Once Upon A Time S05E09 “The Bear King” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Netflix, new episodes every Wednesday
Writer: Andrew Chambliss
Director: Geofrey Hildrew
Essential Plot Points:
- The witch from Brave makes an ultimatum to Merida: return the magical helm she gave to Fergus otherwise she’ll curse the whole town.
- Arthur is also searching for the helm.
- The race is on between Arthur and Merida
After the bombshell about Dark Hook that dropped last episode, the season takes a short break from Darkness-related relationship woes to concentrate on this side-story featuring the best thing about this show this year – Merida.
Merida is about to be crowned Queen after gaining the approval of the clans a few episodes previously. The ceremony is interrupted by the witch, who demands the magical helm she gave to Fergus (as seen in a flashback) be returned or else she’ll turn the entire kingdom into bears. Merida, discovering the helm is longer in the castle, sets out to track down the magical item. She has a good idea of its location, as she witnessed the knight who killed killed Fergus take the helm.
To help her in her her quest she’s joined by old friend, Mulan. Yet Mulan isn’t how Merida remembered her; she now works purely for profit rather than for honour. Despite the surprising change in character, Merida offers payment in exchange for helping her track down her father’s killer.
Merida isn’t the only person tracking the magical helm. After their sudden exit from the battle in the forrest last episode, Arthur and Zelena realise they’re going to need help defeating both the Dark One and Merlin. Arthur remembers Fergus’s magical helm and they decide to find it.
In the flashbacks we learn that Fergus was given the helm when he approached the witch for magical assistance for defeating an imminent army of attackers. Whoever wears the helm can force men to follow him into battle. The witch warns she will require payback at some point.
Merida wants to accompany her father into battle, proud of the way he can inspire hi men, but Fergus hires Mulan to distract Merida with a training session. Realising what has happened Merida races to the battlefield only to arrive just as her father is killed by a helmeted knight.
In the present Arthur and Zelena catch up with Merida and Mulan. Arthur informs Merida of the true nature of the helm and Merida is crushed by the revelation her father used magic to force men to fight. Zelena uses a tracking spell on Mulan’s bow (it had been given to her by her father) and they disappear. Mulan and Merida follow Arthur and Zelena to the lake where Merida had once sought her father’s advice about being a leader. They discover the helm beneath the lake. Merida realises that when she sought after her father’s advice, her words inspired him to throw the helm into the lake; he didn’t use magic to inspire his men, just good leadership.
We also discover that Arthur was the knight who killed Fergus. This leads to a fight between Merida and Arthur. Merida is on the verge of losing when the clans turn up and save her. Her bravery has inspired her troops too!
Merida and the clans return home victorious. Merida’s coronation begins again, and like before it is also interrupted by the witch. Merida refuses to give the helm to her, claiming it was too powerful to exist. The witch takes this news surprisingly well, and this was apparently her plan since Fergus first approached her: a test of character. Merida is rewarded with magical ale that can allows the user to speak to the dead.
Just as the previous episode highlighted the relationship between Emma and Hook, this episode shows just how close Merida was to her father. The whole episode is immensely touching, seeing a younger Merida idealise her father and fight to keep him safe, and likewise seeing Fergus sacrifice the helm so he doesn’t become a hypocrite to his daughter.
Emotionally it all builds to a final conversation between adult Merida and the decreased Fergus that could bring a tear to even the driest eyes. We also gain more insight to how great a character Merida actually is: she’s become so well-developed and gained real depth. Everything she’s done this season has developed beautifully and naturally from her movie counterpart. Seeing her unsure of herself, questioning whether or not she can lead an army – especially when she thinks her father has used magic to make others fight for him – makes her a far more interesting character than a hero who simply steps up to the mark when called.
Merida continues to be one of the strongest female character Disney has ever produced, and she makes a great double-act with one of the others: Mulan – was a great choice. We see how alike they are, despite being from completely different cultures. Both characters’ fighting ability is doubted because of their sex and both rise up to fight for their honour. The we get Ruby thrown in the mix as well, giving Mulan relationship tips after admitting that – having eaten her own boyfriend – she’s probably not best-placed to give advice.
The only real downside to this episode is the inclusion of an artificial deadline in the revenge sub-plot with Arthur and Zelena. They feel a little forced into the plot, even more so when it’s revealed that Arthur was the man who killed her father.
Nevertheless it was a very strong episode. Viewers aren’t going to mind a week away from the main action when the detours takes them on such an enjoyable episode as this.
- The whole relationship between Merida and Fergus was beautifully done, and provided great motivation for the characters.
- The Merida and Mulan team-up was amazingly.
- How did Arthur know that Fergus had a magical helm?
- While having Merida and Mulan reject society’s view of women is a great feature, the writers aren’t exactly subtle in hammering the message home.
- The coincidence of both Merida and Arthur searching for the helm at the same time feels very forced.
And The Random:
- The title shows Merida riding her horse through the woods.
- It’s the first episode of the series to consist entirely of flashbacks.
Review by Sam Halford
• Read our other Once Upon A Time Season Five reviews
• Once Upon a Time panel with Victoria Smurfit and Merrin Dungey at MCM Birmingham Comic Con
• INTERVIEW Once Upon A Time’s Merrin Dungey and Victoria Smurfit MCM Birmingham