I’m taking a few steps back in time to start catching up on the recaps that I missed. The Return was the first episode after the spring hiatus. It was a three-point return: the return of the show from its break, the return of Mary Margaret to her normal life after being released from jail, and (for a few moments) the seeming return of Baelfire to his father.
August W. Booth wakes up with a stiff leg (we’ll find out why in the next episode). He makes a call on a rotary phone, which is noteworthy because Storybrooke has an array of phones from various eras, spanning the decades from rotaries to cell phones.
We don’t know who August is calling, but he tells whoever is on the other end that this (whatever this is) is taking too long and they need to accelerate the plan.
He uses Henry as a decoy in Mr. Gold’s shop, looking for what we later learn is Rumpelstiltskin’s magic dagger.
Mr. Gold returns the favor by breaking into August’s room, where he finds a donkey paperweight (whose significance is confirmed in the next episode) and a drawing of the dagger.
Mr. Gold sees the Mother Superior talking to August, and he asks her what August wanted. She says he wanted advice. August had come to town looking for his father. After a long separation, August recently found his father but had not spoken to him yet. The gears are turning in Gold’s head, and he’s thinking that August is Bae.
Gold and August meet in the woods. Gold says, “I know who you are.” But, alas, he is wrong.
August says, lying, “Well, I guess all the lying can stop — Papa.”
Gold tells August how, ever since he went through the portal, he had been looking for him every waking moment of his life. Gold begs his fogiveness. The two embrace, and August says, “I forgive you Papa.” It’s a touching moment, but neither Gold nor most of the viewers (including myself) had any idea that it was based on a lie.
Gold digs up the magic knife (clearing up the mystery of where he was the day we saw him in the woods with a shovel, many episodes ago), and gives it to August so that August can get rid of it, as Rumple knew Bae always wanted to do. Instead, August points the knife at Gold and chants, “By the power of the darkness, I command thee, Dark One.” Gold: “You’re not my son.” Fake out!
Why did August go to all the trouble to convince Rump that he was his son? It was apparently all a ruse to get Gold to hand August the knife so that August could call on the Dark One’s power to cure himself of his fatal illness, which, he believes, only magic can cure. (Perhaps if he stopped lying, that would work too, but that doesn’t seem to occur to him.)
Gold says, “This knife cannot harness any magic in this world, because there is no magic in this world.” But in a later episode, we will find out that’s not strictly true.
Gold puts the knife against August’s throat, but when August says he had tried to convince Emma that she was the Savior, Gold lets him go, saying, “You’re going to die either way, but this way, I may get something out of it.” So we know now that Gold wants Emma to know the truth.
Why doesn’t Gold just tell Emma the truth himself, then? Probably because he thinks Emma wouldn’t believe him. “She trusts you,” he tells August, so presumably August has the best chance of getting Emma to believe.
In the final scenes, Sydney takes the blame for kidnapping Mary Margaret. Emma doesn’t buy it. Instead, she confronts Regina, calls her a sociopath, and says she’s going to take back her son.
In Fairy Tale Land
Rumpelstiltskin’s son Baelfire trips while he is playing and bumps into a donkeycart driver. Rumpel, in full flower as the Dark One, insanely overreacts by turning the poor driver into a snail and stepping on him.
Bae is understandably upset. “You’re different now,” he tells his father after they get home. “You see it, don’t you? You hurt people all the time.”
Rumple tells Bae that he created a truce in the Ogre War. He walked into the battlefield and made it stop and led the children home. He saved a thousand lives.
Bae gets his father to promise that if Bae can find a way for his father to get rid of his power, Rumple will do it. They make a deal and shake on it. This is the deal that Mr. Gold in Storybrooke had referred to earlier in the episode, when he told Regina he had only broken one deal in his life.
Meanwhile, Rumple is still up to his old tricks, killing their servant because she overheard him talking about the knife.
Bae learns about Ruel Ghorm, an ancient being who rules the night, who is the original power, more powerful than anything or anyone, even Rumplestiltskin.
Bae goes into the woods and calls for Ruel Ghorm to appear and to help him. Turns out it’s the blue fairy. She says she can’t turn Rumple back to the way he was, but she can send him to a place without magic.
The fairy gives Bae a magic bean — the very last one. He uses it to open a portal to the world without magic. Rumple hesitates. He loves his son and wants to be with him, but he really doesn’t want to give up his powers. He breaks his promise to Bae, and Bae goes through alone. Moments later, the ground over the portal seals up, and Rumple, already regretting his decision, claws at the ground, trying to get through, but it’s too late.
Rumple vows to find a way to get to Bae’s world. He tells the Blue Fairy that he will devote all his time and love to finding Bae — by creating a curse. So now we know why the curse was created.
Why did Mr. Gold bury the dagger after Emma arrived if he believed there was no magic in this world?
Love versus power
The attraction of love versus power is one of the central recurring conflicts in the show, and we see it again in this episode, where Rumple is torn between joining his son in “the world without magic” and holding onto his powers in a world where his powers can work.
This conflict isn’t exactly the same as the conflict between good and evil because power, in the show, is not always evil. The Blue Fairy has powers that she uses for good. Even Rumple’s powers are double-edged. While we see him clearly using his powers for terrible purposes in this episode — killing the innocent donkeycart driver and the innocent maid — we also hear that he used those same powers to stop the Ogre War and save the lives of thousands of children who had been kidnapped to fight.
Whenever Rumple is is torn between power and love, he hesitates and loses what he really wants the most. He hesitated a second too long and lost Belle, and he hesitated a second too long and lost Bae. That’s the tragedy of Rumple’s life — and like all tragic heroes, he brings his sorrows upon himself by his own actions.