'Once Upon A Time' Owes Belle Bigtime

by Jennifer Still

It's just about six weeks until Once Upon A Time Season 5 finally premieres, and I can't wait. It's been a long, long summer without the Storybrooke crew to keep us company, hasn't it? Of course, we might be glad of the brief respite from all the drama once September rolls around, given everything we'll have to deal with once it does. Emma has gone from Savior to Dark One and seems to be taking her new role rather seriously. The quest for Merlin is on and will mean hopping realms (and perhaps traveling through time) to head back to the Enchanted Forest and to Camelot. New characters will be entering the picture and old ones will be forced to keep up with the quick pace, and basically, there's going to be a whole lot going on. That being said, there's one character I'd love to see stepping out of the shadows and getting some real screen time in Season 5, and that's Belle.

While we know a little about Belle's backstory, which follows the traditional "Dad sells you to a beast to pay his debts" narrative (generally speaking), most of what we know about Belle is in relation to Rumpelstiltskin: how she fell in love with him, what unwavering belief she has in his inherent goodness, how many times she's willing to turn the other cheek for that believe, etc. Sure, we know she's book smart and that she's a fan of Granny's hamburgers, but beyond that, Belle as she exists in Storybrooke is a bit of a mystery, and that's a total shame.

We've had the chance to delve into many of even the more minor characters' backstories, or at least into their present lives, but for some reason we've been robbed of that opportunity when it comes to Belle. We see her when someone needs help locating information in the library or when they're after something in Gold's shop, where she holds down the counter. We see her interacting with Rumple regularly and get a look into her conflicting and abiding love for him, but nothing about who she is as a woman and as a human being, and I think she deserves more than that.

I do, of course, understand that Belle and Rumple's relationship is central not only to both characters' storylines, but to the show overall. After all, it's only Belle who has any power in Rumple's life anymore in terms of keeping him on the straight and narrow (though I think we can all agree, even her powers are limited there). Their relationship is an interesting one and one that I don't mind exploring further, but I also think that, given Once's propensity to write strong, independent women, they're selling Belle short by making most of her identity centered around the man she loves. In the midst of the likes of Emma, Regina, and even Zelena, for crying out loud, Belle is much harder to connect with because we don't know who she actually is, besides Rumple's True Love (and I'd say even that's debatable, at this point).

I felt hopeful for Belle last season when she finally kicked Rumple to the curb — or over Storybrooke town lines, as it were — as it was the first real moment of strength and self-sufficiency we've seen from her, at least in recent memory. She even worked to move on with Will, though that relationship came out of left field and was never explained or explored in any way. Then Rumple came back and nearly died due to his centuries' long tour of evil, and suddenly Will was out of the picture and Belle was right there by her side again, pulled back in despite everything.

I'm not saying that Belle and Rumple's dysfunctional relationship doesn't need to be discussed, because of course it does. It's interesting and important to both characters and it's worth exploring further. But I'd love to see Belle get some screen time outside of that bubble, to allow us to get to know her more as who SHE is, not who she is when she's with him. Come on, Once. I have faith in you.

Images: ABC; rebelside, clusterstruck/Tumblr