The conflict between Rumplestiltskin and Killian Jones (a.k.a. Cpt. Hook) is a long one—several hundreds of years long, in fact. The way it began was fairly cut and dried, with Killian playing the role of the villain, and Rumple the victim. But it didn’t stay that way. When Rumple acquired the power of the Dark One, he was out for vengeance and he got it, in rather villainous fashion (S2, Ep4, “Crocodile”). Which in turn set Killian out for vengeance. And so it goes on. Point being, the two lives became so intertwined, with first one and then the other gaining the upper hand (yes, a hand joke at Killian’s expense) that their roles, villain or victim, became very blurred. Both found the love of a good woman that started to turn them away from their dark pasts and even darker potential: Rumple with Belle and Killian with Emma. But at their core, without all the qualifying relationships that define them, which is the better man?
Rumple has time and time again fought with the dark power threatening to take control of him and, mostly, he’s lost. He’s lost his wife, his son, and even his life throughout his journey. Facing his greatest fear besides losing his power, he died a hero’s death to save those he loved. Unfortunately, he was brought back to be the slave of a witch, and after escaping her thrall he strove to maintain the ground he’d gained only to fall to the temptation of keeping his power without having to pay the price for it.
Killian, through tragedy and heartbreak, became the bringer of tragedy and heartbreak as a scurvy pirate and unscrupulous womanizer. He, too, has had to fight with his love for power—power over those who are too weak to fight back—and the lust for vengeance against Rumple. Killian slowly accepted peace and coexistence, finding someone who appeals to his better nature in Emma. Unfortunately, his weakness to the darkness remains evident throughout.
Hook or Crocodile?
By taking one instance of comparison between the two of them, I will assert that Rumplestiltskin is the better and stronger man than Killian Jones–Dark One Rumple’s treatment of Belle vs. Dark One Killian’s treatment of Emma.
When Rumple’s wife, Belle, threw him out of her life and out of town, stripping him of his magic, reducing him to what he feared becoming most, because he had habitually lied to her since their marriage, Rumple was crushed (S4, Ep11, “Heroes and Villains”). But even without magic, he connived a way to get back into town, thereby getting his power back. And when he got back, he was not bitter or vengeful against Belle for what she did. He pined for her, was broken-hearted when it looked like she was moving on with another man, and didn’t even begrudge that same man a fair chance to win Belle’s heart (S4, Ep14, “Enter the Dragon”). He didn’t blame her for what she did and didn’t become forcibly possessive of her like he probably wanted to—he understood.
When Killian’s love, Emma, gave him the power of the Dark One, making him into what he feared becoming most, because it was the only way to save his life, Killian turned on her (S5, Ep10, “Broken Heart”). He knew his own weakness and that Emma knew it too, blaming her for making him fall when she was the only one keeping him up all along. He lashed out against her and used his new power to indulge his dark passions, totally negating her effort to keep him on the right path, because it was the easy thing to do. He was bitter and vengeful, because it was all about him, and what she’d done to him, and how it affected him, and all his weakness and vice.
Now, you can’t let Killian off the hook (I just can’t help it, the puns come so naturally) because he was under the influence of the darkness—Rumple lived in the influence of the darkness, had for hundreds of years. “There,” you may say, “Rumple knew how to control the darkness because he’d been at it so long, whereas Killian had just tasted the power for the first time.” I may grant you a slight nod there, but remember, Rumple’s show of extreme tenderness and just plain goodness to Belle after what she did to him takes place at the point in his life where the darkness has more influence over him than its ever had—in a few short days, it will kill him, completely polluting his heart with darkness (S4, Ep17, “Heart of Gold”)—yet he still manages to be more of a man than Killian. Killian, even when he knew the reason Emma made him a Dark One was because she loved him so much she couldn’t let him die, refused to take responsibility for his own actions and blamed her. As Rumple astutely pointed out once to Killian’s face, Killian has a tendency to look for things that give him permission to act wrongly, so that he can indulge his violent nature without being culpable (S4, Ep4, “The Apprentice”). Becoming the Dark One was no exception—Killian tried to use it as permission, as an excuse.
To Be Fair…
It is noteworthy that after his initial spree of temper and self-indulgence, Killian faced a similar sacrificial death to the one Rumple made, thereby conquering the darkness, etc. (S5, Ep11, “Swan Song.”) My point is not that Killian doesn’t ultimately prove a good man and a strong one—of course he does. My point is that Rumple proves better and stronger because of his treatment of Belle even when she has hurt him. Killian doesn’t have the maturity and gentlemanliness of Rumple, and his obstinate misunderstanding of Emma when she has “wronged” him so that he can justify giving in to the darkness knocks him down a couple of pegs on my hero scale. Rumple did not assert his power over Belle in retaliation, whereas Killian did so with Emma.
When both were under the influence of darkness, Rumplestiltskin was the one who shone through as a good man.