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Review #3135: Once Upon a Time 1.4: “The Price of Gold”

Posted on the 16 November 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Edmund B.

After the stellar re-imaginings of the first three episodes, I was looking forward to “Once Upon A Time”’s take on Rumplestiltskin. Especially since it provides a showcase for the deliciously sleazy Robert Carlisle. However, the decision to fold his story into another’s ends up in a bit of a misfire for the show.

Review #3135: Once Upon a Time 1.4: “The Price of Gold”

On the surface, the tales of Rumplestiltskin and Cinderella have enough in common to justify combining them. Both lead to fairy-tale weddings that he can exploit in his quest for children. But the way he manages it here feels off. Rumplestiltskin is a devious, manipulative character who convinces his victims he’s only there to help, in return for the smallest of favors. Turning Cinderella’s fairy godmother into a puff of smoke in front of her, just to steal her wand, telegraphs his bad intentions. It would have been far more in keeping with his character, and the tone of the show so far, to take her out unbeknownst to Cinderella, then present himself as her savior, with strings attached, of course.

There was some of the revisionism we’ve come to expect, but it didn’t serve the story well. Cinderella comes across as more grasping and desperate than virtuous. She is all too ready to ignore Rumplestiltskin’s warnings and sign on the dotted line. He is surprisingly free with giving his name, which negates the traditional method of thwarting him. That’s fine if the intent was to bind him via more conventional means. Since magic is used anyway, why not invoke the power of words and identity, in a show that is playing with both?

The fairy-tale world has been given great naturalism and realism. This time, Cinderella’s transformation and subsequent story felt like it dropped in from a Disney Princess Pageant. This was particularly disappointing after the artful re-jiggering of Snow White and Prince James’ courtship in the previous episode. Given the real world parallels they were setting up, a little attention to how the couple’s differences helped cement their relationship would have gone a long way. The new actors were also unimpressive, but it was hard to tell if the deficit was in their talent or the writing.

There was a more overt moral message this time. The theme of changing your life yourself, not via a fairy godmother, was right up front in both worlds. In the present day, it is counter-balanced by the presumption of the Mayor and Sean’s dad that people can’t change. Again, it seemed odd not to have that view reflected on the fairy-tale side.

After giving up Henry ten years ago, Emma is determined to give Ashley (Ash-, Cinder-, get it?) the power of choice Emma never had. As Henry predicted, Ashley is unable to get away. Since Ruby’s car had just come back from the shop, the question of whether it breaks down due to the curse or coincidence remains open.
Emma eventually succeeds. The couple is re-united, and Emma makes her deal with the devil, in the form of Mr. Gold. However it was all done in a very perfunctory and off-hand manner. There was little sense of foreboding generated, and no hint of a twist to the happy ending, as in the John Doe denouement.

The show has done so well subverting expectations, this time it succumbed to stereotypes. Even the identity of the man in the shower was a little too predictable and soap opera-y. Certainly, given how hot, powerful and available his boss is, who can blame the sheriff? But, if the intent is to inject some dramatic tension, they are hoping we forget how loyal his huntsman alter-ego was regarding Snow White. While the episode was not unenjoyable, it did not maintain the high standard the show has set so far.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 1/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 6/10

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