Fiction: "How to Win a Hugo Award" by Lavie Tidhar
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Once Upon a Time: S4E5 Family Business

Beauty_and_the_BeastWe get a stronger episode again this week, plot-wise, despite the fact that it centres around Belle. So, full disclosure: I don’t like OUaT’s Belle. The character’s a wet rag, without any of the restless spark that made the animated original so much fun, and the actress does her best with the material… but the writing and direction defeat her. As do the ridiculous costumes they insist on stuffing her into. Emilie de Ravin was, apparently, well liked for a character she played on Lost and, in the few opportunities she’s given to play her character with any sort of personality on OUat, she makes an impression. It’s not always a good impression – remember Trixie, or whatever her real-world counterpart personality was called?*

Saldly, OUaT Belle’s sole contribution to most episodes is ‘I’ll go look it up.’ Which, maybe, in the early seasons of Buffy, made sense. But now? Researching something in a library in a fake fairy tale town seems… like a losing proposition. It’s just sad. I mean, even Willow made the switch to the 21st century pretty easily.

That said: this town runs on ‘fuel’ and has power even though no one ever repaired the single power-line that caused a town-wide blackout when it went down; is currently surrounded by a giant magical ice wall but without any ill-effect (where are they getting their groceries from? Is the town entirely self-sufficient?); and the current mayor took office on the say-so of a cabal of three grumpy third-stringers after the former mayor decided to quit because she’s pissed off at the sheriff. One of the sheriffs. I mean, I feel safe in assuming the citizens of Storybrooke don’t know what a search engine is, because I’m not sure anyone even knows how to use a computer.

OMG this show.

Mostly, however, I’m just reacting to the fact that ‘I read it in a book because I love books’ is the single character note the OUaT writers have for Belle (outside of her love for Rumplestiltskin), and they beat that dead book-shaped horse into paste in every single episode.

Including this one.

In the pros column, however, we get poofy dresses, a mention of Bo Peep, a nice helping of Regina-sass, and some actual plot progression. I might even go so far as to suggest there’s actual plot momentum, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet.

We open up on Belle and her mother in a library, gasping about which books they’re going to save as they run away from the palace. Because they love books soooooo muuuuch. They’re abandoning the castle because of the Ogre Wars – remember those? An ogre crashes into the library and menaces Belle and Ma Belle. Credits!

LibrariesSo: Belle. One of the major differences between OUaT Belle and Animated Belle is this – Animated Belle was the daughter of a bourgeois inventor. OUaT Belle is the daughter of a king. And yet, this difference doesn’t matter. The two Belles have more or less the same personality: kind, generous, selfless, and capable of seeing the goodness inside a monster. Why make OUaT’s Belle a princess if it’s not going to change her story or her personality? If the show is never make an effort to explore the dramatic change she undergoes from living a life of opulent privilege to being essentially a household drudge?

Again: it doesn’t actually matter. Here’s what does matter.

The Animated Beast is only externally a monster; OUaT’s Rumplestiltskin is actually a really bad guy. Yes, he loves his son, and that’s his saving grace; he also murdered his wife for leaving him. Yes, OUaT’s Rumplestiltskin is also a complex character, half-way down the road to redemption (well, maybe a few steps down the road, but it’s a start). But he’s still a selfish, self-interested, lying, blackmailing villain. We love him because he’s charismatic and interesting (and also possibly the only character on OUaT with more than two brain cells to rub together). But he is a bad guy. And Belle’s love for him is founded, in part, on his deep and ongoing deceit of her. Which is fascinating and makes for some really good storytelling (when the show occasionally rises to it) but doesn’t change the fact that Rumplestiltskin is a bad guy.

All of which comes back around to Belle being a total wet rag. We know more about Rumplestiltskin than any character on the show, and we see him using and manipulating those around him – including Belle. It’s fun to watch when we don’t like the characters, or we know they’re capable of fighting back, but it’s depressing to see R.Stilt outsmarting his own wife. Good television does not grow on the back of the unconsidered dismantling of fan-favourite ships.

Matengai_of_Kuniga_Coast_in_Oki_Island_Shimane_pref600Anyway. The backstory is that Belle, in one of the most ill-considered outfist the costume designer has ever inflicted on anyone on this show, doesn’t remember her mother dying during that ogre attack, and travels to Arendelle (which the actress pronounces ‘Arun dale,’ like has she even seen the movie?), to get her memory back. There she meets Anna, who takes her to the rock trolls. They are both terrible at climbing the mountain to the rock trolls, in part because they’re both wearing high heeled shoes. The troll gives Belle a thing that will help restore her memory but then, on the journey down the mountain, the Dairy Queen goes all Sauroman on them and sends a gust of wind their way. They both fall, because they’re wearing fucking heels, and Belle tries to save her stupid memory rock thing instead of helping Anna, so Anna falls off a cliff (what is it with cliffs and the Frozen women?!) and the Dairy Queen takes her away and imprisons her.

In the present day, a guilt-ridden Belle promises to help find Anna. She promises this by speaking to a pick-axe, because the writers hate her as much as the costume designer does. Meanwhile, the rest of the Storybrooke crowd are searching for the Dairy Queen. Henry suggests they check her ice cream truck. Everyone’s, like, ‘she has an ice cream truck?’ ‘I’m a kid; I know these things,’ says no kid ever.

The ice cream truck. Is it… abandoned? Hidden? I can’t tell. Why is it out in the middle of the forest, covered in twigs, but parked near Robin Hood’s camp? Anyway, they break in and find that the Dairy Queen mostly cleaned it out when she… abandoned it. Except she left her folders of Emma stuff in a freezer.

BelleBelle finds the Dairy Queen’s awful snow palace and gets into an argument with herself via the enchanted mirror from the last episode. Eventually Rumplestiltskin (Oh yeah, she used the fake dagger to command him to help her) saves her. We learn the Dariy Queen’s evil plan: to use the mirror to get everyone in Storybrooke to turn on each other. So they… kill each other? So that she, Elsa and Emma can pretend to be sisters without anyone else around?

Something like that. It’s dumb.

Meanwhile, Regina undercuts all her recent sassiness by coming up with the dumbest plan ever to save Marian – and I don’t make that claim lightly, in an episode where every character is making terrible, stupid decisions. Regina’s plan is that Robin Hood just has to fall out of love with Regina and back into love with his frozen, comatose, heart-ripped-out wife.

I don’t have the heart to watch the episode again for quotes, bingo or questions – beyond this one. Why is everyone in this town so incredibly dumb?

Oh, and here's Belle’s hiking outfit: a dress with an attached cape made of a lovely quilted material – all fine. Except for the hem, which is pinked like a costume from a grade-school production of Peter Pan, and covers about two inches of thigh. Fortunately, she’s accessorized it with thigh-high socks and heeled boots. Oh, and a purse.