Somewhere within the upper corridors of his lonely ice castle sits a magical creature spinning straw into gold.  His mood is contemplative as he immerses himself into his trade.  Perhaps he’s remembering simpler days from before, days when he was but human.  His name is Rumpelstiltskin, the most intriguing character of ABC’s new hit, Once Upon a Time.

Once Upon a Time is a fantasy/drama that places classic fairy tale characters into the modern world due to a curse enacted by the Evil Queen.  Set in the fictional town of Storybrooke, Maine, most of the characters have no memory of their previous lives except Rumpelstiltskin and the Evil Queen.  Each vies for power over the other.  However, the cunning and clever imp didn’t always have power.  He was once a man, weak and poor.

Rumpelstiltskin, portrayed by Robert Carlyle, was a deserter from a war fought between men and ogres.  Repulsed by his cowardice, his wife left him.  The knights resented him.  His only source of joy was his son, Baelfire.  A time came when knights began drafting children for the war.  They set their eyes on the traitor’s son.  The humble spinner sought a means of protecting his boy.  He befriended a mysterious old man who told him of a dagger that could give him power if he killed the Dark One it summoned. 

Rumpelstiltskin acquired the weapon and killed the Dark One, transforming into a golden-skinned warlock.  He returned to his home and killed the knights attempting to take his son.  However, his son became frightened by him, leaving the dark wizard isolated and past the point of return.  This metamorphosis from man to imp allows Carlyle’s skills as an actor to shine.  Carlyle’s Rumpelstiltskin is quirky and charismatic, carrying a strange charm as he interacts with other characters, often offering them assistance for a price.  He’s quite expressive, using his hands and other abstract mannerisms to supplement his speeches.  His laugh is similar to a hyena’s.  He grins with an open smile, showing his corroded teeth.  His magic is extraordinary, capable of turning a peasant into a puppet or a prince into a rose.  In addition, Carlyle also performs the dual role of Mr. Gold, the counterpart trapped in Storybrooke.  Mr. Gold is a calm and eloquent pawnbroker.  He relies on a cane for walking, but is far from handicapped. He is sharp and not to be underestimated.  He has leverage on everyone, including Mayor Mills, the Evil Queen’s alter ego in the present.  He enjoys making deals and usually holds the upper hand.  He most recently had dealings with Emma Swan, Snow White’s daughter, urging her to run for sheriff.  They became allies to prevent Mayor Mills from giving the job to one of her lackeys. 

The partnership ended when Swan discovered Gold intentionally started a fire to make her look good.  Swan exposed Gold’s sabotage at the debate, becoming sheriff for her honesty.  However, she soon discovered it’s what Mr. Gold planned all along.  He knew the only way for her to win was by standing up to him.  As a result, she still owes him a favor.  Knowledge is power for him. 

There is much to learn of this enigmatic individual, from his fairy tale past to his modern-day dealings.   What are his intentions?  What is his agenda?  Is he fully evil or just misunderstood?  In time, later episodes will shed light out of the darkness that lurks inside this tormented soul.