The Once Upon a Time showdown we’ve all been waiting for unfolded last night, and it did not disappoint.
Last night’s episode, “The Outsider”, might have been subtitled “A Tale of Two Villains”, as it pitted Hook against Rumple in a battle, both of wit and strength. Hook, who puts Belle in danger to get Gold out of his shop so he can steal a shawl, Rumple’s prized possession, thinks with his head. Ordinarily, I would argue Hook is no match for The Dark One who pens iron-clad contracts, tricking those with which he bargains into thinking wish fulfillment is within their grasps. But this is not the old, lonely, bitter Rumple. Forging a relationship with Belle whilst believing a reunion with his son is within reach, Rumple is vulnerable. When he saves Belle on The Jolly Roger, he turns his anger on Hook, playing into his trap. The beating he inflicts on the pirate is both disturbing and comic; Belle’s reaction both touching and foolish.
Colin O’Donoghue plays Hook with slimy, sexy, smarminess. His proximity to Belle while threatening her on The Jolly Roger is both scary and (for lack of a better term) hot. But the real showstopper is Robert Carlyle in the role of Rumple/Gold. I melted when, after Belle is trapped in the elevator by Hook, the doors open to reveal Rumple and he and Belle hug. I cringed throughout Hook’s beating, reminiscent of a similar assault perpetrated by Gold on Moe French in season one. I grew excited at the prospect of Rumple in the real world after he crosses the town line and my brain began forming scenarios as to how the search for his son, Baelfire, might play out.
The last minutes of the episode are demonstrative of how a true cliff-hanger should play out. Belle shot. Rumple’s hand covered in her blood. A speeding car. Rumple dropping and rolling he and Belle from harm’s way. Hook hit. Brilliant. The one thing with the ability to top this: next week’s trailer. In the clips, an unconscious Belle lies in her hospital bed. Thinking, no doubt, she will awaken after sharing true love’s kiss, Rumple kisses her. Belle opens her eyes, sees Rumple, and screams, recoiling as she does. The implications are gut-wrenching and exhilarating at once. Oh, and let’s not forget the backstory clip that shows Rumple kissing Cora, which raises the obvious question: could Rumplestiltskin be Regina’s birth father? Is that why he took her under his magical wing?
On the deck of The Jolly Roger, Hook sums it up best when he tells Gold he looks more like the coward he remembers. Rumple, the man, is at his most vulnerable when he has something to lose. Branding him as The Village Coward was unfair. He ran from battle during The Ogre Wars because he had something to live for (his wife and child) and didn’t want to die. He gave fealty to the soldier in front of his son because he wanted to escape and get Bae to safety. He didn’t fight Hook in Storybrooke because he knew they were no match, so he appealed to his sense of decency (which, unfortunately, Hook failed to cultivate) instead. As The Dark One, he had nothing to fear. Finally, he had the means to protect his son. When Bae was lost, he was free to pedal his deals, searching for a way to be reunited with his son all the while.
Belle represents Rumple’s vulnerability personified. When he thought she was dead, he was strong. Since she’s returned, it’s been amusing to watch Rumple embrace his reluctant weakness, sparring with his inner-coward as it threatens to bleed through his hardened exterior. With Belle removed from the equation, will Rumple lose himself in The Dark One once more? Will Rumple be cashing in Emma’s favour IOU? Was Neal the driver of the car? Was it Bae? Are the two one and the same?
Next week’s episode is entitled “In the Name of the Brother”. Speculation has been this episode will focus largely on Dr. Whale/Frankenstein and his family. While I think this is an interesting tangent, much like last night’s Yaoguai tale, I hope they don’t lose sight of the Hook/Belle/Rumple triangle, which in my humble opinion, is much more interesting than the Snow/Charming saga.
I wait with you and bated breath ‘til next Sunday.