Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 2 Episode 11 – The Outsider
Once Upon A Time is a series with a pretty rich mythology that can often get out of hand if the script isn’t tight enough to rein those aspects in. Now that The Curse is broken, the only lingering thread is to find a way to leave Storybrooke. While many of the fairy tale characters that people its ranks want to return back to their real home, Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) is only interested in leaving Storybrooke to venture out into the real world, and search for his son Baelfyre. Not a whole lot of exposition is accorded to Gold’s potion, that allows him to transform any object (in this case, Bae’s shawl) into a talisman that will give him the ability to cross the city limits and retain his memories. But the less the show dwells on these sorts of things, the better the story works, as we aren’t compelled to analyze or scrutinize the mechanics of the plot. “The Outsider” delves into the complexity of one of its most interesting characters by examining the backstory of one of its least interesting, in Belle (Emilie De Ravin). Yet the episode doesn’t suffer for it. This is one of the leaner, tighter hours of the season, which makes it for one of the breezier, yet more engaging stories of the season.
The parallel stories this week chart the process by which Belle discovers her inner fortitude, both in Storybrooke, and in the flashbacks to the Fairy Tale Land, which answer a number of question I don’t think anyone was really asking, such as how Regina (Lana Parrilla) ended up putting Belle away in the tower she allegedly throws herself off of (in one of the Evil Queen’s lies to Rumpelstiltskin, allowing him to think she committed suicide), or how Mulan (Jamie Chung) met Prince Phillip (Julian Morris). But I appreciate the attention to detail in the show’s worldbuilding and chronology, even if the individual story surrounding it isn’t that compelling. The Storybrooke storyline is great, but the only real value of the flashbacks to the Hidden Forest is in how it parallels the Storybrooke plot. Mulan, after rescuing Belle from a band of brutes, asks her for her help in tracking a mysterious beast she’s hunting. Mulan and Belle’s brief partnership could have been so much more compelling than it was, with Mulan playing mentor to Belle, although I did still enjoy the process of Belle coming into her own as a character, unwavering in her faith in Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold. That said, the CG effects on the beast were thoroughly ridiculous. But hey, it was brief – and it’s TV. Even the budget for a hit like this wouldn’t be enough to carry off that kind of effect. And it’s only window-dressing to the story itself, as Belle discovers strange markings on the beast that translate to “save me”. She sprinkles a powder on the beast, which transforms into Prince Phillip, who thanks her for breaking Maleficent’s curse, and drafts Mulan for the mission to rescue Princess Aurora (Sarah Bolger). Yet Belle is inevitably captured by Regina and hauled off to the tower, while screaming that she’ll never give up on Rumpelstiltskin.
Belle gets to actually put her money where her mouth is, in that regard, in the Storybrooke storyline. Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) attacks Belle to draw Gold out his shop so that Smee can steal Bae’s shawl. This results in Belle feeling responsible, and offering to take matters into her own hands, although Gold won’t hear of it. “I trust you to do as I wish, as you trust me to be a better man,” Gold shouts, as if challenging Belle to stick to the principles she claims so fervently to have. While it’s mostly Belle’s story, Robert Carlyle really delivers as Mr. Gold, getting the opportunity to show a greater range than he has been able to in recent episodes. I’ve never really doubted his skill as a character actor, though I’ve occasionally doubted the writing, as I often had the feeling that Carlyle was delivering far more than what was likely on the page. Yet I feel like the story has finally caught up to how good Carlyle is with the character, in imbuing him with a real sense of loss and determination. It’s an explosive, yet quietly devastating performance, as Gold is slowly reformed from a vengeful monster into a man with the hint of goodness.
This development springs off of Belle’s growth as a character. Once Gold sets off to get his revenge (first transforming Smee into a rat for stealing Bae’s shawl), Belle goes on a hunt of her own, discovering Hook’s invisible ship idling at the port. She discovers Archie (Raphael Sbarge) in the brig and sets him free, but it isn’t long before Hook corners Belle, telling her the real story of why Hook and Gold have such a hateful vendetta against one another. Though Belle comes to realize that Gold killed his own wife, she doesn’t relinquish her faith in him – not even when he’s beating the hell out of Hook with his cane, intent on killing him deader than disco, in one of the episode’s best scenes. She’s able to talk Gold off the proverbial ledge, convincing him to prove to her that she isn’t wrong about his being a good man, and let Hook live. Of course, this comes back to bite everyone in the ass, as a hopeful, bittersweet parting between Gold and Belle quickly turns tragic when Hook shoots Belle, sending her over the timeline. Belle will live, but she won’t remember a single thing about who she is, or who Gold was to her. Two steps forward, ten steps back. As if tasked with the sole purpose of keeping Gold from having his vengeance on Hook, a car comes speeding into Storybrooke from out of nowhere, running over Hook and crashing into a ditch. A stranger has entered Storybrooke, bringing the real world calamitously close to the heart of the Fairy Tale Land.
“The Outsider” furthers many of the themes that make this series what it is: the idea of home, what it really is, and whether it even exists anymore. There’s a subplot in which Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) struggles to come to grips with Archie’s death, leading to Emma (Jennifer Morrison) adopting Dr. Hopper’s dog, Pongo, so that Henry can have a piece of comfort. This sense of homebuilding extends to Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), who disagree on whether they’ll stay in Storybrooke. Charming sides with the other fairy tale folk who want to take back the Hidden Forest and return to their old lives, rationalizing that they wouldn’t be able to explain magic to outsiders – and besides, The Curse is broken. Why shouldn’t they all try to go home? For Charming, burying Archie has led to the realization that he doesn’t want to die here. Yet Snow would rather stay in Storybrooke and forge a new life for themselves, and to have a real family with Emma. It’s a rich conflict that’s been subtext throughout the series, of whether these characters would actually go back if The Curse were ever broken. I’m sure they’ll only elaborate on that conflict, and will have a bit more room to do so, now that Archie is back and Emma realizes she was wrong about Regina, a development I feared was at least four episodes away from happening. Once Upon A Time is much better about pacing than it used to be, and episodes like “The Outsider” illustrate an economy of narrative that the series ought to employ more often, as this was a lean, tightly scripted episode that told a solid story.