep scars. It wasn’t merely an altruistic move, as she points out; it was also done to save the kingdom. Essentially, Snow and Charming sacrificed being with her/raising her knowing that they would not see her for 28 years. While part of that reason was love, it has to sting a bit.

Technically staying true to his promise, Rumpelstiltskin visits Regina, marking her with the symbol of a Wraith. A soul-sucker that doesn’t stop until it kills its victim. When Belle overhears what he’s done, she is hurt and furious. Rumpelstiltskin is a master of words, of saying on the right side of promises, while doing what he wants. Belle tells him, “You toy with words. Like you do people. You’re still a man who makes wrong choices. I thought you’d changed.” From a place of defensive hurt, he viciously rejoins, “in the hour you’ve known me?” Despite his apologies, she leaves, pain plain on her face. The parting shot of his face is one of shock, leaning toward, “What have I done?”

Meanwhile, Snow, Charming, and Emma struggle to save Regina – because Emma promise her son Henry. And yet, he seems to regret that promise a little while later when Regina nearly kills Charming, his grandfather. Whoops. Armed with Jackson’s mad hatter hat, they attempt to send the Wraith elsewhere, but Regina can’t make it work – until Emma puts her hand on Regina’s shoulder, signifying that Emma possesses magic, possibly more magic than the Evil Queen. While Regina is, indeed, saved – the Wraith pulls Emma down the hat with it, and Snow jumps in after her, determined not to abandon her daughter again. Charming attempts to follow, but the hat portal closes before he can. (All this makes me wonder exactly where Jefferson is hiding.)

Congruently, in Fairytale Land, Prince Phillip woke up Sleeping Beauty – and Aurora and Phillip are happily reunited, with some help from Mulan. They are in a part of the Kingdom that is miraculously untouched by the curse; when Emma returned to Storybrooke, she started time in Fairytale Land too – which is an interesting link between the two worlds. Unfortunately, Phillip is marked by the Wraith, dooming him to death. He tells no one, but sets off to sacrifice himself so that his beloved Aurora (and his dear companion Mulan) may live. When the two women discover this, they rush off to find him, Aurora realizing keenly that Mulan carries a hidden torch for the Prince. Phillip dies at the ethereal and dark hand of the Wraith, which was brought back to the land by Emma and Snow. That was an interesting twist.

If this episode were based on a question, it would be this: what are you willing to sacrifice for love? For Snow, it was everything – when she jumped into that hat. For Emma, she saved Regina for love of her son, resulting in unimaginable consequences. For Phillip, it was his life. He sacrificed himself for the woman he loved. Which brings us full circle to Rumpelstiltskin. He sees himself as a monster, as Belle pointed out, a “man who makes wrong choices.” He allows his pain, anger etc to rule him. And yet, with the introduction of Belle, there are cracks in that dominant motivation. He truly does love her, and she him.

What, then, does Belle sacrifice for love? Everything. Because she comes back to him. Despite what he has done, she returns – which is something we’ve seen in the past. She asks, “So, you didn’t get what you wanted?” And, clever as always, he says, “Well, that remains to be seen.” Her resolve seems to crack completely when she sees the chipped cup from their time together in Fairytale Land. He has saved it, and in season one, fought very hard to get it back when it was stolen.

Then, Rumpelstiltskin attempts to make a sacrifice: he tries to send Belle away, for her own good. He is, once again, giving up his own heart for her. He tells Belle that “despite what you hope, I’m still a monster.” As love is a thing that reveals us all, she will have none of it, fighting for him, even if it means fighting him. Touching his shoulder, tears in her eyes, she replies, “Don’t you see? That’s exactly the reason I have to say.” That is love. Love stays, when others would flee. Love risks, attempts to rescue us from our darker selves.

You see, Rumpelstiltskin may think himself a villain, but in her eyes, he is just a man who makes wrong choices. And that is something someone can fix, something you can rescue someone from. He is not an evil man, though he’s done bad things. Belle SEES him for who he is and who he can be. She sees past all his defenses, all his mistakes, and refuses to allow him remain apart from his heart – it is that heart that may be his salvation. Rumple is his own monster. Yet, she forgives him for his flaws, which is all anyone really wants in love. To see, and to be seen, and for all things to be made right through love. What is, perhaps, broken or chipped like that cup? It can still be cherished, because love is forgiveness.

  1. October 1, 2012 at 9:17 am

    I always feel unlovable. I can’t tell you how many times this episode brought tears to my eyes last night – I lost count. So many little potent moments that just squeezed my heart. But Robert C. stole that show. He is absolutely perfect as Rumplestiltskin. One of the things I love most about this show is that none of the characters are good or evil ‘just because’. They’re both of those things for damn good reasons — and the ‘evil’ ? Primarily because they choose not to forgive. Regina can’t forgive Snow for blurting her secret, Rumple can’t forgive himself… and so on. When Snow leaped after Emma, I knew that was a mom thing.

    And then I cried for another half hour 🙂

    • October 2, 2012 at 8:50 am

      He was wonderful in the part. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him — the depth of expression in a single look is totally astounding. And you’re right — I do love the fact that no one is good or evil, without reason. It’s all based on something that happened. And Snow leaping after Emma? That totally pulled at my heartstrings.

  2. Jessica
    October 1, 2012 at 10:14 am

    I don’t watch this show, so there’s only so much I can say in response to this, except that, APPARENTLY, even in random offshoots of fairytales, I’M STILL BELLE. Hahahaha.

    *headdesk headdesk headdesk*

    • October 2, 2012 at 8:51 am

      HAHAH, you are me BOTH, chica. *clears throat* There goes the baker with his tray like always….

      • Jessica
        October 4, 2012 at 11:53 am

        I want adventure in the great wide somewhere!

  3. October 2, 2012 at 3:44 am

    As much as I’d love to post some profound comment on the episode, I can’t because you’ve said there is to say about it.

    I have to say this episode’s story (particularly in Fairytale Land) was probably the best way to start off the season. The fact that parts of FtL were unharmed by the curse opened the way for new stories without betraying (in a way) the premise of the show and the first season.

    Now, for some speculation. About Emma’s magic, the first thought that popped into my head when the Hat worked as she put her hand on Regina’s shoulder was that she escaped and was never cursed, therefore she has the magic of the old land.

    Moving on to the time-stopping part, I think (not as surely as Emma’s magic, mind) that it’s to do with the fact that the Three Good Fairies (Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather; Sleeping Beauty is my favorite) had put the land surrounding Aurora to sleep to protect it while she did the same. Of course, this is assuming that they bring in FF&M.

    As for why there’s other lands that were protected from the curse, it goes hand in hand with above theory about the protected land. The TGF’s spell created sort of a barrier that kept the curse from reaching past it. Still, it’s just speculation.

    • October 2, 2012 at 8:53 am

      Thank you so, so much — for taking the time to read this and for leaving such a lovely comment. Interesting observation about Emma’s magic. That does make sense. As for what preserved the part of the land, I am not sure that the fairies had that kind of power. Otherwise, why not put baby Emma and the royal family in that part of the world? That would’ve protected them, as well. Anyway, I’m interested to see how it all plays out! Thanks again for commenting!

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