Once Upon A Time Recap, Just The Queer Parts: Mulan Is in Love With Sleeping Beauty and It’s Awesome

Last Sunday, ABC’s Once Upon A Time made headlines when it “broke new ground” by depicting Mulan as queer. In case you haven’t been following the show these past two years, here’s what’s going on: Mulan (probably) was into Prince Phillip last season. She (definitely) is into Princess Aurora this season. All three actors portraying these characters are gorgeous, and the googly eyed falling-in-love faces they make at each other on screen are heartwarming and adorable.Aurora and Mulan smile at each other.

Are you interested in seeing this, but don’t really want to sift through 50+ episodes just to find the cute bits? You’re in luck! I mined this series for all its queer gold and put the shiniest pieces below.

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 3.51.16 PM

First things first: the premise of the show is that fairytale characters are real, they’re all connected to each other, and because of a curse by an evil queen they’ve been popping in and out of the real world in unexpected ways. That’s the essence of season one, but we don’t really care about that right now (and in fact, I’m going to ignore the actual main characters of the show because they don’t have all that much to do with the queer content). Onwards!

Season two (airing September 30, 2012) opens with what appears to be the traditional awakening scene of Sleeping Beauty. Prince Phillip (played by Julian Morris aka. Wren in Pretty Little Liars) kisses Princess Aurora (Sarah Bolger) and she returns to waking life. You know the drill.

A prince kisses a sleeping princess. Magically, she awakens.

In a departure from the traditional tale, a helmeted warrior figure watches at the edge of the scene. The figure turns away when the couple kisses.

A helmeted warrior. Their face is covered.

Out of nowhere, Phillip and Aurora’s reunion is interrupted by a surprise attack from a wraith. A short skirmish ensues and the helmeted figure and the prince both attempt to defend the princess against the wraith.

After the wraith retreats, Aurora notices the mystery helmeted person for the first time and asks Phillip who they are.

Aurora, Phillip and Mulan stand looking at eachother. Aurora asks Philip: Who is this?

The helmet comes off. Surprise!

It’s Mulan, played by Jamie Chung!

Mulan reveals that she is friends with Phillip. “In your absence, she has helped like no other,” Phillip says fondly, with a significant glance in Mulan’s direction.

The three set off together, and Phillip and Aurora start making up for lost time. They’re all cute and couple-y…

…while Mulan looks on as the third wheel, a constant pained expression on her face. They banter back and forth a bit, but it isn’t exactly friendly; there’s clearly some animosity between Mulan and Aurora. And it’s just like, ugh, are these two women really going to fight each other over who gets the man? Seriously?

Mulan has a pained expression as she watches Aurora and Phillip together.

Via FanPop

Luckily, this dynamic is short-lived. Before the trio manages to spend even one awkward night together, Phillip realizes he has been marked by the wraith as its next victim. He gives Aurora a goodbye kiss, then sneaks off to face the monster alone.

Mulan goes after Phillip to help, instructing Aurora to stay put. When she protests, Mulan replies tersely: “That thing out there is dangerous. And Phillip – he left to protect you, so even if I don’t believe in his methods, I’m gonna honor his wishes. I’m gonna keep you safe. … Everything he does, he does for you. And now he’s gonna die for you. Love is sacrifice - something you clearly don’t understand.”

Aurora says that she won’t let Phillip face the wraith alone. Mulan gets all protective. “He won’t. But with all due respect, your highness, Phillip’s best chance is me.”

Aurora accuses Mulan of being in love with Phillip. Mulan denies it.

Aurora: Deny it all you want. I know love when I see it.

Mulan: You're wrong.
Regardless, they ride together to go after Phillip. When they find him, Mulan volunteers to mark herself instead, so that Phillip can live. He says no.

Phillip: This is my choice -- to save you. To save both of you.

Aurora begins to cry and says she doesn’t want to live without him. Phillip: “Neither do I.” As the wraith flies at them, he yells, “You two each keep each other safe.” He looks back over his shoulder at them and says “I love you” to… Aurora? Mulan? Both women? It’s ambiguous!

Then Phillip’s soul is sucked out through his face and transported to another dimension. His body is left behind.

Mulan and Aurora stand over a sleeping Phillip.

Aurora and Mulan leave him and Once Upon A Time’s main storyline comes crashing into their bit of story arc. There are a lot of other not-terribly-relevant-to-the-queer-love-triangle things going on, but basically, Mulan and Aurora join two other characters on a quest and get some quality lady-lady bonding time in.

Aurora and Mulan give eachother significant looks.

via A Nursing Degree in Feelings

As their journey continues, Aurora realizes that she is able to travel to another world when she sleeps, obtaining valuable information for their quest. Mulan appoints herself Aurora’s protector as she sleeps (and increasingly, as she wakes), and we start seeing the rough edges of their relationship smooth out into something approaching tenderness.

Unfortunately for their information gathering efforts, it turns out that when Aurora is hurt while dreaming, she is also hurt in real life. Mulan notices her injuries right away. She cites her vow to Prince Phillip to protect Aurora, and tells her she should stop.

They bicker like a couple, but ultimately, Aurora has other plans in mind. “Mulan, I was cursed to spend eternity in that horrible sleep. And, the only reason I’m here is because you and Phillip risked your lives to save me,” she says. “Every day since my waking has been a gift, so let me do something with it. It’s my turn to help someone else.”

Heroic, huh? But before she gets a chance to make good on it, Aurora is kidnapped by zombies! Mulan responds to this super emotionally. Obviously, she has grown quite fond of having Aurora around.

While kidnapped, the bad guys try to pressure Aurora into helping them, but she refuses. In return, they rip her heart from her chest while she’s sleeping. But don’t worry, she’s still alive; we’re in fairytale land, so this just means that they can remote control her body to spy on people.

Mulan comes to the rescue with friends in tow. They cleverly break the bars on their jail cell, but Aurora doesn’t want to join them for fear that she will be remote controlled into sabotaging their mission. She asks Mulan to tie her up.

Mulan has feelings about this…

…but eventually obliges with some light bondage, and vows to return. She successfully retrieves Aurora’s heart and comes back to the jail cell. After she gingerly unties Aurora, this happens:

Aurora: Have you ever done this before?

have_you_ever_done_this_before_response

Mulan's hand reaches towards Aurora's chest.

Aurora making a sex face.

I KNOW.

(Mulan puts Aurora’s heart back in her chest. They look like they need a cigarette, but instead of cuddling and whispering sweet nothings to eachother, they engage in the only pillow talk they know how: making a pact to save Phillip. Together.)

Mulan asks: Do you think we can save Phillip?

Aurora responds: We can try.

Images via Fanforum.com

They try and they succeed, restoring the third side of their love triangle. Aurora and Phillip reunite and Mulan leaves them to aid other characters with their quests.

In their time apart, Mulan and another character have conversations about how much it sucks to not tell someone you love them when you have the chance. Shortly thereafter, Mulan receives an offer to join Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men. Before answering, she says that she needs to talk to someone (“a loved one”) before she can make her decision.

Mulan rushes to Aurora and Phillip’s castle, where Aurora is clearly overjoyed to see Mulan again.

Look how cute they are!

Aurora and Mulan smile at each other.

Mulan says that she needs to talk to her, but before she can confess her love, Aurora drops this bomb:

Mulan tries to play it cool but is obviously heartbroken.

Distraught, she tells Aurora that she is leaving to join the Merry Men. Aurora moves in for an emotionally charged hug and her face looks like this:

Aurora is distraught as she hugs Mulan.

 And that’s where we are now!

If you want to do some more detailed catching up (there are a lot of other things going on in this show), I recommend the watching the official ABC series recap first. Then start watching continuously at the beginning of season two.

For my part, I’m always happy to see a queer woman of color in the media. There are so few representations on TV, and it’s really nice to see writing where a character’s queerness progresses out of the subtext and into the actual text. I’m hesitant to put a specific label on Mulan’s identity at this point, since Mulan hasn’t, but my gut feeling is that OUAT’s writers intentionally played up the ambiguous nature of  Mulan and Prince Phillip’s relationship for a reason. A bisexual reason. Hooray for people avoiding bisexual erasure! Such a pleasant surprise.

As for what happens next: there’s so much suspense! Season three’s fourth episode airs on Sunday, October 20, but keep in mind that this storyline is only one of many; it may or may not be picked up again next episode. (There are a lot of people shipping “Sleeping Warrior,” though, so I would expect to see some significant development one way or the other by the mid season finale.) Perhaps Mulan and Aurora will get together, and perhaps they won’t. The single guys are kind of boring and Mulan isn’t really close with any other available women on the show, but there are plenty of options that could be written in. OUAT has never been shy about adding new characters so this isn’t out of the question by any means.

Also, did you catch the way Mulan and Belle were looking at each other? There’s nothing keeping Belle from dumping Rumple and getting with a certain Chinese war hero. I’m just saying.

belle_mulan

Avatar of Laura Mandanas

Laura Mandanas is a Filipina American living in Brooklyn. By day, she works as an industrial engineer. By night, she is beautiful and terrible as the morn, treacherous as the seas, stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love her and despair.

Laura has written 45 articles for us.

29 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

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    I really don’t know how I feel about this.

    Either my gaydar is in need of serious repair or I just didn’t notice it before, but I was honestly surprised about Mulan when Aurora told her about the baby.

    Was it really necessary in this series?

  2. Thumb up 8

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    I have been waiting for this forever. <3

    I shipped Mulan and Aurora from their first conversation (the moment she took off that helmet!!!) and I am so happy that there IS something there and it wasn't all in my head!

    I'm hoping that from some twist of fate, the baby is the product of what happened in the jail cell.

  3. Thumb up 7

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    OMG!!!!!

    I stopped watching Once Upon A Time last season because I got irritated with it, specifically because it seemed SOOOOOOOO obvious that Mulan and Aurora were meant to be together, and I was like, a Disney backed show will never ship that kind of queer magic.

    I am glad I was wrong.

    I AM CATCHING UP ON EVERY EPISODE TODAY!!!!!

  4. Thumb up 7

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    I’ve been watching this show from the premier. I really like it, on the level that I liked Xena and Buffy when I first watched those shows. It has a lot of great strong female characters, and holy hell Regina is hot. I kinda felt like Mulan was going to be the queer character early on.

    Jane Espenson wrote this episode, and has been a producer on many other eps. That’s how I know I will probably like a series. She worked on “Ellen” the sitcom, “Buffy” (lots of Buffy), “Battlestar Galactica”, “Torchwood” and the web series “Husbands”.

  5. Thumb up 9

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    Before yesterday, I legit had no idea that anyone thought Mulan liked Philip and not Aurora, I’m still kinda baffled by it.

    More amusingly, I was talking with a co-worker about the show and apparently I always pronounce Regina to rhyme with vagina, and he was very confused why I was calling her Vagina.

  6. Thumb up 7

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    y’all, Jamie Chung’s smile tho

    I followed this storyline via tumblr and I was all skeptical that OUaT was actually going to make it a ~thing, BUT THEN I SAW HER FACE now I’m a believer etc

    I’m still not sold on the entire show because I canNOT with the main story (someone described it as a Lucky Charms plot which, yes), but this is a very compelling selling point.

  7. Thumb up 2

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    I think the fact that they at least made Mulan queer means it is unlikely that SwanQueen fans will get what they want in the end. Their is no way the show is going to let that much queerness be canon. They show is still incredibly gay IMO. Any time you put two women in a scene together they tend to come off incredibly queer. Look at Tinkerbell. She has only been in the one episode and she had shitloads of inappropriate chemistry with Regina. That scene in the cave with the poison arrow was just plain ridiculous.

  8. Thumb up 1

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    Aaaah thank you for making this. I’ve read a lot about Mulan and Aurora’s interactions but I’m way too lazy to watch OUAT just for them. I didn’t realize Mulan was portrayed as bi/pan/not-just-attracted-to-one-sex as well; that’s even better.

  9. Thumb up 3

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    I’ve loved this show from the very beginning and always shipped Mulan/Aurora. So thrilled this is canon! Though… having a lot of feelings since my homophobic family and I watch this show religiously. Things could get tense.

    Though!

    Has anyone else thought of Aurora and Mulan as a total real-life version of the Princess Princess main characters?

    http://strangelykatie.com/wp-content/gallery/princessprincess/princess-princess-titlepage-flat.png

  10. Thumb up 2

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    I might have to give this show a watch! Even minus the queer subtext-into-actual-text, I love shows that have strong female characters that actually have their own narrative arc, especially when they are women of colour, and ESPECIALLY when their raison d’etre is not romances with dudes…. I love all four of them *cough*. Soo sick of vulnerable princesses in need of saving though.

  11. Thumb up 6

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    So I don’t watch this show but couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a straight girl (who watches this show) and she argued that there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that was remotely gay. Like nothing. nope. nada.

    Yet here we are. I feel somewhat victorious.

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