Once Upon a Time: Her Handsome Hero Review

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By: Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

Once Upon a Time is a beautiful and special show. In a cynical world it embodies hope and belief in love and forgiveness. But not every show is perfect and every so often things can become muddled and confusing. Such was the case with “Her Handsome Hero” which reiterated the baffling and unsettling aspects with Rumple and Belle’s relationship and Belle as an overall character. Admittedly, their relationship has never been my favorite but in the first three seasons I found them very appealing and often sweet. She saw the good in him buried deep behind his beastly facade. She was his brief flicker of light in a sea of darkness. In the fourth season however, his fatal flaw was his downfall as he descended so deep into his darkness, while on the opposite end Belle made some amazing growth standing up to him and finding strength to walk away. If things were ever going to be better he needed to choose love over power, but he needed to do it for himself. As we’ve seen, she cannot change him no matter how much they love each other or how much hope she has. With this episode it became apparent that Belle is not only perpetually caught in a vicious cycle when it comes to Rumple, but also seems to be moving further and further away from who she is as a person. She wants him to change, finds hope that he can, but then he doesn’t and she returns to him anyway. It’s not just naïve but a sad and disturbing depiction of continuously enabling an addict. And therein lies the confusion. I never wish to offend or upset readers and I know many enjoy their relationship. I have really tried. But at this point I can only see it as unhealthy and unsettling and after this episode I am left very confused as to where they’re going with their story. But there was also confusion in the flashbacks to when Belle first met Gaston, a handsome hunter Belle decides to get to know despite the unflattering things she’s heard about him, because you “can’t judge someone until you know their whole story.” And unlike what we’ve come to expect, this version of Gaston seemed good, sincere in his affections, kind and gentlemanly. But when they come across an ogre in the forest, the differences between them become clear. She refuses to blindly hurt the creature, wanting to instead use a magical mirror that will show whether someone has evil in their hearts when their eyes glow red. In the end, after he is attacked, Gaston leads a hunting party to kill the ogre, but Belle stands between his arrow and the creature with the mirror reflecting the truth in his eyes. But did it? I suppose so, but his character provided more confusion. He seemed more misguided than evil, letting fear of war and wanting to protect the kingdom lead to his decisions. Unlike Belle, he thinks the worst-case scenario and that compassion will only lead to weakness. Is he wrong? Ultimately yes. But does that make him a bad person? Certainly not. And when they meet in the Underworld, Gaston’s frustration, anger, and desires to kill Rumple are understandable. What wasn’t, at least for the most part, was Belle’s behavior. It was in character for her to want to help Gaston move on and honestly for her to make the mistake of trusting Rumple. But why she didn’t seek out Emma and the others to help free her baby is beyond me, and for that matter, why she sought out her husband, saying that they will do this her way without dark magic when he literally just told her he will never give it up. This was not only frustrating to watch but also sad, because the way everything played out left me feeling very uncomfortable. I thought seeing Rumple be honest would help the relationship, but the contrary is happening. The saddest thing is that this is exactly what Hades wanted. When he sees a flower growing he is dumbfounded and angry. Hope has entered the Underworld and he can’t have that, so he offers Belle a deal – if Rumple and Gaston face off against each other and one of them lands in the River of Lost souls, her baby will be free. Of course she refuses. She is a good person and she wants to be a hero. She would never sacrifice another soul to help herself. But tragically Hades’ ultimate plan still comes to fruition. Belle makes the mistake of trusting Rumple with this information, believing he won’t hurt Gaston. But unsurprisingly, Rumple whisks himself away, prepared to cast Gaston into the river until Belle shows up, kissing him and telling him she loves him as he is, but then using the dagger to command him to stop hurting Gaston. But the hunter cannot let go of his rage and when he takes aim at Rumple, in a split second decision, Belle pushes him into the River of Lost Souls, a moment so tragic because it represents what is so confusing and troubling about the relationship and where her character seems to be heading. She is horrified by what she’s done and seeks comfort in Rumple’s arms, saying, “Darkness will always win.” Hearing her say that is heartbreaking and a gesture of affection that could’ve once been seen as lovely felt everything but such. Her loss of hope causes a flower to wilt because that light that had been brought to this dark place has taken a sudden hit with someone like Belle descending into despair. But more importantly, I hope this is just a very dark chapter in a cautionary tale of loving someone who is an addict and refuses to be anything other than that. Seeing Belle push Gaston, while to save a life, was awful to witness and this act feels like a deliberate set up to compare the couple against the heroes, particularly Emma and Killian. It is no coincidence that the souls the others have encountered (Henry, Hercules, Meg, and Liam) have moved on, while the ones Rumple and Belle both encountered (Milah and Gaston) were sent into the River of Lost Souls by their own doing. It pains me to cast aspersions but at the moment the couple that doesn’t bring out the best versions of themselves, that cannot trust each other and has to resort to control in order to stop them from hurting others is not in any way, shape, or form true love. And where they are going with Rumple and Belle is unclear. I hope this is Belle’s low point because her strength and integrity are diminishing for a partner who refuses to compromise. He remains a coward and while he has been heroic, he cannot maintain it and seeing Belle growing darker instead of Rumple lighter is the opposite of what the show embodies. They have almost become the antithesis of true love and it’s especially apparent when you examine the other storylines of this episode. Perhaps there is hope for both of them. Never say never. It is clear they will always love each other but whether they should remain together and will tread a healthier path is the question.

The most enjoyable parts of the episode were the ones that left no confusion but instead were hopeful and full of compassion, love, and a sense that some things can be worked out. Regina wants to find out what the history between Zelena and Hades is and showing genuine concern for her sister, while Zelena sheds tears when she cannot understand why Hades would love her. And although Zelena’s little smile at the flower he gives her demonstrates her perhaps beginning to trust him (probably not a good idea), her struggles are relatable, and unlike Belle’s, not frustrating. She may be wicked, but seeing someone not able to understand someone loving them is so sad. The best moments involved Emma, Killian, and Snow. Emma, who hasn’t slept in goodness knows how long, has a very vivid dream where a storm comes as she attempts to burn their names off the headstones and a monster appears and kills Snow. She awakens distraught with Killian keeping watch over things and her, showing great concern for her sleeping habits. And when their plan to break into Hades’ lair fails, Emma tells them her dream and that it may work. But when things start happening exactly as they did (has Emma become prophetic in her magic?) it reveals two important things. One, that this monster is actually Ruby who came to the Underworld in a cyclone. Two, and most significantly, with tender concern from Killian, Emma opens up about her guilt over the state of their current plan, always frightened someone will die. She feels like a failure. Of course Killian assures her she’s not. She saved him. She’s been saving him since they first met in more ways than one. It’s a simple but beautiful line that reflects some of the greatest aspects of their relationship. And in the episode’s best moment, Snow reminds us, and Emma, of what hope and optimism should look like. It’s being realistic while believing that good can vanquish evil. It’s knowing something will be difficult but finding courage to face it anyway because some things are worth the risk. And it’s a reminder of what makes Once Upon a Time‘s Snow White so remarkable. She is hopeful and compassionate but never naïve or foolish. And when Snow says that no one forced them to come down to the Underworld, but they chose to, knowing it would difficult but ultimately worth it, was so moving. Her nod to Killian that “love is worth it” not only gives an unequivocal seal of approval to the man her daughter loves, but acknowledges that their love is the kind worth saving. And the subtle but exquisitely lovely, soft expressions Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue gave each other in this moment were profound. Two characters who felt such guilt at putting others’ lives in danger for them, were just lovingly assured by the woman who believes in happy endings perhaps more than anyone, making them feel their journey is worthy. And then they softly smiled, hope beautifully renewed. I would not be surprised if a new flower blossomed, countering the one that wilted after Gaston was lost. Flowers are, after all, a symbol of hope – one that was already beautifully used with the Middlemist flowers that grew in Camelot. In fact, so much of what was established in the first half of the season is continuing in a way that, as I said, demonstrates how Rumple and Belle are becoming the antithesis of Emma and Killian. Killing continues to show justified, unwavering support and comfort to Emma; amazement at her fierceness; and understanding of her heart and ability to help her open up about her fears. More importantly, we were reminded about the constant struggle between the light and the dark – that Merlin said perhaps one day there will be someone who could channel that power for good and maybe finally transform the darkness into light. Belle wants to believe Rumple could do this, but he proves in this episode that it’s seemingly impossible for him, even saying it’s a fool’s errand to believe that transformation possible. And yet have we not already seen proof that it is not? As the Dark Ones, Emma fought back and only gave into it to save Killian’s life, while Killian, after diving headfirst into revenge, found his strength and fought back, channeling all the darkness into Excalibur and sacrificing himself, believing he was destroying it forever. With his sacrifice, Emma was restored back into the Savior, symbolically and visually, transforming that darkness into light. Their love, their strength, and their choices sacrificed their own happiness for the greater good. Does that not fulfill Merlin’s belief? That moment and each that has followed for Emma and Killian beautifully showcased what True Love epitomizes. True Loves heals our wounds, gives us strength, and restores our hope. It inspires us to be the best versions of ourselves. But importantly, it’s still up to each person to choose to be such. The person who loves us cannot change who we really are. They can inspire us and make us believe in ourselves, but it is ultimately up to us to decide how to live our lives. And when we bring out the best in each other, when we can overcome our demons, learning that we can love and be loved in return in equal measure, that is when love becomes true. In Henry’s storybook, the moment Charming awakens Snow with True Love’s Kiss, it read that a “pulse of love shuddered out and engulfed the land, waking up Snow White and bringing light to the darkness.” The love between Snow and Charming has proved time and time again to be more powerful than any curse, and now their daughter, the product of True Love, has found a man who shares an affection equally as profound and powerful, the two proving to not only be strong in good times but ones filled with the greatest darkness of all, able to literally transform darkness into light. And they will no doubt be able to do so again and in surely an even more powerful way. They fought for their best selves and chose love. They chose light over darkness and in doing so, they saved each other and more importantly, they saved themselves.

Favorite Moments: I loved all of the scenes with Emma, Killian, and Snow but most especially when Emma reveals her fears and Snow reminds her that what they are doing in the Underworld, though difficult, is worth it because love is worth it. It was a beautiful sign of approval and acknowledgment of the strength of the worthiness of their love. And although not a specific moment, I must give costume designer Eduardo Castro high praise for his stunning costumes for Belle, Gaston, and Maurice in the flashbacks. His work is always brilliant but these sumptuous costumes were some of his very best.

Favorite Lines:
Snow: Emma, you didn’t force any of us down here. We all wanted to come with you. We knew it would be hard. These things always are. But some things are worth it. Love is worth it.

Emma: Maybe I feel like I failed everyone.
Killian: Failed? You saved me.


    One Comment

  1. EllyApril 12th, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    What a wonderful take on Emma & Killian, I love the way you express what so many of us CS shippers feel. CS unfailing true love & support for each other is so exquisite, the fact that so much of it isn’t even verbal is what makes it so amazing & makes me so grateful for Colin & Jennifer. Wonderful take on love transforming light into darkness.

    Also loved Snow, so glad she expressed her approval, you summed up her & Charmings true love paralleling with Emma & Killian so well – I can only hope that the TLK rumoured to occur this season belongs to Emma & Killian, I will be beyond upset if a new couple gets it.

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