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Once Upon a Time Wiki
Skin Deep
Season 1, Episode 12
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Airdate February 12, 2012
Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Milan Cheylov
Episode Guide
Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
What Happened to Frederick

Skin Deep is the twelfth episode of the American fairy tale/drama television series Once Upon a Time. The series takes place in the fictional seaside town of Storybrooke, Maine, in which the residents are actually characters from various fairy tales that were transported to the "real world" town by a powerful curse. In this episode, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) suspects Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) is planning to seek vigilante justice when a cat burglar (Eric Keenleyside) robs his house. Meanwhile, Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) plans a special girls' night out on Valentine's Day with Ruby (Meghan Ory) and Ashley (Jessy Schram), and a fateful deal made between Rumpelstiltskin (Carlyle) and Belle (Emilie de Ravin) is revealed – in which she gives up her freedom to save her village from the horrors of the Ogre Wars.

The episode was written by consulting producer Jane Espenson and directed by Milan Cheylov. It featured the first appearance of de Ravin, who was cast as Belle in November 2011 after being approached by series co-creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. Espenson created a love-themed episode; initially its main theme was to focus on Rumpelstiltskin choosing power over love, but during the writing process Espenson decided to make him instead believe that he was not worthy of love at all.

"Skin Deep" first aired in the United States on ABC on February 12, 2012. A novelization of "Skin Deep" was released in 2013.

View the Skin Deep Gallery.


Opening sequence

A straw spinning wheel is shown in the forest.

Event chronology

  • The Storybrooke events of this episode occur immediately after the events of "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree".
  • The Enchanted Forest events of this episode take place immediately after "Family Business", and also before and after the events of "Lacey".

In the Characters' Past

In The Enchanted Forest, the Ogre Wars continue but are not going well for the lands controlled by Sir Maurice (Eric Keenleyside). Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) arrives and agrees to aid the battle in exchange for Maurice's daughter, Belle (Emilie de Ravin) to be his servant. Belle's fiancée, Gaston (Sage Brocklebank), and her father are against the terms but Belle agrees. At his castle, Rumpelstiltskin gives Belle a list of tasks, including skinning the children that he hunts for their pelts. At this Belle drops and chips a teacup in shock, but he explains that it is a joke and doesn't mind about the chipped cup. As time goes by, Rumpelstiltskin and Belle develop a strong bond with each other. After a few months of living with him, Belle asks the dark one why she found children's clothing upstairs. Rumpelstiltskin tells her it belonged to his son whom he unfortunately lost along with his wife. Gaston arrives to take Belle back but Rumpelstiltskin turns him into a rose and presents it to her as a gift. When asked about Gaston, Belle says that it was an arranged marriage, not one of love. She left him because she wanted to be heroic and there are not many chances for women to be heroic. Rumpelstiltskin asks Belle to go into town to buy more straw, and she cannot believe he trusts her to come back. Rumpelstiltskin says he does not expect to see her again.

As Belle is walking down the road, she runs into The Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), who asks her if she is running from someone. Belle admits the man she is leaving is overcome by evil yet she loves him. The Evil Queen offers the solution: true love's kiss will break the curse. Belle returns to Rumpelstiltskin's castle and the Dark one asks why she came back to him. She replies that she wasn't going to return but something changed her mind. After a moment of silence between the two, they both share true love's kiss, the magic starts to turn him back into an ordinary man, but becomes furious and shakes off the magic, accusing Belle of conspiring with The Evil Queen. Rumpelstiltskin yells in a rage that no one will love him, and The Evil Queen will never take away his power. He throws Belle in his dungeon and smashes every cup against the wall but he cannot bring himself to destroy the chipped one. Once he has cooled off, he tells Belle to leave because his powers are more important to him than she is. Belle admonishes him for not believing she can love him. She warns him that he will regret his actions when all he has is an empty heart and a chipped cup.

A month later, The Evil Queen appears; Rumpelstiltskin says that her deception with Belle failed, and that The Evil Queen will never be more powerful than him. She then tells him that she had nothing to do with Belle's actions (even though she prodded her, Belle's feelings were real) and informs him that upon Belle's return to her home, she had been shunned by her village for her association with Rumpelstiltskin and Gaston's disappearance and was subsequently imprisoned and tortured by her father. She eventually killed herself, leaping off the tower she was kept prisoner in. Rumpelstiltskin is devastated and replaces a treasured gold chalice with the chipped cup and weeps over his loss.

In Storybrooke

In the present day, Mr. Gold (Carlyle) repossesses florist Moe French's (Keenleyside) van the day before Valentine's Day. At Granny's Cafe, David (Josh Dallas) and Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) talk from separate tables, until Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) interrupts to ask about Henry (Jared S. Gilmore). Ashley (Jessy Schram) arrives with her baby, noting how rarely she gets a babysitter or sees her boyfriend, Sean (Tim Phillipps). Ruby (Meghan Ory) suggests a girl's night out. Emma investigates a robbery of Mr. Gold's home, who says he knows that Moe is responsible, seeking revenge for the repossession. Emma recovers the majority of Mr. Gold's items but one thing is missing and he will stop at nothing until it is recovered. He kidnaps Moe, ties him up and beats him, demanding where it is. However, he soon starts saying "she's gone," referring to Belle, until Emma arrives to stop him. Mr. Gold believes Regina (Parrilla) put Moe up to the theft and she knows where the last stolen item is. Emma still has to arrest Mr. Gold for kidnapping and assault.

Elsewhere, during their girls night out, Ruby is trying to convince Ashley to find another guy since Sean is always working. Ashley tells Mary Margaret that all she wants is to be with Sean. Mary Margaret understands since her own romantic arrangement is not ideal. Sean shows up on a break from work and proposes to Ashley; she accepts and they go out for a drive. David shows up next to give Mary Margret her Valentine, but mistakenly gives her Kathryn's. Mary Margaret says she thought if two people were meant to be together they would find a way, but maybe she and David need another way. She tells him he should probably go home.

At the sheriff's office, Mr. Gold reminds Emma about the favor she owes him but he does not use it to ask for his freedom. Regina shows up and tells Emma that she can see Henry for only 30 minutes if she will allow her to visit Mr. Gold. He asks Regina if she has what he wants and she in fact does. Regina put Moe up to the robbery because she wants Mr. Gold to say his real name. After some prodding he admits his name is Rumpelstiltskin and addresses Regina as "Your Majesty," confirming that both are aware of their alternate identities. Regina returns the chipped cup to Mr. Gold then makes a visit to the hospital. She goes to see Belle, who did not die in the Enchanted Forest as the Evil Queen claimed, but is now being held prisoner in the hospital's mental ward.


"Skin Deep" was written by consulting producer Jane Espenson, while 24 veteran, Milan Cheylov, directed the installment. Knowing that they were going to recreate the story of "Beauty and the Beast", series co-creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz wanted its heroine, Belle, "to exude intelligence and strength and be someone you would immediately love," which led them to approach Emilie de Ravin. Her casting was announced in November 2011. The actress agreed after reading the script, believing that the character was "very courageous" with a playful side that would endear her to Rumpelstiltskin. During their casting meeting, Kitsis and Horowitz told de Ravin that Belle is defined as a strong intelligent woman in a world that disapproves of those characteristics, and that de Ravin was going to be "tak[ing] the icon of Belle and mak[ing] her a woman."

Espenson said that this was one of their most love-centered episodes; when they realized it was going to be airing near Valentine's Day, they decided to "lean into" this theme. Unusual for Once Upon a Time, the theme of this episode changed during the writing process. It was initially meant to center on Rumpelstiltskin choosing power over love. However, as Espenson went through drafts and discussed them with others, she decided that Rumpelstiltskin might think he is doing this, but really his actions are motivated by not believing that he is worthy of love at all. In the interest of time, Espenson was forced to edit out many plot points, including a failed escape attempt by Belle. Despite this, she sought to trim down more time from the Storybrooke scenes and "preserve as much as we could of the fairy tale side," as the Belle-Rumpelstiltskin relationship was a love story that needed time to grow in order to be believable.

De Ravin was a fan of the series before being cast and was happy to be able to view the costumes up close, describing her character's gold dress as "absolutely stunning." The casting of her former suitor, Gaston, was announced in December 2011 with Psych actor Sage Brocklebank. De Ravin described the episode's version of Gaston as "maybe not as cocky as the animation [version of him], but it’s funny." Rumpelstiltskin's castle was shot almost entirely on greenscreen, with only a few real props being used. It was de Ravin's first time working with this technology, which caused her to become "quite nervous." The physical props helped her with the scenes, and "they ha[d] a fantastic set up of a couple of monitors that you can see a markup of basically how it’s going to look."

The episode was included in Reawakened: A Once Upon a Time Tale – a novelization of the first season – which was published by Hyperion Books in 2013.

Cultural references

There are multiple references made to Disney's Beauty and the Beast. The chipped tea cup that Belle accidentally drops is a reference to the boy-transformed-teacup Chip from the animated film. Also, Rumplestiltskin was referred to as a "beast" by Belle's father. Belle's fiancée in the show is named Gaston, the Disney antagonist, and he was turned into a red rose, which featured prominently in the film. In addition, most of Belle's clothing in the fantasy world appears to be directly inspired by the Disney film, such as her classic yellow ballgown and her blue-and-white plainclothes.

Mr. French's flower shop is called "Game of Thorns," a reference to Game of Thrones, a popular fantasy show and book series. The name and a logo can be seen on the side of his van at the start of the episode. David is seen reading Anna Karenina, another story about an affair that ends tragically. In the end of the episode, a reference to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is shown, when Regina meets a nurse, who looks like Nurse Ratchet and the janitor mopping the floor, a striking resemblance to the Chief in the novel and film adaptation.



Ratings and viewership for "Skin Deep" were down from the last episode. It had an 18-49 rating of 3.0 and was seen by 8.65 million viewers, down 14 percent, but still came in second overall for the night. This was partially due to the fact that the episode aired in the same time-slot as the 54th Grammy Awards, who had their best numbers ever since the 1984 telecast and the sudden news of Whitney Houston's death the day prior to the event. In Canada, the episode finished in sixteenth place for the week with an estimated 1.55 million viewers, a slight decrease from the 1.58 million of the previous episode.


"Skin Deep" received mixed reviews from television critics.

Amy Ratcliffe, writing for IGN, rated the episode with an 8 out of 10. She expressed her love of Robert Carlyle, opining that "I especially liked him in the episode. He managed to show true emotion in spite of his silly Rumpelstiltskin accent, and he improves every scene he's in. I feel like this episode will start something bigger. At least, I hope it will." Laura Prudom of The Huffington Post felt 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."

Hillary Busis of Entertainment Weekly opined that Espenson's attempt to tell a "nightmarish, twisty tale of obsession and loss" was "decidedly mixed" due to the lack of development in the relationship between Belle and Rumpelstiltskin. Busis explained, "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." In a contribution for Tor.com, Teresa Jusino defined "Skin Deep" as an "amazing retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story that contained some wonderful character moments and some great one-liners... Funny, charming, and at times harrowing, the script takes us into the depths of Rumpelstiltskin’s soul, showing us this character both at his most warm and at his most dark." Jusino was critical of the subplot with David and Mary Margaret, however, saying that "it didn’t seem necessary as it didn’t really move much forward."


  • Belle serves Rumplestiltskin tea and she drops a cup, breaking a piece off. This is similar to Chip and Mrs. Potts from the Disney animated film, Beauty and the Beast (1991).
  • Rumplestiltskin lies to Belle when giving her a rose, saying he got it from an old peddler woman. This is a nod to the Disney film Beauty and the Beast (1991), in which an old peddler woman gives the Beast (Rumplestiltskin) an enchanted rose.
  • The book Mary Margaret and David both read while they both sit in Grannys is Anna Karenina.
  • Notable items Rumplestiltskin has collected in his Spinning Room include: two dolls (Geppetto's parents), a sword, the Sorcerer's hat (as stolen by an apprentice), a trident (most probably King Triton's), a clock, and now a chipped cup.
  • Mr. Gold tells Regina that his real name is Rumplestilskin.
  • On the other side of the room, the wizard's hat from The Sorcerer's Apprentice segment of Fantasia (1940) sits atop a pedestal.
  • When Rumplestiltskin is looking in the mirror, there is a unicorn tapestry in the background. This same tapestry can also be seen in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009).


  • In Once Upon a Time: The Price of Gold, it is established that Ashley is 19; however, in this episode she is drinking at a bar (21 in Maine, just like the rest of the U.S.). This may also be true for Ruby, who looks young, though her age has only been previously established to be 17+ since she serves liquor in a restaurant.
  • Several times in dialog and in the ABC plot summary the term "robbed" is used to describe items being taken from Gold's home. A robbery involves taking something of value from a person by force, whereas a burglary involves entering a structure or vehicle to commit a crime inside, such as theft. Gold's home was burglarized, not robbed.


Mr. Gold: You know what I want. What is it you want?
Regina Mills: I want you to answer one question. And answer it simply. What's your name?
Mr. Gold: It's Mr. Gold.
Regina Mills: Your real name.
Mr. Gold: Every moment I've spent on this earth, that's been my name.
Regina Mills: But what about moments spent elsewhere?
Mr. Gold: [blinks] What are you asking me?
Regina Mills: I think you know. If you want me to return what's yours, tell me... your name!
Mr. Gold: [stares at her, then smiles wryly] Rumplestiltskin!
Mr. Gold: Love. It's like a delicate flame. And once it's gone... it's gone forever.
Belle: Why do you spin so much?
[Rumplestiltskin doesn't reply]
Belle: Sorry, it's just... you've spun straw into more gold than you could ever spend.
Rumplestiltskin: I like to watch the wheel. Helps me forget.
Belle: Forget what?
Rumplestiltskin: [after a little reflection] I guess it worked.
Evil Queen: True love's kiss will break any curse.
Belle: To me, love is... love is layered. Love is a... a mystery to be uncovered.
Belle: Where... where are you taking me?
Rumplestiltskin: Let's call it... your room.
[he opens a large door]
Belle: [flustered] My room?
Rumplestiltskin: Well, it sounds a lot nicer than dungeon.
[throws her in and locks the door]
Belle: You were going to tell me about your son.
Rumplestiltskin: I'll tell you what. I'll make you a deal. Go to town, and fetch me some straw. When you return, I'll share my tale.
Belle: But... Town? Y-you trust me to come back?
Rumplestiltskin: Oh, no. I expect I'll never see you again.
Mr. Gold: Bad things tend to happen to bad people.
Emma Swan: Is that a threat?
Mr. Gold: Observation.
Belle: You're a coward, Rumplestiltskin. And no matter how thick you make your skin, that doesn't change.
Rumplestiltskin: I'm not a coward, dearie. It's quite simple, really. My power... means more to me than you.
Belle: No. No, it doesn't. You just don't think I can love you. Now you've made your choice. And you're going to regret it. Forever. And all you have... is an empty heart. And a chipped cup.
Belle: If I'm never going to know another person in my whole life... can't I at least know you?
Evil Queen: The place is looking dusty, Rumple. You should get a new girl.
Mr. Gold: It appears I've been robbed.
Emma Swan: Funny how that keeps happening to you.
Mr. Gold: Yeah, well... I'm a difficult man to love.
Mr. Gold: So. Now that we're being honest with each other, let's remember how things used to be, shall we? And don't let these bars fool you, dear. I'm the one with the power around here. I'm gonna be out of here in no time, and nothing between us will change.
Regina Mills: We shall see.
Rumplestiltskin: You will serve me my meals, and you will clean The Dark Castle.
Belle: I understand.
Rumplestiltskin: You will dust my collection and launder my clothing.
Belle: Yes.
Rumplestiltskin: You will fetch me fresh straw when I'm spinning at the wheel.
Belle: Got it.
Rumplestiltskin: Oh. And you will skin the children I hunt for their pelts.
[Belle drops a dish]
Rumplestiltskin: That one was a quip.