"Skin Deep" is probably my favorite episode of Once Upon a Time to date. Not only does it introduce the Beauty and the Beast story to this world, which is a close second (if not tied for first) to Sleeping Beauty for all-time favorite fairy tale in my book, but it adds tremendous, fascinating layers to one of the show's most intriguing characters -- Rumplestiltskin the master trickster and deal-maker. I freely admit, when I learned that the show wasn't introducing a Prince/Beast character, instead using the whily Rumple to fill the Beast role, I was terribly concerned -- and honestly a bit disappointed. But all of my worries proved unfounded as this chapter of the enigmatic Mr. Gold's backstory is one of the show's most captivating hours of television.
The episode opens in Fairy Tale Land, where the master of yet another castle (seriously I would love to know if FTL is one big kingdom, because sometimes everything in Fairy Tale Land seems curiously disconnected) -- the aptly named Sir Maurice (Eric Keenleyside) -- receives the news that a nearby town as fallen to an Ogre attack (which brings up another question, is this a widespread problem in FTL?). Anyways, Maurice is pinning his hopes for deliverance on, of all people, Rumplestiltskin (I'm guessing Rumple's rep hasn't gotten around yet?). Rumple's price is Maurice's daughter, the lovely Belle (Emilie de Ravin), as he claims to need a housekeeper for his estate (REALLY?? Kinda lame reasoning but whatever...). In a nod to the fiesty, noble origins of her literary and filmic predecessors, Belle overrides all objections to the deal and agrees to go willingly with Rumple, because she and only she is the mistress of her fate.
Speaking of this story's antecedents, I loved seeing a "real-life" version of the gold gown made famous by the ball scene in the animated film. However, seeing Belle so exquisitely attired makes me wonder where exactly she ranks in FTL...a princess? a high-born lady? Also lifting the name of Maurice was a nice touch -- and his Storybrooke counterpart, a hapless rose seller in debt to Mr. Gold, shares a lot of personality characteristics with his scatter-brained animated counterpart. And I loved seeing Sage Brocklebank, better known as Buzz McNabb on Psych, as Belle's suitor Gaston -- but his appearance on the show was woefully underused (though I did like the no-nonsense way Rumple went about dispatching his "rival" ha!).
I'm going to try and cover the Storybrooke developments in this episode for everyone except Mr. Gold relatively quickly, since I'm all about Mr. Gold as far as this hour is concerned. :) Valentine's Day is fast approaching, which makes things sticky for Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) and David (Josh Dallas) since they want to be together openly but can't, all thanks to that pesky issue of his wife. Ashley (Jessy Schram), a.k.a. Cinderella, makes a welcome return appearance -- she's happier now that she's reunited with her baby's father, Sean (Tim Phillipps), but he's so busy picking up extra shifts that they hardly have any time together, much less plan a wedding (side note: factory work is quite a come-down from a prince gig, hmm?). In an attempt to get over the romance blues, Ruby (Meghan Ory) suggests that she, Mary Margaret, and Ashley enjoy a girls' night out.
The girls' night really only ends well for Ashley, as Sean unexpectedly shows up and proposes (will a rift in the earth open up to swallow the couple if they try to tie the knot, and make their happy ending official? only time will tell!). Ashley and Sean's commitment to work at their relationship has Mary Margaret distinctly dissatisfied with carrying on with David in secret -- a point that is driven home by David accidentally giving her the wrong Valentine's card, the one intended for Kathryn. Note to David: YOU CANNOT MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY. The biggest effect of the curse on Charming appears to be wishy-washiness! :P
While all of these Valentine's Day shenanigans are going on, Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) returns to his home to find out that he's been robbed, and in response to Emma's (Jennifer Morrison) attempt to be ironic, he replies "Yeah well, I'm a difficult man to love." ANGST! OHMYGOSH I LOVE ANGST! Back in FTL, which let's remember is the best thing about this episode (gah! so good!), Belle has been settling into life at Rumple's castle. While I miss Belle's bookish tendencies, the show more than compensates for it by the way in which Belle refuses to be cowed by Rumple's manner (or lack thereof). While attempting to rip open some curtains (which Rumple had nailed shut, gotta love his thoroughness), Belle falls from a ladder and Rumple catches her AND THEY HAVE THIS MOMENT and this is the point where I just DIE because I LOVE IT SO MUCH.
So I have no idea how long, exactly, Belle was at Rumple's castle, but the point is it was long enough for them to build a wonderful little rapport and, perhaps most critically, for Rumple to not do the creepy psychotic laughing thing he does so often that drives me INSANE. So Rumple, because he has a boatload of issues and because he will look a gift horse in the mouth if you'll excuse the expression, reaches the point where he'll test Belle, sending her on an errand to fetch more straw for his spinning wheel, all the while fully expecting she won't return. And perhaps she would've run -- but seriously who is going to run from a guy like Rumple who is so CLEARLY REPRESSING A HEART, right? En route to the straw store (ha!) Belle meets the Queen (Lana Parrilla) -- and seriously does this woman get around or what? -- or else FTL is the size of Rhode Island. I can't decide. The Queen gets all chummy and plants the idea in the love-conflicted Belle that perhaps her employer is cursed, and OF COURSE all curses can be broken by true love's kiss.
And this is where things get heart-breaking. Filled with hope Belle returns to the castle and Rumple is absolutely adorable in how he WON'T admit he's happy she came back. *swoons* She kisses him and HE STARTS TO TRANSFORM! And I love this because I'm all about redemption stories! But this of course freaks the heck out of Rumple because if he becomes a normal man again he loses his powers. He goes completely off the rails then, accusing Belle of being in league with the Queen in a plot to destroy him and throws her in a prison cell. Oh the DRAMA, I can't TAKE IT PEOPLE!
Rumple ends up kicking Belle out into dark cold FTL, because power means more to him than love ever could. And this is why we love Belle, people, because she is so freaking NOBLE throughout the whole ordeal, leaving Rumple to his tortured aloneness. *sigh* A few days (weeks? who knows with this show) later, the Queen shows up and starts needling Rumple about Belle, dropping the bomb that her father kicked her out and she committed suicide. WHAT THE HECK, right?! This sends Rumple over the edge (again), and he throws a fit which is just HEART-BREAKING and then he sets a tea cup that Belle chipped (hellloooo CHIP!) as a memorial on a pedestal, his most treasured possession.
Back in Storybrooke, Mr. Gold has been arrested after Emma finds him beating the living daylights out of Belle's flower-selling Storybrooke father. Here's the thing -- I am not condoning vigilantism -- but holy cow seeing Mr. Gold in a rage over whatever the Storybrooke equivalent of driving Belle to suicide is -- the emotion and passion Carlyle puts in that moment is kinda hot. And here's where I might as well admit on the blog what I had a discussion with my friend Kaye about shortly after this episode aired -- I've always found Mr. Gold/Rumple kind of strangely hot. I have this problem with the random (apparent? assumed?) villain (see Chauvelin from The Scarlet Pimpernel). I think it has something to do with Mr. Gold's penchant for really sharp suits, unflappable (albeit cold) manners -- even in FTL Rumple wears sharp vests and his posture is to die for. Seriously. I really can overlook the scaly skin. Amazing!*
In jail Regina buys a few minutes of one-on-one time with Mr. Gold by giving Emma permission to (finally!) spend some time with Henry (Jared Gilmore). And this moment gave me chills -- she returns the chipped tea cup she arranged to have stolen from Gold's house only after he tells her is real name. When he breathes that word, "Rumplestiltskin," and all of their cards were on the table -- oh well-played Once, well-played. (The icing on the cake is, of course, the revelation that Belle is being held prisoner in like the friggin' basement of the Storybrooke hospital. BOOOOO REGINA!!!!)
I find it absolutely fascinating that this show has chosen to give viewers such hope for Rumple's character. Frankly after the whole Graham debacle they could reveal that Snow did in fact do something truly horrible to Regina, but I STILL wouldn't care because SHE CRUSHED GRAHAM'S HEART DANGIT. But Rumple -- oh goodness, the possibility that he has a happy ending out there if only he can bring himself to accept it, oh that is a tantalizing hope. Tread carefully, Once writers -- I am extremely emotionally invested in how this storyline turns out. I suspect that this story will be carefully parsed out over the course of the show -- and I hope, oh how I hope that Mr. Gold lives up to the promise hinted at in this episode.
Seeing as this is one of my favorite episodes, even though I'm a few weeks late I'd love to discuss. :)
*I'm really glad my Robert Carlyle/Rumple/Mr. Gold fascination is out in the open. :P