This week’s episode was ostensibly about Belle. Except it really wasn’t. It was more about Rumple and his relationship with Belle. We saw Belle transform a Beast (with books! Knowledge! Kindness!) and make allusions to fighting another Beast (Rumple) who turned her out of his castle last season.
The real crux of the episode is Storybrooke, and how it’s become something of a closed community; about leaving, staying and where ‘home’ really is now for our fairytale characters. Rumple takes Smee to the town line to perform an experiment with a potion he’s concocted. Apparently if you pour the potion on a possession, it enables one to step over the town line without losing memories. It’s funny, isn’t it, how in most of these experiments, the inventor always uses their creation on themselves. But not Rumple. If things are going to go wrong, they’ll go wrong for someone else. And even though this episode tries to prove to me that “fighting for what you believe in” is a good thing, I can’t help feeling like Rumple doesn’t DESERVE to have anyone fight for him because at this point, he seems pretty irredeemable. His thanks for Smee’s involvement in his experiment and in Hook’s later theft is to turn the poor guy into a rat. Just like that. And even though Smee’s a coward and is easily used, I’m not sure he warranted THAT.
Belle’s fortitude in this episode is exemplified in “fighting the monster” – like all the women in the show. Retelling is one thing, but this is a trope that’s starting to get a bit old. Women can only really show their ‘strength’ through physicality and battle; by becoming a warrior or a soldier of sorts. Snow, Mulan, Emma and Red have all proven their emotional strength through some sort of physical trial and I can’t help feeling like a woman who can’t fight is a woman who is weak. Interesting, then, that Belle should be Rumple’s ‘weakness’.
We’re meant to believe that Belle’s strength is contained in her pure heart, but it comes off more like naivete in her ability to continue to believe that Rumple has good inside him. And yeah, perhaps he once did, but after all these centuries of being The Dark One, his actions tend to speak louder, you know? I understand that one of the themes of the show is redemption, but we’re at a point now when I’m not even sure Rumple WANTS that for himself.
Bae wanted Rumple to change, to eschew magic in order for them to be happy, but Rumple wasn’t prepared to do that. He still isn’t. Because giving up his powers is too big of an ask and, instead, he’s using them more than ever. I can’t help but compare that with Regina and Henry, where we have a situation in which a woman is desperately trying to change to gain her son’s love and has nobody to support or believe in her, nor does she get the slightest bit of credit for her. I realize that it’s dangerous to even venture into a comparison between characters, but in the context of the show, I’m still waiting for Rumple to be brought to account for all the things he’s done. I’m just saying.
In Fairy Tale Land, Dreamy (who is still our idealistic Dreamy at this stage) encourages Belle to go off on an adventure to kill a dangerous beast called a Yaoguai. Never mind that Belle appears to visit drinking establishments on her own and spend the evening downing pints of beer and reading books (that sounds like every Saturday night for me, only it’s the internet instead of a book – I’m a modern woman, after all), but I’m finding it hard to get my head around this beast’s name so for the rest of the episode, I simply call it a Mogwai. Yes, I KNOW they’re hardly the same thing, but…
“Last time I faced a beast it didn’t end well,” Belle tells Dreamy. Well really, Belle. Did you try singing? Did you enlist the help of Mrs Potts? Did you encourage the crockery to put on a song and dance show? No, you didn’t. And therein ends my tale.
“Get on that wagon!” Dreamy says. I’m assuming this is Once Upon A Time’s equivalent of ‘drinking the koolaid’. But, next thing you know, he’s giving her fairydust and telling her that the fairies use it for “good” (and I’ll need some proof of that before I merrily accept it, thanks), and she’s going off on an adventure that apparently requires her to wear a leather outfit. I’m willing to bet that cows in Fairy Tale Land lived in constant fear, given how much leather everyone wears there. No cotton-poly blends for fairytale characters, right?
But there’s actually a lovely little throwback to the Disney movie when Belle is on the wagon with the group of men trying to kill the Mogwai. One of them is Claude – oh, Claude! Your queen must miss you when you go off on adventures like this! – and another makes fun of her for reading books and throws her off the wagon when they get the information they need from her. The wrong information, mind, but they ditch her all the same, even throwing her book in the mud. And now I’m humming that nobody can eat ten dozen eggs like Gaston. As you do.
I have this whole headcanon about Claude, you know. I loved it last week when Regina knew his name, and this week he proves his worth by delivering Belle to the Evil Queen later on in the episode. I’m willing to bet that working for the Evil Queen isn’t such a bad gig after all and that, curses and evil magic aside, she’s a pretty wonderful boss. I bet she even provides dental. And we all know how valuable THAT is.
Hook threatens Archie – he’s alive! Alive, I tell you! – back on his ship to find out what Rumple’s weakness is. Then he turns up at the library to try and kill Belle. She hides in the elevator and Hook bangs against the door to try and get it open. Um, why doesn’t he just use the handle? It’s RIGHT THERE. Anyway, she’s rescued by Rumple and they make their way back to his shop only to find that it’s been wrecked and Bae’s shawl has been stolen. The very same shawl that Rumple wants to use to help him leave town. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m aware that things were different in Fairy Tale Land, but what sort of a kid wears a SHAWL? Anyone wishing to provide illumination is very welcome.
Rumple tells Belle a version of why Hook hates him so much and glosses over the way that his wife, Milah, died. “She died, that’s all that matters.” Er, yeah. She died because you KILLED HER, Rumple. He has an amazing capacity to blame anyone and everyone for the consequences of his own actions, and I can’t really give him any props for this. It’s actually kind of disgusting, because even when Belle pleads “Please don’t let your hatred for this man get in the way of finding Bae,” Rumple isn’t willing to listen. In fact, he orders that Belle returns to the library and gives her a gun for her own protection. “I trust you’ll do as I wish as you trust me to be a better man,” he says. Seriously? He’s using emotional blackmail on Belle’s hopes for him even as he has ABSOLUTELY no intention of striving to be ‘better’.
“Promise me that you going after Hook is just about getting the shawl back,” Bells insists. But Rumple doesn’t answer – he can’t make promises that he has no intention of keeping, can he? And I can’t help thinking less of HER for having this blind faith in him that’s seriously misplaced. So…what change is happening here? How is this him being a ‘better man’? I mean, all he’s doing is compounding his previous actions with more that are pretty reprehensible. And yes, I know that Hook took his wife away from him but, as Hook points out later on, it’s not like Milah didn’t WANT to go, or didn’t BEG him to take her with him.
Ugh. This show. It makes me SO cranky. And, speaking of which, Fairy Tale Land’s Miss Congeniality turns up as Belle finds the Mogwai easily using her books. Mulan is just SO grumpy, which is a pity really, because when Jamie Chung smiles she’s absolutely adorable. But not here, as Mulan tells Belle that she’s been tracking the beast for weeks and that Belle found it very quickly. Books! Knowledge! It’s a GOOD thing! Mulan stomps off to hunt for the beast on her own and Belle ends up in trouble when Claude and his gang find her after being sent off on a wild Mogwai chase. Luckily, Mulan saves Belle and they set off to find the beast together. Girl power! And when Belle professes that she’s not a soldier, Mulan tells her that “Once I found something worth fighting for…I never gave up.” Awww. Of course, the problem with telling Belle something like that is the fact that she immediately applies it to Rumple and….yeah. That’s not going anywhere good, is it?
In Storybrooke, Emma proves her mothering skills are developing by offering Henry a poptart at Archie’s wake. What? Poptarts fit into at least two food groups, right? “You’re doing all you can do,” Snow tells a rather disgruntled Emma. Right. Which isn’t a whole heaping load of anything, really. And I know that Emma’s not accustomed to being a mother, but her way of helping Henry through this is by walking away and leaving him alone. And yet still we’re supposed to think that THIS is a better maternal instinct than the woman who’s raised him for ten years? See, I just want Emma and Regina to co-parent Henry together. In a spin-off. Where wackiness ensues.
The Dwarves are missing Fairy Tale Land. They’re homesick. And also worried about what might happen if outsiders come to Storybrooke and discover magic. Well honestly, if it was ME, I’d be overjoyed. But I can understand their desire to keep Storybrooke hidden and themselves safe.
Charming gives Henry a little pep talk about “things getting better”. Bless. I’m starting to think that Charming is nice but dim, you know? He’s the most blithely optimistic man in the whole of Storybrooke. But what really cheers Henry up is when Emma brings home Pongo for him to look after. Because when being a proper mom fails, you buy kids presents, right? Distract them with something so they won’t notice that you haven’t really helped at all…
Snow suggests that they look for a bigger place to live, but when she lays out real estate pictures in front of Charming, he balks. “I don’t want to die here,” he says. Hm. I actually like this Snow, who wants to adapt to their new life and settle down. Their old home simply doesn’t exist anymore and while Charming is all set to “make things right and fight”, she tells him that she’s tired of fighting because it’s all they’ve ever done. But now they have a chance to be together and you know, I applaud her for that. But, Charming is not-so-charming and rattles on about fighting for the things they want. Snow isn’t sure that they want the same thing and I punch the air with a fist of victory because THIS makes them INFINITELY more interesting than they’ve been for quite some time. I want to see some trouble in paradise between our ‘true love’ couple and the notion that there might be something they fundamentally disagree over is contemporary and necessary, I think.
Henry wants to turn Mary Margaret’s apartment into an armory to fight against Regina. Um, what? When has she ever threatened YOU, Henry? And when did you start calling her “Regina”? Oh, this show. Emma tells him that Regina’s not going to hurt him because she won’t let her. Sigh. Emma, I love it when you’re heroic but during this scene I just kind of wanted to slap and shake you a bit. You either believe in Regina or you don’t. And last week you were all gung ho about “I know her” and whatnot. This week? Not so much.
Belle figures out that Hook must be on a ship by the docks and discovers it through some adept research and deduction. You see? BOOKS. KNOWLEDGE. On boarding the ship, she finds Archie held hostage there and sets him free with instructions to fetch help. She, in the meantime, intends to find Bae’s shawl that Hook stole.
Archie turns up at Mary Margaret’s apartment (he’s alive! Alive, I tell you!) and tells them that it was Cora, not Regina, who was responsible for what happened to him. Yeah. IN YOUR FACE, Emma! “We were wrong,” Emma says. And then she says something else about paying a price. Well, I don’t know about that but an APOLOGY might be a good start, right? I think what irritates me the most about this scene is that Henry blurts out with “I knew it!”. Uh huh, because two seconds ago you were gathering an arsenal to fight Regina and now you’re all smug because you always…what, believed in her? I hate what this show says about his character in moments like this, because, especially in this episode, redemption is found at the hands of those who believe in you enough to stick with you. And Henry jumped ship almost immediately. Yes, I KNOW the evidence against Regina was almost overwhelming but the way this kid flip-flops with his feelings about and towards her is down to poor writing and even worse characterization. I want to see this addressed, and soon, please, because god knows, with Cora in town Regina’s going to need SOMEONE to stick up for her.
On the ship, Hook traps Belle in a cabin and sums up Rumple perfectly in a few lines. He tells Belle about how Milah really died – “he ripped out her heart and he crushed it right in front of me” – and says that Rumple “would do anything to hold onto his power”. All I can do is hang on tight to my couch in the aftermath of THAT truthbomb. Because that’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? That Rumple’s power is more important than anything – and anyone – and that he remains unaccountable for his crimes. In as much as I find Hook a slimy, lecherous, amoral sort of guy (oh, that reminds me of a few dates I once had back in the bad old days…), I can’t help but find his honesty really refreshing.
He – as well as me, frankly – can’t understand why Belle would want to have anything to do with Rumple. “Because I still see good in him, because I believe he’s changed, because I believe his heart is true!” she says. Oh god. Belle…come ON. Stick your head up above the cover of a book now and then, sweetheart. Please?
I have to say, though, that Colin O’Donoghue is deliciously attractive in these scenes and has proven that Hook has chemistry with pretty much anyone on this show. Well, except for Emma. I find their interaction more than a little forced, but in this scene with Belle, it’s pretty much crackling. I wonder what their ‘ship name would be: Hooked Beauty? Book? BOOK. I like that one!
Anyway, moving on. Belle tries to escape from Hook and runs off with the shawl onto the deck of the ship, but Hook chases her. And then Rumple appears. This scene, more than any other, is a wonderful example of who these people are, I think. Instead of using magic, Rumple goes for the most visceral way to punish Hook, by beating him with his cane. And he’s pretty relentless – while Belle stands there and witnesses it all! “You might want to turn away, Belle. This isn’t going to be pretty,” he tells her. So…there you have it. He’s changed. He’s a ‘better man’. Oh. Wait. No, he really isn’t. And even though Hook taunts him into violence, Rumple really is a nasty piece of work, even saying that Hook “needs to die.” But again, Hook is right when he says that Rumple needs to prove he’s not a coward. That makes me kind of sad, actually, as Rumple’s life is all about regret and how all of this – everything he’s done by manipulating Cora, Regina, Snow and Charming into this cursed world so he can get Bae back – is far too little, too late. I’m grasping at straws to find anything sympathetic about Rumple, but his sense of desperation at KNOWING what he’s lost is probably the last shred of dignity he really has. He just sort of ruins it all by STILL attempting to control absolutely everything around him, just like he always has – including other people.
Belle, however, appeals to his better nature (and you know what, by now I’m not even sure that he HAS one) and says that “there’s still good in you. I see it. I’ve always seen it.” Oh, Belle, honey. No. I feel like the more she says it, the more she’s trying to convince HERSELF rather than anyone else. She sure ain’t convincing me, because Rumple is on top of Hook with his fingers literally in the pirate’s chest when he relents. And honestly, I think it’s only because he knows that if Belle sees him kill Hook in cold blood, then he’ll NEVER be able to take it back and, let’s face it, he envisages coming back to her after he’s found Bae and them all being a happy family. I truly believe that somewhere in his evil little mind, he pictures a happy ending for himself that looks like that.
“You take your little ship and you sail until you fall off the edge of the world,” Rumple tells Hook. Uh, Rumple? Is the earth flat where you come from? I’m just asking…
On their quest to defeat the Mogwai (shush, it’s amusing me to type it now), Mulan is too injured to fight from her run-in with Claude and his Gang of Marauders. So it falls to Belle to tackle the beast, which she does by dousing it with water and then sprinkling fairydust on it when it scrawls some symbols in the dirt and she translates them. See? SEE? Books and knowledge! It’s her thing. It turns out that the beast isn’t a beast at all: it’s Prince Philip, who was cursed by Maleficent (oh, I miss her!). He praises her bravery and she tells him that “You’re not the first beast I’ve faced.” Hee! Oh, Belle. Stop it. We get it.
Belle introduces Philip to Mulan, who actually SMILES. Is this a first? I may make a running notation of the number of times she does this. They set off on their quest and Belle sets off for another adventure – to return to Rumple. Because when you find something worth fighting for you can never give up, right? However, on her way back to him, she’s kidnapped by the Evil Queen. And can I just say that in one single scene, Regina manages to be more sassy than anyone else in the entire episode. And god knows, I love me some sassy queen.
Regina tells Belle that she’s doing her a favor by locking her up. “That monster’s beyond saving. I’m sparing you a lifetime of misery.” Interesting, how that word is bandied around in this show. There’s a whole correlation there between ACTUAL monsters and the ones that are created from wrecked, painful lives. Rumple himself said that he’d created a monster in taking away Regina’s hope for a life with Daniel; he also called Cora a monster too. And now he’s one. I find it fascinating that the most pervasive, threatening, worst monsters of this show are actual people, you know? And that the scariest monsters of all are the ones that aren’t created by magic, but by a broken heart that’s forgotten how to love properly. One of the things I like most about this show, all told, is the way that it uses language. There’s a lot of vocabulary that is repeated, in different scenarios and in different ways and on the whole, it’s something that the show does particularly well.
My favorite part of this scene? When Regina gives a nod to Claude. Which must surely win him “Evil Employee of the Month.” Headcanon accepted. I thank you.
Rumple goes to the town border with Bae’s shawl and expresses confusion as to why she still believes in him. This just reminds me of when he threw her out of his castle and told her that nobody could ever love him. I think that, in his own head, Rumple has only ever felt REAL love from his son, and that’s the only love he can ever truly invest in. Ugh, I hate it when I find a chink in my armor of hatred towards a character, because that’s just really, really sad, if that’s how he feels. Belle tells him that she thinks he’s worth fighting for. Oh, and now my armor of shiny hatred is firmly back in place.
The potion works, and when Rumple steps over the town line, he remembers everything, so he can leave Storybrooke. But wait! Hook appears with the gun he took from Belle, shooting her so that she FALLS over the town line and, in addition to bleeding to death, she forgets who everyone is!
“What you’ve done cannot be undone!” Rumple screams. “Now you know how I feel,” Hook tells him. Harsh. But possibly fair.
Before Rumple can launch a fireball at Hook, a speeding car appears and knocks Hook flying before swerving to the side of the road and crashing. The license plate is from Pennsylvania. An outsider has come to Storybrooke and crossed town lines!