Title Her Handsome Hero
Two-Sentence Summary With Belle and Rumplestiltskin working together to try to save their unborn baby from Hades, the Lord of the Underworld enlists a familiar face from Belle’s past to throw a wrench into their plans: Gaston. Meanwhile, Emma’s nightmare of a beast attacking her mother forces her to confront her guilt about her family’s participation in her quest to save Killian.
Favorite Line “We knew it would be hard—these things always are—but some things are worth it. Love is worth it.” (Snow)
My Thoughts Hope is the strongest force of good there is on Once Upon a Time, and the opposite is also true: Hopelessness is the strongest agent of darkness. So much of this Underworld arc has focused on the way hope can take root in the darkest places, but that can only happen when hope is shared. When someone feels like they’re alone in hoping for the best, it’s easy for them to lose that hope when things get hard. And when that happens, it also becomes easy for them to open themselves up to darkness.
I really loved the visual symbolism in this episode of hope being a flower growing amid the decay of the Underworld. Like a flower, hope can’t grow in darkness, but light makes it grow strong. And Emma and her loved ones have brought light to the Underworld. These characters have a deep sense of hope, and they don’t just keep it to themselves. They’re heroes because they work to share that hope with others, and they’ve done that not just by giving hope to those who have since moved on, but also by continuing to give hope to each other when the darkness around them starts to feel overwhelming.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are Rumplestiltskin and Belle. Hope has never been something Rumplestiltskin has understood. He’s a coward, and fear and hopelessness are often deeply connected. But what made “Her Handsome Hero” so sad was the fact that Belle is also feeling hopeless now—not just concerning the fate of her child but concerning her entire belief system and her sense of self.
For as much as I have always loved Disney’s version of Belle, her Once Upon a Time counterpart has sometimes been a source of frustration for me. And that continued at the start of this episode, when she went back to Rumplestiltskin right after he told her he wasn’t going to change, demanding he help protect their baby without using dark magic. I didn’t think that was a smart move at all, but maybe that’s just because it wasn’t the move I would have made. Belle seems to always be ready to choose Rumplestiltskin—even when he’s just told her he’s not going to choose her first—and while that might make me frustrated, it’s who her character is at this point.
It’s also in her character to believe she can change him and make him a better person by telling him not to use dark magic. But love doesn’t work that way, or at least it shouldn’t in a healthy relationship. You can’t force someone to be a better person, and love shouldn’t be about fixing someone who doesn’t want help. Love should inspire both of you to be the best version of yourselves, but Rumplestiltskin has already stated that he has no intention of giving up the darkness—not even for Belle. So I rolled my eyes a little bit when she walked into his shop and proceeded to act as if she could change his mind after he was finally honest with her about the fact that he has no desire to ever be without dark magic again. (Also, I found it naïve of Belle to believe Rumplestiltskin would do this for his child, when he let Bae fall into a portal because he wouldn’t give up his power for his son.)
My biggest question with Belle is why wouldn’t she just go to Emma and Co. to help her instead of relying only on Rumplestiltskin? The heroes all want to defeat Hades, too, so their goals are the same. By isolating herself from the others, Belle has also isolated herself from a support system of hope. Instead, she’s working with a man who is as hopeless as it gets when it comes to doing things without using dark magic. And by the end of the episode, Belle seemed to have come over to his side of thinking, which is as tragic as it gets for this show.
What happened to push Belle to that dark place? “Her Handsome Hero” brought back a ghost from her past: the handsome (and I mean HANDSOME) Gaston. One of the most interesting things about this part of the episode was its central theme: Don’t judge a person until you know their whole story. That’s been an important part of Once Upon a Time from the start. All of these characters have stories that make them so much more complex and relatable than our assumptions. And that was certainly true of Gaston, too. Both Belle and the audience were trained to assume the worst in him based on his reputation, but he turned out to be very different. I was struck by what I saw as real sincerity in his interactions with Belle. There was a gentle side to him that I wasn’t expecting at all, and it was fun to reevaluate my preconceived notions of the character as the episode went on.
Ultimately, Gaston was more what he appeared to be on many levels. But while parts of him seemed kinder than expected, other parts were darker. I had a bad feeling that he was going to end up hurting the young ogre, but I was left torn about how much of a monster that made him. I did love the callback to Beauty and the Beast with Belle saying, “He’s not a monster—you are!” However, after seeing Belle return to Rumplestiltskin many times after knowing he’s done far worse, it felt a little hollow for us to be asked to believe Gaston was beyond redemption in her eyes. But I can sometimes veer into “ends justify the means” territory myself when interpreting fiction, so I might be showing a bit of bias here.
In the present, I liked seeing Belle choose to try to help Gaston instead of hurting him. That’s what heroes do, and that’s what they’ve all done during this arc. But she started going down a slippery slope by asking Rumplestiltskin to use his magic to open Gaston’s locker, so I thought it was good to have him call her out on that. We saw during Season 5A that it doesn’t matter what the justification for it is, using dark magic only enhances a Dark One’s desire to keep using it. It’s like asking an addict to take just a tiny hit of a drug—it doesn’t end well. And Belle might think she’s on to something with Rumplestiltskin being able to use the Dark One’s powers for good, but he’s already stated that he doesn’t have any real desire to change. And is it just me, or did Killian already fulfill Merlin’s words by wielding the Dark One dagger to get rid of the darkness and save those he loves?
More than anything, I wanted Belle to help Gaston find peace and move on. And I wanted her to continue to stand her ground with Hades, refusing his deal and fighting for her baby with hope that she could do it by taking the high road and encouraging Rumplestiltskin to do the same. However, sometimes you don’t get what you want. Instead, Rumplestiltskin was about to toss Gaston into the River of Lost Souls, so Belle did the only thing she thought she could do in the moment: She used the dagger. While part of me was happy to see her acknowledge that she couldn’t sit back and watch him kill Gaston, Emma’s time as the Dark One has made me much more conscious of the problems inherent in using the dagger for control. If you have to resort to using the dagger, then you don’t have hope that the person you love is strong enough to do the right thing—or that your love is strong enough to help them choose the right path. I’m not saying Belle was wrong to be without that hope in this situation, but that doesn’t exactly say good things about their relationship at this point.
Newly freed from Rumplestiltskin’s clutches, Gaston reached for his arrows, but Belle was one step ahead of him, pushing him into the River of Lost Souls to save her husband. I know Belle was desperate, and desperate souls do drastic things. So I understand why she pushed him, but that didn’t make it any easier to watch her follow Rumplestilskin’s path since he did the same thing to Milah, even though Belle still doesn’t know that.
In saving her husband, Belle hurt someone else. She essentially killed someone to protect the person she loves, which actually isn’t a rare thing on this show. Emma killed Cruella to save Henry. Even Snow White killed Cora. But the difference is those other characters had people around them to help them work through what happened, to help them learn to forgive themselves and find hope that they don’t have to be lost to the darkness because they did something dark. In this case, though, Belle still couldn’t let go of her black and white sense of morality. She did something terrible, but she immediately jumped to the fact that the darkness would always win. And Rumplestiltskin did nothing to help her. That’s because hope is a foreign concept to him. Like Hades, he’s much more familiar and comfortable with despair.
In the end, Belle’s sense of hopelessness seemed to send her back into Rumplestiltskin’s arms, which made me wonder what’s going to happen to her now that she believes darkness is stronger than light and despair is stronger than hope. In the past, she chose to agree to marry Gaston because she felt it was the best thing for her kingdom. Could she be leaning on Rumplestiltskin not because she really wants to but because she thinks it’s what’s best for their child? I honestly don’t know. All I know is it hurts to think about a character who once so strongly believed in good so quickly accepting that it can’t beat darkness. But maybe that’s what happens when you see things as either black or white in a world that’s most often painted in shades of gray.
Belle’s despair plays right into Hades’ game. Hope is dangerous in the Underworld, but there is still a part of Hades that hopes for love. It’s a strange dichotomy: for him to hate hope and yet still feel its sparks in his dead heart. As Zelena said, she’s his only weakness, and that’s because she’s his own personal manifestation of hope.
Zelena’s conversation with Regina in this episode was interesting because it’s the first time we really saw them connect without animosity (at least for a moment). Rebecca Mader continued her streak of episodes in which she breaks my heart in the moment when she tearfully told Regina that it was unimaginable for someone to really love her. Zelena’s inability to believe she’s lovable is the reason why surrounding yourself with supportive people is so important. She spent her whole life alone and left only with the thought that she wasn’t enough for anyone to love, and that kind of despair is hard to turn into hope. You could see those walls—the same walls Emma had for so long—come down for a moment with Regina but come back up almost immediately when she discovered Regina was also trying to get information out of her. This continued the theme of nothing being completely black or white in this episode: Regina did want to get information from Zelena, but I think she was also sincere in caring about her sister. But it’s hard for Zelena to believe that—especially coming from Regina.
Hopelessness was even starting to creep into the heroes’ camp in this episode. “Her Handsome Hero” showed Emma and, to a lesser but snarkier degree, Killian working through feelings of hopelessness as they continued to hit roadblocks on their journey to defeat Hades. But when those feelings manifested themselves, they had people around them who worked to restore their hope and keep them from sliding into total despair.
For example, Killian seemed initially annoyed by all the “maybes and hopefullys” they were relying on in their quest. Killian has never been a man who goes into things without a plan; he likes strategy. So it was understandable for him to be frustrated. However, it was beautiful to see that frustration fade when Emma offered him the hope that maybe her plan from her dream would work. Killian has always believed in Emma—even when he might doubt others. And that kind of belief isn’t something Emma had a lot of in her life. The way Jennifer Morrison played Emma’s reaction to Killian’s faith in her spoke to how much it still means to Emma for someone—especially someone she loves—to voice his belief in her instincts and abilities. And it was nice to see her family believe in her plan, too. That provided a nice contrast to Rumplestiltskin, who spent most of the episode telling Belle that her way of doing things would never accomplish anything.
Emma couldn’t fully enact her plan, though, because the nightmare she first saw it in started to come true. And when she revealed the truth of her nightmare, she also revealed a difficult truth about herself. I always love the juxtaposition of Regina’s attempts to get Emma to open up with Killian’s attempts. Regina’s tough love is good for getting Emma to start thinking about uncomfortable things, but it’s only when Emma feels safe with Killian that she can actually voice what’s on her mind.
In this case, what was on Emma’s mind was incredible amounts of guilt. Morrison did an amazing job of showing just how much Emma’s guilt has been weighing on her since her family came to the Underworld, her vulnerability pouring out when she confessed to being frightened all the time that she’s going to have a loved one’s blood on her hands if things go wrong. It’s a realistic fear; this is Emma’s quest, so it makes sense for her to be worried about other people getting hurt in order to save the man she loves. (I also loved the way Colin O’Donoghue played Killian’s reaction to Emma’s confession, his own guilt etched across his face.) It also makes sense for Emma to wish she’d done this alone. That’s her default way to handle hard situations.
But on Once Upon a Time, it’s never better to do things alone. You’re always stronger when you have people in your corner supporting you and reminding you not to lose hope. Emma has that with Killian, who was quick to remind her with swoon-worthy sincerity that she saved him from Hades. But she also has that with her mother. This was the perfect time for a “Snow White Hope Speech,” and it felt so good to hear that kind of speech directed at her daughter.
Ginnifer Goodwin is great at showing the depth of Snow’s convictions and strength without coming across as cheesy or preachy. It also helps that this arc has provided her with great material. With the kind of fierce love only a mother can have, Snow reminded Emma that her family chose to follow her into the Underworld. And they did that because they all believe that love—the kind Emma found with Killian—is worth fighting for. For so long, Emma has fought for other people’s happy endings, so this was Snow’s way to show her daughter that she now has a group of people willing to fight for hers. It made me cry to see Snow encourage her daughter to keep fighting for the love she knows is worth it. This is the kind of relationship I’ve always wanted for Snow and Emma.
With Snow’s strength taking root in the heroes, they chose to stop running from what Emma saw as a hopeless situation and instead chose to stand up and fight the way they always have—together. And when they chose to hope instead of giving in to despair, they discovered that the monster they were so afraid of wasn’t a foe but a friend. You can’t judge someone until you know their whole story, and that’s as true for beauties as it is for beasts. In this case, the heroes ran into someone who’s a little bit of both. It seems Red has found her way to the Underworld, and I couldn’t be happier. There’s no better character to analyze when it comes to finding hope for yourself even after believing you’re a monster, so I can’t wait to see what she brings to this story.