Beauty and the Beast is probably my favorite Disney movie. I must have watched it once a week for at least a couple of years when I was a girl. And it wasn’t the Beast that got me, nor the songs (though I still know those by heart), no. It was Belle. It was the smart and sort of nerdy girl who, somehow, wound up a Disney princess. Because if Belle could be a princess, so could I. So could all of us.
Once Upon A Time changed things a bit. Because there was Snow, being bad-ass, Sleeping Beauty saving her prince, Cinderella not needing hers. The women of Once Upon a Time are forces to be reckoned with. And then, there was Belle. Kind Belle. Smart Belle. The one who always saw the best in people. The one who kept putting Rumplestiltskin first.
The one who was no longer my favorite. In fact, she wasn’t even close. Not till “The Bear and the Bow”
YOUR OWN HERO (AND SOMEONE ELSE’S)
The Belle/Rumple romance could have been handled a gazillion different ways that I might have liked. But it wasn’t – and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt myself actively shipping them. And that’s not only on Rumple, no. Rumple was a villain. He didn’t really disappoint me.
For so long, Belle was a doormat dressed up in understanding clothes. She saw the man behind the Beast once, and she was steadfast in her belief that Rumple could be a better person. Turns out she was right, but at what cost? Belle sacrificed entirely too much to get to this point, and it’s telling that, for all the time she put in, all the sacrifices, all the pain, Rumple never changed until he decided to do so. You can’t force someone to change, even if this episode seems to be sending the opposite message. You can’t make someone into a hero. All you can do is give them a reason.
What you can, however, and what Belle did in this episode, is be your own hero. Find your own strength. Make your own path. Slay your own monsters. Rumple might have “defeated” the bear, but in the end, Belle was the hero of this episode, and hopefully, the hero of her own life. She doesn’t need a man for that.
AFRAID OF BEING ALONE
Emma goes to the only crazy/magical being in Storybrooke, and can I just say this should have happened earlier? Not only because, well, Zelena is gone enough that even Emma would feel good about offering her a deal, but also because Zelena is just hilarious and I need more Rebecca Mader in my life.
Another thing Zelena is? Insightful. Her own family issues might be problematic, but she doesn’t want to get in the middle of Emma’s. And in between denying Emma the help she seeks, Zelena also manages to give us a glimpse of the real Emma behind the Dark Swan, the one that seems to be doing this for reasons that are not entirely evil. The one that, as Zelena pointed out, is afraid of being alone.
So why? Why did she embrace the darkness? And, more importantly, who is she protecting?
YOU WILL NEVER MISS YOUR TARGET
Merida is afraid of failing. She already failed once, and she can’t imagine failing again, so she doesn’t try. Everything she’s done, from the beginning of this story, has been to save her brothers, by any supernatural mean possible. Because she’s afraid that, without magic, she won’t be enough.
In this, she’s the same as Rumple. Except that, when confronted with the truth, Merida’s real self comes true. And Merida, like the movie named after her, is brave. She’s also very, very good with a bow. All she needed was someone to force her to try; someone to point out that sometimes we fail, and that’s life, but not everything’s on us. Belle was just the push she needed, the reminder that just because you failed once doesn’t mean you’re always going to fail.
Ah, the powers of perseverance. Belle is the Queen of that, after all. And now, thanks to her encouragement, Merida is a Queen in her own right, too.
YOU SAVED ME
My problem with Rumplestiltskin has never been that he’s a villain. I can appreciate villains, and I can especially appreciate villains brought to life by great actors, like Robert Carlyle. My problem with Rumple is that this redemption arc is entirely too easy. He’s been good, and then evil, and the redeemed and then not so much that it’s almost a Katy Perry song. He’s hot and he’s cold, he’s in then he’s out. He’s had plenty of chances to change before and he never has, not really. And then, magically, he gets a clean slate? How is that fair?
And no, life is not fair. TV doesn’t have to be either. But they’ve taken their time with Regina’s redemption, and, if Rumple is to follow a believable path, the must take their time with him too. One good deed does not a hero make. Being a hero is not about that one moment when you found the courage to do what’s right; being a hero is about making that choice over and over again. Being a hero is owning up to your mistakes. In short, being a hero is hard work, and if Rumple wants to be one, this is just the beginning.
What I did see in this episode that counts like a positive is an acknowledgment of how badly this storyline has been handled. Belle, after all, gets out of the car. She walks away. And maybe some of you want to believe that she did it to get a reaction out of him, but I don’t think so. I think she just, finally, reached the end of her rope. After all, the look she gives coward Rumple is twenty times harsher than the look she used to give DO Rumple. In that moment Belle is simply saying “I believed in you, and THIS is how you repay me?”. She’s taking a stand, and she’s doing it for herself, knowing what getting out of the car means. Belle, in short, is being a hero, in the run head first into danger way heroes have.
Enough to make me fall in love with Belle again? No. Enough to make me forget that earlier in the episode she seemed to think Emma’s short time as the DO made her as worse as Rumple? No way. A step in the right direction? Yes.
As for Rumple, for all his “hero” status, and the fact that he does many things right in this episode, from owning up to past faults to making a trade for Merida’s heart, the bravado with which he confronts Emma at the end of the episode rings false. Once Upon A Time doesn’t do easy. That’s not only a mark of the show-runners, but something that says a lot about the nature of TV. Rumple being redeemed in one episode makes for a crappy story, and TV shows are not in the business of telling bad and/or short stories. So don’t think this is over.
This was too neat to be over. Because what Rumple should have said at the end is not that he is now a hero, but that he was once a DO, and as such, he can understand what that means. The ease with which he puts himself in the hero column proves that he’s still got ways to go. Heroes, after all, don’t usually go around declaring themselves as such.
So, let’s not throw Rumple a party. He’s not the savior. He’s nothing but a man who, finally, made one right decision. And who gets to live to make another one tomorrow, and the next day, and the one after that.
YOU GOTTA HAVE FAITH (AND LOVE)
As an aside to the real matter, which is Henry’s attitude towards Emma, can I just say that I enjoy Hook and Regina scenes too much? It’s almost criminal that Lana Parilla and Colin O’Donoghue haven’t gotten many chances to share a scene before, because the chemistry between them is off the charts. It’s not romantic, is like two siblings squabbling, and I love it.
But back to Henry. The fact that both Killian and Henry can both understand that the darkness in Emma is NOT something they should accept, and the fact that they can both see past what the darkness has done to the person they love and differentiate Emma from the Dark One is a big deal. As I’ve said before, Belle’s whole I accept the darkness within you strategy has been proven not to work. And the loves of Emma’s life recognize this. They have to try something else. They have to try anything else.
Not that they should be giving the idiot who can’t even properly dispose of a mushroom the time of day, but hey, at least we’re apparently done with the Arthur is so good and trustworthy part of this arc. If we’ve got nothing else to be thankful for in this episode, let’s be thankful for that.
Merlin’s message opens up a whole new can of worms. We already know darkness is coming. Emma already has already freed the sword, thanks to newly minted hero Rumple. But the only thing stronger than the Rumbelle feels in this episode was the foreshadowing. Rumple might have pulled the sword out of the stone, but that doesn’t mean the sword is his. Much like Thor’s hammer, this seems to be one of those cases where we need to find who’s worthy. Is Arthur worthy? Is Emma? And, if not, who? Why? Also, why was Emma so insistent that it be Rumple who pull the sword out? Was it because she didn’t care if he failed or is there something even deeper behind this? And, did Emma really cast this curse? The questions are aplenty, and, as we get to the midway point of this 5A arc, the answers are coming to us. They just might not be what we went, or even what we expect.
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.