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A Chipped Cup: More Problems with Belle and Rumplestiltskin

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Say what you will about Once Upon A Time (and there are lots of mocking and critical things to say), but it’s typically been a show with very progressive views on family and on its female characters. It has to be, considering how tangled its family trees are. But in the past couple of weeks alone, it’s featured a curse-breaking “kiss of true love” of an adoptive mother for her son, and Emma “ruining” Hook’s dashing rescue by escaping herself before he had chance to show up.

So why has the show dropped the ball so horrifically with Belle and her relationship with Rumplestiltskin? Since her first appearance on the show, Belle has gone from an interesting and intelligent character to a figure who literally only exists to worry about Rumplestiltskin and to blindly insist, despite all evidence, that he’s a “good man.” She rarely even speaks to any other character (at least, not when Rumplestiltskin is alive), and when she does speak to others, it’s almost exclusively about Rumplestiltskin. Finding Rumplestiltskin. Saving Rumplestiltskin. Helping Rumplestiltskin. Doesn’t she have anything else to offer? You’d think all that book learning and those research skills would prove useful in cases that don’t involve her “true love.” After many episodes of Rumplestiltskin screaming at Belle, of her defending him after he tortured people, of so many incredibly creepy things, I didn’t think it could get any worse.

And now they’re married. With a bit character officiating and tearful romantic speeches about how nobody is perfect and a really ugly hat, they declared their eternal love and tied themselves together forever. And pretty much every moment of it reinforced how and why their relationship is horrifyingly problematic.

Rumplestiltskin proposed to Belle by giving her the dagger that can be used to control him, symbolically suggesting his commitment to being a good person while literally giving Belle the power to stop him whenever she chooses. He does this, he says, because he trusts her, and because he wants to be worthy of her, and then he proposes. And that’s all very nice, except that he is knowingly and wilfully deceiving her. He made a copy of the dagger so that he could trick Belle into believing him (not that it was necessary, considering her naivety and lack of backbone), while still doing whatever evil he chooses, including killing someone she and everyone else specifically asked him not to kill. He’s not only tricking Belle, he’s also using her in part of a scheme to protect himself and to deceive everyone else. He lies to her, and he manipulates her, and he has absolutely no intention of following her wishes. In fact, this act frees him from her wishes, and also from her disapproval, since she will believe he can’t do anything she disapproves of again.

And that’s not even touching on the unhealthy idea of one half of the relationship having complete power over the other. It would be creepy even if it hadn’t been a fake. But the lie of it is skin-crawl worthy to an even high degree.

Then we have the wedding itself, which was not only a rushed affair but seemingly secret. They got married in the woods, during a big event that involved pretty much every other person in Storybrooke, with no one else around except her father. Their “heartfelt” vows contrasted with the very open, very joyful scenes of Snow and Charming introducing everyone to their new son, as Rumplestiltskin and Belle stood isolated from everyone. And we’re supposed to believe that they’re kicking off a healthy, totally-non-abusive marriage this way?

And then there are the vows themselves. Both of them speak about Rumplestiltskin’s “darkness,” about how Belle is the one who saved him, how she sees “the man behind the monster,” while the show once again emphasizes that all of this is based on the lie of the dagger. She says she loves him for his flaws, because everyone has flaws, suggesting that trying to skin Robin Hood, and having a penchant for murder, and shouting and lying and violence are all perfectly normal, perfectly healthy. And the show, I think, does want us to believe that. This isn’t a play on Beauty and the Beast where the relationship actually is messed up and we’re supposed to hope Belle escapes and becomes her own person again. It’s simply meant to be Beauty and the Beast, with all of its potential issues, and plenty of new ones, laid bare.

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

12 thoughts on “A Chipped Cup: More Problems with Belle and Rumplestiltskin

  1. I havent watched this, but is this really supposed to portray a good relationship, or are they purposefully portraying them this way?

    1. I assume that his lies will eventually be uncovered for angst and relationship drama, but apart from that detail, everything’s been portrayed as ~truly romantic~. Swelling music, season-ending romantic declarations, tears of joy in their eyes as they kiss, the works. It definitely felt like they were playing it straight as True Love, at least to me.

  2. I honestly think that the series means to show that relationship as unhealthy. Why else would they show flashbacks of the dagger during the wedding? Beauty & the Beast was always a creepy glofification of Stockholm Syndrome and that’s exactly what OUAT is showing us. There’s no way in hell we’re supposed to find this romantic. Maybe sexy in a rape-fantasy kind of style, but not in a fairytale-I-want-to-happen-to-me kind of style.

    1. I think if they intended to show it was unhealthy, they did a terrible job of it. The flashbacks to the dagger were like “there’s going to be trouble in paradise,” but I still felt like the overall tone of the scene, like the overall tone of their relationship, was played very straight and romantic. The music, for example, and the lighting, and all the tears, and the mention of the cup, their symbol of their love. Maybe I was biased by the show’s portrayal of them previously, but I’ve never got the sense the show thought their RELATIONSHIP was bad (or at least, that Belle should run from it instead of trying to fix him), just that Rumplestiltskin could be bad.

      1. I read the scene like MC. It is unhealthy and it shows even surrounded with “romantic” gestures/details, part of them lies. And it shows at the end of the season.

        Most people thinks that Snowqueen/Elsa is going to be next season baddie (Though I liked the Wicked witch and would have like to see more “sisterly interaction”). But “Elsa” was locked in a room where Rumple locked what HE considered “dangerous or unpredictable” and Disney made the story about sisters. So what if next season enemy is Rumple and not Elsa? And what if he tricks everyone to think she’s evil/the problem when in truth he is? Won’t be the first time, the hints are planted and it would make sense. It would be an adaptation of disney’s plot and maybe Belle realice that she’s better off withough Rumple.

        But of course, all this is wishfull thinking. hahaha

        Anyway, give viewers more credit, I think many of us have seen that it’s an unhealthy relationship.

        Btw, poor Regina, redemption isn’t easy but she has shown a real will to change. I hope she gets a happy ending.

        1. I really hope you’re right. That would make for a really interesting storyline, and I would LOVE for them to properly address the problems with Belle and Rumplestiltskin and have her make a decision that ISN’T just “I know you can be good! I love you anyway!” And I do think that most viewers are finding the relationship creepy (at least, judging from discussions I’ve seen). But the show still feels like it’s TRYING to be all romantic and “anyone can be redeemed!” to me. But three seasons of their relationship may have made me a bit too cynical and wary.

          And yes, poor Regina. :( I really hope they don’t use this as a reason for her to “become bad” again. It’d be really interesting if they made it so Robin gets Marian back, and then finds out that he’s changed in the meantime and the relationship wasn’t all that he remembered — it’d fit well with the theme of Regina and Robin’s plotarc so far, and be fairly original too!

          1. Agree completely. In a way it reminds me of the comic fables, that started with interesting female characters but as the plot progress take all of that away :(

            The problem with Rumple/Belle it’s that they change beast for monster and then, change monster with good heart for ugly who act as a psicopath. So wrong and lost the moral of the original story (About not trusting appearances).

            They surprise me with Regina and her true love (even if I don’t like Henry’s actor) so there’s hope. But they killed Neil so Emma didn’t have to choose and could have Hook “withought bad conscience”. For me that’s a problem even if it’s common in many narratives. So I suspect that it’s more probable that they would kill Marian and say that it was “fated”. In fact, it could be one of the first victims like Neil was.

            I wonder why divorce or a couple split up it’s so frowned in that show…

  3. Hi! I really like you blog and I am a fan of Once upon a time. Of course, I agree that Belle and Rumple should have a talk…I think (and hope) his wife will show her disappointment for his lie. I love the sweet-Belle, but I think the brave-Belle is much more interesting (see the Yaoguai episode in s2). Then…I’ve read a lot of tweets about Emma&Hook “unhealthy” relationship, in particular considering it as “rape culture”. So, what’s your opinion about that? Thanks.

    1. Yes! I loved Belle in that one flashback episode (can’t quite remember which one) with Mulan, where she got to show off her smarts and her kindness and her bravery, all in one. I have to admit, I hadn’t really thought about Emma and Hook in terms of rape culture. It definitely follows that old trope of “guy likes girl, she doesn’t like him, so he wears her down until she changes her mind,” which is definitely rooted in the idea that a woman’s “no” doesn’t mean much. But on the other hand, I think they show did show growth before they got together. Hook developed from a villain to somebody who helped her protect her son and shared adventures with her, and worked hard to show that he’s a better person now, and the writers at least tried to play Emma as liking him but resisting the idea because she thought he was still untrustworthy. In that context, it’s not that Emma said “no” to Hook until she was convinced to say “yes,” but that she said “no” to *Hook* and eventually developed feelings for him when he became a different and better person who wasn’t just acting kindly to seduce her. I think the efforts failed, though, in the sense that they played it as “Emma wants him but can’t admit it,” which definitely fed into the rape culture idea of “she doesn’t really mean no, she just can’t admit it.”

      1. Agreed. I actually rewatched and Emma never said “no” to Hook, and he actually stopped pushing for a relationship as time went on (he pushed her about a completely different issue, but it was always because she was willing to talk with him about it.) I don’t care if one dislikes or takes issue with Emma and Hook’s relationship, but calling it rape culture is inaccurate.

  4. Any update you want to say on this? Because Belle finally kicked Rumple to the curb and it was GLORIOUS. Statements from the creators reaffirm that this was meant to be a positive action from her, and that if Rumple wants to ever get back with her, it will all be on him, not on her. I’m not sure if that’s possible at this point given how awful he’s become, but who knows?

    (I don’t blame you for not covering the show regularly though…except for Season 1, it has had this consistent, weird pattern of being pretty damn good in the first half of the season but really tiresome in the second half. I loved the Disney Princess quest of Season 2, the Neverland adventure of Season 3, and the “Frozen” story of Season 4, but the shenanigans in Storybrooke in the rest of S2, fight with the Wicked Witch of the West in the rest of S3, and current Queens of Darkness conflict in S4 leave me disinterested.)

    1. I was so happy that Belle finally ditched Rumple, but I’m a little skeptical about how long it’ll last. I haven’t been writing about OUAT recently because although I really enjoyed the Frozen arc, I haven’t felt motivated to watch any of the second half of the season so far.

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