Last Winter, OUAF conducted a poll of what were fans' favorite episodes. "Skin Deep" was voted number one. The staff wrote a round-table about "Skin Deep" and their personal favorites.
1. Skin Deep consistently ranks among fans as a favorite episode. Why do you think it resonated so much with the audience? If it is your favorite, what to you makes it so special?
Gareth: For me, “Skin Deep” represents the moment that Once Upon A Time went from a good show to a truly great show. It had everything; action, romance, great writing and the actors were all on top form. I think “Skin Deep” marks the darkest place Once Upon A Time has been in the last four years. Nothing since has really come close to that remarkable scene between Gold and Moe French, juxtaposed by the flashbacks to Rumple destroying the castle. It was sinister, it was tragic and it made you stand up and re-evaluate what the whole show was about.
Ashley: I think this is the episode where everything just clicked. We obviously get the introduction to the Belle and Rumpelstilskin romance, as well as a dash of mystery on the Storybrooke side of things with the break-in at Mr. Gold’s. We finally find out for sure that Rumple has his memories in Storybrooke, which ups the stakes significantly. And of course that twist at the end with Belle being alive in the hospital. This episode has a slice of something for everyone; it’s the perfect blend of all the elements that the fans love about Once Upon a Time. From mystery, to a love story, to just seeing your favorite fairy tale characters hanging out at the bar. This episode has it all.
Joanne: “Skin Deep” has definitely touched a chord with so many different people. Personally, I think that people can relate to Belle and Rumple’s relationship much more than they can to Snow and Charming’s. Snowing is the perfect ideal romance. Rumbelle is anything but perfect. Belle is an optimist and sees the best in everyone. Rumpelstiltskin is an imperfect man who has been broken by life. Like most women, Belle loves Rumple for his potential. She knows that he can be a better man if he chooses to do so, but he is always making the wrong choices. Few of us have a perfect relationship like Snowing. Most of us have been in a relationship like Rumbelle. We can relate to them more.
Lori: I think it resonated so much with the audience because it caused a high point in the emotions that were evolving as we watched the progression of Rumplestiltskin's character. We saw him at his worst in the first few episodes of Season One (“You know what you love, now go kill it!”), and then we began to understand and empathize with him through "Desperate Souls”. So when "Skin Deep" aired, I think it was the possibility that even the Dark One could be loved and love in return that completely captured our hearts. It was the possibility not only for love, but for redemption and a return to goodness. It was hope, and basically everything that the show stands for.
Teresa: “Skin Deep” holds number one in my heart because it brought to life “Beauty and the Beast.” And it wasn’t just Rumplestiltskin and Belle. The Beauties featured included Mary Margaret, Emma, Henry, Ruby, Ella and Thomas. Beasts also reared their ugly heads: Regina at her most violently manipulative, the Nurse in the asylum, and David with his pathetic two Valentines. All had key, subtle moments showing the forces at war: the darkness and light within. This theme has recurred on Once between family, friends, and enemies. All characters are both beautiful and beastly to themselves and each other at different points in the story. Everyone on the show is a chipped cup. And yet they marry each other. Great love--true, honest love—on Once is to me found in Rumplestiltskin and Belle’s relationship. I saw it expressed explicitly in Season Three when the Rumbelle wedding vows rang out as a montage of all characters played.
That is why I believe “Skin Deep” resonates with so many fans. It put into one episode what Once is all about.
Sam: I think “Skin Deep” holds up as a fan favorite because it is a beautiful written and acted tragic, love story. For me, it was the episode that pushed me over the edge from casual Once Upon a Time fan to total fanatic and it's all because of Robert Carlyle. This forty-something woman fell head-over-heels into a school girl crush for Rumplestiltskin after seeing “Skin Deep”. I'm pretty sure I was not the only one. I see Rumple as the ultimate “tortured artist” that a girl just wants to stand beside and help through his pain on his road to glory.
Not only are the performances by Carlyle and Emilie De Ravin so perfect, but everything from the writing, sets, costumes and music were perfect. There were just enough call-outs to the Disney animated feature and just enough parts of the classic “Beauty and the Beast” story.
I could tell you why I love every scene, but I'm going to limit myself to just three. First, I love the subtlety of the scene when Belle is telling Rumple her definition of love. I love watching Rumple listen to her and realize that he is falling for her. This is a great example of the depth of Carlyle's skills. You can read so much on his face in this quiet moment. For drama and tension, there is the dungeon confrontation where Rumple sends Belle away. Again, Carlyle says so much even when he's not speaking any lines. And how prophetic! Even in the beginning of their relationship Belle and Rumple were at odds over his conflict between love and power. Finally, a scene that's very important because it's relevant to the whole Season One arc is the Storybrooke jail cell part near the end of “Skin Deep”. It starts out light-hearted with Emma teasing Gold. But it finishes so strongly when Regina confronts Gold and gets him to admit he knows who he really is forcing him to say that his name is Rumplestiltskin. Finally we have confirmation that Gold is aware of the Curse.
Even though I love “Skin Deep”, I do not rank it as my number one episode. For me, it is what we call a “Monster of the Week” episode on “The X-Files” as opposed to a “Mythology” episode which contributed to the ongoing mythos of the show. Aside from Gold admitting he remembers his true Enchanted Forest identity, I don't think that “Skin Deep” did that much in moving the overall story ahead. That is the reason why I put it a few places down on my personal list.
Amy: This was such a big episode for me. It went darker than we had really seen yet. It really showed what the show could be at its finest. Such great writing, and really great screen time for each character. I know the showcase was on Rumple and Belle, but the Regina scenes were fabulous too. It was just an emotional ride and when Regina told Rumple to “get a new girl”. My villain-loving heart jumped for joy.
Zach: I think "Skin Deep" resonates with people for a number of reasons, starting with the powerhouse performances by Emilie de Ravin and Robert Carlyle. They have a sweet and endearing chemistry which makes people root for them. Additionally this is the first time we see Rumple with any kind of romantic possibility and it changes the perception of the character: he's not just the Dark One or an imp, but a man relatable for the audience. The scene where Rumple destroys his display case is brilliant because it is juxtaposed with Gold's beating of Moe French, and we know his anger at Moe is really a release of pent-up anguish over the loss of Belle, and Mark Isham's beautiful score adds a level of emotion which seals the deal.
2. What is your personal favorite episode? Why did it resonate so much for you?
Ashley: I have two personal favorites. The first is the pilot. There is just something so magical about that first episode. It’s what drew us all in, and for good reason. The moment at the very end when the clock finally moved . . . I was sold. I knew I was watching something special. My second favorite is “Queen of Hearts” because it’s the first episode I watched live with the fans. That was the last episode before the winter hiatus of the second season and I remember it being action-packed, as well as wrapping up the Enchanted Forest storyline. It also left off on a cliff hanger, with Cora and Hook speeding towards Storybrooke and just the idea of The Mother of All Evil skulking around Maine was amazing to me.
Lori: “Skin Deep” is my ultimate favorite. It is the only episode that stayed with me for days afterwards, haunting me. It drove me to find Oncers who felt the same way about the show, and it led me to Once Upon a Fan. It motivated me to create my own worlds through writing once again, a path I had veered from to concentrate on my teaching career. "Beauty and the Beast" was always my favorite fairy tale, and my favorite version is the one by Marianna and Mercer Mayer. I remember, when I was around ten, being in the library and photocopying my favorite illustration from it, the one where Belle sits on the windowsill of her tower prison with a book in her hand, looking out to the mountains beyond, so I could take it home and color it myself. To me, that picture signified Belle perched on the cusp of all possibilities of love and freedom, and Belle's lines from the show gave me that same soaring feeling: "Love is layered, a mystery to be uncovered . . . Do the brave thing and bravery will follow." So I think what makes this such a beloved episode, for me and for many others, is all the possibilities and layers to Belle and Rumplestiltskin that have come from it, as their characters continue to evolve and grow. We too have all these possibilities and layers inside of us that can be explored at any time in our lives.
Teresa: “Skin Deep”. I was hooked on Once. I really liked it. However, this episode made me fall in love with the show. I was just blown away and it stayed with me for weeks. It presented an intense, engaging romance that deepened the complexity of Rumplestiltskin as a character and a Tour de Force performance by Robert Carlyle. His work on this episode is some of the best acting I’ve seen on television. Moreover, this hour of drama incarnated a solid interpretation of Belle as an independent, intelligent woman in her own right who fell in love with her eyes wide open. She respected the power of romantic love, knowing it was no game and not to be entered into lightly. This was brilliantly played by Emilie de Ravin particularly when Belle confronted Rumplestiltskin in the dungeon. I respected her. This is not a feeling I often get for a fictional character. “Skin Deep” is one episode that I re-watch and always find something new.
Joanne: “Skin Deep” is my favorite episode. It is the one that got me addicted to the show. Quite frankly, I had watched the first fifteen minutes of the pilot episode and then flipped the channel because it was all Snow and Charming. They simply didn’t click with me. It wasn’t until later, when I caught the “Dreamy” episode, that I realized Robert Carlyle was in the show. I saw him first as Mr. Gold, and thought the character was a jerk. But I love Mr. Carlyle, so I decided to catch some past episodes online. “Skin Deep” happened to be the episode that I watched next and a light bulb went on in my head. Oh, Mr. Gold is Rumpelstiltskin! He is the iconic trickster. He is the villain. Wait a minute; he is the romantic love interest? He is the Beast! My jaw hit the floor as I watched Carlyle go from snarky trickster, to cruel master, romantic lover to tragic, grieving man of regret. I love “Skin Deep” for the full range of human emotions that turned an evil villain into a sympathetic character.
Sam: At this time, my personal favorite episode is “Manhattan” from Season Two. I think it's the perfect example of an episode where the writing, acting, plot points, and revelations all come together to make an outstanding hour of television. Being a “Rumple” episode means it has plenty of Robert Carlyle who can always be counted on for a stellar performance. I think the rest of the cast really elevated their game in this one. The big reveal scene in Neal's apartment still takes my breath away.
Gareth: Gosh. I had real trouble picking four when I voted. I found it so hard. Three out of my four ended up in the Top Ten so I was pretty pleased with that. The episodes I picked were “Red Handed”, “Going Home”, “Skin Deep” and “A Land Without Magic”. I love them all for different reasons. I think what has been so wonderful with this countdown is the way the fans have gone back and discussed the episodes and their favorites scenes within episodes. It has been a wonderful stroll down memory lane and I really hope the fans enjoyed contributing to that discussion as much as I enjoyed reading their comments.
Amy: I had a difficult time choosing a top ten, let alone a top one. In the end I did choose "Skin Deep." As I was going thru the list of episodes I just kept remembering ones that I had forgotten how much I loved. There are just SO many now that really spoke to me. So many moments. I really feel like I more have top moments than top episodes, and there are hundreds…lol!
Zach: My personal favorite episode is "A Land Without Magic." It's an adrenaline rush from beginning to end, resolving both the Storybrooke and Enchanted Forest storylines simultaneously. The parallels between the two compliment each other perfectly and the use of Maleficent as the catalyst for both is smart storytelling. So many great scenes and quotes in this one: Emma touching the book then confronting Regina ("YOU DID THIS!"), the two of them going to Gold for help ("Your father's sword."), Rumple and Charming's duel, Emma and Charming's dual battle against Maleficent, Emma breaking the curse, the Snowing reunion, and finally, "Magic is coming." It's pure magic from start to finish.
3. Was there an episode that made the top ten that surprised you? Which might you have ranked among the top?
Gareth: I was surprised to see “Save Henry” in the Top Ten. I loved that episode, it had some great moments, but for some reason it never really registered with me as a “Fan Favorite”.
Ashley: You know, I went back over the top ten thinking I would find an easy answer, but every time I looked at an entry I said in my head, “Oh, that’s a good one. Oh, yes that deserves to be up here”. Each had different elements I liked and I could clearly picture my favorite scenes for the episodes.
Joanne: I think all of the top ten episodes are worthy of being there. I didn’t find any of them surprising. I might have ranked a few of them higher, but that is my personal preference. I love any episode that is Rumple or Rumbelle centric. I love “The Price of Gold”,” The Crocodile”, “Lacey”, “The Miller’s Daughter” and “Manhattan”.
Sam: It's hard for me to knock any of the top ten. They are all strong episodes. One of my personal top ten that’s missing is “Heart of Darkness” from Season One. It's another example of an episode with great writing, acting and important plot points. I love Ginny as Dark Snow. The “Snowing” scene when Charming saves Snow's heart from darkness by stopping her attack on Regina is one of my favorite moments between them. To top it off, there are some classic Rumple moments like when he gives Snow what turns out to be Robin Hood's bow or when he bargains for Charming's cloak. Finally, in the end, Rumple is able to bottle “True Love” giving him a most important ingredient for his ultimate plan to create and break the Dark Curse.
Amy: I wasn’t shocked by the top ten but I was shocked by some of the lower ranked episodes. I will say that I was shocked that The Price of Gold, The Thing You Love Most and That Still Small Voice didn’t rank higher! Those are some of the ones that have cemented themselves in my heart for sure!
Zach: I was surprised that "The Stable Boy" made the top 10. I just wasn't expecting it. I would rank "The Cricket Game" in the top ten, it's got a lot of great moments that outshine "The Stable Boy": The Charmings confronting Regina at her house, Regina's execution flashback, Regina crying in her car. It's these scenes that make me say "More, please!"
Teresa: The one that I missed amongst the top ten was “Hat Trick”. It is here that Jefferson asks the question with which Once Upon A Time has challenged us since we first saw the book wielded by Henry, The Heart of the Truest Believer: “Stories. Stories? What's a story?”
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