Once Upon a Time: Much Ado About a Dunce Cap (S5: E9 Recap)
(Please note: This is the recap for Once’s Episode 9: “The Bear King.” To read the recap of Episode 8: “Birth,” click here.)
Sometimes life interferes with art, and that art must, in turn, adapt itself to life, or perish. Sometimes that adaptation process leads to better, more innovative art. And sometimes the adaptation process leads to . . . well . . . “The Bear King.”
This is not to say that “The Bear King” was a terrible episode of Once. I, for one, have seen many worse episodes of the series . . . like that random black-and-white one about Dr. Whale/Frankenstein, for example.
Instead, I am merely noting that the American Music Awards’ upcoming and inevitable preemption of next week’s Once resulted in ABC having one less week to air a full order of episodes. And this, in turn, resulted in the showrunners’ decision to offer up an immediate follow-up to the series’ landmark episode “Birth” that had significantly less impact on season 5’s main storytelling arc than I suspect it would have, had the episode aired next week, as originally intended.
Let’s review, shall we?
You Hat Me at Hello
Once upon a time, in the Kingdom of DunBroch (where being a ginger is a dominant trait and everyone has a nearly incomprehensible Scottish accent) Merida’s daddy, then-King Fergus, made a deal with a witch in exchange for a stupid-looking helmet, which was supposed to make Daddy’s clansmen like him enough to die horribly painful deaths in battle on his behalf.
The King’s receipt of a Stupid Hat that makes him popular, and makes everyone else around him dumb and suicidal, couldn’t have happened at a better time. After all, his kingdom is about to go to war. Also his daughter, Merida, is about to fight in her very first battle.
The King hires Mulan to help Merida learn how to fight, probably because the Kung Fu Panda and Buzz Lightyear were busy that day.
On the first day of war, Mulan distracts Merida with training on the King’s instructions, because the King doesn’t want his daughter to die for his popular ginger ass. As a result, Merida witnesses from afar, but isn’t able to prevent, her father’s untimely demise at the hand of a masked warrior, who stabs him in the gut and steals his Stupid Hat right off his dead head.
It’s kind of heart-wrenching actually. So heart-wrenching that I can’t make snarky jokes about it. So instead, enjoy this adorable picture of a basket of puppies . . .
The Bear Necessities
That was then, this is now . . .
In present day, Merida is about to be crowned Queen of DunBroch. But then that witch from the beginning of the episode crashes the coronation and tells Merida she needs to return the Stupid Hat or all the gingers and people with bad Scottish accents in her kingdom will get turned into bears. . . quite possibly even the cute cartoon bears with the toilet paper on their butts from the Charmin commercials.
Merida finds her old pal Mulan to ask her for help finding the Stupid Hat. But Mulan isn’t in a very helpful mood, due to #LesbianHeartbreak.
Soon after, Merida herself experiences a setback when she begins to doubt her family legacy and, by extension, her own ability to lead her kingdom, as a result of her father being dumb enough to think that wearing Stupid Hat would make him popular with a bunch of dudes just because some old lady told him it was so. This revelation freaks out Merida so much that she actually offers up the ability to rule her kingdom to those three douchebags she almost married during the movie Brave if they manage to find the Stupid Hat before she does.
But then Mulan meets up with Erstwhile Werewolf Red, who is back in the Enchanted Forest due to “feeling different than other women” and “not fitting in,” and suddenly #LesbianHeartbreak Mulan is feeling #hopefulandhorny. And so, with Sexy Red in tow, Mulan leads the charge in finding the Stupid Hat that Merida needs in order to save her kingdom from becoming #Bear-yUnhappy.
Also searching for the Stupid Hat are King Arthur and Wicked Witch Zelena, a.k.a. Mr. and Mrs. The Worst. King Arthur wants the hat because, apparently, spraying his kingdom with Stepford Doofus dust wasn’t enough to secure their loyalty, because he’s just that terrible and inherently unpopular of a person. Zelena wants the Stupid Hat because she’s having a really bad hair day today.
Red uses her wolfy sense of smell to ascertain that Arthur was actually the guy who killed Merida’s dad back in the day, which means he should currently be the proud owner of the Stupid Hat, which, as we already know, he isn’t.
When Red, Mulan and Merida confront Arthur, he admits that the Stupid Hat Arthur pried from King Fergus’ dead head was actually a fake Stupid Hat. (Don’t get me wrong, it was still a STUPID Hat, it just wasn’t the same Stupid Hat that had the power to make you popular.)
You know what this means, don’t you? Merida’s dad, King Fergus, was a good ginger! Sure, he wore Stupid Hats and spoke with an incomprehensible Scottish accent, but he didn’t use either of those things to become popular and make his kingdom members die for him. They were dumb enough to do that all on their own, all dunce caps aside!
Merida is elated! Her dad is a ginger hero! Also, she didn’t have to lose her kingdom to those three douchebags she almost married. In fact, they (and everybody else in town) like her now, because she was willing to give up being Queen to save the rest of the kingdom from being turned into bears by an old witch. So, Merida is popular now. Also, she has the Stupid Hat. She found it in the water, right where her dad buried it right before he died.
Note: It is currently unclear whether: (1) Merida’s getting the Stupid Hat that makes you popular and 2) Merida actually becomes popular are related. But I think we are supposed to think they are entirely coincidental because “morals” and because “impressionable kids are watching.”
Hakuna Ma-Helmet-a (It Means No Worries Helmet)
At Merida’s second coronation, the old witch party-crashes yet again.
“I’m not giving you my Stupid Hat,” Merida insists.
“Good,” responds the witch. “I didn’t want the Stupid Hat anyway, because (1) it’s stupid looking and (2) I only wanted to teach you a lesson about what it means to be a good leader.”
“Really?” Merida guffaws. “Does that mean I went through this whole Stupid Hat Scavenger Hunt for nothing? That kind of makes this entire episode a waste of time, no?”
To which the Witch replies, “What do you expect? We had to create an episode that nobody would care if they missed, in honor of the AMA’s being next week! Here, I’ll make it up to you. Here’s some good booze, you can use to get yourself drunk enough to believe you are actually talking to your dead dad.”
Instead of drinking the booze, Merida pours it on her dad’s gravestone, because beloved Disney characters don’t drink, and also because she’s an idiot. Fortunately, her dead dad talks to her anyway, as dead dads do. It’s sweet, and heartfelt, and Merida comes away from the conversation wanting to kill King Arthur, because who the heck wouldn’t want to murder King Arthur? He’s the worst.
Meanwhile, back in Storybrooke, all that crazy stuff is going on with Captain Hook learning that, unbeknownst to him, his girlfriend went and turned him into the Biggest Asshole on the Planet. You could imagine that a thing like that would ensure that nobody is going to give two craps about Merida and her Stupid Hat ever again.
But hey, it was fun while it lasted, right, Oncies?
See you in two weeks . . .