Previously on Once Upon A Time: Neal has a fiancée! She’s evil! Wood conducts electricity! Regina’s a childsnatcher! The kid she wanted to keep has grown up! And he’s evil! The 80’s never ended! And – wait…wood conducts electricity?
The hiatus has been hard on everyone, not least August. He got turned back into a little boy again. Honestly, talk about curses; that’s the worst one of all. Puberty, those tricky teenage years…I’m starting to think the Blue Fairy has a wicked streak. But it’s nice to know that magic is pretty arbitrary in who gets saved and who doesn’t, right? Yeah. I’m not bitter AT ALL.
As we turn into the final four episodes of the season, this one felt a little bit like a landmark. It was the first episode in god knows how many that Regina didn’t cry. Yes, that’s right. No tears for our favorite Evil Queen, which really does make a nice change. Also a nice change? Regina reinstating herself as Mayor. I felt a pang of nostalgia at seeing her behind her desk doing paperwork. And you have to admit, evil or not, her attention to bureaucracy is admirable. Snow and Charming might consider themselves “leaders”, but when it comes to dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, Regina Mills is your woman. Nobody seems too put out by it, either, so I’m guessing that the Charmings are perhaps not best suited to budgets and city ordinances. Or forgiveness. Or not finding one another. Sigh.
What they are suited to, apparently, is growing beans. Magic beans. Snow and Charming revealed their crop to Emma (niftily hidden behind a magic shield) and we discovered that magic beans grow really, REALLY quickly. There’s a whole ruddy great field of them and Emma realizes that her parents want to go back to Fairy Tale Land. Charming says it’s so that she can find her happy ending at last, but for Snow, it’s more a way of escaping Storybrooke and the blackening of her heart after engendering Cora’s death. It’s funny, really, how Emma Swan grew up with a propensity to run away from difficult situations. Looks like we know where she inherited THAT from, right? Because Snow isn’t really dealing with what she’s done; she’s running from it. Returning to Fairy Tale Land might, she hopes, assuage the guilt she feels. But hey, using your daughter’s heritage and search for happiness as an excuse is probably just as good – any port in a storm, Snow.
Regina finds out that Neal is Henry’s father and, ergo, Rumple is his grandfather. Of course, Rumple takes about as much pleasure in telling her as I did in seeing Regina’s Mayoral outfit later in the episode. That’s quite a lot, by the way. “I guess that makes us family,” Rumple tells her. Ew. The family tree in this show is all getting a bit incestuous. Everyone’s related to everyone else. I’m now starting to wonder who ISN’T part of this extended family. Maybe they’ll find out Granny’s a distant cousin or something – I mean, she and Regina DO take pride in their lasagna, don’t they? And they also share a distinct ability to sass the hell out of anyone and everyone.
It occurs to Regina that Gold procuring Henry for her was all part of a plan. He bleats on about Fate again, but you know, some of the plot holes in this show are as big and deep as the Grand Canyon so for “Fate”, simply read “whatever Eddie and Adam want it to be” and we’re pretty much done trying to explain THAT.
The main plot of the episode is about how Regina restores Belle’s cursed memories, making her into Lacey, who, as Granny points out with all the subtlety of a brick to the face, looks like she raided “the back of Ruby’s closet”. Yeah, Lacey is a bad girl. She’s brash and selfish and highly sexual. All the things that Belle never was. All the things that, we’re told through comparative flashbacks with Fairy Tale Land, Belle could never be. You see, if Belle brought out the best in Rumple, then Lacey has the potential to bring out the worst. And, knowing Rumple like we do, that’s never very far from the surface of everything he does and says.
This episode felt like it was hammering a point home, to be honest. I know that we’re supposed to believe that the “bad” characters can be redeemed and that true love conquers all, but I have to place some serious doubt into the notion that Rumple actually WANTS to be redeemed. You see, I don’t even think he really feels like he HAS to be. I’m fairly certain that he DOES love Belle, but when he stomps off to see Regina at City Hall (love her office décor, by the way; it’s nice to see it again), they have a conversation about what can truly restore Belle’s memories and break the curse. True love’s kiss. Regina points out that Lacey doesn’t feel for Rumple what he feels for her and he tells her, “Then I’ll MAKE her.”
“Now there’s the charm that should easily woo a lovely young lady,” Regina answers. “She’ll most certainly fall in love with you at first sight – oh wait, that didn’t happen did it?”
Ladies and gentleman, Trollgina Mills is BACK. On fine form. But she has a point – because true love can’t be forced, only felt and given. And if I’ve learned anything about true love from this show, then it’s that you simply can’t FORCE someone to love you. Because, if that were the case, then Regina Mills and I would live happily ever after in a fairytale castle – or, as I like to call it, Croydon.
But that brings me to the crux of this episode and why it left me feeling a tad troubled. Because Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful story – Tale As Old As Time, candelabras, talking clocks and Mrs. Potts – but transposed into this show it seems more than a little dark and twisty. The flashbacks to Fairy Tale Land show the first glimmerings of when Belle and Rumple had feelings for one another. But you know, he kept her in a prison cell and wanted her to witness him killing someone to teach her a lesson. So the fact that Rumple DOESN’T kill Robin Hood (and we’ll get onto HIM in a wee bit) bothers me because it’s not an act of benevolence; not really. And we’re supposed to think that he’s a noble creature, capable of love because he doesn’t commit murder? May I remind you that only a few scenes earlier, Rumple was throwing bloodied aprons at Belle from when he’d been torturing poor Tom Ellis down in the dungeon. And yet, Belle is effusive in her affections, patting Rumple on the head for not killing someone (this time) and rewarding him with smiles and hugs.
Call it Stockholm Syndrome, or settling for your lot, but the “love story” between Belle and Rumple has always squicked me out a bit. You see, Rumple hasn’t shown the desire to change – not one bit. And his assertion to Regina that he’ll MAKE Belle love him only serves to support that. Regina tells him that she knows how black his heart is and you know what…I’m kind of in agreement. Until I have some evidence – proof positive – that Rumple wants to change, then it’s all smoke and mirrors to me. Wanting something and feeling it just aren’t the same, Rumple. And he’s spent a lifetime wanting things without ever really allowing himself to feel them, so I can only assume that his attempts to woo Lacey are borne from WANT rather than FEEL.
Perhaps the most hilarious pairing of this episode is seeing Charming giving Rumple dating advice. Because…really? Charming, who keeps going on about fighting to make things better and doing the right thing and THIS is his priority? Knowing who Rumple is and what he’s capable of, Charming is still more easily able to forgo any doubts he might have about, you know, DANGER and pat Rumple on the back when he sets up a date with Lacey. It’s all just good old boys together, isn’t it? We can forgive them anything because they’re in wuv. Awwww. Sometimes I remonstrate with myself for thinking Charming is the stupidest, most gullible prince EVER, and then I see episodes like this and I’m just…well, unimpressed.
And there’s the crux of it, really. Whether you believe that Rumple is capable of love or not, the fact that he’s now related to Henry appears to mean that all doubts are put aside. This show’s notion of “family” tells us that if you’re related by blood, you’re afforded certain rights and advantages that other people aren’t. Yeah, you know who I’m talking about here. So when Rumple talks about “true love” to Charming and offers him a favor, Charming dives in head first, just like he does with everything.
And yet…on the flip side of that, all Regina’s DONE this season is tell Henry that she loves him and NOBODY believes her, not one jot. I can’t help feeling like there’s a disturbing sort of double standard there, buried beneath the fairytales and the lofty notions of love that are liberally scattered through this show. Worse still, the notion of anti-hero is explored so thoroughly through Rumple that it becomes a defunct concept rendered meaningless in light of the way he relates to Lacey, and the way she reacts to him. “Show her the man she fell in love with,” Charming tells Rumple. But…but…the man she fell in love with locked her up in a prison cell, killed Gaston and let her cut him in half as a rose, tricked Regina into casting the curse and…and… You get the picture.
“You can’t see what’s in someone’s heart until you truly know them,” Belle says, as herself and as Lacey. But that’s part of the problem, you see. I don’t believe that Belle ever really DID know Rumple. Yes, he’s capable of sparing lives and he’s also capable of tenderness. But are those parts of who he REALLY is, at heart? Because, as Regina points out, if he can’t change for his son’s sake, then who WILL he change for? A “scantily-clad barfly”? Um…no.
And on that note, I get what the show was trying to do by making Belle into Lacey, but it just pushed all of my alarm buttons when it comes to representing women. It’s like the virgin/whore dichotomy which, honestly, is the sort of storytelling that I used to study in literature back at university. But it was written by men who simply couldn’t SEE women as anything else and I’m not entirely sure it translates to a show that seeks to “retell” fairytales in a modern setting. If anything, it seeks to compound and bolster those parts of society that we’re actually trying to eradicate and for me, this little “twist” fell far short of the mark, particularly when Lacey is snogging the face off the Sheriff of Nottingham outside Granny’s round by the dumpsters. The dumpsters. Oh yeah. Classy as hell.
And…speaking of, this episode also had a cameo appearance from Robin Hood. Now, I love me some Tom Ellis and he’s lovely and all, but not only did this seem shoehorned into the episode but also incongruous. To the best of my knowledge, Nottingham is a REAL place. Not Fairy Tale Land, nor is it Fairy Tale Land adjacent. I know. I’ve BEEN to Nottingham. And Robin Hood belongs, not so much to the storybooks, but to ACTUAL HISTORY. And this is where the show teeters on that line between fact and fantasy and, in this instance, didn’t quite blend it in well enough for me. I am, however, going to make a point of travelling up north to Nottingham just on the offchance I can enter the Enchanted Forest. I’ll let you know how that goes.
But the Sheriff provided a useful plot point, making some moves on Belle and eventually being the guy she uh…was WITH by the dumpsters when she ditched Rumple on their date. In Nottingham Forest, Rumple removed the Sheriff’s tongue to force him into giving up information on Robin Hood. In Storybrooke, Rumple, rejected and angry, finds the Sheriff, removes his tongue again and starts beating him mercilessly with that cane. Lacey finds them and, instead of stopping him (like she did that time with Hook), she stands by and watches. “You’re as dark as people say you are,” she tells Rumple.
And here’s where I have a problem with this entire episode. We’re constantly told in this show that good behavior is rewarded, and bad behavior is punished. True love can only be meted out to those deserving of it. And those are the basic tenets that this show claims to run by. However, here we are watching Lacey smiling and standing by as Rumple beats someone to death – EXCITED by it and ATTRACTED to it. So…it’s okay for Rumple to be bad and still have the affections of the woman he loves. It’s okay for her to celebrate his bad behavior and condone it because she’s what…cursed?
I can’t say that this episode impressed me. In fact, all it did was leave me with disturbing images of what an abusive and unhealthy relationship looks like. And out of all the characters, all the mistakes they make and all the wrongdoing they indulge in, this whole Rumbelle thing outstrips them, for me. Because love shouldn’t make you want to do bad things to people. The lack of it? Yes, I can understand how that might change a person and push them into some very dark places. But reveling in it and calling it “love”? Nope. Sorry. That’s just not for me.
Other notable plot points had Regina confronting Emma about Neal and indulging in a bit of benching. Yes, it’s a gerund now, as in, “I like benching with Miss Swan” or “Regina and I went benching yesterday”. Just go with me on this. There’s a funny little frisson between them, when Emma is almost (gasp!) sympathetic to Regina’s fears about change and for a fleeting moment I thought she was going to encourage Regina instead of tell her that the “rest of the world isn’t always scheming to get what they want”. I think Emma’s jealous. She’d LOVE to be able to scheme, but apparently she’s letting her mother dress her these days and that godawful hat she wore earlier on in the episode clearly sucked the ability to scheme right out of her. Poor Emma. I want the leather jacket back. And the princess hair. And her backbone.
Regina thinks that Emma’s hiding something, however, and promises that she’ll find out. She makes good on her word with some super-magical GPS and follows the trail of Charming’s truck out to the beanfield. Oh dear. She makes mincemeat out of the Blue Fairy’s protection spell and finds the beans, which can only mean there’s hell to pay. And, knowing Regina, I’d take that quite literally. Given that next week’s episode is called “The Evil Queen”, I’m guessing there’ll be outfits a-plenty to swoon over and some more Grade A trolling. Please.
And what about Greg/Owen…gah, let’s call him Growen, as the interwebs do, and Tamara? Well, they’re cooking up their own nefarious plan. You can tell it’s nefarious because they’re clearly eeeeevil. Tamara might be engaged to Nealfire, but she’s making her own kind of magic with Growen. And together, they’ve brought Hook back to Storybrooke. Cue music of impending danger and some impressive eyebrow work from Colin O’Donoghue!