Can Gold escape Storybrooke?
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Jared S. Gilmore, Meghan Ory, and Robert Carlyle.
A really great improvement that Once has made in the past few episodes of Season 2 is moving away from a “let’s tell an adaptation of a classic fairytale” storytelling towards fantasy elements that are rooted in a strong, emotional core. We saw that in the previous, low-key episode, “The Cricket Game” where Cora’s return to Storybrooke and subsequent revenge plot was based upon Regina and her character development and journey towards redemption. This episode we see a similar technique employed for Belle, where the details of her backstory only serve to enhance our understanding of her character, instead of being shoehorned in for the sake of it.
Another interesting aspect of Once Upon a Time is that there are multiple villains, but that does not mean that they are in league with each other. They each have their own motivations and end goals to achieve. This creates interesting conflicts between Rumple – arguably one of the larger villains in the show, especially due to his lack of repentance or keenness to change, in contrast to Regina – and Captain Hook, who seeks revenge upon Rumple for his actions against Milah. That particular revenge plot drives the majority of the Storybrooke storyline this week, as Hook attacks Belle and steals Rumple’s most prized possession: Baelfire’s shawl. This is especially significant, as Gold was just about to use this shawl to cross over the town line to be reunited with his son.
In the Fairytale Land of Old, Belle still yearns for excitement and adventure, and seeks out a Yaoguai that has been terrorising a distant land. Using what she has researched, she is able to single-handedly track down the Yaoguai’s lair, though her clumsiness soon alerts the Yaoguai of its presence, causing it to flee. This also irritates Mulan, who was also tracking the Yaoguai so that she could protect her village. When the hunters who Belle tricked return and start to confront her, Mulan comes to her aid and protects her, though is injured in the process: forcing Belle to confront the Yaoguai alone. Having successfully dousing the creature in water, Belle notices the beast scratching a message in Chinese, reading, “Save me.” Using some fairy dust, the Yaoguai is revealed to be none other than Prince Phillip, who had been cursed by Maleficent to keep him apart from Aurora. Leaving Phillip and Mulan together, Belle then heads off to return to Rumplestiltskin, heartened in the knowledge of the goodness inside the “beast” of the Yaoguai, but is captured by Regina before she can do so.
Belle’s qualities of intellect and bravery are also displayed in Storybrooke. Finding a knot from Hook’s ship in the library where she was attacked, she heads to the dock and discovers Hook’s concealed vessel. She frees Archie, but remains on the ship to search for Bae’s shawl, before being discovered by Hook himself. Though he tries to shake her faith in Rumple by revealing the truth behind Milah’s demise, Belle remains firm in her belief that there is good within Rumple, regardless of his past misdeeds. She manages to knock Hook down and flee with the shawl, before being cornered again on deck by Hook. Fortunately, Gold arrives and attacks Hook with his cane, though Belle pleads with him to stop, as they have the shawl, and Gold can now escape Storybrooke to be reunited with his family.
Unfortunately, it appears, despite her numerous heroic and captivating qualities, Belle’s story is cut dramatically short – just when the audience had fallen in love with her, as Hook shoots her at the town line. Not only this, but Belle collapses over the line, erasing her fairytale identity entirely, while Rumple can only look on in shock. Before he can retaliate upon Hook with fire, however, a car comes careening into Storybrooke, knocking into Hook and crashing by the side of the road.
In addition to the game-changing and dramatic cliffhanger ending, this episode also does a tremendous job of developing characters other than Belle, who stands at the centre of it. Mulan gets a brilliant development as well. While we did not see any of her fairytale existence when Snow and Emma interacted with her in the Enchanted Forest, Mulan remained during this time remarkably consistent: stoic, confrontational and skilled in combat. It was nice to see a small glimpse at her fairytale life, with her conversations with Mulan over the doubt that her community had in her because she is a woman. Additionally, we can see some strides in Gold’s character. While he always has a hint of darkness about him, and his lust for revenge is practically insatiable, you can see his determination to be reunited with Bae and have another chance at building a family. Rumple’s entire storyline trajectory in the Enchanted Forest, and with setting up the curse, has been geared towards a reunion and a second chance at having a family that was ultimately taken away from him (due to his own actions, but still). The significance of Bae’s shawl being his most treasured possession is incredibly telling, though whether Rumple will actually be able to change and learn from his past mistakes once Bae is in his life once more remains to be seen.
Elsewhere in Storybrooke, we see the rumblings of more drama ahead, as the recently uncursed residents wish for a way to return to the Enchanted Forest. It is a hint at the longer-term trajectory of the series, and what the characters may strive for, but also the point of some contention. Not only does Snow not want to return, but the villagers are also worried about the ramifications of anybody from outside Storybrooke discovering them and their secrets. With a mysterious stranger having crash landed in town, their concern was certainly well-timed.
- In the Enchanted Forest, Belle sniffs out adventure and encounters Mulan.
- Gold finally finds a way to cross the town line and retain his memories.
- Hook attacks Belle and steals Gold’s most treasured possession, preventing him from leaving town.
- Belle successfully discovers Hook’s ship, frees Archie and takes the shawl back.
- Hook shoots Belle, and she falls over the town line, erasing her memories.
- A mysterious car crashes into Storybrooke.
- I am (pleasantly) surprised by how quickly the Archie-is-dead storyline has wrapped up, not least because Henry mourning his therapist is probably more irritating than Henry at any other time. My main surprise comes from the fact that Cora’s plan to rip everything away from Regina was so solid in the previous episode, just to be undone in the next one and Cora to just…not be around? It seems strange that she would go to all that effort to make everybody think that Regina had murdered him, just to then let him go so easily? I suppose the damage might already have been done, as Regina’s belief that they think her to be innocent might have been shattered enough to make her and Cora’s beliefs and ideals align.
- Speaking of the whole “Regina is a murderer” storyline, Henry did a complete 180 from Archie reappearing from, “let’s make the spare room into an armoury against Regina” to “I knew it!”. No you did not know it, Henry. You’ve spent the whole first part of this episode talking about how dangerous Regina is, you know absolutely nothing! Also, the focus of “we were wrong about Regina” is entirely misplaced considering the emphasis they placed upon Cora not getting to Storybrooke. Everybody’s reaction really should be “Oh God, Cora’s back, let’s get her!”. Just sayin’.
- I adore Belle’s development in this episode. I’m slightly begrudging of the fact that the writers have been holding back on us on this front, considering she’s been glorified scenery for the first part of this season. Her storyline here was, for the first time, separate from her relationship with Gold, which continues to be one of the more problematic things in this show. It is commendable that they took the time to properly invest in the character, even if it was just so that we came to care for her right before the emotional sucker punch.
- As much as Belle is portrayed as this fiercely intelligent woman, she did make some rookie errors here: the main one being that, sure, clubbing Hook to death is definitely a bad thing for Gold to do. But just letting Hook go and pretending that they don’t need to do anything about him? That’s such a dumb decision. Even if Hook hadn’t have hit her over the town line when he did, he likely would have killed her once Gold had left entirely. She and Gold should have phoned for Emma and Charming so that Hook could be taken away and dealt with properly. Just leaving him there – with a gun no less – was just negligent and unsafe.
- I also refuse to believe that Gold, who is a good deal lighter and older than Hook, is able to best him simply with a cane. Unless it was part of Hook’s plan to get his ass handed to him, and for Gold to lose Belle’s love, which is credible and I would believe.
- I like the fact that Hook speaks about Milah here, and his continued feelings for her. It was disarmingly honest and vulnerable for him to admit those things, and it’s nice to have a multi-layered villain. Even though his actions are deplorable, and we know more about Gold, you can understand why Hook would want to hurt Gold for his actions in the past. Belle is an unfortunate casualty of that.
A brilliant fairytale flashback helps us build up a strong emotional connection and investment to one of the frequently sidelined characters in the show, which succeeds in pushing the story forwards with strong, emotional stakes.
You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.