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True Villainy in Once Upon a Time: Captain Hook vs. Rumpelstiltskin} ?> Of all the fights, feuds, and fisticuffs in ABC’s hit show Once Upon a Time, the private war between Captain Hook and Rumpelstiltskin is the stuff of vengeance legend—and just as remarkable as their quest to destroy one another is the blame-game they play while doing it.
Their troubles begin in the Enchanted Forest, when Rumpelstiltskin is no more than the crippled village coward. When the dashing pirate, Killian Jones—later known as Captain Hook—passes through town, he takes Rumple’s wife, Milah, away to his ship.
Desperate to retrieve Milah for their son’s sake, Rumple limps his way to Killian’s ship to beg for her return. Killian agrees—if Rumple can best him in a duel. Rumple, unable to handle a sword or even walk unaided, is forced to return home without his wife.
Years later, Rumple gets the chance to face his enemy again, this time with the deck stacked in his favour. During those years, Rumpelstiltskin became the Dark One, an incredibly powerful sorcerer. He originally sought the dark magic to protect his son, but over time he became obsessed with his own power. After all those years of being called a weakling, he loves feeling unstoppable.
I have been blessed with plenty of my own talents, but physical strength is not one of them. The thought of being able to defend myself when I feel wronged is alluring. Rumple thought his dark power would defend him and his son, but it became a disguise for his cowardice, a mask that made him a worse monster than those he fought.
Had Rumple been truly brave, he would have let Killian go when he encountered him again. Instead, he recreates the situation that shamed him, first besting Killian in a one-sided duel—thanks to his magical powers—then attempting to rip out the pirate’s heart. Killian is only saved by Milah’s sudden appearance, and Rumple learns that she was not kidnapped; she left him for Killian. Enraged, Rumple is only prevented from killing the pirate because Milah negotiates a trade: their lives in exchange for a magic bean Rumple wants.
Rumple goes to their ship to conclude the trade, but the pain of Milah’s abandonment and Killian’s effrontery is not so easily forgotten. Rumple ends up crushing Milah’s heart instead of Killian’s. In order to get the magic bean Killian is holding, he cuts off the pirate’s hand, officially making him Captain Hook. Yet he refuses to kill him: “I want you alive,” Rumple sneers in the episode “The Crocodile,” “because I want you to suffer like I did.”
Hook is feeling no less vindictive. He defiantly replies, “Even demons can be killed. I will find a way!” And thus begins a feud that will transcend the borders of worlds and extend beyond the limits of normal lifetimes. Hook travels to Neverland and searches for a way to destroy the immortal Dark One. Meanwhile, Rumple’s bitterness festers while he blames his pain on Hook.
Both Rumple and Hook experienced plenty of darkness in their early lives, and they allowed that darkness to make them even darker.
When life hands me a rough situation, I’m tempted to lash out, to stop being “good.” It’s easier to give in to the pain. When my pain hurts other people, I look for reasons why it’s their fault instead of mine. Both Hook and Rumple blame others for their pain.
Eventually, they both end up in the town of Storybrooke, Maine. After carrying on their feud for a while, they join forces to rescue Henry, a boy they both care about. On top of that, they both fall in love—Rumple with Belle and Hook with Henry’s single mother, Emma Swan. And neither woman approves of their villainy.
After decades of evil deeds, Rumple and Hook suddenly find their commitment to revenge waffling. But they still can’t stop blaming the other for what happened. “He took my wife… so I took his hand,” Rumple explains to Belle in the episode “The Outsider,” omitting the part about Milah’s murder.
During the course of the show, Rumple’s dark power is eventually drawn out of him and, untethered, the dark magic is poised to destroy Storybrooke. In a desperate attempt to save the town, Emma takes the darkness into herself, and suddenly the woman Hook loves becomes the Dark One he hates.
Blinded by her new power, Emma does not understand why her relationship with Hook can’t remain the same. In the episode “Siege Perilous,” she tries to reassure him, claiming that the Dark One magic improved Rumpelstiltskin. “He was born a coward,” Emma says to Hook. “You told me how the man he was grovelled and cried… He changed for the better too.”
Hook’s face contracts as he hears these words, the strain evident. “You’re wrong,” he spits out. “I was the villain in that little drama, Swan.” Rising, Hook picks up his cutlass and brandishes it angrily, remembering his actions: “[Rumpelstiltskin] was a good man trying to keep his family together. I took this cutlass, put it to his head, and taunted him.”
When Hook admits his own role in the feud that destroyed his life and Rumple’s, he shows how far he’s come on the road of redemption. Unlike Rumple, Hook is willing to admit his mistakes and move past them; he’s willing to try to put his villainy behind him.
Sometimes, I let pain turn me into a villain, and I hurt the people around me. The only way to come back from my dark moments is to stop blaming other people and realize that I am the villain. No matter what others may do to me, I have my own role in making the problem worse, and that won’t go away until I admit it to myself.
So who is the true villain in this war? Both of them, of course. But only a true hero learns to see his own actions, dark as they may be, for what they are—and does something to change them.