When I first saw this promo picture for Once Upon A Time‘s “The Outsider,” I was worried with the direction they seemed to be taking Belle’s character. She’s clearly dressed in an adventurer outfit in this image, and I was afraid they were going to take the opportunity to give her an action girl arc. Like they’ve done with so many of their other female characters. I even planned an article about how female characters can be strong characters without undergoing an action girl arc (an article which might still be produced) designed directly in response to this episode. Luckily, I didn’t get the article written before it aired, therefore saving myself a good deal of embarrassment.
Here’s the thing: yes, Belle was dressed like she was ready to wield a sword and be an action hero. Yes, she did go on a quest. No, she did not actually undergo an action girl arc as part of her character development.
We find Belle in the tavern sometime after she’s been kicked out by Rumpelstiltskin and after she’s given relationship advice to Dreamy who has come to thank her. The two of them overhear a group of people talking about a monster they are attempting to hunt down, and Dreamy tells Belle she should go with them. After little persuasion, she does, meets Mulan, tames the beast, hooks Mulan up with Prince Philip, and decides that she is going to go back to Rumpelstiltskin. She did it all using her intelligence rather than becoming a true action girl.
Where’s the lesson here? Belle thought she had to go under an action girl sequence to prove to herself that she was strong. What she learned was that she can fight for something without actually having a physical confrontation. Which, of course, leads her to the decision that she’s going to fight for Rumpelstiltskin, but before she can actually get there, she’s captured by Regina, thus answering the question of how Belle became a prisoner in Regina’s tower.
What Once Upon A Time did here was something I wasn’t expecting and fell in love with. They took the time to have a female character prove that a woman does not have to pick up a weapon and fight in order to be strong. That is something worth commending and has cemented Belle as my favorite character on the show.