Belle episodes are the best episodes.
This week, Hook finally makes his move against Rumplestiltskin. And, in true vengeful villain fashion, this means going after Belle. Meanwhile, long ago in Fairytale Land, Belle signs on an adventure to find and slay a fearsome beast that has been terrorizing the villages, and finds an unlikely ally in the wandering warrior woman, Mulan.
And shit goes down.
Hook corners Belle twice: once in the library, and once on his own ship, which she has discovered through a bit of smart investigation. She frees Archie and stands up to Hook long enough for Rumplestiltskin to appear. And then she stops the violence, at least temporarily, by begging Rumple to leave Hook alive, because she knows he has some good in him, and has believed in him for so long.
And she does it all through a mixture of two things that are not necessarily associated with heroics: emotional intelligence and book smarts.
The "emotional intelligence" part, as she gives heartfelt speeches to Rumplestiltskin and talks about her refusal to give up, certainly fulfils Once's cheesy dialogue quota for the week. But it also appears in other, less obvious ways, such as her ability to understand, from the very beginning, that she cannot trust her fellow adventurers and that, without showing her distrust, she needs to keep her knowledge to herself. It appears even more significantly later in the story, when she takes pity on the suffering monster and realizes that it's trying to communicate with her, using fairy dust to save him, and sets off the chain of events that unite Mulan and Philip and ultimately awakens Aurora from her sleep.
And she manages that through her rather nerdy, rather useless-seeming book smarts, as she understands the strange language that Philip, as the monster, scratches into the ground. Throughout the episode, she succeeds because of a mixture of book learning, observation and resourcefulness (with, of course, a healthy helping of bravery thrown in). Of course, she literally uses books against Hook by pushing a full bookcase at him when he attacks her in the library, but she also chases down a monster that Mulan could not find by doing her research. She discovers that Hook has a ship by doing research, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer way, and then locates it by watching the seagulls flying around the mast and using dirt to mark the invisible steps. Unlike Mulan, who runs in sword a-blazing, she comes up with the plan to use water against a fire monster, and she manages to escape from Hook for a second time by taking in her surroundings and using them to her advantage. It's a very intelligent, very cerebral kind of courage and heroism, and it was completely compelling to watch.
Considering its tradition of having a wide range of individual, courageous and dynamic female characters whose strengths come from many places, Once Upon A Time rescued Belle from her recent purgatory as "woman who loves but is suspicious of Rumplestiltskin" into a fantastic and inspiring character in her own right.
Then there was that ending. Hook is a determined to get his revenge, and to him, Belle is little more than a means to an end. Belle is shot, forced over the town line, and loses all her memories. And I really hope this the beginning of a wonderful arc for Belle, where she works to regain her memories and continues being awesome, and not an assertion (which we might see in other shows) that Rumplestiltskin is the one that matters, and that Belle must therefore be sacrificed for his angst. Because I was not distraught over that ending because of how Rumplestiltskin must feel. I was distraught because Belle is an amazing character, she does not deserve that fate, and she must not fall into the background again.