Stockholm Syndrome, a brutal kidnapping, a savage beating, a loony bin straight out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — welcome to Valentine’s Day, Once Upon a Time-style. Instead of warming our hearts with a celebration of romance, tonight, Jane Espenson and her league of writing wizards gave us a nightmarish, twisty tale of obsession and loss.
The results were decidedly mixed. While I’m glad that the show isn’t afraid to go dark — especially considering how pitch-black most real fairy tales are — this episode’s impact would have been greater if it had done more to build Belle and Rumpelstiltskin’s relationship. Yes, people fall in love quickly in traditional bedtime stories. But at least in the animated version of Beauty and the Beast, we could understand why Belle and her hairy paramour were meant to be. “Skin Deep” didn’t bother to explain that attraction. Rumpel forced Belle to leave behind everything she knew to become a glorified housekeeper — but by the second commercial break, she was already into him, even though he had yet to show her any kindness or warmth.
But more on that later. We open on yet another regal father — his name is Maurice — who’s just received bad news: a place with a name that sounds like Avonlea has fallen mercy to his enemies. Nooo, not Anne! The battle might have been won if a mysterious someone had lent a glitter-covered hand. And right on cue, there’s a knock at the door. Maurice and his entourage go to answer it, but find no one… because the visitor, Rumpelstiltskin, has taken the liberty of magicking himself onto Maurice’s throne.
Maurice and Co. want Rump to protect the village from the wicked ogres who are destroying their land. (Can we assume they live in or near the same place that Human Rumpel and Baelfire once called home?) The imp says that he’ll do it — for a price, of course. And he’s not talking about money, since he, uh, makes gold out of freakin’ straw. No, the Dentally Challenged One is in the mood for something else that looks good in yellow: Maurice’s daughter, a becoming lass by the name of Belle. (Yes, Lost fans, that’s Emilie de Ravin, a.k.a. Claire. No, she’s not still looking for her baiibee.)
Though Maurice isn’t as quick to give up his firstborn as every other character Rumpel deals with, Belle herself nobly declares that she’ll go with the Dark One — as long as he’ll keep her family and friends safe. “Belle, please! You can’t go with this…beast,” Maurice says in despair, and we cut to Rump making a hilarious, faux-shocked face. Nevertheless, the deal has been struck. “Congratulations on your little war,” Rumpel says gleefully, leading his new prize away.
Back in Storybrooke, Mr. Cold — er, Gold — repossess a truck that belongs to one Moe French, a portly florist who’s having money trouble. He also happens to be the Storybrooke equivalent of Maurice. French protests, but Gold’s not moved. The shopkeeper manages to piss off two birds with one stone by also snubbing Regina when she approaches him on the street.
NEXT: Bonjour, Chip!