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Once Upon a Time – Poor Unfortunate Soul – Review

I don’t know what to think about this most recent episode of Once Upon a Time. I enjoyed watching it and had quite a few laughs along the way. I guess I’m surprised at how quickly things are moving. The writers are not messing around this season, allowing characters to quickly realize and uncover plans. This is fantastic because secrets can only stay hidden for so long before the viewer begins yelling at their television for the characters to get their act together. Ursula’s back story was great, I love that it was a retelling of the traditional Disney take on The Little Mermaid. It also didn’t play out as I had predicted, which I love because being surprised by television programs is a great way to stay entertained and engaged. The present day story line involving Regina undercover is getting more and more snarled. Regina is in deep and that aspect of season 4B is what’s drawing me in the most at the moment. A few things seemed rather convenient in the episode, but on the whole, “Poor Unfortunate Soul” entertained and left me wondering what will come next.

The episode opens in the past where we see a ship at sea. This is none other than the Jolly Roger with Captain Hook, still hell-bent on revenge, at the helm. This flashback takes place after Hook teamed up with Pan and while we still don’t know the nature of the work Hook and his crew did for Peter Pan, it seems this time they are on a cake run, which shows that even a terror like Pan is a boy at heart. The pirates hear beautiful music floating across the ocean into the night, though they see nothing in the distance. The singing sounds vaguely like Ariel’s vocalizations from The Little Mermaid. Suddenly, the music stops and deadly jagged rocks are revealed dead ahead. The pirates scramble and manage to sail off, escaping in the nick of time. Hook knows what foe they heard singing in the night; it was a mermaid.

And a mermaid is what we see next for we jump over to young Ursula, who is sporting a mermaid’s tail. Her father, Poseidon, is chastising the young mermaid for letting the pirate ship go. I love Poseidon’s look here, very Greek, which fits in well with the character’s origins. Ursula doesn’t want to use her beautiful voice to lure sailors to their doom, she wants to make people happy with her gift. It was Ursula’s mother who taught her to sing and she was unfortunately killed by pirates, explaining Poseidon’s desire to see all incoming ships crash and sink. Ursula is very much like Ariel in the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, and I love that take on a familiar tale. We still get the story of The Little Mermaid without having to retcon anything that happened with the character of Ariel on Once Upon a Time. This is an aspect of Once Upon a Time that I really enjoy and I love the writer’s creativity when it comes to stitching together these stories and worlds.

In present day Storybrooke, we see Ursula just outside Rumpelstiltskin’s cabin, enjoying some opera from a handheld radio. Cruella pokes her head out, remarking that the sea witch should come inside or else she’ll miss all the torturing fun. That’s right, when we last left this cabin August W. Booth had been restored and was about to be tortured for information on the mysterious Author. August insists that he remembers nothing of the Author, so Ursula swoops into the room and puts a knife to his throat. Regina, still on the side of good and wanting to protect the former puppet, poofs it away. The Queens of Darkness scoff that madam mayor has gone soft, but Regina maintains her cover and reminds everyone that August was once made of wood, pulling out one of her famous fireballs. Apparently fire does the trick as August finally speaks up, claiming to remember something. August talks about how he met the Dragon back in season two, and that the Dragon was looking for the Author but died before he could complete his research (thanks Tamara). Luckily, August snagged that research and brought it with him to Storybrooke. Maleficent is extremely skeptical of this story and so is Rumpelstiltskin, giving us a great callback all the way to season one when the imp says that the puppet man has lied to his face before. In fact, this entire episode was very aware of the history of Once Upon a Time, which adds something special to long time viewers. So, Rumple decides to go check August’s trailer in the woods for this research, and seeking orders for guidance, Ursula accidentally asks if the villains are to carry out the “rest of the plan”. Regina is surprised to hear this and wants to know what’s being kept from her. Rumpelstiltskin informs the mayor that she’s going to have to do more to prove herself and earn their trust in order to get the whole story.

Meanwhile, Emma, her parents, and Hook are in the woods searching for Regina after the mayor gave Emma the slip last episode. So far their trail has gone cold and Hook suggests a spell, but it appears that one is already on its way. Regina had snuck by the fireplace in the cabin to send out magical “smoke signals”. That magic smoke is now speeding towards the heroes where it engulfs Snow White before vanishing. Basically, Regina is using Snow’s body to send her allies a message. I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m highly amused by Regina’s clipped tones coming out of Snow’s mouth, but it makes me giggle every time I watch the scene. It is a nifty piece of magic, one I hope we will continue to see used to send messages in the future. Regina, using Snow as a mouth piece, is quick to explain that August is ok, an adult now, and that their worst nightmare has come true with Rumple returning to town. Also, Rumpelstiltskin is there for more than the Author, but the details are fuzzy. Emma and her family realize that if the Dark One here, only one person wields the power to stop him and head back into town to visit Belle.

At the pawnshop, Belle learns the news that Rumple is back in Storybrooke and she scoffs, unable to accept that this is true. However, when asked for the Dark One dagger, Belle immediately reveals (so much for pirate oaths) that Hook has it. Well, not actually Hook as the group realizes it was Rumple in pirate’s clothing who made off with the dagger. Belle seems deeply distraught that she was betrayed by her beloved once more. One of this things that stands out to me with this episode is how on the ball the characters are. There isn’t any more waiting around or stretching the audience’s suspension of disbelief in regards to how long a secret can be kept. Our characters are piecing together the puzzles in front of them fairly quickly, it’s rather nice to see. Hook is furious that his crocodile is on the prowl once again and goes so far as to threaten burying the enchanted dagger in Rumple’s chest so he won’t return, saying becoming the next Dark One is a small price to pay to make sure Rumple is gone for good. Yikes, I know Hook is brooding over something regarding Ursula, but that got really dark. The Charmings offer to go save August while Hook offers to find out Rumple’s newest secret. Hook plans to take a leaf out of Emma’s book and tempt Ursula with her happy ending in order to get info because, after all, it was the pirate who took that happy end in the first place.

While this is going on, Regina and the Queens of Darkness are hanging out in Rumple’s cabin. Under the pretense of minding their captor, Regina takes the opportunity to show August the page of her and Robin together. It’s kind of sweet that she carries it around with her now. August reveals that he knows who Robin is because while the Pinocchio could not remember his time as a man, August can remember his time as Pinocchio. Interesting development. Regina explains to him that the events in the picture didn’t actually happen, but before they can get further Ursula, who had been looking out the window, abruptly gets up and mumbles something about stretching her tentacles. What really happened is she spied Hook lurking out in the forest and goes to meet him, trapping him in her tentacles. The sea witch is still very angry about whatever went on in their past and is not willing to trust Hook outright. That is, until Hook mentions that he knows how Ursula can get what she wants without Rumpelstiltskin’s help. This intrigues the sea witch. Hook can offer her the happy ending she once lost since he kept whatever it was he took from Ursula. The pirate offers a trade; the secret to Rumple’s plans in exchange for Ursula’s happy ending. The sea witch takes a moment to think it over before agreeing. Ursula must be desperate for her happy end to be willing to betray the Dark One.

Flashback and we see young Ursula on land, singing in a tavern. There is a delightful Disney easter egg here as the song she is singing is Fathoms Below, the song that opens Disney’s The Little Mermaid. This is my kind of easter egg, it’s subtle enough to where it doesn’t derail the episode and yet it’s a great nod for fans who catch it. Ursula’s singing brings the house down. Hook saunters up to the young singer saying he recognizes her voice as the one that almost led his ship and crew to their doom. But since she didn’t go through with it, the pirate owes Ursula a drink. As the pair sit in a quiet corner, Ursula explains how she doesn’t take kindly to her father commands. Being a rebellious teenage mermaid, she stole a bracelet that allows her to walk on land similar to the one we saw Regina give Ariel back in season three. Ursula explains that the joy she used to get from singing with her mother has been tainted now that Poseidon wants his daughter to use those talents to crash ships as a way of avenging her mother. Her singing is the one thing she has left of her mother, the only thing that keeps her spirit alive. Hook admires Ursula’s gift since it took away his pain and briefly reminded the pirate that there was more to life than revenge. All Ursula wants to do is make people happy, which is rather tragic since she grew up to become a Queen of Darkness. Eventually Hook asks what a fish like her is doing in a place like the pirate pub and Ursula explains that she is earning gold in order to travel to a far off land that her mother loved and often spoke of. Well, Hook is kind enough to offer her passage and arranges them to meet at the docks at dawn.

Speaking of docks, this is where we find the pirate and the seas witch in the present day. Ursula’s lost treasure is aboard the Jolly Roger, which unfortunately is still in the Enchanted Forest. Hook questions whether Ursula retains the mermaid ability to open portals and realm hop. The sea witch can, but needs something to track what she seeks. Luckily, Hook stole a piece of his lost ship. Ursula hesitates, mentioning that she hasn’t set foot or tentacle in the seas since she was banished, but dips a tentacle in now. At first nothing happens, but then the Jolly Roger appears… only it’s not as Hook remembers it. It’s been transformed into a ship in a bottle!

In the Enchanted Forest, Hook is leaving the tavern for the night when he is jumped and dragged to the Jolly Roger. Waiting there is a very perturbed Poseidon. Like any overprotective father, the Lord of the Sea seems to know his daughter’s plans. Poseidon enchants a nautilus shell and offers it to Hook. This shell will take away her singing voice, her reason for leaving. Hook is adamant that he does not want to betray the young singer. I feel this might be an effort to make past Hook seem a bit less cutthroat than before. Despite his best intentions, the pirate is swayed when Poseidon offers a way to destroy the Dark One, magic in the form of squid ink which will paralyze the pirate’s foe. All Hook has to do is steal Ursula’s voice.

Back in Storybrooke, Hook and Ursula go to the pawn shop seeking help. Belle is suspicious that Hook is not the real him. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice and all that, though I really like that Belle is on her game here after seeing how far Rumple stooped. Hook shows them the ship and explains that inside is the key to making the Dark One go away, something they all want. Hook is actually seeking help from the Knave of Hearts, who has spent the most time in Wonderland and therefore is the resident expert on things magically changing size. The Knave believes he knows what can do the trick. I love this shout out to both Once Upon a Time in Wonderland and Wonderland lore in general. I do wish that they would give the Knave more to do, however.

Meanwhile, Regina is wandering about in the woods by herself, looking at her treasured page from The Book. Suddenly, Robin appears and the pair reunite, sharing a kiss. But this reunion is cut short. Someone is watching. It’s another Regina, in full on Evil Queen gear with a fireball prepped at the ready. The Evil Queen Regina demands that modern Regina get away from Robin. Then Regina starts awake in the cabin. It turns out this was all a dream. I love that Maleficent snarkily remarks that she has something on hand if Regina has trouble sleeping. Rumpelstiltskin soon returns, having found no leads in August’s trailer. In fact, the imp with the limp didn’t even look there. Instead he went and poached some magic from the fairies, a potion that will temporarily reverse the spell that made August real. The Dark One forces the potion down August’s throat and the writer painfully transforms back into the wooden man puppet we’ve seen in the past. I still maintain that this particular bit of CGI is creepy in an “uncanny valley” sort of way. Rumple gets a great villainous line as he prepares for the next phase in August’s interrogation, “Let’s see if we can pull this puppet’s strings”.

Out in the woods, Snow White, Charming, and Emma arrive close to the cabin and decide to stealthily approach on foot. Charming makes a remark about how Hook went to a dark place with his talk of using the dagger on Rumple. Emma surprisingly doesn’t blame Hook and says she would want to do that too if she was in his situation, but waves it all off as just talk. This is definitely a bit of foreshadowing towards Emma’s potential descent into darkness. We really don’t know what Emma is capable of with the right, or wrong, motivation.

At the cabin, August quickly returns to flesh and blood, but as Rumple explains, the potion activated the writer’s built in lie detector. August scoffs, claiming to not know what the Dark One means, but then we see it in action as August W. Booth’s nose begins to grown whenever he tells a lie. Regina’s “what the hell” face in this scene mirrored my expression watching this. Then things get serious, as Rumple grabs August and shoves his head close to the fire. With each denial and lie the writer tells, his nose grows and he gets inches closer to being set aflame. The scene quickly went from kind of goofy with the nose growing to rather frightening with the threat of one getting their face burned off. It’s a darker take on a familiar aspect in Pinocchio’s story and brought a shift in the mood to this scene. The viewer can see Regina is deeply concerned here too. She want to intervene and protect August as she promised, but she also is unwilling to blow her cover. August finally starts telling the truth, saying that the Sorcerer trapped the Author behind a door. It seems that Operation Mongoose’s trump card is about to be spoiled. August goes further and sells out Regina, telling the villains that she knows about this door, that it can be seen on a page taken from The Book. Regina waves this development aside, but Rumple wants his former student to share all her information. The mayor saves face by explaining she already gave the page to Henry. All August knows about the door is that it’s somewhere in Storybrooke. So Rumple and Maleficent go off in search of the door, forcing Regina to come with and leave August as she is the only one on their team who actually knows what the door looks like. At this point I really am wondering how long Regina can keep up this undercover business before she is discovered.

At the docks, Hook and Ursula use a potion of distilled Wonderland mushrooms to return the Jolly Roger to its former glory. Once restored, they board the ship. Entering the captain’s chambers, Hook marvels at how good it is to be back aboard. There’s an interesting detail that Hook’s hook is also the key that unlocks his private cupboard. I wonder if there are other things that hook can unlock. The pirate produces the enchanted shell and Ursula is delighted. Her singing voice can be heard emanating from the nautilus and it begins to return to the sea witch. But suddenly the singing stops. Ursula thinks this is because Hook is wrong and villains can’t get their happy end. She grows angry and tries to break their deal, but Hook grows angrier, his sights set on defeating the Dark One once more. Hook pulls out a pistol and threatens Ursula but is no match for her tentacles and gets knocked unconscious. Without much ceremony, the sea witch dumps the pirate overboard to drown. Lucky for Hook, there is a friend nearby and the waterlogged pirate is rescued by the little mermaid herself, Ariel. Hook wakes aboard his ship and Ariel explains what happened to the Jolly Roger after it was traded. Blackbeard used the Jolly Roger to terrorize many kingdoms, but met his match in Arendelle where Elsa placed the ship in the bottle. Ariel was swept up with the magic and has been trapped in the bottle ever since. This makes sense I guess, but just seems awfully convenient to me. Hook explains to the mermaid his current situation with Ursula and regrets that he was so swept up in getting what he wanted he made a promise he couldn’t keep. He wonders aloud if Ursula was right about villains and happy endings. Ariel points out that perhaps it’s the fact that the villains go about getting their happy endings the wrong way that is their downfall. This is a very good point and speaks to the fact that the only thing that separates the “heroes” and the “villains” aren’t their goals, but their methods. Hook has a realization and asks for Ariel’s help.

Back in the past, Hook and his crew are readying the Jolly Roger to set sail while young Ursula sings to the crew. Hook comes clean about Poseidon’s plan, but is adamant he won’t take Ursula’s voice since it’s the only thing she has of her mother. Hook says that if he could hold on to the last thing he had of his lost love, he would. So the pirate has another plan. Ursula has broken into her father’s vault before, she can do it again and steal the squid ink. That way both the pirate and the mermaid get what they desire. Soon, Ursula returns with the squid ink, but Poseidon has once again gotten wise to their plans. Ursula is furious at her father, that he was willing to take away the one thing she had left of her mother. Poseidon defends himself by saying he just didn’t want to lose Ursula as well. Hmm, sounds to me like a classic case of going about doing things the wrong way. Poseidon turns on Hook, claiming the pirate only cares about his vengeance and destroys the squid ink. Losing what he thinks as his best chance for revenge, Hook wants to make Poseidon suffer and takes Ursula’s voice. Now Poseidon, consumed by vengeance himself, will never have that satisfied as he can no longer sink ships using the memory of his wife. Ursula is beside herself at this point, shouting that Hook is no better than her tyrant of a father and that humans don’t deserve to hear her gift if this is what they are like. Hook refuses to give Poseidon the shell after Ursula leaves, telling the Lord of the Sea that he must leave or the pirate will destroy the shell and everything the sea king holds dear. There’s that cutthroat pirate we remember.

Back at the cabin, Cruella is flirting with August, who is not interested. His nose has mercifully returned to normal. The door bursts open and Emma arrives to save the day. Cruella pulls her bedazzled gun on Emma, but is dispatched with by Snow White, in the cabin, with the skillet. To me there is something just inherently hilarious about watching Cruella De Vil getting gonged in the head with a frying pan by Snow White and dropping like a log. It think it’s the facial expression Cruella pulls on the way down. Also, food for thought; the Queens of Darkness are going to need a new clubhouse after this. I wonder where they will operate out of next. Emma uses her magic to poof away August’s bonds and the writer is impressed. The savior reminds him that he said all she need to do was to believe in herself. Emma is also very glad to see grown up August, the August she knew. To me this stresses the point that Emma really needs friends her own age; yes she has Regina now as an ally, but the savior often hangs out with her parents. Emma and August’s reunion is cut short as Ursula arrives on the scene and tentacles Snow, putting the squeeze on the fairest of them all.

The final flashback of the episode wraps up Ursula’s back story. We see Poseidon attempt to apologize to his daughter, but the young singer is infuriated that her mother’s spirit is gone. Ursula is ready to make a stand and seizes her father’s trident. She tells Poseidon she no longer wants to be his precious “little mermaid” and what’s more, that she was named after the sea goddess of old and wishes to be strong and powerful like her namesake. So, using the magic of the Lord of the Sea, Ursula transforms her mermaid tail into the tentacles she is known for. Ursula tells Poseidon that he no longer needs to protect her, but fear her. I like that Ursula was named after the original Ursula we saw in early seasons. This is a much neater way of explaining how the sea witch we see in season four fits in with the rest of the show. It would be very messy to try and explain how a sea goddess who has not been seen in thousands of years suddenly teamed up with Rumpelstiltskin. Also, I loved the twist that Ursula gave herself the tentacles, as opposed to someone cursing her with them. Again, this goes along with villains choosing their path, making the wrong choices that they believe to be right.

In the cabin, Ursula believes she must carry out Rumple’s plan because the Author is the only one who can give her what she wants. Hook arrives in the nick of time and claims this is not true. He realized why the sea witch could not reclaim her voice; only the one who enchanted the shell can work its magic. In steps Poseidon, brought to this realm by Ariel through her mermaid portal. Again, this just seems a bit convenient. Poseidon gives a heartfelt apology. He explains that every time he heard his daughter sing, it was too painful for him since it reminded the sea king of his lost wife. Poseidon goes on the explain that he should have let this remind him that he still had a piece of Ursula’s mother with him always, not let it fuel his rage. Fairy tale fathers on Once Upon a Time tend to not be the best people, but for once we are seeing one make things right. Poseidon restores Ursula’s singing voice and turns to leave his estranged daughter in peace. Ursula stops him. She doesn’t want to take her singing away from Poseidon any longer. In fact she’s missed him and they reconcile with a hug.

By this time the heroes realize Cruella has escaped and I wonder if the either transformed or just rolled out of the room. The heroes go to leave the cabin, knowing Cruella will come back with her friends, but Hook lags behind. The pirate is disturbed that he almost became the man he once was because of his obsession with defeating Rumpelstiltskin. He tells Emma she has no idea how easy it is to go back to the dark side, which I take as major foreshadowing for episodes to come. Also, Hook reminds Emma of something I myself didn’t realize until this moment. The pirate was a villain and if the rules of The Book are true, then he could lose his happy ending as Rumple and Regina have. Emma realizes she doesn’t know what that happy end is and we get the most moving line from Hook. He says, “Don’t you know, Emma?” and explains that his happy ending is her. Emma looks profoundly touched and they kiss.

Across town, Regina, Rumple, and Maleficent are leaving the Sorcerer’s mansion, having come up with no new leads. The De Vil-mobile screeches up and a flustered Cruella stumbles out. Rumple’s reaction to her arrival is just hilarious. Cruella explains the situation, that the heroes freed August, and exclaims that they have a mole in their midst. I was genuinely concerned for Regina at this moment, until Cruella claims it was Ursula who was working against them from the inside. Rumple, ever two steps ahead, dismisses this set back and asks Regina to bring the page with the door to him.

At the docks, Hooks is bidding farewell the Ursula and the sea witch holds up her end of the bargain, revealing that Rumpelstiltskin’s master plan involves turning Emma to the dark side. The Author can’t change the villain’s endings because it was the savior who brought them back, not him. Without a savior around, the villains can persuade the Author to get what they want. This new development makes so much sense. I wonder if Emma was ever a factor for the Author. She was in The Book, but those pages got burned in season one. Is Emma bound by what is written?

The night ends at Casa de Charming, where August is recovering from his ordeal. Regina arrives and tells Emma about her dream. The mayor believes that the Evil Queen version of herself was actually protecting Robin, but from what? Regina asks Emma to use her tracking skills and find a way to contact Robin, which the savior promises to do. August wakes up and Regina explains that the only reason she is able to come back to the loft is to retrieve the page with the Author’s door on it, so he must explain its significance. August cleverly used loopholes to get around his nose growing. He didn’t actually know where the door was because he didn’t know where Henry kept the page. For you see, this picture is not just an illustration, it’s the actual door. The Author is trapped in his own book.

There you have it, “Poor Unfortunate Soul”! What did you think, readers? Leave a comment below!

Ursula was probably the most underused Queen of Darkness. Maleficent has this huge back story involving the baby and the Charmings and Cruella is winning the viewers over every week with her one liners, but Ursula, despite harboring the Dark One and dealing with his ramen noodle theft, didn’t get to stretch her tentacles as much as I would have liked. However, her potential as a new ally is promising and I really hope we see more of her in the future.

I still maintain my theory that the door leading to the Author is somehow tied to the Mad Hatter’s hat, but I’m pleased with the twist that the creator of The Book is trapped in his work. How and why was he put in there? What influence could he have over The Book appearing when it is needed? As we dig further into this story line, we are going right to the heart of some of the deepest mysteries of Once Upon a Time and I’m unsure what answers we many get.

With things unraveling so quickly and so soon in this half of the season, I think we are being set up for a few whopper-sized episodes in the back half. Things are going to be changed irreparably and I can’t wait to see what’s in store when all the secrets and lies of this season come out. Will the villains actually win? And what will that mean for our heroes and Storybrooke?

Tune in next week when we finally see Snow and Charming's secret in “Best Laid Plans”!

About the Author – Ashley B
Ashley is as serious as a sleeping curse when she says television is her life. Professional event planner, avid movie viewer, convention enthusiast, and resident sass master, Ashley writes reviews for ABC's Once Upon a Time, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and Galavant, as well as Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. She looks forward each week to the weird and wonderful world her favorite television programs provide.
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