“The boy will be your undoing.” — The Seer
After the non-surprise of the Baelfire reveal, “Manhattan” decided it needed to offer up at least one new piece of information, so the episode’s final moments were devoted to dropping a prophecy bomb on Rumplestiltskin (and us). Not only does Rumple have to deal with the new knowledge that he shares a grandchild with the Charmings, he also has to adjust to the idea that his grandchild is destined to be his “undoing.” But what does that mean exactly?
When Rumple was still in full-on Dark One mode, the most likely answer would also have been the simplest one: the boy would end Rumple’s reign by wielding the dagger that bears his name. At that point, the only thing Rumple had left to lose was his power. Now that Rumple has lived as Mr. Gold, regained Belle and reunited with his son, he has something far more valuable to lose: his hard-fought for humanity.
When season two began, I thought Regina was the villain on the path for redemption, but it seems that was a clever feint on the part of the writers. Regina has, for the moment at least, thrown her lot in with Cora. It might be a clever ruse on her part, but for now she’s on the wrong side of the war again. Rumple, on the other hand, has been walking a far more consistent path toward reform, and his motivations have been pure.
From the start, Rumple has been framed as a man motivated by love. He was willing to be branded a coward as long as it meant his son wouldn’t grow up without a father, and later he took on The Dark One in order to protect Bae from being forced to become a child soldier. Even his grand manipulations that led to the curse being cast were done in the name of finding a way back to his child. That doesn’t make his actions any less heinous, but it does illustrate that even at the height of his power, there was a kernel of love motivating Rumple’s machinations.
Given the extent of the damage he has caused, Rumple may never be able to fully atone for his sins in the eyes of the residents of Storybrooke, but it is only the forgiveness of Belle and Bae that he wants to secure. Before she lost her memories, Rumple re-earned Belle’s trust and love by refraining from killing Hook, and effectively choosing to ignore his impulse for revenge in favor of staying on his quest to track down his son. That means in order to complete his redemption arc, the only name Rumple has left to check off his list is Bae’s, and what better way is there to earn his son’s forgiveness than by saving the life of Bae’s only child by sacrificing his own?
Obviously, Once Upon A Time isn’t going to kill off Rumplestiltskin, but they could do something much worse. The prophecy is no doubt going to be the driving force behind the final half of the season as the characters begin marching toward their inevitable war with Cora. On one side we have Emma, Snow, Charming, Neal and Rumple (and assorted townsfolk), on the other we have Cora, Regina and Hook, and at the center of the war is Henry, still perpetually torn between his two mommies. If Henry falls into the hands of Cora, there is only one person powerful enough to get him back, and that person is Rumple, but the question remains how will this lead to Rumple’s undoing?
I think there are two possible answers. First, the safe answer: the classic Rumplestiltskin tale sometimes ends with Rumplestiltskin falling into a chasm. Our Rumple’s greatest regret is letting go of his son as they hung over the side of a chasm, so it’s possible the finale could put Rumple in the same situation again, only this time with Henry, leading to a scenario where Rumple either follows Henry through the portal, perhaps to a land where he will be powerless, or he saves Henry from the chasm only to fall through himself. This scenario would open up the possibility of exploring new lands in season three as Rumple fights to find his way back to his family in Storybrooke.
That would be a very literal undoing though, and not one that aligns with the “magic always has a price” theme that is so tied to the character of Rumple. There was a time when the worst fate Rumple could imagine was one where he was left powerless, but that’s no longer the case. He was willing to allow himself to be completely powerless, even taking a chance that he could lose his memory, in order to find his son. The worst thing that could possibly happen to Rumple now isn’t losing power, it’s regaining it. If the season is leading up to a showdown with Cora, Rumple is going to have to re-embrace his dark side in a big way and eradicate his last shreds of humanity all in the name of love. Thus creating a situation where he is undone in the most terrifying way possible as he hands over all control to his inner Dark One, completing his redemption arc while also cementing his role as the show’s central villain.
What do you think dearies? Will Rumple find redemption only to then immediately regain his spot as the most powerful villain of them all? Or do you have your own theory for how Henry will be his undoing?
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