Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 11 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," titled "The Outsider."
This week's episode of "Once Upon a Time" shifted the focus back to Rumplestiltskin and Belle and their tentative romance. It followed our erstwhile imp as he attempted to find a way out of Storybrooke, and in the Fairytale Land That Was, showed Belle's encounters with several kinds of men, both beastly and misunderstood.
It didn't take Hook long to extract information about Rumple's fondness for Belle from Archie, and the pirate soon went in search of his foe's girlfriend. Despite playing hard to get at first, Belle soon came to him (being infuriatingly careless with a gun in the process).
The episode showed Belle as a resourceful and capable woman in Fairytale Land, although that didn't quite translate to Storybrooke, where she relied on Rumple to save her more than once. Still, it was a good showcase for Emilie de Ravin and Robert Carlyle, as Belle fought to prove -- to both Hook and Rumple himself -- that Rumple is truly a good man, capable of change.
She (eventually) helped Rumple remember that fact by stopping him from killing Hook, but not quite quickly enough to cure Hook of his resentment -- the pirate's desire for vengeance was still alive and well, as illustrated when he cruelly shot Belle and knocked her over the town line, causing her to lose her memories of Rumple and everything else about herself. Rumple insisted that what Hook had done could not be undone, but this is "Once Upon a Time," and true love's kiss has a way of breaking all sorts of curses, especially amnesia, right?
In Fairytale Land, Belle's journey filled in some interesting backstory, showing us Grumpy way back when he was still Dreamy, just before he planned to run away with Nova, as well as an unexpected encounter with Mulan.
Belle embarked on a quest to hunt a mythical beast called a Yaoguai to find adventure outside of her books, and after contending with a couple of Gaston-esque douchebags, she and Mulan joined forces to track and defeat the beast. Using some fairy dust that Dreamy had bestowed before she left, Belle transformed the creature back into the (equally dreamy) Prince Philip, who had been cursed by Malificent in an attempt to keep him away from Aurora. Thus, Philip met Mulan, and the rest is history.
"Once Upon a Time" is at its most charming when we get to see unexpected fairytale characters interacting, deepening the world and the connections within, so I found the Fairytale side of the story particularly intriguing. Something felt a little flat about the Hook/Belle/Rumple confrontations on the Storybrooke side for me, although Colin O'Donoghue was suitably villainous and calculating as Hook attempted to turn Belle against Rumple. Belle's memory loss was certainly tragic, especially given how tentatively their relationship has developed so far, but I'll admit that I'm not yet as invested in their love story as I am with Snow and Charming's.
On that side of things, it was fascinating to see the former rulers of the Enchanted Forest grappling with such mundane issues as which house to buy, especially since it led to a larger conversation about whether they even wanted to stay in Storybrooke. Charming, along with Red and the dwarves, are longing to return to Fairytale Land and fight to restore their kingdom, while Snow (understandably) is tired of fighting, especially having seen what a mess their world is in. Right and wrong is so clear cut in Fairytale Land, so it's good to see that the shades of grey that come from living in our world are starting to seep into their lives here, even if I have no doubt that Snow and Charming will eventually end up on the same page.
The show also touched on an interesting issue as Henry subtly mourned for Archie -- it's a shame that there was so much going on during the episode that there wasn't time to explore the subject of death more deeply, especially in terms of what Emma, as a mother, should've done to comfort her son (distracting him with a dog probably wasn't the best method of coping). And while Archie was revealed to be alive at the end of the episode, it felt like a missed opportunity, especially for a show that many children watch with their parents, that could've opened the door for a larger conversation. Still, Henry calling Archie's voicemail just to hear him again was a sweet and poignant touch.
Archie's return proved Regina's innocence and tipped Emma off that Cora is in Storybrooke, which clears Regina's name but is unlikely to undo the damage that last week's accusations caused -- it will be interesting to see what happens when our former Evil Queen comes face to face with her even more evil mother next week.
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.
What did you think of "The Outsider"?