Once Upon a Time gains back some of its luster in “The Outsider.” It’s a very thrilling and leaves the audience guessing what happens next. Unlike other Belle-centric episodes, “The Outsider” is another game-changer that involves Belle being active in her own plot.
“The Outsider” is much better than other Belle-centric plots, but her story arc is still a bit of a muddled mess. In the Enchanted Forest past, Belle uses her brains to become an adventurer who teams up with Mulan to kill a ferocious beast. It’s awesome. More importantly, it gives Belle a legitimate place among the rest of the princesses in Once Upon a Time. Meanwhile, in Storybrooke present, her first instinct when confronting Hook is to lock herself in an elevator and call her boyfriend—a plan that hinges on Hook being too dumb to push a button he just saw her push to open the elevator again. On the one hand, this feels like a natural option. Hook is a threatening villain that Belle can’t stand up to while her boyfriend is the Dark One. But it feels unnatural for a woman that was, in the scene immediately before, willing to take on a beast with only a tiny dagger. Eventually, Belle does use her smarts to track down Hook and retrieve Baelfire’s shawl, saving Archie in the process. Still, she had Rumpelstiltskin come to do the actual fighting.
There is also a small matter of the fact that Belle is, yet again, confronted with the fact that Rumpelstiltskin is a villain in his own right. And, yet again, she stands by her man for no reason. It really does dash the hope from the beginning of the season that Belle would actually leave if he didn’t make an effort to be a better person.
Additionally, including Philip and Mulan in the Enchanted Forest past, only hammers home the disappointment of not seeing the Enchanted Forest present. What are Mulan and Aurora doing to save Philip now? How are they handling being in a world where they are pretty much alone?
For that matter, what happened to that cliffhanger from the beginning of the season? Did Marco reunite with his son? Or is August just missing? This would have been a nice episode to even mention it in passing since Marco finally showed up again.
Really, “The Outsider” is a very good episode. It finally showcases the Belle that fans have been dying to see since she was first introduced, which is nice considering the ending of the episode. She uses her smarts to get by in a fight, and her pure nature is actually an asset in rescuing more than one person. Also, Once Upon a Time has finally, finally addressed the idea that maybe Storybrooke is a better world. Maybe they’ll go somewhere with it.