Title The Crocodile
Two-Sentence Summary In Storybrooke, Belle and Rumplestiltskin’s relationship falters when his inability to give up magic and be honest with her causes her to leave and attempt to make her own life in the town. Flashbacks to Fairytale Land show how Rumplestiltskin lost his wife and what that has to do with how Captain Hook lost his hand.
Favorite Line “You don’t get to decide what I do or how I live. I do.” (Belle)
My Thoughts While it wasn’t as strong as last week’s “Lady of the Lake,” this week’s Once Upon a Time was still a solid episode (the second-best of the season so far for me). I find Rumplestiltskin a fascinating character, so I am always drawn to episodes that prominently feature both his Fairytale Land persona and Storybrooke’s Mr. Gold. This episode gave us plenty of both, and it introduced a charismatic new villain as well.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way right now: There was an embarrassment of riches in terms of gorgeous people being gorgeous in this episode. I have never seen a more beautiful cast on television. Emilie de Ravin looked even more incredible than usual; Belle’s costumes were stunning (this look was my favorite—especially the shoes!). And then there’s the whole matter of Josh Dallas and his biceps, which made it nearly impossible for me to focus on anything else in the episode. Between Dallas and Colin O’Donoghue as Captain Hook, I had to remind myself to pay attention to the actual plot of the episode on more than one occasion.
I am glad those reminders worked because I really liked the balance between the flashbacks and present timeline in this episode. I was definitely disappointed in the lack of Snow, Emma, and Regina, but their absences allowed for a more concise story to be told. Last week, the three storylines felt connected in a way that was both logical and emotionally engaging, but it would have worked against the tight pacing of this episode to shoehorn in scenes with Emma and Snow which wouldn’t have had any impact on the main plot.
What I liked most about this episode was the fact that the moral ambiguity and conflicting feelings surrounding Rumplestiltskin weren’t lost just because this was a “Rumbelle”-centric episode. This episode did a fantastic job of showing the monstrosity Rumplestiltskin became after becoming the Dark One. Of course I felt sympathy for him when his wife said she’d wished he’d died in the Ogre Wars. Of course my heart broke for him when he walked away from Hook’s proposal of a duel because he was too afraid. But none of those things excused the fact that he murdered his wife. When he ripped her heart out, I could barely watch.
I love the fact that no villain on this show (except for Cora—and we don’t know her whole story yet) is completely evil. There’s a reason why “Evil is not born; it’s made” is a running theme on this show. We feel sympathy for Rumplestiltskin, but we also feel horror over what he’s done to demonstrate his powers. We feel anger towards his wife for leaving him, but we understand her motivations; she was trapped in her life, she was trapped in her marriage, and Hook was a promise of love and adventure. And we see that Hook’s thirst for blood is motivated by the loss of his great love. He may be aligned with Cora now, but it’s impossible to see him as a totally unsympathetic figure. In fact, the commercials for this episode, promoting Hook as a villain worse than Rumplestiltskin, couldn’t have been more wrong. Hook was a much more sympathetic character than I expected him to be, and I liked that. The tradition of morally ambiguous antagonists on this show is one I’m happy to see expanded with new characters because it’s such a welcome twist on the “black and white” nature of the fairy tales we grew up with. No hero is perfect, and no villain is without a soul that has been broken in some way.
The flashbacks made it difficult for me to root for Rumplestiltskin and Belle in this episode, but I think that’s the way it was supposed to be. Things felt too easy for Rumplestiltskin in the season premiere; I was downright angry at Belle for going back to him. So I was incredibly happy to see Belle’s backbone return in this episode. I was thrilled that she didn’t take him back after he rescued her from the mines, but I did like that there was some small hope given for them at the end of the episode without her rushing back into his arms.
For as horrified as I was by Rumplestiltskin’s murdering his wife in the flashbacks, I was incredibly proud of him for the way he dealt with Belle at the end. He was finally honest with her; he finally let her see who he really is. To hear him admit his cowardice and his lust for power to make up for that cowardice was incredibly moving. Letting Belle in and then still letting her go was a true act of bravery, and Robert Carlyle once again put tears in my eyes with the quiet power of his performance in that scene. I have so many mixed feelings about Rumplestiltskin as a character; I know I’m supposed to see the evil in him, but I want so much for him to fight that evil and become worthy of his own happy ending. It’s a true credit to the writers and to Carlyle that I am so torn over my feelings about this character and his relationship with Belle; his is a dark, messy fairytale, and it’s one of the most captivating on the show.
Another relationship that I loved in this episode was the budding friendship between Belle and Red. I was so happy to see Belle get more definition as a character—from her discovery of modern foods/drinks to her new role as Storybrooke librarian (the moment where Rumplestiltskin essentially gave her the library was a perfect Beauty and the Beast reference). The best part of that growing definition in her character was seeing her interact with someone besides Rumplestiltskin. Once Upon a Time does such a great job of showing a huge variety of relationships between women, and I was so excited to see another female friendship develop in this episode.
I could ramble on for a long time about why Red is one of the best characters on Once Upon a Time, but I’ll save it for its own post someday. Here, I’ll just say that I loved seeing Red help Belle find a sense of self independent of the men in her life—both her father and Rumplestiltskin. Red is a great example for Belle to follow; she’s a woman who doesn’t need a boyfriend or husband to be a strong, interesting person. She’s both warm and more than a little bit badass. She’s more interested in forming friendships (with both genders) than in being any man’s “kept woman,” though it’s clear that love is something she does value. In short, Red is the kind of friend I’d like to have and the kind of woman I’d like to be, and I was thrilled to see her play an important role in this episode.
The most rewarding thing about watching Once Upon a Time from week to week is watching the layers get peeled off of each character. This week gave us new insight into who Rumplestiltskin was and who he could be now that Belle is in his life. Next week seems to be a return to uncovering the complexities behind my favorite Once villain, Regina. As much as I enjoyed this episode, I’m even more excited for next Sunday. And that’s not just because I seem to be right about Dr. Whale’s real identity being a certain Gothic doctor. Anybody else eagerly anticipating this twist on a classic Halloween story?