‘Once Upon A Time’ Review: Mysteries Abound in the Fantastic ‘Poor Unfortunate Soul’
Recap and review of Once Upon A Time – Season 4 Episode 15 – Poor Unfortunate Soul:
On Once Upon A Time, villains aren’t always born that way. They’re made. And “Poor Unfortunate Soul” offers one of the more interesting origin tales for a villain so far. In fact, I liked it so much that I thought it was kind of a shame that her arc pretty much ended here.
But it’s an ending that feels earned by the story, even if the neat, tidy resolution undermines its power a bit. The minute we discover Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) had a role in turning Ursula (Merrin Dungey) into the villain she would become, her flashback story loses a certain measure of urgency, but it’s still a remarkably poignant reinvention of The Little Mermaid. The Disney version, anyway. This time around, Ursula is the one with the voice, a love of humans, and an overbearing father who’d rather she just stayed put. But that’s mostly where the similarities end, as we get a story in which a girl tries to hold on to the last vestiges of her mother’s spirit through the passion for singing that they shared together. It’s a simple hook (no pun intended) on which to hang the story, since it speaks to an almost universal desire to hold onto memories of the things we lost, even if it’s just a shade of that loss. Here, Ursula is trying to honor her mother’s memory by soothing sailors with her song, instead of using her siren song to lure sailors to their doom, like her father, Poseidon (Ernie Hudson), would have her do. But her wants and desires clash with Hook’s, as Poseidon tries to get him to trick Ursula into surrendering her voice by offering him the means to destroy the Dark One in exchange. This creates a dual villain origin story, since it also has a hand in explaining why Hook ending it becoming the ruthless pirate he ended up being: Poseidon screwed him over in their bargain, so he took it out on Ursula instead, stealing her voice and taking away the means by which Poseidon could give it back to her. He essentially took her happy ending, and in so doing, made himself into a villain. This wouldn’t necessarily be a catastrophe in itself, except that, as Hook notes to Emma (Jennifer Morrison) at the end of the episode, being a villain means now he’s unlikely to ever get a happy ending of his own.
Naturally, what works about this twist is that it’s something none of the other characters had ever considered before, so it feels like an actual revelation when Hook pauses to consider it. Hook even notes that he’s been with the heroes for so long that no one even thinks of him as a villain anymore, even though that’s still technically what he is. After all, Regina (Lana Parrilla) turned towards the light, and that didn’t do her a whole lot of good. So why should it be any different for Killian Jones? Similarly to Regina, Hook also views love as his happy ending. He tells Emma that she’s his happy ending, and that his greatest fear is losing her, which is a poignant reveal in how it illustrates the depths of Hook’s commitment to her. This isn’t some flight of fancy, but a deeply-rooted commitment that puts a fear in him that wasn’t there before. It’s a scene that’s elevated by the tenderness of O’Donoghue’s performance, and the overall chemistry he shares with Morrison, as they’ve become one of the best couples on TV right now. Of course, talking about losing your happy ending means you have a happy ending to lose, and we know how far someone like Gold (Robert Carlyle) will go to get his happy ending. So how far is Hook going to go? Will he end up falling back to the dark side in order to save Emma? At the very least, he seems to recognize that immediate action is necessary if he’s going to protect her. For one, after Hook and Ariel, of all people/mermaids, help restore Ursula’s voice and provide her a happy reunion with her father, the former Queen of Darkness agrees to tell Hook what Gold’s plan is before she leaves for good: turns out, The Author can’t rewrite Storybrooke’s happy endings, because he didn’t give those happy endings, Emma did through her actions as The Savior. So, in order for the villains to win in this world, Emma has to become a villain herself. In essence, Gold is going to “fill her heart with Darkness.”
It’s a reveal that is both expository but also vague. It tells us just enough to know that what Gold has planned is probably worse than killing Emma directly, since this would essentially pit her against the people who love her most, corrupting her into something unrecognizable and evil. But it’s also vague enough that we don’t know how Gold is going to accomplish this, or what sorts of horrible things will happen if/when Emma does turn evil. Frankly, I’m fascinated by the prospect of seeing Morrison play a villain, since Emma has been a beacon of unrepentant goodness for so long that it’s sort of flattened her character. This will allow her to play a more nuanced role that could be interesting, provided her turn towards villainy is rooted in actual reasons, and not just magic. A good thing, for instance, would be if Gold’s plan simply brought out the inherent darkness inside Emma, as opposed to putting it there directly, so that maybe her reasons for embracing that dark side is rooted in something other than magic. Maybe she’s straining under the weight of being The Savior, or she’s bitter about the circumstances of her childhood. Or maybe she discovers that her parents were responsible for the loss of Maleficent’s child, and she realizes maybe she’s been on the wrong side all along. No matter what the reason, I’m just hoping there’s more of a reason than “because magic”.
With all that having been said about future episodes, there was a lot I liked about this one. For one, I gotta hand it to the casting department for finding the perfect actress to play Young Ursula. Not only does Tiffany Boone look like a younger Merrin Dungey, she also assumes many of her acting cadences, from speech patterns to just subtle looks here and there. I also dug how August (Eion Bailey) factored back into the story. The show doesn’t play coy with what he knows, as it all comes tumbling out in short order (thanks to Gold holding his nose over a fire, in a clever, if gruesome, torture idea). However, while the villains lose one of their own after Ursula bails, they are able to discover from August that he came to Storybrooke with research from a foreign mystic who’d been looking into the identity of The Author. Now all they have to do is find it, and perhaps they’ll find The Author. But even with that information, August didn’t tell them everything. He reveals to Henry (Jared S. Gilmore), Emma and Regina that the storybooke page of The Author’s door that the villains are after isn’t just a map to the door — it IS the door. The Author is trapped inside his own book! It’s such an elegantly simplistic solution to the overarching mystery that I’m stunned I didn’t think of it sooner. Granted, none of the other characters did either, not even human trope dictionary Henry. But it’s a well-earned twist, since it opens up a new mystery: how the hell are the characters supposed to get through the door, and what in the world is waiting on the other side?
“Poor Unfortunate Soul” is one of my favorite episodes so far this season, as Once Upon A Time kicks the “villains’ happy endings” story into high gear by showing just how desperate these people are becoming. Even Regina seems a bit affected by it, as she has a nightmare in which she (as the Evil Queen) attempts to protect Robin Hood from herself (as Regina). Characters are trying to figure out how to get their happy endings without really thinking about what those happy endings mean. Sure, Killian knows what his happy ending is, and Regina seems to believe hers is with Robin Hood, and I’m guessing Maleficent wants nothing more than to be reunited with her child again. But do we know that these are the happy endings they’d receive if they succeed? And what of Gold? Does he really think he can get Belle back, or is his happy ending something larger? And what about Cruella? What does SHE want? So many questions, and we’re not even at the end of the season yet. This is arguably the most momentum the show has had since somewhere towards the end of last season, and I’m excited to see what Once Upon A Time does with all the narrative momentum it’s built.
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