'Once Upon a Time' recap: 'Poor Unfortunate Soul' (2023)


'Once Upon a Time' recap: 'Poor Unfortunate Soul' (1)

Credit: Eike Schroter/ABC


'Once Upon a Time' recap: 'Poor Unfortunate Soul' (2)

Once Upon a Time

S4 E16

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And then there were two?

By that, of course, I’m referring to the Queens of Darkness—an exclusive club that may have just become a duo (plus or minus a double-crossing Regina), now that Ursula has apparently achieved her happy ending. (Inasmuch as it’s possible for a villain to achieve a happy ending in Once‘s universe, given what we learned at the end of tonight’s episode.) Could it be that this is how season 4B’s Big Bads are dispatched—one at a time, until there’s nobody evil left standing save Rumple? It’d make sense, given OUAT‘s penchant for half-season arcs ruled by baddies who disappear in or right before the finale.

Only time will tell. As of now, though, it does look like we could be saying an early goodbye to Merrin Dungey’s Ursula—a sea witch who, as it turns out, isn’t exactly the same oceanic deity we first met in Ariel’s long-ago fairyback episode.

Instead—as we learn in Ursula’s very own fairyback—she was born a mermaid and named after said ancient goddess by her father, the actual sea deity Poseidon. (Being a Greek god, you’d think he might know enough about the classics to point out how odd it is that the mer-divinity’s name actually means “she-bear,” and has nothing to do with the ocean whatsoever—but that’s neither here nor bear. Er, there.) Her childhood was evidently idyllic, until her gold-throated mother (Amphitrite?) was killed by a pirate.

Ever since, Poseidon’s been trying to turn poor Young Ursula into a Siren. He commands his daughter to use her gorgeous singing voice—which, naturally, sounds just like Jodi Benson’s her mother’s—to bewitch buccaneers, tricking them into crashing their ships. But Ursula, amusingly reimagined here as a petulant teen (“As long as you live in my ocean, you will live by my rules!” “Then maybe I don’t want to live in your ocean!”), doesn’t share her dad’s bloodthirstiness. Which is why she rebels one night, cutting off her “aaahhhhs” right before she downs another ship.

Which ship? The Jolly Roger, naturally. Captain Hook—still in full-blown “Kill Rumple” vengeance mode himself—is so grateful that he offers to give Young Ursula a gratis ride to the mall—er, a kingdom called Glowerhaven, where her mother used to sing.

There’s just one problem: Poseidon, who doesn’t like to see his little mermaid hanging out with strange pirates. He approaches Hook with a deal—steal Ursula’s voice via magic shell, and the sea king will hand over the squid ink that could help Hook defeat Rumplestiltskin once and for all. But even though it’s a beyond-tempting offer, Hook’s code of honor keeps him from double-crossing his new pal. Instead, he confesses all to Ursula, then proposes a new plan: If she can steal the squid ink from dear old Dad, he’ll drop her off at the Glowerhaven Orange Julius. Everybody wins!

Yeah, that’s just not the way things work on Once. Long story short: Ursula gets the ink, but before she can pass it to Hook, Poseidon appears and puts his fin down for real. He takes the ink; in retaliation, Hook takes Ursula’s voice. Some god—instead of magically removing the shell from Hook’s possession, Poseidon simply slinks away, literal tail between his metaphorical legs. Things get even worse when Ursula yanks away his trident and uses it to transform herself from regular mermaid to evil octopus HBIC. “Now I’m even more powerful than you,” she tells her father. “And the whole sea will be at the mercy of my every whim. You don’t need to protect me, father. You need to fear me.”

Awesome villain-birth words, right? Awesome enough that I’m wishing this half-season had a little bit of time for another fairyback showing off Young Ursula working through her daddy issues. Alas, instead we’ve got more Author talk to deal with—though at least that storyline gains some real momentum in tonight’s present-day thread.

When last we left the Queens of Darkness, Regina, and Rumple, the gang was preparing to torture the reformed bad boy once known (around these parts, anyway) as Augustocchio—who’d just re-manifested, weird neckerchief and all. Regina manages to sneakily get the word out to the good guys via a familiar-looking smoke monster—but she can’t get in the way of Rump, who devises an exceedingly efficient way to wring info out of the former puppet. A potion stolen from the fairies transforms August back into a terrifying Sim simulacrum—but only for a moment. It does, however, have a lasting side effect: Once again, August’s nose now grows whenever he tells a lie. Which makes things very unpleasant for him when Rumple holds his head close to the fire and demands to know everything August knows about The Author. (Real talk, though—wouldn’t having your face pushed into flames suck even if you weren’t partially made of wood?)

NEXT: It’s not the size of the ship, it’s the motion of the ocean

So August spills: The author can be found behind the door in that illustration he tore out of the storybook, though he doesn’t know where that door actually is. Rump commands Cruella to stay with the hostage as he, Maleficent, and Regina head to the Sorcerer’s mansion, where they’re hoping to find the portal.

Where, you may ask, is Ursula? Well, she’s taking a brief recess from her gal pals—all because Hook has promised that he’ll return her voice-shell if she’ll spill everything she knows about Rumple’s big, evil plan. See, this is why baddie coalitions rarely work; the constituents care more about their own self-interest than working together for a common goal.

It takes awhile to locate said shell, mostly thanks to a series of events that read as episode-padding contrivances: the shell is on the Jolly Roger; the Jolly Roger is in the Enchanted Forest; when Ursula brings it through a portal to Storybrooke, it turns out that the ship has been shrank to fit inside a bottle, all because its new owner (Blackbeard, or don’t you remember?) apparently ran afoul of none other than Queen Elsa (whose ice magic lets her… make… boats small? I don’t know, guys).

Anywho: A drop of embiggening potion from Wonderland, and the ship’s back to its rightful proportions. Best of all, the shell is still on board. Happy ending, here we come!

Well, until Ursula discovers that she can’t get her pesky voice to get back into her throat. Darn magic shells—they’re so flingin’ flangin’ hard to open! Hook doesn’t care; as far as he sees it, he’s fulfilled his end of the bargain. Ursula, though, isn’t biting—and when the pirate draws a pistol on her, she hoists him up by her tentacles, magicks up a weird jump cut, and tosses him overboard. You’d think, being a pirate, that he’d know how to swim. But nope; it seems our poor Killian is doomed to become fish food… until he’s rescued by a familiar looking dinglehopper-lover.

That’s right: Ariel’s back! Turns out she was imprisoned along with the ship when Elsa tinified it. (Which raises a host of fascinating questions—was she in suspended animation, or were enough fish trapped that Ariel had sufficient food? Wait, does she even eat fish?—that I’m sure will never be answered.) Anyway, she’s here, and thankful to Hook for freeing her from her mantel-ready prison. Which is just about perfect, because Hook needs Ariel to do something for him…

Cut to Rumple’s cabin, where our heroes have finally arrived. Cruella draws her weapon, but before she can pull the trigger, Snow conks her on the head with a frying pan. Mission Puppet Rescue is going off without a hitch… until Ursula resurfaces, wrapping her feelers around Emma’s mom in a most unfriendly way. She’s extra pissed now about her stolen happy ending; she thinks the shell’s malfunction just proves that the Author’s the only one who can give Ursula what she wants.

As it turns out, though, she’s dead wrong. Enter the guy Ariel just went to fetch: Poseidon, enleggened, bearing both an answer to why the shell didn’t release his daughter’s voice (it has to be operated by the person who first enchanted it) and the apology Ursula’s been longing for since her mother died. He unlocks the shell, and just like that, Ursula gets back her singing voice. More importantly, for the first time in who knows how many centuries, she and her father share an embrace. Dawwww.

All’s well that ends well, though the hour does conclude with a few vital nuggets of information/cliffhangers:

1. As Ursula tells Hook, the Author can’t hand over happy endings to villains as long as there’s a savior. And Rumple is planning to get past that wrinkle by filling Emma’s heart with darkness, rendering her unable to save. In other words: She is literally going to become Black Swan.

2. You know that door picture? As August tells our heroes, it’s more than an illustration—it’s literally the gateway to the Author. Because the supposedly all-powerful one is actually trapped inside the book itself. Twist!


  • Recognize Poseidon? That’s because he’s played by beloved Ghostbuster Ernie Hudson.
  • What animal did Cruella murder to get those killer leather pants?
  • Nice try, Young Ursula, but “Fathoms Below” is still the worst song in The Little Mermaid.
  • “Glowerhaven” is a Disney deep cut—it’s mentioned a single time in The Little Mermaid, as the home of a princess Eric doesn’t want to marry.
  • Okay, shippers, what moment made you squeal more: Regina’s dream reunion with Robin Hood (and the promise that Emma will track him down, leading to a real reunion), or Hook telling Emma that she’s his happy ending?
  • Cool detail: Hook keeps the key to his safe… on the other side of his hook.
  • Ursula may be gone, but Regina’s cover still hasn’t been blown; Cruella blames the sea witch as the mole who led the heroes to August.

Next week, we’ll learn how Maleficent lost her baby—and the secret will apparently tear apart the Charming family. Crazy-ass theory that makes like, zero sense, but I’ll throw it out there anyway: Emma is actually Maleficent’s daughter, somehow. It’d explain the hair, right?

Follow me on Twitter: @hillibusterr

Episode Recaps


'Once Upon a Time' recap: 'Poor Unfortunate Soul' (26)

Once Upon a Time

Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.

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1. OUaT Crack! {4x15} | Poor Unfortunate Soul
(Sveta Friday)
2. Once Upon a Time 4x15 "Poor Unfortunate Soul" Reaction
(Liam Catterson)
3. Once Upon a Time Crack! - Poor Unfortunate Soul | 4x15
4. OUaT s04e15 Poor Unfortunate Soul CRACK
5. "Poor Unfortunate Soul" initial reactions - Once Upon a Time podcast
(ONCE - Once Upon a Time podcast)
6. Once Upon a Time - 4x15 "Poor Unfortunate Soul" Reaction


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