Title Family Business
Two-Sentence Summary Belle attempts to control Rumplestiltskin with the Dark One dagger in order to get answers about what happened to Anna, after flashbacks reveal that Belle was keeping a secret about her role in Anna’s disappearance. When Belle confronts a dark version of herself in the Snow Queen’s mirror, this new villain’s plan becomes clearer: get the citizens of Storybrooke to turn on one another, except for Emma and Elsa, with whom she wants to start a new family.
Favorite Line “Spend a little more time in this town, love, and you’ll realize just about everyone is related.” (Hook)
My Thoughts Mythology-heavy shows like Once Upon a Time need setup episodes, moments throughout a season where the plot points begin to come together, plans are revealed, and excitement over what’s to come takes precedence over excitement over what actually transpired in the episode. In many ways, “Family Business” was a classic setup episode: It clarified the motivations of the Snow Queen (aka Ingrid), it answered the question of what she’s planning to do with the mirror and with Emma, and it filled the characters in on important information so they could be on the same page as they head towards the season’s climax. It also raised important questions for the second half of this part of Season Four, which the rest of the season will spend answering.
What set “Family Business” apart from many other setup episodes (both on other shows and even on Once Upon a Time over the last four seasons) was its balance between plot development and character beats. While many setup episodes are heavy on plot and light on character insight, “Family Business” added new, believable layers to a character who so many of us have been waiting to see in the spotlight: Belle. It also did an excellent job of using flashbacks not just to give us more information about the Snow Queen but also to allow us to become even more invested in Anna as a character. The questions answered and the questions raised in this episode didn’t just advance the plot; they had real, emotional ramifications for characters that we have come to care about more with each passing episode—from Belle and Emma to Anna and Elsa.
This episode was woven together by the theme of secrets, which connected the flashbacks to the present-day storyline in a very organic way. However, this theme wasn’t exactly handled with the subtlest touch. Sometimes Once Upon a Time goes for subtlety, but sometimes it can get a little heavy-handed. This episode fell on the latter end of that spectrum. And by going for the very direct approach when outlining the theme of the episode, it made the lack of any sort of mention of Hook’s secret stand out. I know that this episode was meant to focus on Rumplestiltskin and Belle’s secrets (and I am okay with postponing the inevitable Emma/Hook angst for as long as possible), but there probably should have been a little nod to his secret somewhere in the episode, especially because it was set up in “The Apprentice” as a clear parallel to Anna’s secret that she was keeping from Elsa about their parents (and, subsequently, her knowledge of the sorcerer’s hat, which Hook also has knowledge of).
I also have to say that I was slightly disappointed that an episode titled “Family Business” gave us no insight into Henry’s new job at Gold’s Pawn Shop. However, like Hook’s secret, I’m sure the writers are saving that for an episode where more time can be devoted to it, so I’ll just have to work on my patience. And this episode did feature a great moment between Emma and Henry when he gave that important little clue about the ice cream truck. Emma looked so adorably impressed with her son (Jennifer Morrison was nailing the reaction shots tonight, but then again, when doesn’t she give the best reaction shots?), and it reminded me how much I miss the days of Operation Cobra.
In the end, though, I can’t really complain about what wasn’t featured in this episode because those absences allowed us to finally get some real insight into a character who has gone underdeveloped for far too long. I’ve been waiting with bated breath for more backstory for Belle, and this episode delivered that and more. It didn’t just add details to her past; it added layers to her character. It gave her the moral complexity that defines all the characters on this show. She’s not just this beautiful soul who sees the best in people and fights for the good in others. She’s also a woman who has made mistakes and bad choices and is haunted by them. She’s a woman with doubts about herself and the man she loves. And she’s a woman who does desperate things when she feels backed into a corner by a past that haunts her. In short, she’s human, and I couldn’t be happier to see my favorite Disney princess finally get the depth I’ve been wishing to see in her character since Emilie de Ravin became a series regular.
I appreciated that the show attempted to give Belle an organic reason to travel to Arendelle, even if I didn’t really see why her father had to keep her from knowing that her mother died to save her. (It was probably more traumatic for Belle to fear some horrible truth about her mother’s death was being kept from her, but I understand the need to keep the “secrets” theme going.) As soon as she said she needed to get her memories back, I knew she was going to go see the trolls, which made me happy because Grand Pabbie is always a welcome sight (still loving the CGI that went into creating him). It also gave her a good reason to team up with Anna, and I like the running theme of Belle interacting and forming good partnerships with a variety of female characters on this show (Red, Mulan, Ariel, and now Anna). Both Anna and Belle are women who try to believe in and bring out the very best in the people they love, so to pair those two characters seemed like the most natural thing on Earth.
In the end, though, Anna and Belle didn’t get time to really explore just how similar they are. They were literally torn apart by a choice Belle had to make: save the stone that would restore her memories of her mother or help Anna from falling off a cliff. In that split second, Belle chose the selfish option, and she paid for it immediately and intensely. Not only did she lose the stone, she watched Anna fall and get captured by Ingrid. She didn’t make the selfless choice—the “heroic” choice—and it’s clear that this has influenced every decision she’s made since that moment. When she returned to her father, it was with notions of sacrifice and heroism in her head because she wanted to do something to make up for the sacrifice she didn’t make for Anna. In Belle’s mind, a hero is someone who sacrifices what they want for what someone else needs, and that’s why she still—all those years later—was haunted by the idea that she can never be a brave hero.
Belle’s insecurities about the mistake she made in the past caused her to do something drastic in the present: attempt to control her husband with his dagger (not knowing, of course, that it is a fake). This was another great instance of Once Upon a Time asking whether or not good intentions justify problematic actions. Belle was using the dagger to try to fix a mistake she made in the past and help people, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that she was also trying to take away the free will of the man she loves to do that good deed.
Belle used the dagger (and, unbeknownst to her, Rumplestiltskin’s fear of her discovering his lies) to find Ingrid’s ice cave, but she didn’t find Ingrid in there. Instead, she found the manifestation of her dark magic—and the truth about the mirror we saw in last week’s episode. The mirror shows a person a reflection of their darkest self—filled with doubts about who they really are, their ability to be good and heroic, and their ability to love and be loved. Watching Belle confront the darkest version of herself was incredibly powerful, and I loved that it allowed Emilie de Ravin to really sink her teeth into her performance. Watching Belle tell herself that she was a coward, that Rumplestiltskin only wanted her because she was weak, and that she knew the dagger couldn’t be real was very difficult to watch, but it was also one of the most compelling singular moments in what’s been a very strong season so far. In fact, it made me want to see basically every character confront their darkest selves and insecurities in this mirror. I know that probably makes me a masochist, but I think the possibilities for closer looks into these characters and moments of great acting from this talented cast outweigh the momentary heartbreak I would feel watching it all unfold.
In a way, Hook has already faced a version of that mirror in “The Apprentice” when Rumplestiltskin told him he would always be the darkest version of himself. Ingrid’s mirror reflects insecurities, self-loathing, and fears about love, and that seemed to be exactly what Rumplestiltskin was trying to do with Hook. Belle and Hook are not characters anyone would usually see as similar, but there were definite parallels to be made between them in this episode. From having their darkest points of self-loathing preyed on to feeling immense guilt for choosing a selfish option instead of saving a life (Hook followed that same guilty path in Season Three’s “The Jolly Roger”), it was interesting to see these two characters’ inner conflicts paralleled so deliberately.
Belle’s discovery of the mirror (which caused her to lash out violently against Rumplestiltskin) led to a heartbreaking moment of confession for this character who has carried so much guilt for so long. That tearful confession was difficult to watch for many reasons (Kudos to Emilie de Ravin for how raw and honest she made that moment feel.), but chief among them was the knowledge that Belle felt so terrible for lying while Rumplestiltskin was continuing to lie to her. There was a horrible, twisted, but incredibly compelling irony in watching her confess and apologize to a man who is still lying to her about the foundation of their marriage and so many other things as well, including the sorcerer’s hat.
After a week without mentioning it, I was happy to see that little piece of mythology back in play in “Family Business.” It was used perfectly in both the flashbacks and present-day storyline. It’s so much fun to watch Robert Carlyle and Elizabeth Mitchell play off each other. They both convey so much malice without ever raising their voices, and it makes the tension between them so unique. Watching them fight for control over their dynamic was great because, for a while, it seemed that Ingrid actually had some leverage, but, of course, that didn’t last for long. I was happy that Ingrid now knows about Rumplestiltskin having the sorcerer’s hat because it puts another card on the table as the high point of this season’s conflict approaches. It also raises the question of how the hat showed up in his honeymoon house, when Ingrid was the last person we know of to have had possession of it.
The way she got possession of the hat was absolutely devastating. I’ve loved the way Elizabeth Lail has channeled all of the strength, humor, and optimism that made me love Anna from the time I first saw Frozen into her performance. But in this episode, she managed to absolutely break my heart and, in doing so, made me love her work this season even more. When Ingrid said she knew Anna wanted to use the hat on Elsa, we (including Anna) knew that she was practicing the speech that she would later give Elsa in an attempt to drive the sisters apart, and Anna’s sobbing reaction was gut-wrenching. Ingrid’s first instinct is to believe everyone without magic hates those who have it (I want more of her past with her sisters ASAP), so it was easy to see why she would turn on Anna so quickly, pushing her out of the “family” she wanted to create. And the fact that she could talk to Anna in such a calm voice as her niece broke down proves just how scary she is.
There’s a kind of cult-leader quality to Ingrid, with her gentle demeanor and desire to form a family of people like her by manipulation and force. Mitchell is playing that aspect of this character so well, and it was no surprise that she wants Emma to join her family because it completes the sisterhood she’s been trying to create for years. This episode raised an important new question about Ingrid’s connection to Emma: Who made the prophecy about Emma being Ingrid’s “sister”? But it also answered quite a few, which is a refreshing change of pace for a show like Once Upon a Time and a major arc like this one. We know that Ingrid is planning to use the “shattered sight” mirror to pit everyone in Storybrooke against one another, leaving Elsa and Emma to turn to her. We know she is making sure Emma finds clues that plant the idea that maybe Ingrid could and did love her like family (the drawings, essays, etc.). And we know that Ingrid’s actions in the flashbacks indicate that she will try to convince Emma that the people she considers family and loved ones fear the magical side of her and will never understand her like her true “family” can (like it’s clear she was planning to do with Elsa).
Much like the mirror did with Belle, Ingrid is planning to make Emma doubt not just herself but the people she loves. However, even though he’s no angel when it comes to their relationship, Rumplestiltskin was there when Belle needed him after facing the mirror, and I think this episode showed how many people are there for Emma. From the first scene with all of the main characters watching Emma’s childhood tape, it was clear that Emma is not alone in this. She has her father and mother. (How heartbreaking was it to see Snow’s bittersweet smile at the sight of teenage Emma? Ginnifer Goodwin played that tiny beat perfectly.) She has her son. She has Regina (who I liked seeing go along on this mission to help Emma, despite knowing the Snow Queen can’t help with Marian). She has a friend in Elsa who is struggling with many of the same things. And she has a man who loves her and has become her steadfast partner. This wasn’t an episode with many moments of interaction between Hook and Emma, but the brief moments we got focused on their partnership and the fact that he is the one Emma is continuing to share parts of her past with, even parts she doesn’t remember. Hook was right—they really do make quite the team.
I’m sure that Ingrid will try to poison Emma and Hook’s relationship in the same way she tried to drive a wedge between Anna and Elsa. And I’m sure the next couple of weeks will be tense ones for all of us who love Emma and have really enjoyed her growth this season. But I’m also so excited to see where the things set up in this episode take not just Emma but all of these characters. If coming into contact with Ingrid’s magic could bring such depth to Belle’s character, I am ready to see it unleashed on as many characters as possible. There’s so much potential for growth, emotional moments, and affirmations (and reaffirmations) of love and support in this storyline.
“Family Business” was a fairly heavy episode. Even the brief interaction we got between Regina and Robin was heartbreaking. Although, it also showed how far Regina has come; she won’t just take what could be her happy ending if it means hurting someone else, and that is a huge sign of growth.
While there were plenty of dark and bleak moments in “Family Business,” there was also more humor in it than we’ve seen in a while, which was sorely needed after the emotionally draining last couple of Once Upon a Time episodes. The appearance of Oaken in the flashbacks put a smile on my face, as did Hook’s line about everyone in Storybrooke being related—self-aware humor (that also makes Emma smile) for the win! I thought Regina had the perfect amount of sass in this episode (Captain Guyliner is an instant-classic Regina nickname). And I loved the banter we got from both Kristoff and Anna and Emma and Hook. Kristoff and Anna’s relationship is so cute that I smile every time they share a scene. And I love that Emma thinks it’s hilarious that she’s dating a pirate who is over two centuries old. There were just enough genuinely funny moments to cut the drama in this episode, and that made all of the emotional moments a bit easier to handle.
Setup episodes can sometimes be boring. But if they’re done as well as “Family Business,” they can leave you waiting excitedly for what’s to come for all of your favorite characters. And all I know is that I’m already counting down the hours until next Sunday.