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REVIEW: Once Upon a Time 5×06 “The Bear and the Bow”

Brave fans might’ve enjoyed last night’s episode of Once Upon a Time with its numerous nods and homages to the film. It’s hard to say bad things about a Merida-oriented episode, but I feel like not everyone could have appreciated “The Bear and the Bow” unless they had actually seen the film. Having watched the movie an unhealthy amount of times, I was able to follow along and understand all the references, but what about the rest of the audience? (spoilers ahead!)

As I mentioned, this is a very Merida-centric installment. In the current Storybrooke timeline, Merida is still stuck under the Dark Swan’s heart-control and attempting to make Rumplestiltskin brave. In the past, the Storybrooke group has freed Merida from Arthur’s prison and Belle accompanies the Scottish archer as she ventures out to save her brothers. This episode was clearly done to provide a little background and depth to Merida’s character, which I loved since I felt like she was under-developed in the earlier part of the season. But as I’ve said, I think non-Brave fans might have been a little confused throughout the episode. I guess you could say this was more of a nice little advertisement for Brave. Disney: masters of marketing.

I got frustrated with both Belle and Merida in the past storyline because of their stupid decisions. For one, Merida actually knocks Belle out with a rock and essentially kidnaps her to help her on the quest. A little dark, don’t you say? But then again, we already saw that Merida doesn’t hold back when it comes to accomplishing her goals (stealing Belle’s teacup to provoke Rumplestiltskin). Merida has to save her three brothers from being executed by a rival clan, so she enlists Belle’s help to create a potion that will turn her into a bear.

While Belle does make the potion, she switches it at the last minute so that Merida is left looking like an idiot in front of the rivaling clan when she doesn’t transform. I get that Belle was just trying to prove to Merida that the power is within her, but did she have to do so in such a drastic way? They could’ve been hacked to pieces! A stupid decision on her part, and she could’ve gotten them both killed.

There is a cool shot where the clan fires their arrows at Merida’s brothers, and Merida uses one of her own arrows to stop them in mid-flight, halting the execution. My only problem is that, after witnessing this spectacle, the opposing clan simply gives up and throws their weapons down. Uh, there are about 100 armed soldiers and only one Merida with her sword. Did they really need to give up? I’m pretty sure NOBODY, not even the Dark Swan, could’ve lasted against the entire clan.

In current Storybrooke, Rumplestiltskin escapes from his bindings, and Merida is ordered to hunt him and Belle down using lethal force. We revisit the old story element about Rumplestiltskin being a coward and how he crippled himself to get out of the Ogre Wars. However, he now admits to Belle that he fled the war not to prevent his son from growing up fatherless, but because he was afraid of dying. He is a true coward. That is how he knows that he’s not fit to pull Excalibur from the stone. Belle leaves him on the side of the road just before they can flee Storybrooke and Emma’s wrath.

Things get dicey when Emma forces Merida to drink the potion that turns her into a bear. For once, I have to give Once Upon a Time credit. The special effects were actually pretty good! The Mer-Bear looked like something of movie quality. I was impressed, butI was more impressed with Rumplestiltskin coming back to save Belle. He finally proved that he was brave, and all it took was a scolding from his love.

With his newfound bravery, he defeats the Mer-Bear and takes the human-Merida and Belle back to Emma’s underground lair. Lo and behold, he’s able to pull Excalibur from the stone. Tossing the sword to the Dark Swan’s feet, he tells her to watch out because there’s a new hero in town. Emma tells him about how Storybrooke’s heroes are lousy, and Rumplestiltskin replies with “None of them are me.” A bit clunky, but ultimately an epic closing line.

The episode may have been all about Merida and co., but we can’t forget to show some love for the rest of the cast. In the past, the team rescues Merlin, who in turn frees Merida and Lancelot from Arthur’s dungeon. The wizard makes an off-hand remark about how using his magic again was “like riding a bicycle”. David asks him how he knows what a bicycle is since as he’s been trapped in a tree for 1,000 years. Merlin brushes off the comment, but later on in the episode, we find out that it may be an indicator of something much bigger.

As I suspected, we find out that Merlin really WAS that mysterious usher young Emma encountered at the movie theater in the season premiere. Once again, the point is brought up about how Merlin was able to do something when he was supposedly trapped in a tree. Yet again, he dodges the question.


Finally, the gang comes up with a spell in Storybrooke to look into the past and to communicate with Merlin so that they can determine what happened to their memories and why Emma went dark in Camelot. They use (brace yourselves) a magical toadstool with super specific abilities to complete the potion. King Arthur is the “chosen” person who can perform the spell, but he secretly tosses the toadstool into the fire. The gang finds out about this when they discover the charred remains of the toadstool. They get Henry to use his Author abilities to perform the spell again, and they are able to hear Merlin’s magical voicemail. He doesn’t tell them about why Emma turned dark (because why would he make it easy like that?) and instead informs them that they must find Nimue. Who? Have we heard this name in Once Upon a Time yet? Is it a codename?

The next episode is titled “Nimue”, so thankfully, we should be getting the answer sooner rather than later. I also hope that by next episode, we finally find out why Arthur doesn’t trust Merlin and why the wizard is so freakin’ shady. I don’t think he was in that tree the whole time…

I’ll chalk this episode up as simply a background lesson on Merida since the Merlin subplot felt almost forced in at the last minute. Regardless, “The Bear and the Bow” was enjoyable and worth a watch. As Merida would put it, it kicked arse!

Final Grade: B

+ Glad to see Rumpelstiltskin finally stepping up and being a hero; his final line to Emma was pretty bad-ass.

+ I’m not complaining about a Merida-centric episode.

+ For once, the special effects didn’t look lame.

– I think that unless you saw the film Brave, you may have been a little lost this episode.

– Magical toadstools don’t burn – how convenient!

– They need to stop with this whole “How did Merlin do this if he’s been stuck in a tree for such a long time” gag; I hope they tell us by next episode.

Extra Thoughts:

– Who is Nimue?

What did you think about tonight’s episode of Once Upon a Time? Who do you think is “Nimue”? Give us a shout in the comments or on Twitter!

About the author

Alex Reale

From a young age, Alex knew he was destined to be a writer. He also harbored a deep infatuation with superheroes and comics. Luckily, he was able to combine these two passions through his role with A Place to Hang Your Cape, where he works as Junior Sidekick and Social Media Hero.

When he’s not writing for AP2HYC or working full-time as a content manager for a small business website, Alex is diligently at work on other creative projects including a fantasy novel collection and an independent comic series.

You can find Alex's first book, Dodger's Doorway, on Amazon!