It’s been many years (perhaps centuries) since Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) and Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) last crossed paths and swords. But as Hook crosses into Storybrooke in this week’s Once Upon a Time episode “The Outsider” with Regina’s (Lana Parrilla) even eviler mother Cora (Barbara Hershey) in tow, he is there for one reason only, to get his revenge on his old rival.
The first time Rumple meets Hook, Rumple is a victim. Beaten down, labeled a coward for refusing to fight in the Ogre Wars, Rumple’s saucy wife Milah falls into bed with Hook and his band of pirates. Humiliated by the experience, Rumple returns home without his wife to raise their son Baelfire alone. Years later, after Rumple becomes the Dark One and as he desperately seeks a way to find his son Baelfire, he again encounters Hook. This time Rumple learns that Milah is still with Hook, and takes revenge on both the pirate and his lady.
Hook’s entrance into Storybrooke could not come at a worse time for Rumple or his Storybrooke alter ego Mr. Gold. The town pawn broker has finally conjured a way to leave town while retaining Rumple’s memory; he is free now to go out into the world and find his beloved son wherever he may be. But with Hook in hot pursuit, the path is not so easy. Things for Gold are further complicated, for not only does he have to think of himself, he now has Belle to consider.
The difference between the good and evil characters on Once Upon a Time is often crystalized by their differing perspectives about the nature of love. Cora, Hook, and even Regina have viewed love as a weakness, something that can be exploited by enemies, something to hold you back. The good guys view it as a strength, something to embrace both as foundation and support when things get tough. Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming’s (Josh Dallas) “I will aways find you” is an example of that. As Regina reminds Rumple earlier this season when he claims that he can best the evil Cora, Rumple now has a “weakness” in Belle.
But Belle (Emilie de Ravin) turns out to be far from Rumple’s weakness, as her strength and support, as well as her undying faith in him make him stronger than he would be on his own. Hook ransacks the pawn shop while Gold is rescuing Belle from the library, and steals Baelfire’s shawl, the only item he still has from his son. It is an object needed to make his spell work and allow him to travel beyond the Storybrooke border. It is Belle’s adventurous spirit and resourcefulness (as evidenced as well in her parallel story in Fairytale Land) that leads to the shawl’s recovery.
In Fairytale Land Belle meets Mulan and they set out to slay a beast called the Yaoguai, who has been ravaging Mulan’s land. But the beast is no beast, it is the cursed Prince Philip, and it is Belle’s kindness that breaks the curse.
During this adventure, which occurs after she leaves Rumple’s castle, but before Regina takes her captive, Belle realizes how much she wants to fight for Rumple’s redemption and love. “I will never stop fighting for him,” she yells at Regina, who takes Belle prisoner just as she sets out to return to Rumple.
And she never has, even after she learns that Milah hadn’t just died, but that Rumple had torn her heart out and crushed it. Belle hits the nail straight on when she explains why she refuses to give up on him. “His heart is true,” she tells Captain Hook. “Yours is rotten.”
Above anything, I think, Belle is drawn to the love that Rumple feels for his son. I think she has take by it from the moment in last season’s “Skin Deep” when she sees the emotions Baelfire’s memory evoke in Rumple. A man who loves his son that deeply cannot be a beast or a monster.
No one is more astonished at Belle’s love than is our Rumple. Even after all he’s done, all she’s learned his done, still she doesn’t give up. Still she stays by his side, refusing to give up on him. “When you find something worth fighting for you never give up,” she explains simply. It struck me in that moment just how similar Belle and Rumple are in a way. Her words could have as easily emerged from Rumple’s lips about his son. But now, it appears at the end of the episode, how much those words might also apply to Rumple’s relationship with his beloved Belle.