On the list of “secondary Disney characters Once Upon A Time should add to its already convoluted landscape,” was anyone jonesing for Beauty And The Beast’s Gaston? Didn’t think so. The upside, though, is a strong episode for Belle; Gaston is downright dishy (although still evil); and a Belle plot means more Rumple time, always welcome.

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The main plot fared even better compared to the dumb B-plot, with Emma, Hook, and Snow Scooby-ing up the place, with an enchanted elevator, a dream sequence, and what looks to be a wild goose chase that results in the discovery of Red/Ruby. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the culmination of the Ruby/Mulan relationship, but did we really need a whole episode just to discover the wolf?

That’s enough said about that, but fortunately the episode focuses on Belle, who’s plucky in a good way (hear that, Snow?). She’s intelligent, resourceful, forthright, and even crafty. She sticks up for ogres and admits she loves her definitively conflicted husband. But she also knows the best way to wrest the Dark One dagger away from him (the followup after that kiss was inspired). Right now, the Rumple and Belle relationship is the most interesting one on this show. It’s also noteworthy that two male characters (Rumple and Hook) in this episode credited their female significant others (Belle and Emma) for saving them, a noted difference from the classic fairy-tale format. But Emma is still wrestling with her feelings of insecurity (which, frankly, she’s been doing at least since Neverland), instead of just going after Hades. Even Snow seems more preoccupied in the Underworld with her name and remembering that she has a baby somewhere than actually, again, going after Hades instead of just talking about it.

Belle, on the other hand, actually smacks down Hades when he tries to make a deal with her (she’s married to the Dark One, she knows from bad deals). Compared to the rest of our Storybrookers, I’d much rather watch Rumple and Belle bicker about the dark and the light and what constitutes the means to an end (“Dark and light depends on your point of view. In the end, we do what we can to protect those we love.”) than fret about who should be called Mary Margaret and how to uncurse an elevator. This coupling is the most interesting right now not only due to their chemistry (which Hook and Emma have as well), but because they’re still ostensibly on opposite sides. This is a refreshing change from the snooze-worthy Snow and David, and Hook and Emma sure don’t have the conflict that they used to. Belle wants Rumple to do things the right way, without dark magic, yet she’ll still accept his super-powered help when it comes time to break open Gaston’s locker. Rumple is the Dark One, but says he’s only using dark magic to protect the people he loves. Even after all they’ve been through, Belle says she still trusts him, but she grabs the dagger just an insurance policy (frankly, I was impressed that she gave it back).

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This kind of duality also leads to an interesting conversation that Regina has with Zelena, as motherhood has drawn out the Wicked Witch’s previously unseen compassionate side. She even opens up to her sister about her relationship with Hades. The lord of the Underworld continues to be a bit of a hoot, distressed as he is by one or two daisies popping up in his realm. The fact that the flowers die again after Gaston winds up in the brink doesn’t make much sense though: Did hope die with Gaston? Seems unlikely, as Lord knows our Storybrookers are nothing if not hopeful.

But then, we wouldn’t get the romantic gift of the dead flower from Hades to Zelena, in another actual interesting pairing on this show. Maybe OUAT should just pare down overall. With so many characters, it’s impossible to do justice to all of them, and again, as happy as I am to see Ruby and Mulan return next week, you have to wonder just where they’ll fit into this giant landscape. Because when OUAT has storylines that are actually going well, the show would do well just to latch onto those. Otherwise we wind up with too many scenes of too many people just standing around gaping at each other, complete with dream sequences, group therapy sessions, and yet another pep talk in a bunker.

Belle’s story: B+

Everything else: C-

Stray observations

  • What’s with all the talk about Belle’s mother? Who could she be? UPDATE: Some people are pointing out that her mother is/was Frances O’Connor, thank you!
  • Clunky Once Upon A Time dialogue: “the vainest man in all the land.”
  • Also: “Well, we’ll think of something else, we always do.” Gawd, Snow is annoying.
  • For some reason I find it so sad that there’s a Storybrooke Pet Shelter in the Underworld. How are all the dogs supposed to deal with their unfinished business?
  • Emma being hilarious: “I don’t have any issues.”
  • “He’s my husband.” BONG!
  • “When you’re done hugging it out, Emma, I could use a little help here.”
  • Robin is just hanging out in the woods with the baby.
  • Let’s all appreciate Rumple’s ability to kiss Belle while still holding Gaston up in the air.
  • Next week’s episode, “Ruby Slippers,” is directed by E.R.’s Eriq La Salle. Looking forward to it, Dr. Peter Benton!

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