Obvious foreshadowing is obvious.
Things slowed down a little bit this week on “Once Upon a Time” as we checked in with R-stilts's neglected character development. In the opening, Belle has an almost-premonition that her beast has not given up his power-hungry ways. The dream wakes her, and she goes in search of R-stilts when she notices he is not in their bed. (Their shared bed! That they share!) She finds him in the basement spinning twine into gold, and then performing presumably unholy chemistry experiments that result in the same purple magic that spilled from the well at the end of last season. This leads Belle to conclude that R-stilts has not given up his thirst for power. She confronts him, and when he cannot explain why he needs power she leaves him. I assume this happens in all relationships with scientists.
Why is it such a big deal that Belle left R-stilts, aside from all the fanfics it just ruins? To find the answer, we must delve into R-stilts past life as a coward, before he becomes the Dark One. In said flashback, he comes home to find Baelfire alone, and together they go in search of R-stilts wife, Mila. They find her drinking with some pirates wearing eyeliner in a bar. This chick is wild, and probably the source of the STD that makes R-stilts face turn gold sometimes. (Yes, I know that's the Dark One's mark and everything, but let me have my fictional venereal diseases where I can.) At first Mila refuses to return with R-stilts, but her guilt over abandoning her son is too strong at this point so she leaves the bar with them.
At home, we see why their marriage is failing: R-stilts's lack of interest in his wife's wanderlust and his corresponding guilt trip that she should even want to leave their home obviously exasperates Mila. At the heart of his behavior is R-stilts inherent cowardice. He was too afraid to go to the ogre wars, and now he's too afraid to even leave the home where he is despised. Mila is not lacking in courage, or rather she is not lacking in selfishness, because she leaves her husband and son for a glamorous life with pirates.
A pirate, specifically, named Killian Jones. (Really, writers? James T. Hook wasn't good enough for you? It's not like you're held back by copyright laws – Disney OWNS Peter Pan. But you had to give him a hipster name and guyliner. Although I don't really mind the latter...) Jones implies that Mila is going to be the ship's whore before challenging R-stilts to a duel for the right to her. Coward that he is, R-stilts cannot fight. Do you get by this point that R-stilts is a coward? Because they're really trying to hammer that point home right now.
Like he did with Mila a lifetime ago, R-stilts goes in search of Belle by canvassing the town. He goes to Belle's father, imaginatively named Moe French. You might remember him better as the florist that R-stilts bullied in the first season. (Remember when he kidnapped and/or tortured someone? That shit was dark.) I like that they gave Moe an Australian accent to match Belle's. It's retroactive fixes like this that just make “Once Upon a Time” so special. Moe would basically rather never see his daughter again than tell R-stilts where she is, so R-stilts has no choice but to turn to James for help.
Oh, were you wondering when the Charmings were going to show up in this episode? Well, when we first see him, James is working his core by mining with the dwarfs. They let Henry down in the mine because James doesn't know the meaning of responsible grandparenting, and also because he was in a coma the last time his grandson got trapped down there. He did allow his daughter to be put into a magical piece of storage and sent to another world, so I guess we can't expect too much of him. When R-stilts asks him for help, James correctly deduces that Belle is R-stilts beloved and, because he is sentimental and misses his wife and daughter, offers to help R-stilts search for Belle.
The real point of this episode is to introduce Captain Hook, but the first time we see Fall Out Boy Jones he is still in possession of both hands. If you have read Peter Pan or seen any of the film incarnations (for some reason the one with Mary Martin as Peter sticks out in my mind the most), you will remember that Hook lost his hand to a crocodile. No matter what Robin Williams would have you believe, that crocodile was not then made into a clock tower. To facilitate this plotline, a dude in a red beanie meets R-stilts (as the Dark One) in a bar and tells him that he has found a magic bean that will let him follow Baelfire to wherever he went. The dude's price for the magic bean is immortality, but R-stilts talks him down to eternal youth. Do you see where this is going? If you have eyes and a regular heartbeat, probably.
When the unnamed trader leaves, R-stilts prepares to go as well. That's before Killian Jones rolls in with his boys – you know they're gonna get them some bitches tonight. R-stilts decides to stay for a bit of crafty revenge. He follows them out of the bar and bumps into Jones, prompting him to pick on him and call him a crocodile. (DO YOU SEE WHERE THEY ARE GOING WITH THIS?) R-stilts reintroduces himself as the Dark One and inquires after his wife, who Jones pretends not to know. Naturally R-stilts asks to have their duel now and makes some appropriately villainous remarks. I'm starting to see him less as Voldemort and more as Peter Pettigrew with a better wand.
Jones returns at dawn and they theater-swordfight all over the place. R-stilts wins, but instead of killing Jones like an honorable man, he decides to magically rip the heart from his chest (a move you might recognize from everyone's favorite bi-otch, Regina - looks like he did eventually train her in the dark arts). The only thing that stops him is – gasp! – the appearance of the very alive Mila, who actually fell in love with Jones and went with him willingly. Mila offers to exchange her life and Jones's for the bean that R-stilts wants.
R-stilts, Mila and Jones head back to the boat where Mila tries to force the deal to a close. R-stilts, still wild with guilt about his inability to follow Baelfire through the portal to Earth, projects his flaws onto Mila. He asks how she could have left their son (Really? It happens, like, all over your country. Remember Hansel and Gretel?) and when she tries to make excuses he rips her heart out and crushes it. R-stilts asks for the bean from the grieving Jones, and when he refuses he cuts off Jones's hand. Not one to be bested, Jones attacks him with the obviously placed hook. (DO YOU SEE WHERE THEY ARE GOING WITH THIS?) Failing that brilliantly devised plan, Jones swears that he will find a way to kill R-stilts, who replies grinningly “Good luck living long enough.” (I really can't hint at it anymore. If you did not get this foreshadowing, just go watch the Kardashians like a good little kid.)
In the comfort of his home, R-stilts opens the severed hand of Killian Jones to find that it contains no bean. On the ship, immediately after they bury Mila at sea, the dude from the bar confronts Jones over said bean. He wants payment for the magical artifact, especially since he won't be getting eternal life anytime soon... or will he?? Jones reveals that they are setting sail for Neverland, and the dude reveals that his name is William Motherf*ckin' Smee. Okay I made up the middle name, but you get the picture. Hook, Smee, Neverland – man I hope there's a Peter Pan episode on the horizon. Or rather, past the second star on the right and straight on til morning.
So where did Belle go in Storybrooke? Where everyone goes – Granny's. It's like the Rick's of Storybrooke. Wait, I can see it now: Casablanca episode. Emma is Bogey, they'll bring back the Sheriff to be Bacall, and Archie is Sam. Anyway, Red takes an interest in Belle and offers her both a place to stay (rooms above Granny's) and a possible job (running the library). Belle goes to the library to scope it out (it's been closed since Emma killed Maleficent) and is kidnapped by Smee. He takes her to her father's store, where she reveals to Moe that she fell in love with R-stilts while he held her captive. Moe refuses to listen to Belle's roars of independent womanhood; instead he sends her off with Smee for some nefarious purpose.
James and R-stilts canvas the town, but no one is too keen to help the devil find his girlfriend. R-stilts asks James for dating advice – HA! - and James says something about being honest with each other all the time. Here's a summary of their conversation:
James: Like, oh my gosh, Snow and I just never lie to each other, you know? We're just, like, so perfect ever since the curse was lifted.
R-stilts: Oh my gosh, I wish, like, Belle and I could be like that, you know? Just, like, totally happy.
James: Yeah, we're like so totally happy now.
But really, this conversation makes sense in the context of the theme of honesty that runs through the episode. They head to Granny's (which should have really been the first stop), where Red is reluctant to help them. After R-stilts displays a little vulnerability, however, Red offers to sniff out Belle's trail, which goes cold at Moe's shop. James, Red and R-stilts confront Moe and deduce that he is sending Belle across the town line so that she can be rid of R-stilts's attentions. This is the first of what will surely be many uses of the city limit's magical powers, but also draws another parallel between Belle and Mila. Mila chose to leave her husband, but Belle is being forced to it. James deduces that Belle is being taken across the city limits by way of the mines due to his perfect situational awareness. (In my mind, OUAT is even better when you pretend each person is a character from “Archer”.)
Smee sends Belle on a little ride in a mining cart, and after she stupidly drops the key R-stilts swoops in to rescue her with his magic. Belle looks surprised by his appearance, but not enough to hug him or go home with him. She also refuses to go with her father because, hello, he just tried to straight erase her memory and send her off into the wilds of Maine without even a jacket. Belle drunkenly declares that she never wants to see either of them again, and stumbles off. R-stilts clearly flashes back to the last time a woman left him, not the least because he is reminded of how he didn't listen to what Mila wanted before she left.
A little while and an awful costume change later, Belle and Red bond over pancakes at Granny's. Red gives Belle a small black box that someone left for her at the front desk, which contains the key to the library. She goes to said library, where R-stilts surprises her. Belle assumes this is a plot to win her back – which it is – but not in the shallow, easy way that she assumes. R-stilts comes clean to her about his cowardice, why he loves power, and why he needs it now: to find his son. He can't leave to find Baelfire until the curse is broken, so he was experimenting with magic before to that end. When he tries to say goodbye to Belle, she shows that she's not ready to let go. They agree to go on a hamburger date at Granny's at some point, and I'm happy that this relationship isn't half as creepy as it seemed before.
But R-stilts hasn't given up revenge completely yet. He holds Smee captive and questions him for Jones's whereabouts. Naturally our favorite emo pirate is hanging out back in the fairy tale world with Cora, and goes by the name Hook these days. Cora has the magic dust from the wardrobe, and they're both excited in an understated way to journey to Storybrooke for their separate revenges.
Next week: Franken-Bowie! Halloween episode! Dr. Whale! Still no Snow and Emma!
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