Skin Deep (Once Upon a Time)
|Once Upon a Time episode|
|Episode no.||Season 1
|Directed by||Milan Cheylov|
|Story by||Jane Espenson|
|Original air date||February 12, 2012|
"Skin Deep" is the twelfth episode of the American fairy tale/drama television series Once Upon a Time. The series takes place in the fictional seaside town of Storybrooke, Maine, in which the residents are actually characters from various fairy tales that were transported to the "real world" town by a powerful curse. In this episode, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) suspects Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) is planning to seek vigilante justice when a cat burglar (Eric Keenleyside) robs his house. Meanwhile, Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) plans a special girls' night out on Valentine's Day with Ruby (Meghan Ory) and Ashley (Jessy Schram), and a fateful deal made between Rumpelstiltskin (Carlyle) and Belle (Emilie de Ravin) is revealed – in which she gives up her freedom to save her village from the horrors of the Ogre Wars.
The episode was written by consulting producer Jane Espenson and directed by Milan Cheylov. It featured the first appearance of de Ravin, who was cast as Belle in November 2011 after being approached by series co-creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. Espenson created a love-themed episode; initially its main theme was to focus on Rumpelstiltskin choosing power over love, but during the writing process Espenson decided to make him instead believe that he was not worthy of love at all.
"Skin Deep" first aired in the United States on ABC on February 12, 2012. The episode received mixed reviews from television critics. Several reviewers felt that the Belle-Rumpelstiltskin relationship resembled Stockholm Syndrome and was not developed enough to make it believable. Others, however, praised the complex characterization of the episode's female characters, as well as Carlyle's performance. A novelization of "Skin Deep" was released in 2013.
In the Characters' Past
In The Enchanted Forest, the Ogre Wars continue but are not going well for the lands controlled by Sir Maurice (Eric Keenleyside). Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) arrives and agrees to aid the battle in exchange for Maurice's daughter, Belle (Emilie de Ravin). Belle's fiancée, Gaston (Sage Brocklebank), and her father are against the terms but Belle agrees. At his castle, Rumpelstiltskin gives Belle a list of tasks, including skinning the children that he hunts for their pelts. At this Belle drops and chips a teacup in shock, but he explains that it is a joke. After a few months, Belle mentions she found children's clothing and Rumpelstiltskin admits he had a son. The two grow closer. Gaston arrives to rescue Belle but Rumpelstiltskin turns him into a rose and presents it to her as a gift. When asked about Gaston, Belle says that it was an arranged marriage, not one of love. She left him because she wanted to be heroic and there are not many chances for women to be heroic. Rumpelstiltskin asks Belle to go into town to buy more straw, and she cannot believe he trusts her to come back. Rumpelstiltskin says he does not expect to see her again.
As Belle is walking down the road, she runs into The Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), who asks her if she is running from someone. Belle admits the man she is leaving is overcome by evil yet she loves him. The Evil Queen offers the solution: true love's kiss will break the curse. Belle returns to Rumpelstiltskin to kiss him and break the curse. Although it begins to work, he becomes furious and shakes off the magic, accusing Belle of conspiring with The Evil Queen. Rumpelstiltskin yells in a rage that no one will love him, and The Evil Queen will never take away his power. He throws Belle in his dungeon and smashes every cup against the wall but he cannot bring himself to destroy the chipped one. Once he has cooled off, he tells Belle to leave because his powers are more important to him than she is. Belle admonishes him for not believing she can love him. She warns him that he will regret his actions when all he has is an empty heart and a chipped cup.
A month later, The Evil Queen appears; Rumpelstiltskin says that her deception with Belle failed, and that The Evil Queen will never be more powerful than him. She then tells him that she had nothing to do with Belle's actions (even though she prodded her, Belle's feelings were real) and informs him that upon Belle's return to her home, she had been shunned by her village for her association with Rumpelstiltskin and Gaston's disappearance and was subsequently imprisoned and tortured by her father. She eventually killed herself, leaping off the tower she was kept prisoner in. Rumpelstiltskin is devastated and replaces a treasured gold chalice with the chipped cup.
In the present day, Mr. Gold (Carlyle) repossesses florist Moe French's (Keenleyside) van the day before Valentine's Day. At Granny's Cafe, David (Josh Dallas) and Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) talk from separate tables, until Emma (Jennifer Morrison) interrupts to ask about Henry (Jared S. Gilmore). Ashley (Jessy Schram) arrives with her baby, noting how rarely she gets a babysitter or sees her boyfriend, Sean (Tim Phillipps). Ruby (Meghan Ory) suggests a girl's night out. Emma investigates a robbery of Mr. Gold's home, who says he knows that Moe is responsible, seeking revenge for the repossession. Emma recovers the majority of Mr. Gold's items but one thing is missing and he will stop at nothing until it is recovered. He kidnaps Moe, ties him up and beats him, demanding where it is. However, he soon starts saying "she's gone," referring to Belle, until Emma arrives to stop him. Mr. Gold believes Regina (Parrilla) put Moe up to the theft and she knows where the last stolen item is. Emma still has to arrest Mr. Gold for kidnapping and assault.
Elsewhere, during their girls night out, Ruby is trying to convince Ashley to find another guy since Sean is always working. Ashley tells Mary Margaret that all she wants is to be with Sean. Mary Margaret understands since her own romantic arrangement is not ideal. Sean shows up on a break from work and proposes to Ashley; she accepts and they go out for a drive. David shows up next to give Mary Margret her Valentine, but mistakenly gives her Kathryn's. Mary Margaret says she thought if two people were meant to be together they would find a way, but maybe she and David need another way. She tells him he should probably go home.
At the sheriff's office, Mr. Gold reminds Emma about the favor she owes him but he does not use it to ask for his freedom. Regina shows up and tells Emma that she can see Henry for only 30 minutes if she will allow her to visit Mr. Gold. He asks Regina if she has what he wants and she in fact does. Regina put Moe up to the robbery because she wants Mr. Gold to say his real name. After some prodding he admits his name is Rumpelstiltskin and addresses Regina as "Your Majesty," confirming that both are aware of their alternate identities. Regina returns the chipped cup to Mr. Gold then makes a visit to the hospital. She goes to see Belle's counterpart, who did not die in the Enchanted Forest, but is now being held prisoner in the hospital's mental ward.
"Skin Deep" was written by consulting producer Jane Espenson, while 24 veteran, Milan Cheylov, directed the installment. Knowing that they were going to recreate the story of "Beauty and the Beast", series co-creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz wanted its heroine, Belle, "to exude intelligence and strength and be someone you would immediately love," which led them to approach Emilie de Ravin. Her casting was announced in November 2011. The actress agreed after reading the script, believing that the character was "very courageous" with a playful side that would endear her to Rumpelstiltskin. During their casting meeting, Kitsis and Horowitz told de Ravin that Belle is defined as a strong intelligent woman in a world that disapproves of those characteristics, and that de Ravin was going to be "tak[ing] the icon of Belle and mak[ing] her a woman."
Espenson said that this was one of their most love-centered episodes; when they realized it was going to be airing near Valentine's Day, they decided to "lean into" this theme. Unusual for Once Upon a Time, the theme of this episode changed during the writing process. It was initially meant to center on Rumpelstiltskin choosing power over love. However, as Espenson went through drafts and discussed them with others, she decided that Rumpelstiltskin might think he is doing this, but really his actions are motivated by not believing that he is worthy of love at all. In the interest of time, Espenson was forced to edit out many plot points, including a failed escape attempt by Belle. Despite this, she sought to trim down more time from the Storybrooke scenes and "preserve as much as we could of the fairy tale side," as the Belle-Rumpelstiltskin relationship was a love story that needed time to grow in order to be believable.
De Ravin was a fan of the series before being cast and was happy to be able to view the costumes up close, describing her character's gold dress as "absolutely stunning." The casting of her former suitor, Gaston, was announced in December 2011 with Psych actor Sage Brocklebank. De Ravin described the episode's version of Gaston as "maybe not as cocky as the animation [version of him], but it’s funny." Rumpelstiltskin's castle was shot almost entirely on greenscreen, with only a few real props being used. It was de Ravin's first time working with this technology, which caused her to become "quite nervous." The physical props helped her with the scenes, and "they ha[d] a fantastic set up of a couple of monitors that you can see a markup of basically how it’s going to look."
There are multiple references made to Disney's Beauty and the Beast. The chipped tea cup that Belle accidentally drops is a reference to the character Chip in the film. Also, Belle's fiancée in the show is named Gaston, the Disney antagonist, and he was turned into a red rose, which featured prominently in the film. In addition, most of Belle's clothing in the fantasy world appears to be directly inspired by clothing worn by Belle in the Disney film, such as her yellow ballgown and her blue and white plainclothes. Mr. French's flower shop is called "Game of Thorns," a reference to Game of Thrones, a popular fantasy show and book series. The name and a logo can be seen on the side of his van at the start of the episode. David is seen reading Anna Karenina, another story about an affair that ends tragically. In the end of the episode, a reference to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is shown, when the janitor mopping up bears a striking resemblance to the Chief in the novel and film adaptation. Also, the nurse behind the desk that Regina first encounters bears a striking resemblance to Nurse Ratched, ("Big Nurse")in the film adaptation of Ken Kesey's famous novel.
Ratings and viewership for "Skin Deep" were down from the last episode. It had an 18-49 rating of 3.0 and was seen by 8.65 million viewers, down 14 percent, but still came in second overall for the night. This was partially due to the fact that the episode aired in the same time-slot as the 54th Grammy Awards, who had their best numbers ever since the 1984 telecast and the sudden news of Whitney Houston's death the day prior to the event. In Canada, the episode finished in sixteenth place for the week with an estimated 1.55 million viewers, a slight decrease from the 1.58 million of the previous episode.
"Skin Deep" received mixed reviews from television critics. Amy Ratcliffe, writing for IGN, rated the episode with an 8 out of 10. She expressed her love of Robert Carlyle, opining that "I especially liked him in the episode. He managed to show true emotion in spite of his silly Rumpelstiltskin accent, and he improves every scene he's in. I feel like this episode will start something bigger. At least, I hope it will." Laura Prudom of The Huffington Post felt Espenson was a "perfect fit for this episode – when she's firing on all cylinders, the Buffy alumna is one of the best in the industry at writing layered, empowered women, even when circumstances conspire against them." The A.V. Club 's Oliver Sava graded the episode with a C+. He felt that because Belle did not come from "humble beginnings" like the Disney version, she was a "much less interesting character." In addition, to Sava another major failing was that the Belle-Rumpelstiltskin relationship resembled Stockholm Syndrome and "doesn’t develop organically." He did however love Regina's final scene with Rumpelstiltskin, and expressed the wish that the other characters would begin remembering their pasts soon.
Hillary Busis of Entertainment Weekly opined that Espenson's attempt to tell a "nightmarish, twisty tale of obsession and loss" was "decidedly mixed" due to the lack of development in the relationship between Belle and Rumpelstiltskin. Busis explained, "Yes, people fall in love quickly in traditional bedtime stories. But at least in the animated version of Beauty and the Beast, we could understand why Belle and her hairy paramour were meant to be. 'Skin Deep' didn't bother to explain that attraction." In a contribution for Tor.com, Teresa Jusino defined "Skin Deep" as an "amazing retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story that contained some wonderful character moments and some great one-liners... Funny, charming, and at times harrowing, the script takes us into the depths of Rumpelstiltskin’s soul, showing us this character both at his most warm and at his most dark." Jusino was critical of the subplot with David and Mary Margaret, however, saying that "it didn’t seem necessary as it didn’t really move much forward."
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