Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 1, Episode 12 of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," entitled "Skin Deep."
We've just passed the halfway mark of "Once Upon a Time's" first season, so it's fitting that this week's Rumplestiltskin-centric installment brought a couple of major revelations to light, setting up some intriguing possibilities for the episodes to come. We've long suspected that both Mr. Gold and Regina know more about the curse than they've been letting on, but it was nice to see both characters reference it overtly at last -- especially since the show has occasionally fallen into the trap of foreshadowing things through enigmatic and portentous conversations that tend to frustrate an audience if they occur too often.
Though we're still not certain how Rumple lost his son, we now know that he suffered another great loss thanks, in part, to Regina. Still, while Belle had obviously grown to love her "beast" through months of being his captive, in the end, it was Rumple's own insecurity that robbed him of a chance to savor true love and find his humanity again, not The Evil Queen's intervention. Sure, Regina was the one who convinced Belle to try "true love's kiss" to break Rumple's curse for her own nefarious purposes -- namely, to render Rumple powerless -- but Rumple didn't start out as power-hungry. Plus, as Belle pointed out, the real reason he pulled away was because "you just think I can't love you," even after she had already proven that she did.
While Regina wasn't responsible for Rumple's self-sabotage, she was responsible for lying to Rumple about Belle's death. After the revelation in the final few minutes -- that Belle's Storybrooke alter-ego is also still alive and locked in a basement under the hospital -- I think it's safe to assume that the queen simply captured Belle and locked her away, exaggerating the rumors of her demise just to throw her enemy off-balance.
Writer Jane 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. "There aren't a lot of opportunities for women in this land to show what they can do, to see the world, to be heroes," Belle pointed out, sharing her admirable ambition to be a hero with Rumple -- but one thing that can be said for "Once Upon a Time" is that heroic (and villainous) women are in ready supply, both in Fairytale Land and Storybrooke.
They're all flawed and troubled, and yes, some of them were once broken or afraid enough to get themselves into sticky situations and occasionally need a prince or a few dwarves to back them up (instead of simply "saving" them). But none of the female characters in the show are passive damsels in distress, and that is where "Once" is truly excelling. A woman doesn't have to be "good" or "perfect" to be compelling -- even Emma and Mary Margaret have weaknesses and doubts, but that doesn't stop either of them from standing up for themselves or knowing their own worth. Belle wouldn't allow Rumple to belittle or demean her when he tried to insist that he cared more about keeping his power than he cared about her. She confronted him with the knowledge that it was his own insecurity that was preventing him from finding happiness, not anything she had done.
In Storybrooke, Mary Margaret seems to be struggling with that dichotomy the most; she knows that she's worth more than being kept as someone's mistress, but she clearly loves David so much that she's willing to sacrifice that confidence for the way she feels when she's with him. His Valentine's Day card mix up seemed to snap her out of her fog of twitterpation for the time being (and seriously, David, could you not write the names on the envelopes?); but deep down, they both know that they can't continue the charade. Thankfully, judging by next week's promo, they won't have to for long.
Once again, the focus on Rumplestiltskin gave Robert Carlyle excellent material to work with. He was able to swing between scenery-chewing lunacy and the more understated tenderness of his later interactions with Belle, not to mention the icy intimidation of Mr. Gold as he remorselessly beat Mr. French for the things Rumple believed Belle's father guilty of doing back in Fairytale Land.
Regina and Mr. Gold's interaction in the jail cell also nicely mirrored their scene from earlier in the season, in which a trapped Rumple gave Regina the curse in the first place. I just hope the pair are going to stop holding back with each other and really wage war -- I can't wait to see what transpires when Mr. Gold discovers that Belle is still alive.
Other memorable moments:
-- I was amused by the fact that Belle clearly comes from the part of Fairytale Land where the Australians live, since Emilie de Ravin was sporting her natural accent. It was a little jarring, considering most of the accents we've heard thus far have been British or American (or Canadian trying to approximate American). Still, if Fairytale Land is as vast and faceted as our own, why wouldn't there be different accents for different kingdoms? I guess it's kind of fitting for a twist on "Beauty and the Beast," which was clearly set in the part of France where the Americans live.
-- Was Mr. French's flower-selling business called "Game of Thorns"? Nice visual nod to one of Espenson's previous writing gigs.
-- The Disney references flew thick and fast this week, both in Belle's iconic gold and blue dresses, Gaston's transformation into a rose, and in the choice to emphasize Rumple's connection to a teacup that Belle accidentally chipped. His "it's just a cup," response was particularly amusing. Regina also mentioned having a deal to discuss with Rumple regarding "a certain mermaid" -- first Cinderella's Fairy Godmother and now the Beast, is the imp going to be doubling as Ursula next? Unless I'm mistaken, we also saw the two creepy villager puppets from Jiminy Cricket's backstory in Rumple's mansion, just as he keeps them in his shop in Storybrooke.
What was your favorite moment in "Skin Deep"? Did you approve of the unique twist on "Beauty and the Beast? Share your reactions and predictions below!
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.
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