Over Christmas, I was thinking about watching some Once Upon a Time. It just feels like a Christmas sort of show. Having watched most of the series three times, “once upon a time” as a title doesn’t express the half of it. I’ve watched it over with people just seeing it for the first time, and when I do, as it comes to a familiar part or a favourite character’s appearance, I get thinking about events as they happen and inadvertently put things together I hadn’t noticed before. One such thing I noticed is that when Belle throws Rumplestiltskin out of town, her justification just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
In season four, Rumplestiltskin is in the process of trying to cleave himself from the dagger that holds his magic so that he will no longer be bound to it, but still retain his power. Not a bad idea, because the only way to get rid of both dagger and power is for someone else to kill him and take it, potentially posing a worse threat without the checks of love and experience that Rumple placed upon his powers. No hero would entertain that as an option, so his scheme seems like the better road to take. Unfortunately, as is often the case with Rumple, he pursues this path by sneaking around, trapping magical people for fuel, and generally lying to everyone. He blackmails Killian Jones (Captain Hook) into helping with it, ultimately to provide the heart necessary for the procedure and die in the process. It is all rather nefarious, and I do not presume to condone Rumple’s actions. However, when Belle discovers Rumple’s plan and confronts him, she doesn’t berate him for any of the things I’ve just listed as unacceptable–hurting people and intent to kill Hook–but instead hangs her whole argument on the assumption that he loves his power more than he loves her. (She justly brings up his frequent deceit, but even this she barely cites as a reason in favour of what she thinks is evidence that he loves his power more than her.)
Her evidence is that a magic gauntlet led her to the real dagger. Belle says that the gauntlet leads to what a person loves most, but that is not what it does. Rumple said the gauntlet has “a very specific power: it can locate anyone’s greatest weakness” (OUAT S5, Ep.12, 5:23). Full stop. Then Rumple goes on to say, “for almost everyone, that weakness is the thing they love most” (5:46). Rumple inferred from past experience that almost everyone’s weakness is what they love most, but not everyone’s. Belle mistakenly equates Rumple’s weakness with the thing he loves most. Nobody–but nobody–would contest that the dagger isn’t Rumple’s greatest weakness; look what happened in the previous season: a witch got possession of it and enslaved him to do her bidding, including hurting people he cared about. But is it his greatest love? Maybe once, when he was so enamoured of it that he chose it over his own son, but now he’s willingly released his hold on it first to Neal and then to Belle; the dagger and the power it represents is losing its grip on Rumple’s heart. At this point, he is trying desperately to get rid of it once and for all–keeping the power, yes, but, as he says to Belle, there’s nothing wrong with power. Let’s not forget that part of his motivation for this whole debacle (the greater part, I would argue) is to be able to leave Storybrooke with Belle to give her the kind of life she’d always dreamed of–the only possible way he can do that is with his power intact but the dagger gone. Does that sound like he loves his power more than he loves her? He’s risking everything to give her everything.
Belle undeniably found Rumple’s greatest weakness when she found the dagger, but she didn’t find his greatest love. Another thing Rumple has said about love is that there is nothing stronger.
I think the entire series confirms that Belle and Rumple’s love is true love–their kiss would have broken the Dark One curse in season one if Rumple would have accepted it then. Belle looked in the wrong place for Rumple’s greatest love; she should have been looking for his greatest strength, not his weakness. If she would have thought about it, she would have realised that his greatest strength is her; she is the reason for the majority of Rumple’s greatest moral triumphs. Her love for him, and his for her, is the strongest thing about their relationship. Unfortunately, she missed that and gave up for a while on the best thing Rumple ever had going for him.