There’s a hand! There is a severed hand sitting atop a pedestal in Rumpelstiltskin’s castle! It’s a bit hard to see, but it can be spotted most clearly when Belle takes out the vase from the cabinet. Is it wrong that I was excited to see that? After all, it might not even be what I think it is, as it looks quite withered and decayed. But it is clearly a left hand, if the position of the thumb is any indication. So, yeah, I’m going to wonder about that. If anyone is wondering why I’m focused on such a random detail, just wait until a certain episode in season 4.
This episode was really a breath of fresh air, especially since the last few episodes were rather mediocre, with the exception of ‘7:15 AM’ and the Enchanted Forest subplot in ‘Desperate Souls’. We get the return of Ashley (Cinderella’s Storybrooke counterpart), now with baby in tow, who ends up joining Mary Margret and Ruby for a Girls Night Out to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, or Singles Awareness Day in this case, because even though Ashley had reunited with her boyfriend, Sean, during the events of ‘The Price of Gold’, he had to work that night. (Was Mary Margret drinking an apple martini during the Girls Night Out? Ahhhhhh.) The evening ends with Sean showing up during his break in order to propose to Ashley, followed by a moment between Mary Margret and David, who are trying to figure out how they can make their relationship work.
But the main plot of this episode involved a feud between Mr. Gold and a florist called Mr. French, a feud that escalates when Mr. French steals a bunch of items from Gold’s house to get back at Gold for repossessing his florist van. However, when Emma helps recover his stolen items, Mr. Gold goes off the deep end, stating that there is a specific item that’s still missing. His actions from here on in indicate that this missing item is something extremely important to him, particularly when he goes so far as to kidnap Mr. French and very nearly beats him to death. In addition, his rants while attacking Mr. French also hint at something even deeper going on here. It’s the Enchanted Forest subplot that reveals the reasons for Mr. Gold’s actions. In that subplot, we’re introduced to a new addition to our cast of fairy tale characters. Namely Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Much like the heroine of the original tale, this version of Belle agrees to go live with the Beast (in this case, Rumpelstiltskin) in exchange for his protection over her family and village, which are in danger of being wiped out in the Ogre Wars. (Just how long was this Ogre War going on, anyway? We saw that they were occurring during the events of the ‘Desperate Souls’ flashback, but as we learn later, that flashback took place hundreds of years before the time of Snow White, Charming, etc. This is clearly taking place closer to the present, as Evil Queen Regina is around. Were there multiple Ogre Wars spaced out throughout the years? Were these wars the Enchanted Forest’s version of World War I and World War II?)
Like with every version of Beauty and the Beast that’s ever been written, the longer Belle stays with Rumpelstiltskin, the more you see them starting to genuinely like each other. In fact, Rumpelstiltskin comes very close to opening up to Belle about his son, who he’s lost. That is, until Evil Queen Regina’s manipulation results in Rumpelstiltskin balking and ordering Belle away in an attempt to bury his head in the sand. Sometime after Belle is cast out, Evil Queen Regina pays Rumpelstiltskin a visit, informing him that after Belle left, her father, Maurice (Mr. French), had her locked up and virtually tortured until Belle took her own life. And you can see how much that information upset Rumple. So much so that he takes the teacup that Belle had chipped earlier in the episode and gives it a place of honor in his castle. And it’s this same chipped cup that Mr. Gold was so upset over loosing. The cup that it’s eventually revealed had actually been taken by Regina in order to force Mr. Gold to admit what we’ve known all along- that he has maintained his memories of his life before Regina’s curse created Storybrooke.
I’m just going to come out and say that of all the old fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast has always been a favorite of mine, and it remains among one of my favorite Disney Princess movies. (In fact, it’s quite possibly my all-time favorite animated film from the Disney Renaissance period.) So, I couldn’t not enjoy seeing this take on the old story. And it was cool to see all the little homages to the original Disney version. Even the Enchanted Rose is referenced. Speaking of which, Rumpelstiltskin turning Gaston into the rose and then giving it to Belle? Yeah, that was rather sweet, but also really creepy. Particularly since I was left wondering about the implications of that. Did getting turned into a rose also kill Gaston? If that’s what the case was, that was a really dark turn, and one of the moments when I was thinking ‘this is a family show?’
And finally, this episode ends with a twist that Shyamalan would be proud of. While Evil Queen Regina told Rumpelstiltskin that Belle had died during the Enchanted Forest flashback, the episode ends with us seeing that she’s actually alive, and Regina is keeping her locked up in some psychiatric cell in the basement of Storybrooke’s hospital. I remember when I first saw this episode, I was theorizing that Belle, like Regina and Rumple, had maintained her memories somehow, which would explain why she was in a psychiatric ward. I imagine it would have been very easy for Regina to convince people that a young woman who was insisting that everyone was actually a fairy tale character was mentally unstable and have her committed. Of course, that didn’t turn out to be the case. But it was what I originally thought.
On a final note, nice bit of foreshadowing in this episode, with Evil Queen Regina mentioning a deal with a ‘certain mermaid.’ A deal that we’ll see occurring in season 3. It just makes me wonder- exactly how far in advance to the show writers plan out these episodes?