Caution: This review contains spoilers.
Last week, there were strong hints that Merida (Amy Manson), still under Emma’s control (Jennifer Morrison), would set a bulls-eye on Belle (Emilie de Ravin). Emma thinks that Rumple (Robert Carlyle) can become “a hero” and pull Excalibur out of the stone, but he’ll need some prompting. It’s the return of one of my favorite “versions” of Rumple; he’s regressed and gone full-on “coward” here. Training with Merida is not fruitful until she starts toying with him, bringing the teacup into the mix.
Merida’s relentless pursuit of freedom is contrasted with a flashback to Camelot a few weeks earlier, when Belle helps her rescue her brothers. Later episodes like this one are much better at weaving Merida’s history well with the Storybrooke characters. The rightful ruler wants Belle to brew a potion so she can terrify her enemies; Belle insists that Merida’s archery skills and bravery are really what matters, not magic. One of Merida’s greatest foe turns out to be her own guilt over her father’s death.
Flash forward to Storybrooke, Regina (Lana Parrilla), the Charmings (Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas), Robin (Sean McGuire), and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) want to talk to Merlin (Elliott Knight) using the Crimson Crown. Arthur (Liam Garrian) agrees to help, but he tries to burn the toadstool and shows everyone he is not to be trusted. Regina realizes that Henry (Jared Gilmore) can forge the link, since he was also chosen by Merlin. “We’re getting Merlin’s voicemail?” Regina says incredulously as a Star Wars-like hologram plays. Merlin tells them that they need help from someone called “Nimue.” What happened to him when his message cut off?
The other small thread revolves around Emma and Zelena. The “Dark Swan,” as Zelena hails her, breaks the witch out and offers junk food from Granny’s. Zelena refuses to deal with Emma about the Apprentice’s wand, saying that unlike Emma, she doesn’t mind being alone. She also insists that Emma would be a “bad influence” on her baby. Will Zelena change her mind later?
And the Chase is on!
Predictably, Belle splits from Charmings & Co. early on, upset that no one wants to rescue Rumple. Rumple destroys the teacup and uses a piece to cut his bonds for an escape. The build-up with the elevator door is a stroke of brilliance, leaving us in suspense as the gears outside move at a painstaking sequence. Belle is ready with the fire extinguisher. The doors open to reveal Rumple, who made it back into town through the mines. He may not have magic, but he’s still crafty.
The dynamic here is so expertly maneuvered by Carlyle and de Ravin. Belle has seen a scared Rumple before, but he’s always been hiding behind the trappings of power and his anger. I would argue (at least onscreen) that she’s never met a completely powerless and scared Rumple (as merely a man). It’s almost a little jarring for her as they first speak in the library because here before her is the “man behind the monster:” so utterly apologetic and focused on her. She’s claimed in the past that she’s always seen the man in him, but would she really accept that part of him now that it’s right there before her?
Such momentarily doubts can be dispensed with, because she reassures him that she believes he is a hero. Her declaration horrifies him as he realizes their reunion was part of Emma’s plan. After prompting from Belle, he finally crosses the street with her to go to the pawn shop. Merida bursts in with her bow for a fight, a scene amazingly shot with the arrow narrowly missing Belle through the door. Belle pulls the rug from under Merida to knock her out when she and Rumple are cornered.
Arguably, the most surprising scene is by the town line. Those two should just stay away from the town line, because usually something disastrous happens because Rumple is … well, the way he is. Rumple tries to convince Belle to leave town with him. Rumple insists that he’s a coward, that he broke his foot because he was afraid to die. I am not sure whether that’s the whole truth, since Rumplestiltskin does lie. The Bae arc and Rumple’s quest to get him back was such a huge part of the series. Whatever the case, here is he just focused on saving himself this particular evening? Rumple’s cowardice infuriates Belle, who leaves the Cadillac and walks toward Storybrooke.
This time, the potion Merida drinks is the real bear-changing brew. Bear Merida is obviously CGI, but the quality on that creature is quite good and utterly scary! Belle runs for it. (How does Rumple catch up with the limp? Belle appears to have gone quite a distance through the woods.) Rumple saves her life, throwing the magic dust into Bear Merida’s mouth to reverse the transformation. They return to his former prison, where he deals for Merida’s heart with Emma. He pulls out Excalibur and throws it to the ground. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, targeting Belle is a grave mistake for anyone trying to get to Rumple. That bite in Rumple is back as he warns Emma, “You’ve turned me into a hero” and he’s different than other heroes.
Overall, “Bear and the Bow” is long overdue in reuniting Rumple and Belle. There are some great Emma-Zelena moments. The weakest part of this story is King Arthur. Yes, we know that’s he’s not to be trusted. Merlin’s story, on the other hand, is more compelling, particularly with a previous Dark One yet to be revealed.
Whether Rumple will team up with Charming & Co. remains to be seen. He might do so at Belle’s prompting. For the moment, his strongest alliance is with Belle, but that future is uncertain. Other than tonight, we have yet to see sustained and open teamwork between the two. But one has to wonder, is Rumplestiltskin truly done with the darkness?