Once Upon a Time – Skin Deep

Source: ABC.com. Copyright 2011 by ABC.

Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Milan Cheylov

From ABC.com: When Mr. Gold’s house is robbed, Emma suspects he is planning to seek vigilante justice; Ruby, Mary Margaret and Ashley plan a night out on Valentine’s Day; Belle makes a deal.

Quite a few months ago, I wrote a review of the Jane Espenson-penned That Still Small Voice. I believed at the time, and still do, that the eponymous episode was poorly-written, formulaic padding. The strength of Once Upon a Time had been characterization, and That Still Small Voice did not rise to the high standards already exhibited by the series.

I feel that I must now offer apologies to Ms. Espenson. She has written two more episodes since then, and both have been excellent. Both have also made good use of Robert Carlyle, which only makes things even better. I have a belief that the quality of an episode of Once Upon a Time can be judged by the amount of screen time given to Mr. Carlyle. He never disappoints.

If you haven’t seen the episode, you can watch it or read the synopsis on the ABC website. It built upon the development of Rumpelstiltskin in a way that was believable. Initially, I was reluctant to see the show delve in to his background. I liked the idea of Rumpelstiltskin being a force of nature, a trickster who was mysterious. Any background information would take away the enigma. However, the show has done a good job of having it both ways. Whether due to the writing, Carlyle’s performance, or both, Rumpelstiltskin is one of the most fascinating characters on the show, and Skin Deep not only shows the internal struggle that rages within him, it shows an external struggle that had only been hinted at until now.

Based on this episode, it seems one of the major themes in Once Upon a Time, a theme that appears again and again in mythic storytelling, is the conflict between power and love. Wagner used it in The Ring Cycle. It is a struggle that constantly assails Christianity. It works out in the lives of the residents of Storybrook and the fairy tale world. Rumpelstiltskin was forced to choose between love and holding on to the power that he had gained. He is, arguably, the most powerful creature in the fairy tale world, a position which makes him a target of The Queen. Tricksters can be defeated, but only through trickery. If Rumpelstiltskin had chosen love, his powers—the result of a curse—would be gone. The Queen would win.

The Queen also faces this choice. In The Thing You Love Most, she must choose between her revenge and the love she has for her father. In the end, the power to take revenge trumps love for her. Even in Skin Deep, Regina chooses to confront Mr. Gold rather than continue to keep Henry and Emma apart. Facing her old nemesis was more important than controlling her son’s relationship (which is a perversion of love).

So it would seem, with this episode, one of the central conflicts is that of The Queen versus Rumpelstiltskin. We already knew of her fight against Snow White. This new revelation adds more depth to the show, but also gives us plenty of new plot threads. Can the writers handle them?

As We Move Forward: From the episodes I have seen so far, it seems the best deal with the conflicts mentioned above. Jiminy Cricket’s story felt like filler, as did Hansel and Gretel’s story. When the episodes give us more pieces that relate to The Queen, Snow, and Rumpelstitlskin, the show feels like it is going somewhere. I still like the idea of a season-long arc which resolves and ushers in a new story (possibly one not related to the curse) in the second season. I have no idea if the writers will go in this direction, but it seems, based on what we have so far, they could easily do so. It would be immensely satisfying.

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