Once Upon A Time, Season 1, Episode 12: “Skin Deep”
Written by Jane Espensen
Directed by Milan Cheylov
Airs Sundays at 8pm (ET) on ABC
Storybrooke and the fairy-tale world blur together more concretely in “Skin Deep,” a Gold/Rumpelstiltskin-centric episode that bases itself in the “Beauty and The Beast” story. In the Enchanted Forest, Rumpelstiltskin takes Belle (Emilie de Ravin of Lost fame) as part of a deal made with her father and soon becomes taken with her pure and heroic nature. In Storybrooke, Mr. Gold settles a debt with an irate florist, who in turn robs his home. Mr. Gold tracks down this florist, who is also Belle’s father in the other world, to find a missing item, but Emma is quick on his heels to see what Gold is really up to.
“Skin Deep” takes Rumpelstiltskin’s story to unexpected, yet gratifying, places in this tweaked version of “Beauty and The Beast.” The most radical change is the substitution of the traditional beast with Rumpelstiltskin himself. We see him at his most vulnerable since his transformation into the monster he now embodies. As he grows closer to Belle, he relaxes his defense of twisted whimsy, allowing her to see him for who he used to be.
The romance that develops is the most genuine love story in this series. Since this is the “Valentine’s Day” episode, several couples receive screen time. These moments with Snow White, Cinderella and their respective beaus end up as filler between the Gold/Rumpelstiltskin scenes. There are no surprises with these couples. They’re supposed to love each other, and no matter what happens, they’ll likely end up together.
The Beauty and the Beast scenario is no exception. However, throw Rumpelstiltskin into the mix, and the story can go anywhere. Hence, a less predictable and more unique romance develops. As mentioned earlier, this wasn’t expected for this character. Rumpelstiltskin’s role was clear from the beginning. He’s a self-serving villain who preys on the desperate with no mercy. So, how does he fall in love? He finds common ground with Belle.
The other princesses are what you’d expect. Even with the attempt of making Snow White a tough Robin Hood figure, she’s still a helpless romantic. Belle is more practical. Naturally, she has her reservations to living with Rumpelstiltskin, but soon warms up to him and enjoys his company. She finds his quips sincerely humorous and starts conversing with him on a more personal level. Rumpelstiltskin makes many deals with people who fall to cowardice and fail to uphold their end. Belle exhibits a bravery that he doesn’t find in these people. Unlike the others, she understands sacrifice, and therefore, understands him.
The master/slave dynamic evolves into a friendship with romantic potential. The idea of companionship is complicated for both of them but not for external reasons, like a disapproving parent or a war. The difficulty arises from each character’s personal conflicts. It’s a realistic relationship in which viewers can actually invest some true emotion. The other love stories are just novelties of a familiar fairy tale. This one actually feels significant.
The back-and-forth between the two worlds is exceptional this week. The stories on both sides are equally intriguing, and the writers build a creative tension by cutting at the right moments to keep the momentum. With the exception of Mary Margaret/David scenes, nothing drags. Robert Carlyle’s cool demeanor as Mr. Gold makes the Storybrooke moments exponentially absorbing. He’s a feared character in town, but so far he hasn’t done much to merit such a dark respect beyond his subtle manipulation of others. This episode changes that.
In the best sequence of this episode, Mr. Gold unleashes his rage on Belle’s father, the florist who robbed his home. This is cross cut with Rumpelstiltskin’s outburst in his estate after he believes Belle tried to take away his curse, which is what he perceives to be his power. We later learn that he believes Belle to have died, due to the insensitivity and neglect of her own father. This scene earns a retroactive significance because it explains Gold’s hostility and cold-hearted reputation. It’s not the magic spell that makes him a monster, but the fact he lost Belle. He’s the desperate one now, but no deal he can make will bring her back, and this drives him mad.
In the final moments of the episode, we see a meeting between the two villains, Mr. Gold and Regina. Their conversation enlightens us to the fact that Gold indeed remembers his past life. Though this was strongly implied, it wasn’t addressed until now. What’s really interesting is how two characters in Storybrooke are explicitly discussing the fairy tale world, a first this season. It doesn’t reveal too much, but just enough to entice.
The last scene cinches this excitement with the reveal that Belle is still alive. This scene takes place in Storybrooke in a hidden ward in the hospital. It contains an odd reference to Chief Bromden from “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.” Considering this film’s story doesn’t particularly relate to “Skin Deep,” this moment does nothing but distract. Also, if everyone in Storybrooke is a fairy tale character, what does that make the Chief? Minor criticism, but still worth noting.
“Skin Deep” tops every episode that came before it. With Robert Carlyle at the helm, it’s no surprise. His story has now become the one with the most promise. Where do you stand? Does Rumpelstiltskin attract or repel you as a fan? Leave your comments below.