With all the baby-kidnapping and and sinister hehehe-ing Rumple (Robert Carlyle) has done in recent episodes of Once Upon a Time, it's become harder and harder to remember his more noble qualities — partially because there are so few of them, but also because it's been awhile since we've seen him show a sliver of true decency under that scaly mask of his.
But with grown-up Gideon (Giles Matthey) now in the picture just itching to fulfill Emma Swan's Jennifer Morrison) deathly destiny so that he can become a savior himself, Rumple's ready to team up with Belle (Emilie de Ravin) in earnest to protect their boy. Because, as it turns out, he's got quite a sordid history when it comes to his sons trotting along in their father's footsteps into the darkness.
His first lost son, Bae, was a cheery little chap who didn't judge his goblin-looking dad for being the town pariah. Even when he came home slathered in mud from a school bully's handiwork, he didn't begrudge Rumple for being called "The Dark One." All Bae wanted in return for such trouble was his dad's kept promise that he wouldn't resort to the dark side anymore and would keep his kill count capped where it was ... with a gaggle of dead ogres taken down by his magic dagger to save the townsfolk, including the storied hero soldier Beowulf, safe from certain doom.
Sure, everyone was hip-hip-hooraying him now for slaying their giant invaders, but it was just a matter of time before they turned against him once more. He is entwined with darkness, after all, and so they were reasonably afraid of what he might do.
But Beowulf himself took it one step further. He was supposed to be the hero of the First Ogres War and somehow outlasted the rest of his ranks. But his hubris almost landed him under the foot of an ogre before Rumple stepped in to save the day, which made his status as the town savior — so to speak — scooped up by Rumple ... at least temporarily.
To save face, he used an ogre horn to convince the town there was more ogre madness afoot in the nearby caves, and many men sacrificed their lives for the cause before Rumple was again summoned to the battlefield to put an end to what they were deceived into thinking was another city-wide decimation on the way. Bae still wanted Rumple to steer clear of dark magic, but he couldn't resist; he brought the dooming dagger with him, but agreed to let his son hold it and compel him to keep it clean no matter what.
Unfortunately, it was a total Frodo and the One Ring situation, and even having his hands on it was enough to lure Bae to doing darkness. Once they discovered that Beowulf was behind the latest perceived siege, Rumple opted to simply take him in and tell the town what he'd done. Beowulf and Bae could agree at least that it wouldn't work — who were the townies going to believe, anyway? Someone who'd fully committed himself to dark magic or the heroic soldier who charged his forces against an army of creatures 20 times their size? What they don't agree on is what to do about it. Rumple offers to leave town and take up residence somewhere else, but Bae didn't want to go there. Instead, he saw a better, albeit darker, option and used his dagger power to force Rumple to kill Beowulf. That whiff of dark power was completely intoxicating to him because it meant he'd be bullied no more once he showed those creeps what he was capable of with dagger in hand.
Sensing the inevitability of this dark path, Rumple gave his son some memory tea and erased everything after the moment they entered the cave, including Beowulf's ultimate treachery. Upon waking, Bae believed his father had never surrendered his dark ways and that he senselessly murdered a town hero, and left him behind ... for good.
His ancient sacrifice of Bae's love (that sounds way weirder than it is, by the way) completely informs his approach to dealing with the bloodthirsty Gideon. His new son wants nothing more than to destroy Emma Swan to carve out his supposed legacy and kill the Black Fairy. But Rumple knows that once he tastes dark power, it'll be too hard for him to resist it.
Gideon easily lifts the dagger from its safekeep at the sheriff's office, but Rumple finds him there and puts him to sleep so that they can talk on "Papa's" terms. He explains how he first became the Dark One in the Ogre's War and that he won't lose his son's soul over some vengeance mission such as this, no matter how cruel the Black Fairy was to him in his youth (she literally gut-checked his supposed interest in heroism by giving him an opportunity to save a cellmate from repeated lashings, but he didn't budge).
Rumple tries to turn to old methods of memory erasure to rid him of such painful memories, but this son's much too keen to fall for simple tricks like that. He takes the dagger and compels his father not to stop him from doing what he needs to do to become a hero, including the murder of innocents. He takes off to repair Beowolf's old sword by taking the magic (and blood) of Blue, but as whip-smart as his son is, Rumple's still the savvier trickster of the two. He might not be able to stop Gideon from hurting Blue, but he can do it for him instead. And with that, the sword is repaired, and so is his relationship with Belle.
There's still plenty to be concerned about with their son's future, but she's encouraged by his sacrificial act because it shows that even he could come back from darkness for the sake of someone good, so there's hope for everybody. Talk about your backhanded compliment, eh?
Meanwhile, Hook's (Colin O'Donoghue) dealing with some demons of his own creation. He's gotten David's (Josh Dallas) merry approval to ask Emma's hand in marriage, but now that he remembers killing Robert, David's father and Emma's grandfather, he's ready to walk the plank instead of trying to take the plunge. He's wrestling with whether to tell her the truth before popping the question, but she beats him to the punch by accidentally finding the ring and basically staging her own proposal the second he walks in the door after a night out nursing Captain Morgan. And with that, we have one of the most unfortunate engagements in the history of ever. Aye, matey.
Also, Regina (Lana Parrilla) is finally coming around to the idea that Not-Robin (Sean Maguire) is actually not Robin. They shared a kiss, and it was far from fireworks-y, and what's more is that he's off stealing magic and conspiring with Zelena (Rebecca Mader) to try and escape the confines of Storybrooke, with the Evil Queen in snake form, to boot. Regina catches them in the act, but she's not mad. If he wants to leave, she'll do her darnedest to find him a way because, after all, she brought him here for all the wrong reasons.
But the Evil Queen has another plan. She manages to slough off a sip of their failed anti-magic concoction to undo the snake charmer spell she's been put under and slither her way back into human form. She's got big plans to show Not-Robin what he's been missing out on with Regina's attempted do-gooder makeover session, and you know what? It looks like he's game for it. Three cheers of an appletini for this hook-up in the making.
But first, she'll have some battling to do with her other half if the previews for next week's episode are any indication.
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.