Review: Once Upon a Time 5.17

This episode was a mixed bag for me, largely because it centered around Belle, a character I’ve long found very frustrating.

At times, I absolutely adore her. She’s tenacious, smart, and wonderfully compassionate, all traits that she showed in this episode. In the flashbacks, she used her brain and her love of books to find an alternative to torturing the ogre, and, when she couldn’t do that anymore, showed bravery by helping the creature escape. In the Underworld, she was determined to help Gaston move on, tumultuous as their history was, and felt terrible when she inadvertently caused his demise.

However, she also showed, both in the past and present-day scenes, that she trusts people to a fault, and her desire to see the best in them often leads her to forget her more positive traits. In the case of Rumple, she allows herself to be manipulated by him infuriatingly easily, especially when she’s capable of such intelligence. And she had moments where she did show that intelligence, even around Rumple, such as when she insisted that he help Gaston move on without using dark magic, when she refused Hades’ deal, and, of course, when she used Rumple’s own dagger against him. But for every moment where she shows agency and a smart understanding of her and Rumple’s tendencies, there’s another of her collapsing into Rumple’s arms and taking the blame, when none of the things she did would have been necessary if not for her husband’s selfishness and single-minded quest for power.

Belle also accepts Rumple’s arrogance far too easily for my liking, such as when he gave her a hard time about opening the locker, suggesting that whether or not that was a dark act was a matter of perspective. Since she didn’t do it for herself, allow me to speak on Belle’s behalf. No, it’s not a matter of perspective. Breaking into a man’s locker, a man you don’t even like, in the hope of helping him find happiness, is the definition of kindness, compassion, and light. In contrast, ensuring that your ex-wife (who you already murdered, by the way) will never know peace, will never see your son again? That is a dark act. And it is a dark act in a long line of similarly unforgivable ones. So forgive me if I don’t buy that it depends on your perspective. This may be a controversial opinion, but I’ve long stopped rooting for Rumple and Belle, because I simply don’t think they should be together. Their relationship is manipulative far more often than it’s healthy, and this episode was proof of that.

Though I have mixed feelings about Belle and Rumple’s part of the episode, I wholly loved the other stories told here. Regina had that interesting little scene with Zelena where she walked the line nicely between semi-concerned sister and hero in need of information. I’m enjoying their dynamic more in this arc than I have in the past; the cautiously-friendly-but-still-caustic vibe is more nuanced than when they hated each other outright.

This hour also had some nice, realistically small moments between Regina and Hook. With so many characters to juggle, Once has become very good at suggesting relationship shifts through everyday conversation, and they’ve done that particularly well with these two characters. They haven’t had many one-on-one scenes, but the group scenes, as well as ones where they privately discuss their similarities with Emma, have led to a sibling-esque relationship between two people who mock one another endlessly but secretly care very much. Examples of that here: her compliment/insult about his reflexes and wardrobe, Hook easily calling her “love”, as well as begrudgingly agreeing with her about Emma’s dream.

In regards to that dream, it allowed Regina, Hook, and Snow to show how much they trust Emma’s instincts and also how well they know her. Hook struck the perfect chord of being worried about the women he loves while still respecting her ability to handle herself; his declaration that he’d learned to never question her “hopefullys” and “maybes” was especially sweet.

This arc has been just wonderful for Snow so far (I’ve dubbed it “The One Where Snow Got Her Groove Back”), so I wasn’t surprised that she was the one to help Emma see that everyone knew what they were getting into when they came to the Underworld. That was an important beat for Emma; she needed reassurance that her family knew what they were doing and wouldn’t blame her if anything happened in the Underworld. This has been a season of a heck of a lot of painful guilt for Emma, all stemming, ironically, from the selfless act she committed in last season’s finale. It’s heartbreaking that she’s been through so much, but her feelings about it have been completely realistic.

Finally, though the dream was a bit of a random lead in, I’m beyond happy to have Ruby back, even if it is in the Underworld. Fingers crossed she’s not actually dead, right?

What are your thoughts on this episode and the Belle of it all? Let me know in the comments!

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