Once Upon a Time: The Bear and the Bow Review

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by Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

Now having reached the mid season of 5A of Once Upon a Time, the plot is really starting to move forward. But as is often the case with ensemble shows, focus needs to shift sometimes to other characters that have not had much yet. Such was the case with “The Bear and the Bow” which was overall a good episode. But while there were moments I loved, there were also underwhelming ones. The important thing to do is look at the bigger picture to analyze certain aspects of episode, especially with individual character moments, themes displayed, and the overall story arc. Going in, I expected the episode to resemble Season 4’s “Family Business” with a present day focus on Rumple and Belle, and a flashback to Belle on an adventure. There were definite similarities with the present day showcasing of Rumple and Belle trying to ward off Merida as Emma is trying to make Rumple a hero, while in Camelot Belle helps Merida rescue her brothers from a rival clan who want her to relinquish her title as Queen. The main difference between this episode and “Family Business” is the connectivity between the flashback and the overall arc of the season. Whereas Belle and Anna’s adventure had a clear connection to the overall story including Emma and the Snow Queen, Merida rescuing her brothers – while very enjoyable – overall has no clear connection to the Dark Swan arc. While I did very much like this story and I do think the fact that Arthur is in possession of Merida’s wisps will come into play, the significance of this story is illusive. There has to be a reason to care. However, that ability is not completely nonexistent, and there were some great moments between Merida and Belle that showcased some lovely themes as well as import connections to the present-day story. In these flashbacks, Merida asks Belle to help her brew a potion that can turn her into a bear and thus make her brave and strong enough to save her kidnapped brothers. But at the last minute Belle switches the potion with water, knowing Merida would not face her fear unless she was forced to. And indeed she was able to save her brothers and prove to the clans she deserves to rule. And her shot of her stopping the arrows heading toward her brothers with her perfectly aimed arrow was one of the coolest things we’ve ever seen on the series.  But what I loved most was the wisdom Belle showcased in the scenes and the nice camaraderie she formed with Merida. From Belle imploring that we can make our own fate, to bonding over wanting to prove themselves and forgiving themselves for the parent’s deaths, we are reminded of the beauty of friendship, compassion, and real understanding. The most important connection these scenes had was that overarching theme we see so often in the show: the concept of true courage and what makes a hero. Although finding courage in the face of adversity and despair while being without others to build us up is the most meaningful to me, sometimes we need people to believe in us in order to find that courage. In both the flashback and present-day story, it is Belle who helps others find that courage. Her ability to see the best in others has always been one of her characters best qualities; though at times that made her a little naïve, she is definitely growing in that end. However, her comparison of Emma to Rumple was very off-putting. I know she loves him and that Emma is at her worst at the moment, but to compare the man who took on the darkness for power and lived with it, unable to give it up for 300 years, to Emma who has spent all of a few weeks with the darkness, with the reasoning behind it still a mystery, felt very wrong. Belle is smart but this was way off-base. 
In Storybrooke, Emma, who has Merida’s heart, orders her to kill Belle to force Rumple to protect her and thus make her the brave hero she needs. In these scenes, Belle displays a new found sense of being less naïve and more leery of Rumple as they try to escape Merida. Although she has the look of forgiveness and understanding in her eyes, she is unwilling to completely turn a blind eye to the normal way he handles things. He thinks he can only be a coward and the only thing to do is run, but Belle knows better. A hero doesn’t run away but rather faces their greatest fears head-on. And in the end, Rumple was able to do this. After Belle refuses to leave town with him, Merida transforms into a bear and goes after her. But Rumple shows up to try to save her, facing someone he knows he has no chance against physically but did so anyway for Belle and for himself. He uses the magic he had taken from his shop, not knowing if it would work or not, but luckily it does. Belle says he saved her, but he says it is she who saved him. And he is right; she believed he could be brave. This act of heroism proved to be what Emma needed. And after making a deal to get Merida her heart back, he is able to pull Excalibur from the stone. He was brave but is he a true hero? That is less certain. In fact, there seems to be more at play here and as we know, true heroism is never that easy.

Rumple has shown heroics in the past, specifically in Season 3 when he sacrificed himself to save the town from Peter Pan. But in Season 4 he fell in to a deep descent of darkness, so much so that I cannot believe that after all he has done that one heroic act would make him a full-fledged hero. When other characters like Killian and Regina have been on a path toward redemption for seasons, one episode will not negate past wrongdoings and complete a redemption arc. It won’t be this one act that will prove him to be a hero; it will be staying on that path of good, continuing to make good decisions, and being the person Belle always believed he could be. Importantly, he is on the right track now because the first step is admitting your mistakes as well as contrition and sincerity. In fact, it was the moments like this that he expressed in this episode, portrayed brilliantly by Robert Carlyle, that were some of the episode’s brightest spots. The scene in which he thanks Belle for staying by his side while he was in his coma was extremely poignant. When all he wanted to do was let go, he could hear her voice and it gave him the strength to hold on even though he knew he didn’t deserve it. This moved me because of the way it shows the power of our presence to people in comas, but also because I think this is even more heroic than his later acts. It would have been much easier to simply let go. It was more heroic to hold on in this case. Since I doubt his complete hero status, that begs the question of how he was able to pull Excalibur and why Emma specifically wanted him to do it. Let’s not forget Arthur once pulled the sword from the stone and no one would call him a hero now. But at the time, he had the potential to be one. That is perhaps one key element. With Rumple’s blank slate, perhaps she needed him to perform one act just brave enough to achieve her goal. It could be all about intent and potential. But most especially, pulling Excalibur has a great price. What that is remains to be seen, but it seems clear that because the town is full of heroes, Rumple may have been the only one Emma wanted near the sword.

Emma’s motivations and the scenes with her loved ones were the other aspects of the episode I particularly loved the most. Emma seeking out Zelena to make a deal was certainly interesting as what she wants becomes clearer. She wants Zelena to wield the Apprentice’s wand – to what purpose we don’t know yet. But it most likely has to do with re-forging Excalibur. Zelena, however, being pregnant (I laughed that she was reading “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”), is turning over a new leaf and has no intention of doing any more dark deeds. But lucky for us, her sass is still as strong as ever, resulting in a really great scene between the two women. Lastly, the opening and closing scenes were some of the best of the episode. Killian, Charming, Belle, and Merlin break Lancelot and Merida out of Arthur’s dungeon in a fantastic scene where we see Killian and Charming’s badass fighting skills, Merlin’s cool and collected powers and ability to see the future, and Belle using her intelligence and having it finally be noticed. In the episode’s last scene, our heroes discover that Arthur, who had promised to use the Crimson Crown to communicate with Merlin, has lied to them. Luckily, Henry, who despite being hurt by Emma, knows this is not her truest self and will do anything to get her back, was also chosen by Merlin and is able to awaken what Regina comically calls Merlin’s voicemail. Interesting is that despite Henry putting the Crimson Crown in the potion, Merlin’s image, which tells them things are grave and that their hope lies with someone named Nimue, faces Killian before disappearing saying the Dark One has found him. Is this Emma? Why did he say Dark One rather than her name? Is he alive? In a brief scene between him and Emma in Camelot, Emma remembers that he visited her as a child, and he reiterates his warning about Excalibur. Leave the sword alone, for the fate of everyone she loves rests upon it. Even though Emma embraced the darkness she still wants her loved ones by her side, so why would she not be heeding Merlin’s warning? At the halfway mark, the story and all its mysteries are becoming more and more intriguing and it is surely to only get better.

Favorite Moments: Rumple’s sincere and tearful speech to Belle thanking her for staying by his side while he was in his coma reminds us of Robert Carlyle’s brilliance and ability to make us feel compassion for his character. And the scene where Killian, Charming, and Belle work with Merlin to break into Arthur’s dungeon was the perfect combination of action, humor, and a character showcase. Give me more scenes this one, especially with this mix of characters because it was amazing! Lastly, it was sad but touching to see Rumple kiss the chipped teacup before shattering it so he could escape from his bounds, given how much he holds this trinket dear.

Favorite Lines:

Rumple: When I was in the coma, all I wanted to do was let go. After all I’d done, why did I deserve to live? And then I heard something…your voice. After all the things I’ve done to you, you still stood by me. Belle, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t even be alive. Thank you.

Merida: When I was but a wee devil, I refused to believe a bow was just something my mother tied to my curly locks.

Belle: You can make your own fate.


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