“Once Upon a Time” – The Outsider episode review 2

Belle (Emilie de Ravin) faces off with Captain Hook (Colin O' Donoghue)

Belle (Emilie de Ravin) faces off with Captain Hook (Colin O’ Donoghue)

★★★★☆

This here is progress. It seems that the kryptonite of the show was the divisive line between storylines in the previous nine episodes where each and every plot per episode weren’t coherent or connected. Now that the core characters are all reunited in Storybrooke, however, they’re able to employ a way to tie together the plots that are happening currently in the little imaginary Maine town, and the one that happened in the past in the fairy tale world that helped mold the current version of the character. How Lost of them. It helps that now, rather than forcing a messily constructed spectacle, showrunners are instead focusing on matters of the characters and what exactly makes them tick. Rumpelstiltskin is motivated by those who have wronged him, left him and left him feeling like a lesser man. Belle is motivated by logic and books, the sense of adventure and desperately trying to make Rumple a better man. Mulan, who we’re reunited with in this week’s episode, is motivated by those who look down at her because of her womanhood and goes out of her way to protect and defend the people she loves. This week’s episode “The Outsider” allows viewers to be privy to the development of the characters and see why and how they tick.

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“The Outsider” takes a primary focus on Belle and Rumpelstiltskin. Rumple wishes to cross the border of the town in order to set out on a search for his son Bae. After using Smee as a reference, he learns that as long as he’s wearing the item he cherishes the most he will be able to cross the line with no repercussions and all memories in place.

His item of choice is a piece of his son’s clothing he’s managed to keep throughout the years. However, Hook, who’s been hot on his tail ever since his appearance in Storybrooke, kidnaps Belle to distract him while he sends Smee in to steal the item. Furious, Rumple orders Belle to stay locked up in her library until he’s done confronting Hook. She argues with him about why he believes it’s okay to order her to do anything and he gives in saying that he may have already just lost his son again and he doesn’t want to risk losing her as well. Touched, Belle decides to listen to him and stay behind.

That is until a knot tied by Hook himself leads her to a clue: he sailed to Storybrooke meaning that his ship is still around. She takes the initiative and goes out in search of it and due to her hunting and tracking skills is able to find it.

Along with it, she finds Archie. I’m glad that his disappearance didn’t last too long because Henry’s “grieving” was insufferable and it was only maybe two minutes of screentime. Watching him call Archie’s phone only to be met with voicemail wasn’t endearing or sad. It seemed as if the writers threw a dart at the cliché board of topics and the one that stuck was “phone call to dead loved one.” Jared Gilmore simply doesn’t have the acting chops to convey empathetic feeling of loss. Instead it’s contrived, especially considering I never got the feeling of warmth between the two characters.

While Archie manages to get away in time, Belle is found by Hook and threatened. Belle manages to get the best of him and runs away just as Rumple has arrived. Hook takes a severe beating from Rumple as Belle cries out trying to get him to stop, to remember that he can still try and be a virtuous man. Hook pokes and prods at his weaknesses, pulling in the opposite direction of Belle. Rumple relents finally and he and Belle race to the town line and just as he’s crossed over, just as Rumple has maybe reached a small scale of happiness, Belle is shot by Hook and pushed over the town line. Sure, she won’t die from the wound, but her memory is erased. While it was quite an easy turn of events to guess it was no less effective, given Robert Carlyle’s moving performance. He almost had made it. He had quite literally taken the first step to his possible redemption and it was all blown backwards and as he lifts Belle up to re-enter Storybrooke it’s understandably a forlorn moment of possibilities lost.

I’ve never been a huge supporter of the Rumple and Belle pairing. It’s always seemed to me as if it was a relationship for storyline sake, rather than a relationship that was written well and served an actual purpose. There’s been no real growth between the two, only repeated and overdone plots about how Belle is trying to save Rumple’s soul, how their love is true despite the ones who have tried to separate them. Yet, the chemistry between the actors Carlyle and Emilie de Ravin is lacking and the latter is possibly (besides Jared Gilmore as Henry) the poorest choice of casting that this show’s done.

I know there are many individuals, such as myself, that consider Belle to be one of the more interesting Princesses to come out of our days of Disney. She was interesting, she liked to read, she was compassionate and didn’t particularly resemble the characters that had come before her. Despite the problematic relationship between her and the Beast in reflection, she was undoubtedly relatable for the young girls who maybe felt a little odd. To get a live action version of the character (not like the classic La Belle et la Bete) was exciting. Here audiences would get to see a furthering of character development of their favorite character and she’s fallen flat. Ravin in the part is wooden, holds zero charisma and gives nothing to the character, taking from the interest of any scene she’s in. I don’t remember her being so absolutely lifeless on Lost as Claire (although funny enough her character there also met an end of losing her memory).

This show, barring Lana Parrilla and Robert Carlyle and maybe a pair of others, isn’t exactly a wealth of acting talent yet the charm of the characters and the interest in the story can override the fact. In this case, the listless acting is detrimental to the overall digestion of the performance. What a shame because her past storyline with Mulan played by Jaime Chung whose growing consistently more likable in the role, could have been so much stronger.

In the past, Belle sets off to destroy a monster with the aid of Mulan and the two grow a camaraderie that helps when Mulan is injured and Belle must face off with the beast. Mulan is shown to be highly capable as a warrior and Belle as a tracker. The two together make a formidable team. However, as Belle goes against the beast she realizes all is not what it seems and helps rescue it because in fact it was Prince Phillip under a spell by Maleficent.

This is why I stick by this show no matter the cheesy plot lines, plot holes, underdeveloped characters and Henry, because despite its pitfalls it’s one of the best television shows for female characters currently on air. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s already a revelation to have female friendship on the show and more than one, friendships that aren’t catty, plagued by men tearing them apart, or ones filled with stereotypical interests. There is Snow and Emma, Ruby and Emma and Ruby and Snow, Ruby and Belle, Mulan and Aurora and now Mulan and Belle. These are healthy relationships portrayed in an honest and touching way. Not only are there friendships, but very few of these characters are portrayed in damsel-in-distress archetypes. Snow White rather than mirroring her more withering animated counterpart is shown to be capable with a sword or bow and arrow, and is feisty and won’t simply let Charming make the decisions. In this episode alone we had Belle rescuing both Archie and Phillip, as well as kicking Captain Hook’s butt. We had Mulan rescuing Belle instead of another man while killing another. The female characters are wonderfully fleshed out and given things to do other than being the counterparts to the male leads and are undoubtedly the more interesting parts of the show and the most influential (Emma, Snow and Regina).

This episode wasn’t perfect, few episodes of this show are, but it was once again progress in the right direction. Had Belle not been so instrumental to the plot the rating may have been higher, but so be it.

If the show manages to keep going in this direction of characters over plot and showrunners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis manage to keep a tight hold on where they want the narrative to head rather than letting the amount of characters overwhelm them we may have a second half of the season to anticipate rather than dread. I for one would like to look forward to these episodes on my Sunday night rather than view them as a nuisance. Luckily for me and audiences alike, they may be heading in that direction.

Will Belle get her memory back? Will Rumple go crazy? Where on earth is Regina? We’ll see next week.