I’m having trouble with Merida’s entry into OUAT season five because I’m just not that invested in the character. Not that she isn’t a plucky little heroine—oh God, she’s plucky!—but because her own backstory and mythology doesn’t offer us a lot. Snow is now a terrible character, but her story was always rich with possibilities: the apple, the mirror, the queen, the hunter, even the dwarves. Everyone knows that story, even if they don’t know they know it. But if you didn’t check out Brave in the theater a few summers ago—which you might not have done unless you were a small child or had a small child yourself— you would have no idea where there are bears running around all over the place this episode. Snow White = huge legacy to draw from; Brave = not so much.

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So I was less-than-thrilled with the length of Merida attention this episode. Especially as the shifts in time and place are getting a bit harder to follow: Belle and Merida’s adventure now took place six weeks ago? The main elements that help us keep track of where we are include Emma’s hairstyle, and Camelot-versus-non-Camelot fashions. Merida’s flashback was basically redundant if you have seen Brave, so there we are. One good thing, though: it helped Belle do more than, oh, carry a dying flower around in a jar. She starts the episode by getting complimented by Merlin, and rightly points out that it’s high time that someone noticed her. Then she goes in to save both Merida and Rumple, even though Rumple has deceived her countless times, and Merida clunks her on the head. But in that Merida finale, where it turns out that an impressive archery trick shot is enough to make you queen of your own kingdom, it’s Belle who insists Merida can take the kingdom on her own, changing their possibly antagonistic relationship into a fun, solid friendship between two random female characters on the show, kind of like Snow and Ariel a while back.

But Belle is best when she’s paired with her beast, which brings us to the MVP (again) of this episode: Robert Carlyle as Rumple. Unlike with Merida, we have heaps of history invested in Rumple. We know that he started out as a coward when he became the Dark One. Now, without his evil power, he’s coming to grips with who he really is, which unfortunately so far looks to be that same coward. But it’s so great the way he sells it: cowering when Belle finds him in that elevator (and how does she get in that door so easily?), making a break for the town line, then returning in time to save Belle from Merida the bear. So by the time Rumple has his final showdown with Emma, the character has done a complete turnaround. It’s impressive work by the actor, and we enjoy his Rumple so much, his return to form as he pulls out Excalibur is cheerworthy. Rumple as hero is something we can all look forward to, as he tries to take down Emma. These two always seem to be at odds with each other, and here their roles have nicely reversed completely.

And lord knows the Get-The-Dark-Swan team could use the help, as they continue to bungle every opportunity they possibly get. Here’s what’s so annoying about so many Once Upon A Time episodes: Often they revolve around some simple, choose-your-own-adventure type task intended to get all the characters from point A to point B, and they’re usually random enough to be completely stupid. A while back we had Charming and Arthur off looking for this primrose magical mushroom. Now that they have it, they need to make the potion to speak to Merlin; next week, Emma needs to find the source that can fuse the two pieces of Excalibur back together again. It’s not quite as bad as when they needed to find Tinkerbell’s Neverland map of whatever, but still not great as we spend the whole episode watching them stand around a boiling pot. Hook to Henry: “You can do it Henry!” Sure, he can put the mushroom in the pot, good lad!

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But now at least everyone is on to Arthur? And Zelena actually turns down some mischief from Emma? It’s too bad the Zelena-Emma alliance didn’t pan out, as we could really use some input on what the Dark Swan is up to; it’s been several episodes now and we haven’t seen her do anything really heinous except in flashbacks, like getting her son’s girlfriend to dump him. Her plan hardly seems all world-domination evil, unless she really is out to rid the world of lightness completely. If so, then looking forward to it, but some more of that, please.

Stray observations

  • Classic Charming mentality: “This is too important to risk. C’mon, let’s leave him to it.”
  • Magical toadstools don’t burn, how lucky is that?
  • Belle really has to get herself some forest-friendly footwear.
  • Why is the chocolate called Apollo?
  • Next week: “Nimue”! That’s the Lady Of The Lake. Because there’s already been an episode called “Lady Of The Lake.”

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