“The Bear King” aired 11/15/2015 ****stars
Written by Andrew Chambliss
Directed by Geofrey Hildrew
*Spoilers contained within*
- This was a two-part episode. Be sure to check out Joe’s recap of “Birth.”
By Joe Grodensky
Once Upon a Time viewers were introduced to fiery redhead Merida (Amy Manson) at the beginning of this new season when Emma (Jennifer Morrison) encounters her in the forest on her quest to break the dark magic. Merida has been a recurring secondary character but has yet to be given an episode dedicated to her and her story. Merida has quickly become a fan favorite in her short time on the show due to her bright red hair and feisty attitude. In this episode we also see the return of two fan favorites from the past: Mulan (Jamie Chung) and Little Red Riding Hood a.k.a Ruby (Meghan Ory). If you’ve seen the movie Brave, you know Merida’s story and while the Once Upon a Time team didn’t follow the story exactly as it was in the movie, they did a great job recreating the characters such as Fergus (Glenn Keogh) and Elinor (Caroline Morahan), the witch (Lily Knight) and even the three suitors, Lord MacGuffin (Marco D’Angelo), Lord Dingwall (Josh Hallem) and Lord Macintosh (Paul Telfer) that Fergus tried to fix Merida up with.
Even though “The Bear King” is about Merida, it opens with a flashback to King Fergus making a deal with the old witch to cast a spell on a helmet to ensure his men will follow him into a bloody battle. Merida is eager to join her father in battle and use her skills with a bow and arrow. Fergus shows her around the camp and tells her that many of the men she sees know they might die and many will die but they are willing to fight anyway. With the help of Mulan, Merida learns how to swordfight and other skills of battle. On the eve of the battle, she has one final talk with her father who is holding the magic helmet. The day of battle arrives and the fighting is savage. Mulan and Merida watch from a distance when Fergus notices Merida watching him. She tries to warn him of an oncoming enemy but he does not catch on to her and he is killed and the magic helmet is taken.
Merida is now in a position to take the throne as a Queen of DunBroch. As she is about to be coronated, much to the concerns of MacGuffin, Dingwall and Macintosh, the witch appears and shows Merida a scroll which outlined the deal Fergus made over the magic helmet. The witch says if Merida doesn’t retrieve the helmet or pay back what her father owes, she will turn all of DunBroch into bears. Elinor, Merida’s mother, looks all over the castle for the helmet but Merida says the helmet was taken by the man who killed Fergus. Merida sets out to find the helmet and reunites with Mulan, who is in the middle of a bar fight. Merida gives Mulan gold in exchange for her help to find the helmet. On their journey, they find one of Merida’s arrows that hit her father’s killer. However, they are not the only ones who are trying to find the helmet.
Arthur (Liam Garrigan) and Zelena (Rebecca Mader) are also in DunBroch searching for the helmet. They confront the witch and threaten her for the whereabouts of the helmet but she does not know. Zelena even subdues the witch’s pet wolf who tries to attack Arthur and Zelena. The evil duo march on and meet Mulan and Merida. Both Sides draw their weapons but Zelena uses magic to steal Merida’s bow and use a locator potion to track the helmet, as both belonged to King Fergus. Merida goes off to warn DunBroch while Mulan takes the cloth to the witch to identify who it belongs to. When Mulan arrives, the witch cannot be found but her pet wolf attacks Mulan. Mulan senses that the wolf is not really a wolf, but something more. In a puff of smoke, we discover the wolf is Red Riding Hood, or Ruby in Storybrooke. Ruby says she felt outcasted when it was discovered what she was. She decided to go back to the Enchanted Forest in hopes of finding others like her. Ruby agrees to track the scent that is left on the cloth. She tracks it back to Arthur who is met by Merida. Mulan and Ruby subdue Zelena and join Merida to fight Arthur. Arthur reveals that the helmet did nothing and that Fergus must’ve switched it before battle. He is about to flee when Macintosh, Dingwall and MacGuffin block his attempt so Zelena is forced to teleport them out of DunBroch. The Lords bow before Merida and accept her as their Queen. Ruby and Mulan go their separate ways as well.
Upon her return to the castle, Merida is finally crowned Queen when, once again, the witch appears in the castle. She reveals that the helmet was never enchanted at all. It was a ruse made up by her and Fergus to ensure the next ruler be a strong and determined one. I did enjoy this episode and Merida has become a favorite character of mine. The only reason I gave it four stars is it seemed out-of-place, especially after the episode “Birth” with Emma and Hook. However, this episode needed to happen immediately after Arthur and Merida were introduced as recurring characters. The show is involved too much with the immediate storyline in a way that made “The Bear King” feel out of place.
Once Upon a Time airs Sunday nights on ABC at 8pm Eastern/7pm Central. Check your local listings.