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Once Upon a Time: Skin Deep

Written by Tricia Long on Tuesday, February 14 2012 and posted in Reviews

Sometimes true beauty is more than skin deep.

Warning: spoilers ahead. Check your brakes.

Welcome back from hiatus, everyone! Hope you enjoyed the Super Bowl/Puppy Bowl/night of reading last Sunday, because now it's time to return to fairy tales and melodrama. This week, our fearless writers reimagine Beauty and the Beast: the twist is that Rumplestiltskin (R-stilts) is the Beast. Are you thrown for a loop? I hope not, otherwise your head will be spinning by the end of this episode.

Let's get started then. As "Skin Deep" starts, we find Belle and her family embroiled in a war with ogres. They have summoned R-stilts, who we all remember is still the Dark One, to bring an end to the fighting. Of course his services come with a price: Belle as his caretaker. Gaston, predictably, objects but Belle offers herself to save her family. While this is a heroic gesture, I found myself distracted by whatever accent Emilie de Ravin was going for. Did the same thing happen when she was on Lost? It kind of happened when she was on Roswell. I digress.

In Storybrooke Gold is harassing the local florist, Maurice French, who owes him money for some undisclosed reason. Regina watches from a street corner nearby and proves that her re-election is fixed by magic because she does nothing to stop it. Maurice is Belle's father in the fairy tale world, so you see how this situation parallels the opening. The flower motif will continue throughout, so get used to it. Not only is the rose itself of penultimate importance in the Beauty and the Beast, it's also an excuse for a Game of Thrones reference: his florist business is called "Game of Thorns". I'm pointing all of this out because Gold getting mafia on a guy and stealing his van should be more exciting than this scene was. I was more focused on Gold's Lennon shades and pimp coat than on the story. So, nice job wardrobe department?

Regina accosts Gold and starts to ask him a favor, but he's on a vindictive spree and chooses to ignore her. She tries to make him listen and he says "please." This is important, because we learned all the way back in the second episode that R-stilts agreed to help the Evil Queen if he could always get his way when he said "please". His use of this word once again raises the question: does he know that he was once a man with a name so long that it bears abbreviating?

At the café, Mary Margaret and David are having breakfast but not together. She's convinced him to read Anna Karenina – maybe she's hoping he'll see the parallel between their predicament and that of Anna and Lenin? Let's hope this series doesn't end with Mary Margaret jumping in front of a train. Emma arrives to ask Mary Margaret about Henry, who she is still forbidden to see. I ask myself why they couldn't do this at home when Ashley, aka Cinderella, shows up to join them. She complains about being a new mother and not getting enough time with her baby daddy, Sean. Red, in the sluttiest waitressing outfit yet, invites them all out for a girls-only valentines day. She is the only person excited by this idea, and while Emma declines the other two go along with it. David is sad in the background and I wonder about Maine's divorce laws. The simple solution is staring you in the face, buddy. I mean come on, you're READING ANNA KARENINA. You clearly love this woman.

Emma gets a page and leaves the café, arriving at a large and colorful house where Gold has broken in. He's brought a gun and stalks around a bit before Emma catches him. He claims that something was stolen from the house, but he knows who did it and how to get it back. I don't know why he doesn't just run for Sherriff; he does half the crime in the town anyway. It would save tax dollars, right? You see, the house belongs to Maurice and whatever is missing is something he owes Gold. Emma leaves to find Maurice, but I have a feeling she'll have a hard time locating him.

In the fairy tale world, R-stilts shows Belle her new digs... which happens to be a dungeon. Her pretty yellow dress is going to get wrinkled in there! No! He gives her a list of duties, which includes skinning the children he hunts. Just kidding! He's the Dark One, not a monster. She chips a cup and he doesn't even freak out. He seems seems kindly toward her and she seems to take that kindness a little too much to heart. Later, Belle asks him why he spins so much gold since he'll never be able to spend it. He says it's to forget but doesn't elaborate; the audience can fill in the blanks. She tries to open the curtains, which seem to be nailed closed, but only manages to do so as she falls off the ladder and into his arms. Of course this means it's time to cue the romantic music and for me to be deeply disturbed by this budding romance and how easily R-stilts is assenting to the whole thing. Is Belle just kind enough to see the man inside the dark one or is she genuinely trying to make the most of her crappy situation? I just have a hard time believing she would be attracted to someone with that kind of skin condition. I know it's a side effect of being evil, but even the sunlight is not going to improve his gold-tinged complexion.

Emma manages to locate the dish set that was stolen, which a keen-eyed viewer will remember from Gold's shop a few episodes ago. She has little luck finding Maurice, though. Gold fumes because a piece of the set is missing and insists that only he can find it.

Meanwhile at the fortress of solitude, Belle asks R-stilts why he wanted her there. She thinks he was lonely, like any man would be, but he insists that he is no man. She found children's clothing upstairs and learns that he lost both his son and the mother. She notes that he covered up the windows and mirrors because he thinks he's a monster, and she doesn't believe he is a monster. I get why he covered up the mirrors – he doesn't want Regina spying on him – but covering the windows too seems a bit of a stretch.

Gaston comes knocking, and R-stilts quickly disposes of him by turning him into a rose. He gives the rose to Belle, which serves as a refreshing reminder that R-stilts might be romantic but he's also possessed by a demon shadow and haunted by his own shortcomings. As a counterpoint, he asks her what made her choose to come with him and she explains that she saw it as a chance to be a heroine. Her willingness to love R-stilts is explained by her belief that love is "layered" and "a mystery to be uncovered" and her inability to love someone as "superficial" as Gaston. Please note that she is clipping the Gaston-rose and putting it in a jar during this little speech. It's nice to know that the writers kept all the gruesomeness of early fairy tales even in the midst of saccharine speeches.

R-stilts is moved by her bravery, however, and tells her to go to town to get some straw. When she asks if he trusts her to come back he says that he never expects to see her again. He does, however, promise to tell her his story if she returns. He's giving her an out, you guys! Because he really isn't all that bad and maybe deep down he actually loves her! No, sometimes villains are just bad. Not everyone is Magneto. ... Ok I love R-stilts enough to let him be sympathetic from now on, but keep it dark, writers, or you will feel the wrath of my keyboard.

Back in Storybrooke, the girlz are at da club gettin tipsy. Yes, it did hurt me to type that sentence but it is the most accurate description of what I'm seeing. Cinderella does shots while Ruby goes on the prowl, and I conclude that this is a party I would totally want to happen. My dreams of a crazy girls' night are dashed when Mary Margaret joins Cinderella in wishing that life were different and I realize that Mary Margaret is that one girlfriend who can never have fun. Lighten up, girl, this isn't Tolstoy. There are not nearly enough Napoleon references for it to be Tolstoy.

Elsewhere, Gold runs into David at the store. Gold is buying tape and David is buying two different valentines because he is living the dream. Gold reminisces about how love is a delicate flame that comes only once before hopping in the van where he has kidnapped Maurice. A man of extremes, he is; it's almost poetic. He takes Maurice to the cabin where Mary Margaret and David so recently found shelter and tells him that he normally doesn't let people get away when they owe him something.

This is the perfect segue back to the fairy tale land, where Belle is on the path to town. She is met by the Evil Queen, who is conveniently riding by in her carriage. Belle tries to get rid of her, accurately sensing that she means her no good, but the Evil Queen pries too much. She concludes that Belle loves R-stilts, but Belle protests that something evil has taken root in him. The Evil Queen says that true love's kiss could cure him of his evil (effectively changing him from a beast back into a man – see what they did there?) but only if he let her go, which he already has. Belle is determined to kiss him and get the fairy tale ending we're all kind of ambivalent about.

Belle returns to R-stilts's castle with loads of straw and asks for his story. He dodges the question and asks why she came back. She kisses him, and it's awkward for everyone but is effective in "breaking the curse" because you can see his normal skin appearing. She tells him that her kiss is effectively removing the curse because they have true love and he flips out, yelling at the mirrors (and by extension, the Evil Queen) and claiming that no one could ever love him. This is the curse's form of white blood cells, I believe. Or maybe this is the greatest power of the curse itself: despair. He throws Belle in the dungeon for presuming to love him, and she's just as confused as the rest of us.

Back at the cabin, Maurice wants to explain everything. I would like him to, because I want to understand what he did to make Gold so upset. My wishes are ignored, however, when Gold uses his best interrogation techniques and beats Maurice with his cane. He goes on about "her" being gone and never coming back. This scene is closely followed by R-stilts at the castle destroying everything but the cup Belle chipped. You will not make me cry, Once Upon a Time. You keep trying to and I really don't appreciate it.

Back at the bar, Ashley wishes that she saw more of her boyfriend Sean... which is why he shows up with roses! To propose! On his break! Happy Valentine's Day, single people, I'm sure you all hate your lives even more now. This gets Mary Margaret thinking about how loving someone you can't be with sucks, which is why David shows up with his own Valentine's Day card... but he gives her the one meant for Katharine. Mary Margaret is understandably upset, even though she's the mistress in this situation, and declares that she's unhappy with their current arrangement. He promises to not give up on them, that they will find a better way, but honestly he should just divorce Katharine. Really, it's an option in Maine. It's not a Catholic state.

At the cabin, Emma has discovered Gold and Maurice. While the paramedics take Maurice away, Emma questions Gold about "her". When he refuses to cooperate she arrests him. At the jail, Gold is behind bars and Emma is loving it. Regina shows up with Henry and says that Emma can have him if they leave the jail for 30 minutes. She uses that time to browbeat Gold into confessing his real name and we find out that – shocker – he does know that he was Rumplestiltskin, and she was the Evil Queen and all the rest. Writers, you were doing so well! Of course he remembers, no one is that spot-on with his observations by accident. In exchange for his confession, he gets the cup that Belle chipped oh so long ago which of course was the missing piece he was searching for.

In the fairy tale land, R-stilts visits Belle in the dungeon. He tells her to leave because he doesn't want her anymore. She confronts him and calls him a coward. He claims he loves his power more than her, but she says he just didn't want to believe that she loves him. We all get an acting lesson when she leaves and he closes his eyes ever so slightly, showing that he was loving her by setting her free. I think that he does love his power enough to want it more than love, but he was never a brave man in the first place: that is his tragedy.

The Queen shows up to talk to R-stilts about a mermaid (foreshadow!). He warns that she can never be more powerful than him so she should stop throwing pretty girls in his path, but she has an ace up her sleeve: a gruesome tale about how Belle's father shunned her when she returned and beat her so much that she killed herself. I'm gonna go ahead and say that Regina was lying, because Belle is alive in Storybrooke. She's in the basement of the hospital and Regina is the only one who knows where to find her. Just in case you forgot, Regina is supposed to be the villain of the show.

Once Upon a Time is quickly becoming all about R-stilts, possibly because he is the most interesting character and certainly one of the most dynamic actors (no disrespect to my main men Giancarlo Esposito, who was phenomenal two weeks ago, and Raphael Sbarge) but I will be happy next week to get back on track with the whole Mary Margaret /David romance thing. And when is that writer gonna hook up with Emma already?

Next week: some resolution for Mary Margaret and David? Also, the lady of the lake!

Written or Contributed by: Tricia Long

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