Last night’s episode of Once Upon A Time went back to the former seasons’ formula of character-driven episodes that are not purely about the Charmings nor Regina, allowing us to delve deeper into the Merida story and gave Belle the opportunity for some more screentime and to show her intelligence instead of depicting her as your average librarian.
In order to make things a little bit simpler, I’m going to divide this review into Storybrooke and Camelot, because as beautifully as the show interweaves the two storylines, it’s hella confusing to separate the two without the setting background.
Camelot and DunBroch
The episode begins with Merlin, Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), Charming (Josh Dallas) and Belle going to save Lancelot (Sinqua Walls) in the dungeons. Merlin first struggles with the bars until Belle shows him a spell that could help, he then releases Lancelot and Merida and they attempt to escape from the castle. On a sidenote, OUAT writers can we please keep Merlin, he’s such a delight in the few scenes that he features in, he does everything with so much flair, and he is such an intricate part of the larger story.
Merida and Belle are bonding as they are traipsing through the forest, and Merida tells her about how Arthur came to imprison her and steal her wisp (so she almost had her heart crushed for nothing). While they are chatting, Merida separates Belle from the rest of the gang, and then knocks her out – I don’t know about you, but my thoughts immediately went to Arthur and his magic sand, it appears that has made me paranoid about most characters.
Alas I was mistaken and Merida was only kidnapping Belle so that she could use her magic knowledge and potion making skills to help her find her brothers. Belle does make the valid point that Merida could have just asked her like a normal person (it’s being locked up near Arthur, makes everyone shady) but Merida says she’s more of a hit first, ask questions later kinda gal.
Merida and Belle come across an abandoned witch’s cottage, where Belle makes a potion that will reveal the location of Merida’s brothers. Merida sees the clansmen, that are attempting to usurp her throne unless she marries one of them proclaiming that they will execute her three brothers. Merida is certain that she needs to change the fates in order to save her brothers and her crown, and she needs Belle’s help with that.
The new potion that Belle makes for Merida, will apparently turn her into a bear – which Belle does not think is wise. Belle watches her split arrows, marveling at her talent at archery and Merida tells her how her father believed that she should know to fight – despite her gender and it’s his belief in her why she refuses to give up the crown.
Belle and Merida travel to DunBroch where they see Merida’s brothers about to be executed. Belle urges Merida not to use magic, but Merida says she has to because she blames herself for her father’s death and she thinks that’s why the clans turned on her too. Belle gives her some sisterly advice and tells her that she went through a similar situation after her mother died, and she has to just let go. But nonetheless, she gives Merida the potion. Merida declares herself to the clan leaders (one of whom is really hot, is it inappropriate that I thought that?), she claims she has a secret weapon to fight them with but when she drinks the potion nothing happens. It seems smart cookie Belle, swapped the potion out with water, telling Merida that the people won’t respect her if she takes back her kingdom using magic. Merida yields her advice and as the clansmen shoot arrows at her brothers to execute them, Merida shoots one of her own that shoots through all three arrows and saves her brothers. When seeing her skill, determination and leadership, the people all bow down to her, even the hot clan leader. Merida references Emma by saying that he is lucky that someone taught her about mercy. Merida and Belle part on bestie terms, hoping to see each other in the future – if only they knew the future would be so soon.
In a small scene, Merlin and Emma have a chat over the same chocolate bars that she stole from the lady at the movie theater in 1989 when they first met. She remembers that moment and he reminds her of what he told her then, that she will get a chance to remove to Excalibur from the stone but she must leave it alone as the lives of everyone that she loves depends on that.
Emma’s little slip of the tongue last week pays off for the rest of the Storybrooke gang this week as Regina (Lana Parrilla) reveals that Emma (Jennifer Morrison) did in fact manage to release Merlin (Elliot Knight) from the tree back in Camelot. They attempt to use the Crimson Crown to communicate with Merlin, but it can only be used by someone that Merlin chose – namely Arthur. But us as an audience know that Arthur is really dodgy af, so we very much doubt that this plan won’t work.
Belle (Emilie de Ravin) urges them to consider Rumple (Robert Carlyle), but the Storybrooke basically told her that they have no time for the former bane of their existence, but she so keenly points out to them that they are easy to excuse anything Emma does because she is their daughter/girlfriend/friend, but she also made the choice to become the Dark One, effectively shading for their bias – not that the Storybrooke Gang cared much about her outburst, they just let her get on her merry way. Somewhere out in the woods, Rumple is trying to save himself by breaking the precious chipped cup (R.I.P. Chip) and using the pieces to cut the rope that Merida (Amy Manson) tied his arms together with.
Merida gets back to the camp with Emma in an attempt to show her the progress that Rumple has made only to find Rumple gone. Emma explains to her that she found the one thing that Rumple will be brave for – Belle, and that she must put an arrow in Belle’s heart so that Rumple might try and protect her and thus become a hero.
Belle finds Rumple hiding out in the library, and this is the first time the two of them have seen each other since he was woken from the coma. In a sweet albeit late moment, he thanks her for staying by him while he was in the coma, and for everything she has done for him, and he apologizes for not being the man she deserves. It even made my heart clench a little bit in sympathy.
Back in her comfy cell, Zelena (Rebecca Mader) is reading ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ when Emma pops in for a visit, she transports Zelena and herself back to her house where she bribes her with onion rings (you can’t stop those pregnancy cravings). Emma makes a deal that if Zelena helps her by wielding Merlin’s wand, she will give Zelena freedom and protection from Regina and co. Zelena rejects her deal, saying that she doesn’t want her baby to be around Emma’s evilness, and she does warn Emma that she was also betrayed by her mother and she did not forget that slight, same as Henry won’t forget easily what Emma did to him. Before zapping her back to her cell, Emma tells her that she will need an ally and then she will come running back to Emma, to this Zelena responds with ‘the difference between you and me is that I don’t mind being alone.’ Now that they have directly referenced Emma’s need to be surrounded by other people, I wonder how this will affect the rest of her storyline.
Rumple tells Belle that he can protect her, if only she can help him get back to his shop so that he can get some magical item that will help them. Rumple brings up all the cowardly things that he has done, but Belle tells him that even though he has done plenty of wrong, not all of his intentions were purely bad, and is she can see him as a hero, why can’t he see himself that way? I do enjoy the fact that they had Rumple take responsibility for his own actions instead of blaming it on other people, also that Belle does not excuse his actions, she tells him to see beyond them.
At the shop, Merida finds Rumbelle there, and tries to shoot Belle, but they run from her, until she corners them in the backroom. Rumple whimpers that he is unable to save Belle, so Belle takes matters into her own hands by literally pulling the rug out from under Merida so that she falls and Rumbelle can make a run for it, Rumple takes a small bag out of a safe, that apparently has what they need to be protected from the Dark One.
Regina finishes the potion, and Arthur agrees to help them by putting the Crimson Crown into the cauldron. However, true to his shady form, he tells the gang that he should be alone in the room to do it because Merlin only gives him prophecies when he is alone. They all agree, without question, and I let out a frustrated sigh, it’s time to catch up to the rest of us Storybrooke gang. Of course, instead of putting the Crimson Crown into the potion, Arthur throws it into the fire beneath the potion, and then tells the gang that the potion did not work.
Rumbelle attempt to cross the town’s lines using the magical powder that Rumple had, but Belle refuses to go with him and run away from their problems. They fight and she gets out of the car, as she’s walking back into Storybrooke, she runs into Merida. Merida tells her that because she failed to stop them, she has to drink a potion that the Dark One gave her, which happens to be the potion that Belle swapped out for water, which makes me wonder, how did Emma manage to get her hands on the correct one? Or did she just whip her own concoction?
Merida turns into a bear and begins to attack Belle, but it appears that Rumple is not as cowardly as he thinks as he returns to protect Belle, and just as Bear!Merida (Mear? Berida?) is about to claw at Rumple, he throws the transformation powder that was supposed to help them cross the town line into Mear’s mouth and it allows her to transform back into a human.
Merida and Rumbelle return to Emma, with Rumple a fully-fledged hero, he makes a deal with Emma that he will remove the sword from the stone if she gives Merida back her heart. Emma complies with his terms, and he pulls the sword out of the stone, and leaves her with the parting message that she made a huge mistake in making him a hero as none of the other Storybrooke heroes were quite like him.
At the end of the episode, the Storybrooke gang investigate why the potion didn’t work and Charming finds the half burnt toadstool and realizes that Arthur sabotaged their plan (I’m so glad they had Charming realize this, instead of constantly playing the part of the naive puppy). Luckily for them, magical toadstools can’t burn, and Regina works out there is another person in the town that was chosen by Merlin – the Author. Henry (Jared Gilmore) apparently really wants to help return Emma back to normal so he agrees to help them by tossing the Crimson Crown into the potion. They get a pre-recorded message (Regina hilariously says, “I can’t believe this, we got Merlin’s voicemail”) where Merlin tells them they that if they are getting that message it means things are graver than he thought, and that the only person that can help them get rid of the Dark One now will be Nimue. If Emma killed Merlin, I will be very angry, I hope she just trapped him somewhere and he’s part of a bigger plan that she is unraveling.
I do enjoy Belle’s interactions with other female characters as we’ve seen her have with Mulan, Ruby, Ariel and Anna, and episodes such as these also allow underused actresses such as Emilie de Ravin to be showcased. I understand with a cast this large it’s difficult to progress the storyline while still giving everyone screentime, but this episode did well, also introducing the refreshing story of Merida and paralleling it with a character who should be her antithesis like Rumple. Once Upon A Time has always depicted strong female characters well, and the team up of Belle and Merida proved this further, they used strategy, knowledge, battle skills, and were able to bond about their families, it was enriching to watch.
Nimue is known as the Lady of the Lake in Arthurian legend, she is the ruler of Avalon, the one who gave Arthur the sword, she raised Lancelot and she’s the one who trapped Merlin in the tree. So how this will be adapted for Once Upon A Time will prove to be interesting, and just like last week I’m still betting that Nimue is Merlin’s great love/the first Dark One.
Episode Rating: 7/10