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‘Once Upon A Time’ Season 5 Episode 17 Review: Good and Evil Blur In ‘Her Handsome Hero’

Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 5 Episode 17 – Her Handsome Hero:

On Once Upon A Time, the lines between good and evil tend to blur, which is never more apparent than in “Her Handsome Hero,” an episode that takes one of the most hated Disney villains of all-time and suggests that maybe he wasn’t such an awful guy after all — well, except for the times where he totally was. It’s a pretty engaging episode that finally gives Belle (Emilie De Ravin) something to do, while also exploring how her relationship with Rumpelstiltskin/Gold (Robert Carlyle) is beginning to affect her morality, in ways both subtle and overt.

I think I’d have to go back to “Labor of Love” to remember the last time I enjoyed a flashback story more than the main arc of an episode, but that’s more or less what happens here. The origin story for Gaston (Wes Brown) is interesting, due in large part to how it subverts the expectations of just about anyone familiar with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. We get a Gaston who’s actually as gallant and dashing as his cartoon counterpart boasted, and the implication is that the only reason he ends up being the straight-up villain he becomes is because he loved the wrong woman. It’s one of those bold choices the show makes every now and then, and it works so well that I couldn’t help feeling disappointed that the show didn’t stick to its guns: the episode takes away some of the impact of Gaston’s fall from grace by indicating that, deep-down, he was a monster all along. When Belle discovers that Gaston has tortured a poor, infantile ogre rather than simply guarding it like she’d asked, the man’s heroism essentially dissolves, and with it goes the complexity of his depiction here. Basically, Belle is blameless in Gaston’s downfall if he turns out to be a bad guy all along. Having Belle be indirectly responsible for Gaston’s eventual downfall is a compelling arc that I wish we could have explored more. As it stands now, we don’t really go beyond Gaston blaming her, while in the Underworld, for making him weak. In essence, had he not spent so long trying to live up to her idea of what a hero should be, as depicted in her favorite book (which shares the episode’s title, “Her Handsome Hero”), he never would have left himself open to be killed by The Dark One. On the one hand, it’s not a huge revelation to learn that Rumple killed Gaston, considering how the Beast of the Disney movie did the same to his Gaston. But it’s undoubtedly fascinating to learn how Belle is somewhat complicit, albeit indirectly, in the death of this Gaston (although you could make the argument for her culpability in the death of the cartoon Gaston. But that’s for another day). Not only is she part of the reason he dies (at least according to Gaston himself)< Belle is also Gaston's unfinished business in the Underworld. And to make matters even worse, she ends up being the reason he's condemned to the River of Lost Souls for all eternity by episode's end. Is Belle beautiful and endearing and all that great stuff? Sure. But it seems clear that meeting her is just about the worst thing that ever happened to Gaston. [caption id="attachment_292991" align="alignnone" width="968"]'Once Upon A Time' Season 5 Episode 17 Review Good and Evil Blur In 'Her Handsome Hero' Credit: ABC[/caption]

Interestingly, the present day story gives us Gaston’s side of things, in ways the flashback story never does. The ogres are rebelling against the kingdom, so it makes sense that Gaston would have had a “take no prisoners” attitude about how he treated the creature Belle tasked him with guarding. I’m not necessarily saying he’s right for how he treated the ogre, but I do think the show is better when it examines both sides of a situation. As we learn in the Underworld, Gaston is still not over Belle, nor is he happy to learn she married the guy who murdered him. In a way, it makes sense for Gaston to have this massive chip on his shoulder. Why was Belle so quick to dismiss him, yet she’s given chance after chance to The Dark One? Granted, Belle isn’t exactly thrilled to learn it was Gold who killed Gaston when they were engaged, but her loyalty is still with her husband and the father of her child, which drives Gaston bonkers. So Hades (Greg Germann) offers him some special arrows so he can seek his revenge. One touch of the arrow, and the victim will be trapped in the Underworld forever. And the bonus for Hades? Having Belle lose the love of her life will help spread hopelessness rather than the hope that the Storybrooke crew has been spreading since they arrived. But Hades hedges his bets by making a deal to Belle: if she can get one of either Gold or Gaston to throw the other into the River of Lost Souls, he’ll give up his claim to her unborn baby. This complicates matters, since Belle has to make a decision about just what matters most to her. It kick-starts her gradual turn to the dark side when she accidentally pushes Gaston into the River in order to save Gold. She’s positively mortified with herself for what she’s done, and things are made considerably worse when Hades reveals that because she pushed Gaston into the River, and not Gold, her baby will still belong to him. The episode goes a long way in exploring just how powerless light magic is in protecting loved ones, as Gold can’t find a strong enough spell, and Belle ultimately protects the father of her child not through redemptive light magic, but through an act of aggression. Sure, she might not have meant to condemn Gaston to the River of Lost Souls for all eternity, but this mostly plays out like a preview of what Belle might have to do in order to protect her family. And seeing her potentially embrace that dark side, for the greater good, could be a great story arc for Belle.

Another good story arc worth exploring is Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and her guilt over leading everyone down into the Underworld. Being a hero is easy to appreciate when it works out all the time. But in moments like these, where the hero has led her friends astray with no real end in sight, it becomes harder to justify the risks she takes, particularly when she’s surrounded by people who refuse to let her take those risks alone. Of course, I’m stoked she actually went after Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) and didn’t just let him die in the winter finale, but it’s become clear, if it wasn’t already, that somebody isn’t making it out of this adventure alive. We get a tease when Emma has a nightmarish vision in which she tries to use her magic to burn away the names from the tombstones in the Underworld cemetery, only for things to go haywire and result in the death of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin). Elements of the vision come to pass, although Snow’s death is avoided. But that doesn’t mean she’s necessarily in the clear for the season, since this could all just be foreshadowing for what’s to come. All we know is that, for now, we’ve got Ruby (Meghan Ory) back! Seeing her return as the Big Bad Wolf was a neat little surprise, and one of the episode’s big highlights. Why she’s in the Underworld is anyone’s guess, but I think it’s great that we’re getting more of the old Storybrooke regulars integrated back into the story. Similarly, I like how existing relationships are evolving. Case in point, Regina (Lana Parrilla) actually has a sisterly bonding moment with Zelena (Rebecca Mader), assuring her that her baby is safe, and then asking if she knows of any weaknesses to exploit with Hades. The notion that Hades might mean as much to Zelena as she means to him is an interesting prospect, even if that’s a relationship that seems completely and utterly doomed. If nothing else, it should lead to some cool sisterly interactions between Regina and Zelena, who aren’t exactly friends, but at least seem on the same side this week. Hey, that’s progress.

“Her Handsome Hero” keeps things interesting by blurring the lines between hero and villain, with Belle, Emma and even Zelena being faced with major questions about who they are, who they want to be, and how they can get out of their current situation. It’s the type of episode Once Upon A Time does well, delivering a real ensemble story that keeps all the various elements of the plot moving forward. This was some pretty good television overall.

But what did you think of Once Upon A Time Season 5 Episode 17, “Her Handsome Hero”? Sound off in the comments!

And for more on Once Upon A Time, read our review of last week’s engaging episode, “Our Decay”!

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