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Once Upon A Time: ‘Skin Deep’

“You could have had happiness if you had just believed that someone could want you”

My slight criticism of last week’s episode was that it was fairly plot-heavy rather than character-driven; fortunately, this week was the opposite and we got one of the best episodes of the season so far. Rumpelstiltskin/Mr Gold is by far the most interesting character in this show and Skin Deep showed that, as well as being entertaining, mysterious and fascinating to watch, he is also an extremely emotional character. It would be remiss to discuss this episode without talking about Robert Carlyle’s incredible acting. He is able to switch between all the different aspects of Rumpel’s personality with ease and certainly provided some of the most powerful moments of the episode. Emilie de Ravin (Claire!) was also excellent as Belle, and I hope that the ending implies we will see her again in the future.

Last week we discovered that the Genie from Aladdin and Mirror Mirror from Snow White are the same character in this universe, and here we found out that Rumpelstiltskin is also the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. It was great to see a more human element to Rumpel since his transformation, as I was slightly worried that we would only get to see some more emotion from this character in flashbacks to before those in Desperate Souls. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case and giving Rumpel a love story makes him a much more powerful and relatable character.

The Fairy Tale Realm story was by far the highlight of this week’s episode. Rumpel offered to help out Belle’s kingdom in the war if she would become his servant, an offer which she accepted despite resistance from her father and her fiancé. We never found out exactly why Rumpel wanted Belle to come and work for him, but I think she was right when she said he was lonely. Something had clearly happened to his son since the events of Desperate Souls, and Belle provided him the companionship he needed.

As with the original Beauty and the Beast, Belle found herself falling in love with the Beast (Rumpel) and he with her. In fact, they were pretty much on track for a happily-ever-after, with Rumpel letting her leave if she wanted, and although she was planning to I think she might have returned anyway. Enter the Evil Queen. With a few words in her ear, she managed to convince Belle to return to Rumpel and kiss him, in order to remove the curse and turn him back into a man. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t end well. Rumpel believed that she was working with the Evil Queen in order to weaken him and locked her up. I assume that was the Queen’s plan, but Belle was clearly not party to it. Deep down I suspect Rumpel knew that and, like Belle said, he kept her away because he didn’t believe that she could love him and he didn’t want to have his heart broken.

While the Evil Queen clearly had evil intentions, I don’t think that what she said was a lie. As far as we could see, true love did start to break Rumpel’s curse and the same appeared to happen with Snow in Pilot. Could a kiss then break the spell keeping them all in Storybrooke? A kiss between whom? The Queen also said “If he loves you, he would’ve let you go”, which was what he did in the end, showing once again that Rumpel did love Belle.

Also, although I don’t think this was necessarily intentional, there were several aspects of this episode which did remind me of LOST. Rumpel keeping Belle away because he didn’t think anybody could love him was similar to how Sawyer tried to make everybody hate him because he didn’t think he deserved to be loved. Furthermore, Rumpel told Belle “My power means more to me than you”, which was reminiscent of Ben telling Keamy that he didn’t love Alex, and we all know how that ended. Like Ben, it seems that Mr Gold is also regretting that and that in truth his feelings for Belle meant much more than his power, even if he didn’t realise it at the time.

Due to the strength of the Fairy Tale Realm plot this week, the Storybrooke plot wasn’t quite as interesting, although it was still very good. When Mr French (the Storybrooke equivalent of Belle’s father) was late on some repayments and Mr Gold took his van, it was easy for Regina to convince him to break into Mr Gold’s house and steal some of his belongings. One of those belongings was the teacup that Belle chipped, and the loss of that sent Mr Gold out of control like we’ve never seen before. He abducted Mr French at gunpoint, took him to a cabin in the woods, and proceeded to beat him up. While doing this, he also shouted at him:

“She’s gone! She’s gone forever! She’s not coming back. And it’s your fault! Not mine! You are her father! Yours! It’s yours!”

Much like Faith beating up Buffy in Who Are You or Buffy beating up Spike in Dead Things on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it was very clear that during this attack Mr Gold was really attacking himself. He blamed himself for what he believed happened to Belle, and he was taking out his guilt on the only other person responsible.

What this hinted at, and was said explicitly later on in the episode, was that, like Regina, Mr Gold remembered his life in the Fairy Tale Realm. Now that Regina is aware of this fact, I look forward to seeing the future interactions between this pair. Both of them are fantastic ‘villains’ and it will be interesting to watch them fighting each other for power in Storybrooke. Regina does of course have an ace up her sleeve: Belle isn’t dead, as she told Rumpel, but she seems to be imprisoned by Regina underneath the hospital. Mr Gold can make Regina do whatever he wants by saying “please”, so I can’t wait to see how they both use the leverage they have over each other.

The B-plot going on this week was, as usual, all about Mary Margaret and David’s on-going affair. Ruby took Mary Margaret and Ashley (Cinderella) on a girls’ night out for Valentine’s Day, where, while Ruby chatted up several men at once, Mary Margaret and Ashley commiserated about their love lives. Fortunately, Ashley’s ended up significantly improving by the end as Sean proposed to her, but Mary Margaret wasn’t so lucky. David, rather stupidly, accidentally gave her his wife’s Valentine’s Day card (seriously? The envelopes were different colours and everything! David is really useless at this having-an-affair. Still, at least he didn’t give Kathryn Mary Margaret’s card. That would have been even more awkward).  This brought Mary Margaret to her senses, and she called off the affair. They still seem determined to find a way to be together, however, so it will be interesting to see where this plot goes.

Other thoughts:

  • On the title card for this episode there was a spinning wheel, which I think was the same as in The Price of Gold. That was either deliberately making connections between the two (Ashley was back after all) or very lazy. I can’t decide which.
  • Rumple’s comedy was on form in this episode, as well as his more emotional side. But with the fantastic Jane Espenson , what else would you expect? There were some great comedy lines, like “Well, that was a bit of a letdown”, “Your room […] well it sounds a lot nicer than dungeon”, and my personal favourite “You sent me a message. Something about ‘Help! Help! We’re dying! Can you save us?’”
  • This show continued its theme of having strong female characters, addressed explicitly by Belle when she said “There aren’t many opportunities in this land to show what they can do, to see the world, to be heroes”. This was presumably a reference to how ‘sexist’ many of the original fairy tales were, which is something that this show is changing in its adaptations of them.
  • Like many characters in this show, Belle was separated from her father and her family.
  • Belle’s fiancé here was Sir Gaston, who was her fiancé in the Disney adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.
  • Belle’s father is names Mr French, which I can only think is a reference to Beauty and the Beast being originally a French fairy tale.
  • The book David was reading was Anna Karenina, which is more appropriate than The Mysterious Island seemed to be. Anna Karenina is all about a woman in a similar position to the one David’s in: she’s married but in love with someone else. From what I know of this book, Anna is finally able to be with the man she loves but she becomes isolated because of this (much like Ashley at the beginning of this episode) and end up killing herself. This doesn’t seem to bode well for David and Mary Margaret.
  • Beanie count: Emma wore two different ones this week, but I don’t think Mary Margaret wore any.
  • Another entertaining scene in this week’s episode is Mary Margaret backtracking when Emma asks her how Henry is.
  • This is the second time Mr Gold’s been robbed. In the Fairy Tale Realm the Evil Queen says that he has “flimsy locks”, and that clearly is no different in Storybrooke.
  • In Rumple’s house there are a couple of recognisable things: the spinning wheel from his previous life, the dolls from That Still Small Voice, and the sword that turned him into Rumpelstiltskin.
  • What is Rumpel trying to forget? What happened to his son? His answer “I guess it worked” is genius though.
  • Belle’s arranged marriage to Gaston is the second we’ve seen in the show, after James’s to Abigail. I’m currently reading A Game of Thrones, so there are a lot of arranged marriages in fiction I’m into at the moment.
  • The Evil Queen seems to spend a lot of time in a carriage. Where is she always travelling to?
  • Mr Gold says that he’s been called that “Every moment [he’s] spent on this Earth”. Does that mean the Fairy Tale Realm isn’t on this Earth?
  • The Evil Queen mentions that she’s want to discuss a deal relating a certain mermaid. Presumably this means we will be seeing The Little Mermaid on this show sometime soon.
  • There are several roses in this week’s episode. Mr French has a delivery of roses to make, Rumpel turns Gaston into a rose, Sean proposes with roses (I think) and Regina gives a rose to the Belle’s ‘warden’. Roses were also a theme in the original fairy tale, I believe, as that is what Belle wants her father to bring her from his travels, which what gets him in trouble with the Beast.
  • Who is Belle ‘warden’? Is she someone we know?

This was one of the most emotional episodes of this show we’ve seen so far, and was an excellent instalment of the series. I much prefer the character-driven episodes like this one, and I don’t even mind that we didn’t see the mysterious stranger this week. I hope we get more episodes like this in the future, and I look forward to seeing where the show takes its different plots from hereon.

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