Welcome back everyone. I hope the new year finds you well. I was all excited to get back into fairy tale world, because I’m sick of the real world, and what do I get? An episode about an election. Thunk thunk thunk. Sorry, that was just my head hitting my desk. “Desperate Souls” is the second Jane Espenson-penned episode of Once Upon A Time. I love me some Jane, but the Internets tell me she hails from Ames, Iowa, so maybe it’s in her blood?
I kid. I kid because I love (and because I’m already sick of this presidential season). “Desperate Souls” is a solid episode, laced with themes of choice, consequences, power, corruption and good versus evil — perfect fodder for a writer with Ms. Espenson’s c.v. The main reason I didn’t give it a grade in the A range, is because the structure of the plot (particularly in the Enchanted Forest) strikes me as a bit jazz handsy. I’ll explain that with actual words and stuff, in the full recap. Where emotional resonance is concerned, though, “Desperate Souls” hits every beat, which surprises me not at all because that is Jane’s gift.
In the Enchanted Forest, we are treated to Rumpelstiltskin’s backstory. He is but a poor peasant. The Dukes’ men regularly raid his village to conscript children for the Ogre Wars. Rumpy is a single father of a boy, Baelfire, who is just days away from his 13th birthday. The Duke’s men will be coming for him soon. Rumpy decides his only choice is take his boy and run. Rumpy and Bae meet a beggar (Brad Dourif aka Grima Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings) asking for alms on the King’s Road. Since it’s nighttime on a dark, lonely road, this seems immediately suspicious. I mean, what kind of business is he going to do, there? Rumpy is a kind man though, and gives the beggar some of what little he has.
As soon as the beggar retreats into the forest, the Duke’s men come charging down the road. Rumpy is known for having been a deserter in his day, and the Duke’s men berate him for it in front of his son, and decide it’s close enough to Bae’s birthday to take him now. Rumpy pleads with them, and promises the head jerk in charge that he’ll do whatever he asks. Head Jerk In Charge gets really juiced by humiliating Rumpy, so he makes him bow down and kiss his head jerk in-chargey boot and promptly kicks Rumpy in the face. When the jerks ride off, the beggar comes back out and promises to be Rumpy’s benefactor, if only he’ll take him home and feed him.