There is a fine line between heroism and stupidity – usually depending on whether the individual in question survives their ordeal and whether the outcome of their actions have an overall positive or negative effect.
Naturally, as Emma descends from hero to archvillain, her actions increasingly have negative impact on the rest of the characters, even as she still sees herself as doing the right thing. That is what evil does – it manipulates and rationalizes. The Dark One is a master manipulator, but in order to do so, every Dark One must manipulate their own self first. Emma may be doing terrible things, but at least in Camelot, she still thinks that she is doing it for the right reasons.
In some way, she is – in the sense that she keeps the plot moving forward.
In Dreamcatchers, Emma works with Regina to free Merlin from the tree. They make a great team – it is too bad that Emma double-crosses her. In truth, Emma is simply being prepared – knowing that Regina’s own tears would likely not work to free Merlin (since her pain is not fresh anymore), she sets the plan in motion to break Henry’s heart. Of course, Henry’s fresh tears work and they all get to claim some form of heroism in saving Merlin from the tree, but Emma’s plan is eventually discovered – and Henry’s trust in her is ruined.
Henry’s greatest weakness is his trust (or faith). He is, after all, the Truest Believer. But trust is also his great strength. Without his faith, the first curse would not have been broken. Regina would likely have been killed. Various characters would not have forgiven each other. The previous Author would not have been defeated. Henry has been a hero thus far primarily because he has great faith and trust.
But that faith has wavered. Yes, he still believes that Emma can be saved, but part of him has begun to doubt. He is still young and impressionable – he could easily be swayed to villainy. After all, when we met him in the pilot episode, he had stolen a credit card, run away from home, and invited himself into a strange woman’s apartment – even rummaging around in her kitchen! All without a smidgen of remorse, because he was convinced he was helping bring back the happy endings. Yes, this kickstarted the story, but he comes from a long line of villains as much as heroes. It isn’t hard to picture Peter Pan doing the same thing, or Rumplestiltskin (only after he embraced the darkness).
Ultimately, Emma has lost an ally in Henry. He is going to be reluctant to trust her again. For that matter, neither is Regina. Like Emma, Regina took a long time to trust others. She was just beginning to do so – especially letting her guard down with Emma. Really, only Snow and Charming have blind faith in their daughter now. Even Hook is growing desperate.
The Bear and the Bow is a diversion episode, shifting focus to Belle and Rumplestiltskin. It is reminiscent of their first episode in the first season, in which the backstory was entirely theirs. Belle is not much of a team player. Personality-wise, she is independent and quiet. It is nice to have her central to the plot of an episode every once in awhile. The main cast treat her like an extension of her books – useful to consult when they need her, but otherwise an annoying tagalong. This is unwarranted – except that they do not fully trust her because of her relationship with Rumplestiltskin.
Belle has a strong point when the others characters refuse to forgive Rumplestiltskin or even trust him at all – despite them seeing the darkness leave him with their very eyes. Emma may be the newest incarnation of the Dark One, but she is still the Dark One. She has as much ability to control her power as Rumplestiltskin did. They both have fought with the darkness. Rumplestiltskin was so adept with it, in fact, that he survived 300 years, more than other Dark Ones in the past. He committed many atrocities in that time, but Emma has not done so yet only because of her newness. She just has not yet had the chance. They are both human beings who did wrong and need forgiveness.
Of course, the Charmings disagree because Emma is their baby girl. Hook disagrees because he built up so much hatred for Rumplestiltskin that he cannot possibly equate his lover with him. In their eyes, Emma is both a heroine and a damsel in distress, but she is not a villain. Their love for her has blinded them to her evil. Belle, on the other hand, has little love (or hate) for Emma. She knows what it is like to be blinded by love for the man behind the Dark One.
Merida fits well into the subplot of the episode. In the past, Belle helps her save her brothers and reclaim her throne without resorting to villainy. In the present, she figures that Belle will be the catalyst to reveal Rumplestiltskin’s heroic side. Merida forces Rumplestiltskin to face his fear and his cowardice in order to save his wife. As an outsider, she has no love for any of them. Using an existing character would have been awkward. Merida has no skin in this game except that she wants her heart back from Emma. Like Belle, she is an independent spirit. She would not get along well with our main heroes.
In the end, it is the last scene that is most crucial to the overall story: Rumplestiltskin succeeds in pulling Excalibur from the stone – even as he knows that if he is unworthy, he will die in the attempt. Emma thinks that she has won. However, she has also forced Rumplestiltskin to confront his weakness and turned him into a hero. He is not working for her. He has every reason to work against her. He knows how the darkness operates. He has faced it before. He has a sharp, analytical mind and vast knowledge – that was him, not the Dark One. All that he has lost is his power. He has gained Belle back, as well as some confidence of his own. It will be interesting to see how this new dynamic plays out.
Dark Emma thinks she is very clever. She also has the fact that her family loves her and thinks that she is worth saving. These two episodes chip away at both of these, but she does not yet care. Being Dark Emma suits her for now.