Bravery was given out in spades tonight on Once Upon A Time, and while Arthur continued to prove he wasn’t the world’s most trustworthy member of the Scooby gang, two of Once’s most underused characters — as well as a relationship that hasn’t been fully explored since last season — got some time to shine. In Camelot, we finally figured out what happened to Merida after she split from Emma in the season premiere: She was captured and brought to Arthur’s dungeon, which is where Merlin and the Storybrooke gang find her when they break in to rescue Lancelot. Turns out, just like technology, magic changes through the years, and though the bars of the jail cell have some strange powers, they manage to work past it thanks to a spell book and some smart thinking by Belle (always a clever one…what a puzzle to the rest of us is Belle). Merlin might have been a tree for a bunch of years, but that hasn’t stopped his power OR his looks. Maybe it’s good to be a tree, after all. Meanwhile, Merida doesn’t want to leave because she’s still upset that Arthur took her wisp, and she needs to save her brothers. Too bad the Scooby Gang couldn’t care less.
So Merida takes matters into her own hands, as one does, first bonding with Belle over Merida’s journey and then distracting her and cutting her off from the group. She knocks her out and drags her along to the Shores of DunBroch on a boat. See, Merida’s just as clever as Belle and picks up on the fact that Belle knows spells and how to work magic. She wants Belle to help her save her brothers, but why ask questions when she might get denied? “I’m more of a hit first, ask questions later kind of person.” Once Upon a Time, teaching kids all the important lessons: Instead of asking nicely for help from an innocent person, hit them over the head and kidnap them!
Fortunately, Belle is forgiving and at least a little understanding and listens as Merida describes her plight. She wants to show the clans that she deserves to be queen because she refuses to give it up for a man. Go, Merida! They find a witch’s house with a conveniently abandoned cauldron, where Merida realizes they can use magic to help her find her brothers. Belle concocts a potion that allows them to see what Merida is dealing with: her three brothers targeted for execution to pay for Merida’s treachery. Merida realizes that in order to save her brothers, she needs to change her fate — but she needs Belle’s help because the potion doesn’t just involve giving someone magical powers. It involves Merida turning into a bear. (A nice nod to the Disney fairytale, which had the witch giving Merida a cake that turned her mother into a bear. Unfortunately, her mother didn’t get the nice choices Merida did in this episode.)
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Belle sees Merida practicing archery and is surprised by her skill. Merida tells Belle about her father, how he was supportive of his daughter picking up a bow and arrow and taught her how to fight. But more importantly, he gave her emotional motivation in addition to physical motivation — and that’s part of what makes Merida brave. Merida still doesn’t think she’s strong enough to take on the clans by herself, however, which is why she needs to become something greater. Belle’s convinced she doesn’t need magic, that the bravery is there inside her. Like all Disney heroes, all she has to do is believe in herself, and she can make her own fate with her own strength. Isn’t that a better way to prove yourself? (10/10 Disney films say yes.)
NEXT: Don’t trust the knight of the Round Table
Once the two get to DunBroch, Merida immediately sees her brothers about to be executed. Belle tries to talk her out of going ahead with her plan, but Merida does her one better, and tells her how her father died because of her. Belle sympathizes by telling her how she lost her mom and then gives her the potion. And with the strength of magic, Merida is finally brave enough to confront the clans and save her brother.
Except, what a clever girl that Belle is! Merida doesn’t turn into a big, mean bear because Belle only pretended to give Merida the potion. She knew that Merida would never face her fears unless she was pushed into it. Having already egged everyone on, Merida insists she’s not giving up her rightful place on the throne, and arrows fly as her brothers prepare themselves for their deaths. Brave Merida fires her own arrow and redeems herself by saving her brothers — by destroying all three arrows with one shot. This is basically good enough for the clans to accept her as their leader because do they want to see what she can do with a sword if she did THAT with an arrow. Merida’s back in her rightful land, with her rightful title, and Belle is to thank for that. “I do hope our paths cross again,” she tells the clever bookworm. Oh, Merida. Careful what you wish for. (Although I will admit that this is a great bonding moment for the two characters. I love when this show actually shows us girlpower.)
On the Zelena front and back in Storybrooke’s present day, the Wicked Witch is interrupted from her light reading (What to Expect When You’re Expecting, naturally) with a visit from Emma, who bribes her with a magical jailbreak and, also, onion rings…because screw organic food. “Eat up,” Emma tells her. “Dark ones don’t judge.” (I have never identified more with Zelena than in this moment. Bribe me with any kind of diner food, I will do anything for you. Thank you for not judging.) Emma offers her a deal: ownership of the Apprentice wand in return for protection from her sister and others and also freedom. Zelena declines the deal because, well, she’s gonna be a mother soon and that kind of darkness isn’t really what she wants to get herself involved in. She also drops that she knows about what Emma did to Henry and casually mentions her own experiences with the betrayal of a mother: Emma doesn’t believe things can be forgiven, which Zelena tests by asking about Neal. Wrong move, Zelea. No onion rings for you! Emma’s certain that Zelena will be back to take her deal because she needs an ally, but Zelena doesn’t think so. “The difference between you and me is I don’t mind being alone,” the Wicked Witch tells her. I never thought I’d say this, but score one for Zelena.
Meanwhile, in the Storybrooke gang’s constant search to find out how Emma returned from Camelot as the Dark One, the Crimson Crown is finally put to use. Only problem is, someone “chosen” by Merlin has to be the one to make the magic work, and in this case, that would be Arthur. Arthur doesn’t want to do the deed while everyone is standing there — after all, Merlin only delivers messages when he’s alone. Somehow, David manages to convince everyone this totally makes sense. Somehow, everyone, even Regina (who should be smarter), believes him. They realize their mistake when they try to figure out later why Arthur told them he couldn’t communicate with Merlin and realize it’s because Arthur lied and never tried to communicate at all. Moreover, he had tried to destroy the Crimson Crown by throwing it into the fire.
But not all hope is lost! There’s still someone in town that has been chosen by Merlin who can help with the spell: the Author, a.k.a Henry. Who apparently has a lot of forgiveness left in him. They salvage the Crimson Crown and get the potion to work, albeit a bit unlike what they expected. (Props to Regina’s line of the night. I’m still laughing about Merlin’s voicemail. Also of note, Merlin is still looking attractive.) Merlin’s message at least does offer them help, though. He tells them quickly that if they want to destroy the darkness, they need someone named Nimue. (ASIDE: according to legend, Nimue is also known as “Lady of the Lake,” who plays a big role in the King Arthur story. She also apparently once trapped Merlin. I really am looking forward to seeing how this development plays out and how Once uses this mythology going forward bceause we’re clearly diving deep into the Arthur legend here.)
NEXT: A fight to the death!
Rumple is sitting alone and lamenting the fact that he’s just not the hero Merida needs him to be. If that’s not a sad enough scenario for you, Once takes it one step further by having Rumple destroy the chipped tea cup. Granted, he apologizes, and it’s because he’s trying to get himself free, but still. By the time Merida brings Emma to Rumple, he’s gone, and Merida thinks she’s the Dark One’s dinner. Not quite. Emma’s okay with this development because she realizes she knows that Rumple will fight for Belle now. That’s how he’s going to realize his heroic nature. And Merida will be the one to kill Belle so that he can achieve that. (Man, Merida’s really having a rough go of it in Storybrooke.)
Rumple breaks into the library where Belle is looking at spell books, and their reunion — the first real time they’ve gotten to interact with each other since before Rumple went into a coma — is sweet and genuine and really feels like something that we deserved between the two characters, rather than a service moment. Rumple thanks her for not letting him die and for giving him a reason to live when he felt like he didn’t want to. He soon realizes how important Belle is to his story — that she’s more the real hero — and that, most likely, this puts Belle in danger. He vows to protect her and be the hero that she needs…and if he can just get to his shop, he’s got magic that will help. Like Merida, Rumple can’t face his fears without magic. He doesn’t feel like a hero, and his leg is a reminder of what he was during the ogre wars: a failure and a coward. Belle tells him that yes, he has made many mistakes in his lifetime, but this isn’t one of them. She sees him as a hero… Why can’t he see himself that way, too? Personally, I’ve always thought that Rumple and Belle make for one of the most interesting and complex relationships, and it doesn’t hurt that Emilie de Ravin and Robert Carlyle have an unbelievable amount of chemistry that makes all of their interactions feel genuine.
The two make it to the shop and manage to grab the pouch of magic but not before Merida shows up, shooting to kill. And as we all know, homegirl never misses a shot. She tries to force Rumple to be a hero, but Belle knocks her out because Rumple freezes up and can’t fight back. After escaping, they head to the car, where Rumple attempts to drive them out of town. When Belle realizes what they’re doing, she’s appalled and upset. Why is Rumple trying to run away? That’s not what a hero does! And there are people in town that still need help, people they care about! Rumple refuses to go back, only stopping when Belle threatens to get out of the still-moving car. Belle insists that they can stop her together and be brave together, but Rumple’s still having trouble with this whole hero thing. “This is the only way I know how to protect you,” he tells Belle, but that’s exactly the wrong thing to say. Belle doesn’t need protection. She’s stronger than most people in this town on knowledge alone and certainly isn’t going to let someone try to keep her from harm when she can do it herself. (GO BELLE!) Rumple presumably drives off while Belle storms back toward town, only to be cornered by Merida, who boasts she should be scared before drinking from a vial. It’s the same potion that Belle helped concoct in Camelot, the one that was supposed to turn her into a vicious bear — only this time, thanks to the Dark Swan, it actually works.
Belle flees, but manages to try to appeal to bear-Merida, because, hey, it’s worth a shot. Right when it looks like things are getting bad, Rumple shows up to save Belle, gimp leg and all. Huzzah! Belle tells him to run this time, not wanting to see him get hurt, but he doesn’t. He fights bear-Merida, in a showdown that, to me, was very reminiscent of the final fight in Beauty and the Beast: another instance where the Beast was dejected and refused to fight until Belle helped him realize she cared for him. On a whim, he throws the magical powder into bear-Merida’s mouth, which breaks the spell. A grateful Belle is proud of him for saving her, but Rumple doesn’t see it that way: She saved him.
Back in Camelot, Emma finds Merlin staring moodily at some Apollo bars. Yes, Merlin, Apollo bars are great! He casually mentions wanting to try one, which makes Emma remember the movie theater and how he showed up there when she was young to deliver his warning (as we saw in the premiere). He asks if she remembers what he said, then reminds her that she still has the power to pull Excalibur, despite someone getting there first. (Emma doesn’t know what’s ahead in the next six weeks, obviously). Merlin warns her to leave Excalibur alone — “the fate of everyone you love rests upon it.” Clearly, we know Dark Swan Emma’s not going to listen because she’s already back home waiting for her hero, who bested Merida fair and square. Rumple makes a deal with Emma to return Merida’s heart in exchange for his sword-pulling services, which Emma actually agrees to and then has a heartfelt moment with Belle because he knows what happens if he’s the wrong person to pull the sword. Thankfully, Rumple is indeed the hero the world needs. He gets the sword out and delivers it, as planned, but also delivers a warning of his own: In the process of Emma’s greediness toward her own goal, she’s made her own mistake; she’s made him a hero. Emma’s not too worried because this town has lots of heroes. No one is going to get the best of her. But Rumple, he reminds her, is the former Dark One. And you better believe that he’s not letting you go down without a fight, Emma.
So, is Rumple the new savior? Either way, I really can’t wait to explore Rumple, The Hero in the next few weeks as we head into the final stretch of the first half of the season. Heck, I’m just excited we get to see that part of the character explored more, especially in the wake of his renewed dedication to Belle.
Stray Odds & Ends:
- “I don’t believe this: We’re getting Merlin’s voicemail.” REGINA MILLS, PLEASE MARRY ME.
- I cannot believe no one even had a hint of worry that leaving Arthur alone with the Crimson Crown was shady. Come on, guys! You know better!
- I really liked that the show focused on the friendship of Merida and Belle for this hour and also showed them bonding but not over something like a guy. No matter the stories and plot, I think Once is genuinely at it’s best when it does these types of episodes that focus on specific characters and interactions, and I hope that we get more of that going forward since we now seem to be back to a “core” cast and not a lot of extraneous individuals.