The Beast Finds His Beauty In "Once Upon a Time"
“Once Upon a Time” often keeps you on your toes. Characters’ conversations tend to dance around huge discoveries in the plot, only to leave the audience hanging and guessing for what seems like forever. In this episode, entitled “Skin Deep,” yet another princess is introduced, and we learn that more than one key character is aware of the curse (in which all fairytale people and creatures have been unknowingly transplanted into the modern-day, small town of Storybrooke, Maine).
The episode begins with the introduction of Belle. Nope, she doesn’t come from a French provincial town. She’s actually royalty, and engaged to be married to Gaston. Her family calls upon the dangerous and always tricky Rumplestiltskin in hopes of finding safety from the Ogre Wars. Rumple’s price: Belle. She agrees to go with him despite her family’s urges to reject Rumplestiltskin’s offer.
Belle serves as Rumple’s servant, though throughout her time with him, they begin to develop feelings for one another. She learns that he was once a real man.
Disney-esque symbolism graces the screen, such as when Belle accidentally drops a teacup, creating a “chip,” and when Gaston confronts Rumple at his front door only to be turned into a rose immediately.
As Rumple and Belle’s relationship grows, he realizes his love for her and sends her into town – her first outing since committing to the deal – admitting that he didn’t expect to ever see her again.
As Belle walks along the road, she runs into none other than the Evil Queen, an enemy of Rumple, who she tells of her problems with Rumple’s unnatural, beastly presence. Says the Queen: “True love’s kiss will break any curse.” With this information, Belle hurries back to kiss Rumple.
The kiss works, and he begins to turn human again – but at the first sign of this, Rumple rejects Belle in an uproar, claiming to care more for his power (which would be lost forever at the regaining of his humanness) than her. Ultimately, he simply commands her to go. After a spiel from Belle in which she boldly tells him “all you have is an empty heart,” she leaves.
Meanwhile, in Storybrooke, Mary Margaret (Snow White), Ashley (Cinderella), and Ruby (Little Red Riding Hood) spend Valentine’s Day evening together. Ruby is single, Mary Margaret’s love, David, is assumably spending the holiday with his wife, and Ashley’s boyfriend got a late shift on the job.
Ashley is in the midst of discussing her insecurity in her relationship with her boyfriend when he suddenly appears, in his work uniform, with a bouquet of roses. As if this wasn’t enough to make her night, he proceeds to kneel and propose to her.
Later that evening, Mary Margaret leaves the Valentine’s Day gathering. She is approached by David, who gives her a card. She reads it, only to lose hope in him once again when she finds it’s written for Katherine, his wife. Major whoops. Wrong card. You would think he’d at least write their names on the envelopes…
In non-Valentine’s Day-related parts of Storybrooke, Emma, who has recently been elected Sheriff, arrests Mr. Gold for kidnapping and beating a man who has supposedly stolen from him. This man is Mr. French (Belle’s father, in the world of fairytales).
Regina, the Mayor, pays a visit to Mr. Gold in jail. She’s got something of Mr. Gold’s that he desperately wants back. She tells him he can have it back once he tells her one simple thing: his name.
“It’s Mr. Gold,” he responds, claiming this has always been his name. Regina doesn’t buy it, and finally Gold utters with a hiss, “Rumplestiltskin.”
Regina hands him what she promised: the chipped teacup. “Thank you, your majesty.”
Not only do we now know that Regina is aware of the curse, but so is Mr. Gold. This brings up other questions: who else, if anyone, knows of the curse? And while Mr. Gold is definitely a shady character, he is Regina’s enemy, as he was in the fairytale world as well...so should Emma trust him?
In the final scene of the episode, Regina visits what appears to be a mental institution and jail. She peers through a slot that looks into a bleak, solitary confinement cell. In the corner crouches a young woman, wearing scrubs and looking depressed as ever. She lifts her head, and we see that it is Belle.
“Skin Deep” leaves us with several major questions to be answered. Perhaps the greatest among them is if true love’s kiss can undo any curse in the world of fairytales, can it also undo the Storybrooke curse?