Poor Unfortunate Soul Review | Once Upon a Time Season 4, Episode 15

Maybe villains can’t get their happy endings.


Maybe that’s because villains always go about getting them the wrong way.


Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Jared S. Gilmore, Michael Socha, and Robert Carlyle.

Season 4
Episode 15: Poor Unfortunate Soul

Once definitely has a way of subverting expectation, but I’ve always felt with other story arcs that I’ve had a more concrete idea of where the story is headed. With Neverland, we know that the heroes would have to take down Pan and save Henry. With the Wicked Witch, we knew that she had to be taken down, even if we didn’t quite know what her nefarious plan was. Within a few episodes of the Frozen arc, we knew we were searching for Anna and trying to defeat the Snow Queen – even if we didn’t know what the Snow Queen hoped to achieve.

I feel like this story arc has been a bit more confusing though. I don’t actually know who the villain is here. We’ve had the Queens of Darkness, touted as the reason to tune in this season, yet they just appear to be pawns under Rumplestiltskin. We thought that the journey was to find the Author, being potentially teased with the idea of Emma turning evil. However, now it just turns out that Rumple wishes to destroy the Saviour so that the Author can rewrite the villains’ happy endings, and the Queens of Darkness aren’t really that much of a credible threat anyway.

One confusing thing about this is the assertion that Emma “gave” everybody in Storybrooke their happy endings. Emma didn’t really consciously give anybody their happy endings, she merely reversed Regina stealing all of them. Surely then the problem is the happy endings that Regina took away in the first place. And why did the Author write the happy endings for all of the characters before Emma rocked up and the curse was enacted? It seems like an unnecessary and strange plot twist to put in, just to put Emma in the firing line. It also makes the whole “evil Emma” plot tease a total dead end as well, because if the villains want to destroy her then they can hardly work together.

Now there’s also the question of what Rumple even wants from the Queens of Darkness. Originally he needed them to get back into Storybrooke, but does he really have a purpose for them now? He knows exactly what he needs to do, and it’s not as if they’re especially helpful when it comes to the quest to find the Author. Why go to the extreme of resurrecting Maleficent when he hasn’t really put any of the Queens to any meaningful use that couldn’t have been performed by somebody else?

Ursula was far too easy to neutralise here. Sure, she was never really a credible threat in the first place, but then it begs the question as to why she was even introduced and included in the “Queens of Darkness” story. She was put on the posters, and used to advertise the season’s plot line, but if she’s not going to be used meaningfully, then what’s the point in teasing that? It’s not even as if a lack of screentime can be blamed for her lack of impact, because Cruella has made a significant one with a similar amount of time. She’s definitely benefitted from much more of a concrete realisation from her introduction compared to Ursula.

Ursula’s backstory went some way to understanding her, and it was an interesting and sympathetic twist. Making Ursula’s happy ending the regaining of her voice that reminds her of her dead mother is infinitely understandable.

However, along with that also comes the jarring similarities between Ursula’s backstory and Ariel’s in The Little Mermaid. I was quite taken out of those aspects merely through thinking “Wait, this is essentially just The Little Mermaid, right?”.

Not only this, but Ursula’s descent into evil was hideously abrupt. Sure, losing your voice and your reason for happiness is definitely a solid compulsion, but it seemed much more like an angry teenage lashing out than it did a credible lifestyle change. She was upset and devastated, but there still needs to be a leap between being upset to then deciding to dedicate your entire life to villainy, and that was a missing link here. Considering loads of the other villains have multiple flashbacks that show their descent, this seemed overly simplistic.

Similarly, Ursula’s redemption was also rushed. Apparently, all it took was a reunion with her father (who was sped across by Ariel) and she regained her voice and was ready to leave Storybrooke and be done with the whole sorry affair. That was scarily easy to achieve.

One of the links between Ursula’s story this episode with then the emotions of our other characters was playing into Hook’s insecurities at keeping his own happy ending. This led to quite a disarmingly sincere exchange between him and Emma, in which he confessed that she was his happy ending. It’s a lovely next step for the couple, but it’s a strange thing to bring up when Ursula – the villain – has literally just achieved her happy ending and proved the whole idea of “villains can’t get happy endings” entirely wrong.

Ultimately, what Ariel observes in this episode is entirely true, and I’m surprised that it’s taken the show so long to state it so simply. It’s not that villains can’t achieve their happy endings, but it’s because they don’t go about getting their happy endings the right way. In the case of Regina, it’s easy to see why she thinks that she needs to rewrite the book in order to get her happy ending. What happened with Marian and Robin could easily be interpreted as fate acting against her, especially since Robin is objectively her soulmate. Regina, in this case, did nothing wrong and played by the rules to get her happy ending, and yet it still didn’t happen.

On the other hand, you have Rumple. What Rumple fails to consider is that there’s no way for him to have his happy ending without taking away somebody else’s. His happy ending is to have Belle’s love and also be able to treat her like crap, which would entirely take away her own happy ending at actually being respected like a human being? Like that’s just the base level of a happy ending right there. Rumple could have had a happy ending if he’d just been able to settle upon one of the things that brought him happiness, but I suppose a villain doesn’t know the meaning of the word compromise.

Once Upon an Additional Brainthought

  • I loved the little reference to Elsa causing the Jolly Roger to be in a bottle. I’m uncertain why the growth spell didn’t just make a larger glass bottle though. And also why Ariel was swimming around the Jolly Roger when she should have been with Eric, but that’s none of my business.

You can watch Once Upon a Time Seasons 1 – 7 on Netflix. It is also available on home media and other digital platforms for purchase or rent.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Serena says:

    What a nice surprise for this season: an episode that generally made sense and was generally true to the characters! Both Regina’s and Hook’s storylines were compelling to watch as they unfolded — not to say that there weren’t annoyances, such as the Charmings expressing the writers’ pet theory that heroes aren’t allowed to feel anger. Also, I agree that Ursula’s immediate forgiveness of her father was too abrupt, but since she was not that interesting as a villain, I didn’t mind getting rid of her quickly.

    For the first time in a long time, the writers were able to demonstrate character development that was consistent and believable. Hook’s growth was shown by comparing his present actions to his past actions in the flashbacks, which created a coherent story of him learning to pursue his goals in a way that helps rather than harms others (with a little prodding from Ariel).

    I was also thrilled to see the Jolly Roger again. With all the emphasis on the darkness within characters this season, there has been a definite lack of the fun adventures that appealed to me about this series in the first place. I don’t mind exploring deeper themes, but there needs to be a better balance, because right now the show is getting bogged down with unpleasantness.

    Plus we finally got some humour, too! Watch Belle try to keep a straight face as Will belittles the bottled Jolly Roger and Hook replies:
    “Careful, mate! It’s unwise to insult the size of a pirate’s… ship!”

    More episodes like this please!

    Liked by 1 person

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