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Recap / Once Upon A Time S 5 E 9 The Bear King

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Season 5, Episode 9:

The Bear King

On the day of her coronation, Merida is given an ultimatum by a familiar witch: return the magical helm she gave to Merida's father to win in battle or face a cursed kingdom. To help her, Merida turns to her old tutor, Mulan, and they in turn encounter a surprising ally. Meanwhile, Arthur and Zelena quest for the same helm and the two sides cross paths.


  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: Elinor looks very good, considering several years have passed since the events of the movie. Granted she could have been a young mother (since Merida was facing an Arranged Marriage in her teens) but still. Fergus actually looks quite good for his age as well.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Instead of being the quirky gal from the movie, the witch is ruthless enough to threaten to curse the entire kingdom if Merida doesn't pay the price promised. Subverted as it turns out the whole thing was a test by the witch at the request of Fergus. Even what she did to Ruby could be considered a subversion, if her magic told her that being there as her familiar would result in her crossing paths with Mulan and Merida and thus enabling great good to come to pass.
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  • And the Adventure Continues: In something of a tradition for her, after helping Merida hunt down the helmet to save her kingdom, and defeat Arthur and Zelena, Ruby offers to have Mulan travel with her on her search for wolves, as a way to overcome her heartbreak and regain her honor.
  • An Aesop: Given in two different but equally eloquent moments.
    Fergus: There's only one way to get men to follow you into a deadly battle, and that's by showing them you're the first one willing to die. Because if the king is willing to lay down his life, they know just how important winning the battle is.
    Macintosh: You were willing to give up the crown for the good of the kingdom, to lay down your life for the helm. There's only one man I ever knew who would do that, and that was your father. If you aren't worthy to lead the clans, no one is.
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  • Arc Welding: It turns out the enemies who invaded DunBroch, thus killing Fergus and setting in motion the whole plot with the brothers being taken captive and Merida seeking out the wisp, were the knights of Camelot, and it was Arthur himself who killed Fergus.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Merida to Mulan (who has become a ruthless mercenary since we last saw her):
    Mulan: You cannot give up like this!
    Merida: Why not? You have. Or is there another reason you're out here working for the highest bidder?
  • Artificial Limbs: Fergus, the war-weary father of Merida, makes a phantasmal appearance with a knotted wooden leg.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Merida is about to receive this when the Witch interrupts with her ultimatum—the helmet or a curse. At the end of the episode, the crowning is completed.
  • Badass Beard: Much like his film counterpart, King Fergus has a large beard befitting a warrior king.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Fergus bursts into the witch's hut, listing her various actions from the movie, seemingly ready for revenge...then admits he needs her magical help.
  • Breather Episode: This is even apparently the reason for its rather odd airing schedule back to back with the previous episode before the show took a week off. Such an episode might work on a regular schedule, but there's no way the audience would have accepted getting nothing but this after waiting two weeks after the season's big Wham Episode, then having to wait another week for any more.
  • Broken Pedestal: Merida is rocked to learn her father's "leadership" was due to wearing a magical helm that forced men to fight for him. She is happy to learn he didn't wear that helm into his final battle later.
  • The Bus Came Back: Mulan and Ruby. And we didn't even know Ruby was ON a bus until this episode!
  • Charm Person: King Fergus received a helmet from the Witch that grants him the unwavering loyalty of the clans. Merida is distraught upon learning about it, but eventually learns he opted not to use it, and all his leaderly deeds were his own.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Merida, as not only a youthful queen, but the one whose insight both inspires the clans to follow her and, it turns out, was what inspired her father to cast the helm into the sea.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • We see that Ruby left Storybrooke just after attending Snow and David's baby shower from the season three finale, using a bean from Tiny to open a portal in hopes of finding her own kind.
    • We also find out that Mulan is still pining for Aurora, and it's entirely likely that after seeing Fergus get killed and the clans fall apart, her choice to travel the lands robbing people was inspired by Robin Hood, who had invited her to join the Merry Men in her last appearance. (Apparently she was hired by Fergus sometime after Neal made it to Neverland in "Quite the Common Fairy" and before the others, returning from the ending of the curse, met Robin and his Merry Men in "New York City Serenade.")
    • Mulan mentions to Ruby she's familiar with witches turning people into beasts against their will, referencing "The Outsider" and her and Belle's discovery that the Yaoguai was Philip, enchanted by Maleficent.
    • Ruby mentions having eaten her only boyfriend.
    • She also tells Mulan she knows of her, thanks to Emma and Mary Margaret telling her about their travels back in Season 2.
  • Didn't See That Coming: First, when Zelena and Arthur have Merida right where they want her, Mulan and Ruby show up to tip the scales. Then, while Arthur and Merida are busy swordfighting, Zelena tries to escape, only to be confronted by Mulan—and while she's busy threatening her, Ruby catches her by surprise with sleeping powder. And finally, when Arthur has Merida at swordpoint and is about to kill her, he is stopped by the arrival of the Three Clans, who force him to flee.
  • Exact Words: The witch proves once again to adhere to these, since when Fergus asked for the helm he asked for a way to ensure his kingdom's future and prove himself a true leader. He did the latter by choosing to throw away the helmet, and the clans were saved when Merida, in order to save the kingdom from the witch's curse, proved her worthiness by being willing to give up both life and crown.
  • Heel–Face Turn: After the Three Clans were sexist jerks who fell into villainy in their prior appearances, Merida's willingness to turn the crown over to one of their lords if they can find her father's helmet gets them to truly respect her, and so they change sides here by coming to Merida's defense against Arthur and Zelena. Young Macintosh in particular exemplifies this in how his attitude changes from when he previously bowed only grudgingly to her.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: As if we needed more proof of Arthur's fall from grace, we learn that he was the one who invaded DunBroch and killed Fergus—all because of rumors of magic that he thought possibly might help him restore Excalibur. Also in the present, he seeks the magical helm in order to force his men into a hopeless suicidal battle against Merlin and Emma.
  • Jump Cut: Mulan is shown in a secondary flashback talking of fighting with honor. We immediately jump to her roughing up guys on behalf of her new boss.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Zelena again, this time taunting Merida about her father's supposed failure as a king as she takes away her only relic of Fergus, which will also happen to keep her from recovering the helmet and save her kingdom from the witch's curse.
  • Kneel Before Frodo: For the second time Merida gets this—this time completely willingly and with deep honor, for Macintosh has seen in her self-sacrifice that she is a true leader and queen.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Like Grumpy's comments in the first episode, Ruby claiming she'd been in the background because she didn't feel like she fit in seems like commentary on how her character had been continually shunted aside because her stories couldn't be told with all the main characters taking center stage.
  • Lower-Deck Episode: The episode, both recent past and less recent past, focused on the Arc Characters, Merida and Arthur, characters who were on a Bus, and Zelena. The main characters aren't involved at all.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Elinor mentions having been turned into a bear, and the witch's "indirect" lessons via her magic.
    • When Fergus's spirit vanishes after giving Merida one last embrace, he first turns blue like the spirit of the prince who became Mor'du before dissolving into light.
  • Overprotective Dad: Fergus threatens to cut the tongue out of the next man who insults Merida.
  • Papa Wolf: Fergus does not take the clans' mocking the thought of following Merida lightly.
  • Posthumous Character: Merida had informed Belle that her father's death sparked another war among the clans. Not only do we get to finally see him in flashbacks here, and how much of a good influence he was upon her, but as a gift during Merida's coronation, the Witch offers her magical ale to allow her to have one last conversation with her father.
  • Power Trio: Mulan, Merida, and Ruby end up forming one of these in the flashback. They are a combination of a Freudian Trio (Merida as Id, Mulan as Ego, and Ruby as Superego), Nice Mean And Inbetween (Ruby, Mulan at first, and Merida), and With a Friend and a Stranger (with Ruby as the stranger, although she knows of Mulan but has never actually met her).
  • Retcon: Prior to this it had been assumed Ruby was somewhere in the background in Storybrooke. Turns out she had been working with Tiny to help grow more beans, to help everyone escape Zelena, and after she was defeated, she headed back to the Enchanted Forest with Mary Margaret's blessing, to seek out her own kind.
  • Revenge: Merida has sworn this on Arthur, and with good reason.
  • Secret Test of Character: The witch admits she puts people through these when it comes to using her magic.
  • So Proud of You: Fergus's spirit gets to tell Merida this at the end of the episode.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: Our three heroines fall into these roles for this episode. Merida is the impulsive Child, Mulan is the sensible Wife and Ruby is the cunning Seductress (she's even turned into a human in a very suggestive position).
  • The Un-Reveal: While this episode explains where Ruby has been, it does not shed full light on Mulan's activities since joining and apparently leaving the Merry Men.
  • Tracking Device: Zelena uses Fergus's bow as this to find the lost helmet. Mulan tries the same thing by returning to the witch's cottage, but ends up finding a much more direct and less magical way—freeing Ruby, who can use her sense of smell and the piece of cloak to find their quarry.
  • *Twang* Hello: Merida truly loves this.
  • War Is Hell: What Merida discovers when going into battle with Fergus, and what her father intended to teach her. Exemplified when Merida thinks the men are writing love letters, only to be told they're writing their wills.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: The episode takes place during the flashback of the previous one, with several other flashbacks to years before.
  • With a Friend and a Stranger: Merida's position in this episode. She's joined by her old tutor Mulan, and a newcomer Ruby.
  • Won't Take "Yes" for an Answer: After revealing her plan to use a bean and go back to the Enchanted Forest, Ruby starts automatically arguing with Snow, saying she knows she won't approve—only for Mary Margaret to hug her, tell her it's a great idea, and she just wants her to be happy.
  • You Killed My Father: Merida gets to invoke the trope name once Ruby leads her to Arthur as the owner of the cloak, and it's also the nature of her oath of vengeance at the end of the episode.

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