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 (Jennifer Morrison) suspects Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) is planning to seek vigilante justice when a cat burglar (Eric Keenleyside) robs his house, Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) plans a special girls' night out on Valentine's Day with Ruby (Meghan Ory) and Ashley (Jessy Schram) while 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.
It was written by Jane Espenson and directed by Milan Cheylov.
In the Characters' Pasts
In The Enchanted Forest, the Ogre Wars continue and Belle (Emilie de Ravin) assures her father, Sir Maurice (Eric Keenleyside), help is on the way. Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) arrives and agrees to aid the battle in exchange for Belle. Her fiance 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 a teacup in shock. He explains that it's a joke and tells her not to worry about the chipped cup. After a few months, Belle mentions she found children's clothing and Rumpelstiltskin admits he had a son. The two grow closer. Gaston arrives to rescue Belle 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 can't believe he trusts her to come back. Rumpelstiltskin says he doesn't 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 to kiss him and break the curse. Although it begins to work, he 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 shows up and wants to ask him for a deal, this one involving a mermaid. 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.
In the present day, Mr. Gold (Carlyle) repossesses florist Moe French's (Keenleyside) van the day before Valentine's Day. Regina (Parrilla) attempts to speak with Mr. Gold, but he says "it's gonna have to wait ... please" which stops her. At Granny's Cafe, David (Josh Dallas) and Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) talk from separate tables, until Emma (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 Phillips). Ruby (Meghan Ory) suggests a girl's night out which only Emma declines since she just got a page from work. Emma investigates the call, a robbery of Mr. Gold's home. Mr. Gold says he knows who the culprit is, Moe seeking revenge for the repossession. Emma recovers the majority of Mr. Gold's items but one thing is missing and Mr. Gold will stop at nothing until it is recovered. He kidnaps Moe, ties him up and beats him, demanding where it is and who told him to take it. However, he soon starts saying "she's gone," referring to Belle, until Emma arrives to stop him. Mr. Gold believes Regina 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 isn't 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'll 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's counterpart, who did not die in the Enchanted Forest, 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. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Emilie de Ravin mentioned that viewers would see Belle in future episodes: "I do come back and I'd love to come back for a lot more because I love the show. I had a lot of fun with it."
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 character Chip in the film. As well, in the background of the dining area in the "Beast's" home one can see a candlestick and a clock next to each other, referencing the characters of Lumière and Cogsworth. Also, Belle's fiance 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, Rumpelstiltskin tells Belle that there was an old woman selling flowers at the door, which is what the enchantress disguised herself as at the beginning of the Disney film. Most of Belle's clothing in the fantasy world appears to be directly inspired by clothing worn by Belle in the Disney film, such as her yellow ball gown 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.
In the end of the episode, a reference to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is shown, when the janitor mopping up bears a striking resemblance the Chief in the novel and film adaptation.