Title Poor Unfortunate Soul
Two-Sentence Summary As Regina watches the Queens of Darkness and Rumplestiltskin attempt to get information out of August, Hook also tries to get information out of Ursula by giving her the happy ending she lost as a girl because of his selfish pursuit of revenge. As more information about the Author becomes clear, it’s revealed that Rumplestiltskin’s plan involves more than just him (or her): It all hinges on turning Emma dark, so she’ll act as the savior for the villains.
Emma: Wait—if you’re afraid of losing your happy ending, that means you’ve found it. What is it?
Hook: Don’t you know, Emma? It’s you.
My Thoughts “Poor Unfortunate Soul” was an extremely well-balanced episode of Once Upon a Time. It moved the plot forward in important ways, but it also connected that forward plot momentum to intensely emotional moments. And all of that development—for both the characters and the plot—was centered around one common theme: happy endings. “Poor Unfortunate Soul” was a thematically cohesive episode, with each moment dealing with the overarching idea of happy endings in some way: how we define happy endings and how that definition can change as we change; the means we take to find and protect our happiness; and what all of those things say about heroism and villainy.
Everything about this episode—and it seems everything about this half-season—was summed up in its final moments. August revealed that he’d kept an important truth from Rumplestiltskin and the Queens of Darkness that he was willing to reveal to Emma, Regina, and Henry: The Author is trapped in the storybook. This powerful person that almost every character on the show seems to be searching for has been right under their noses the whole time, literally in their hands. This was an amazing twist and also a symbolic one. The key to a happy ending is often closer than you think it is; it’s often right under your nose, but sometimes you need help to see that. And people will only help you see it and find it if you act in a way that shows you’re deserving of it. The villains keep trying to get closer to their happy endings via force, but if August’s ability to keep information from them even in the face of torture showed us anything, it’s that force isn’t going to work. Happiness can’t be achieved through dark methods; kindness is the key to happiness.
The difference between the dark approach to getting what you want and the hero’s approach was shown so clearly in Rumplestiltskin’s attempt to get information out of August versus Hook’s attempt to get information out of Ursula. While there were some entertaining moments in the scenes involving August’s interrogation (I’m thinking primarily of Cruella appreciating his scruff.), it was mainly just sad to watch Rumplestiltskin fall into his old patterns of using magic to torment and torture people to do his bidding once again. Robert Carlyle is so good at playing this side of Rumplestiltskin, though. For as sad as it made me to see him almost gleefully holding August to the fire (How great was the nose-growing stuff, by the way?!), I have to admit that I was completely captivated by Carlyle’s performance—from his biggest moments of darkness to the smallest details, such as him straightening his tie after he was done interrogating him.
This was another episode that made me seriously doubt if Rumplestiltskin can ever come back from this darkness. In an episode filled with talk of happy endings and reminders that they’re about love, I was struck by the fact that Rumplestiltskin had the happy ending these characters are all searching for and chose to see power as his ultimate happy ending instead. Darkness makes you prioritize yourself over others, and this episode showed that a happy ending based in selfish desires instead of love is an empty one. But Rumplestiltskin still hasn’t learned that. Instead, he’s still hurting the woman who loved him in his quest to get the power he’s always seen as his happy ending. (Did anyone else want to hug Belle in this episode when she talked about being betrayed by Rumplestiltskin again? My heart broke for her.)
While Rumplestiltskin’s priorities and methods are still as dark as ever, this episode presented us with other characters who were able to change for the better. Regina’s dream was very interesting. Seeing the Evil Queen show up to protect Robin made me wonder if she’s worried that she’ll go dark in an attempt to protect her happiness. The dream seemed slightly forced into this episode as a way to give both Emma and Regina a new plot in the coming weeks, but I’m okay with it for a couple of reasons. First, I liked that it showed Regina trusting Emma’s skills at finding people. Also, it reminded me that Regina’s definition of a happy ending has changed so much. Her happy ending when she cast the Dark Curse was for Snow White to be miserable; her happy ending was selfish vengeance. Now, she sees her happy ending as being loved by someone who sees her for everything she is and chooses to believe in her best self. Her happy ending is no longer based in power or causing others misery; it’s based in love.
This episode also allowed us to reflect on how far Hook has come—from a man who once equated happiness with vengeance to a man who now believes his happy ending is love. I adored this episode’s flashbacks for many reasons, but one of the most enlightening things about them was the way they painted Hook as a man who still had a sense of honor and kindness even at the darkest time in his life—until you took away his chance at what he believed to be his happy ending. Colin O’Donoghue exuded real warmth in his scenes with young Tiffany Boone (who did a wonderful job channeling the mannerisms and speech patters of Merrin Dungey), reminding me that he is one of the show’s best at interacting with younger cast members (Dylan Schmid, Jared Gilmore, etc.). I genuinely believed that Hook was moved by young Ursula’s voice because it was a voice filled with love for her mother, and even at his worst, Hook still understood and was driven by love. And I was happy to know that I wasn’t mistaken to think that he sincerely wanted to help her.
However, Hook’s genuine desire to help Ursula lost out to his twisted sense of hope that he could defeat the Dark One and secure what he thought would be his happy ending. And when that hope got taken away, he became vindictive, hurting Ursula in an attempt to her hurt father. Pinning your hopes on the wrong happy ending can turn you into a monster—we saw it with Regina, and it was true for Hook, too. It broke my heart to see this beautiful, strong young woman lose her voice because it became a pawn that two men tried to control in order to get what they thought were their happy endings. I thought it was a brilliant twist to have Ursula’s backstory be derived from Ariel’s in The Little Mermaid, even if it did break my heart in the end. (It also makes so much sense now to think of Ursula being obsessed with capturing Ariel’s voice.) I felt sad for everything Ursula lost by losing her voice—her connection to her mother, the feeling of joy she got when she sang, and the ability to make others happy.
Without her voice, Ursula lost hope, and that’s a dangerous thing in this universe. She wanted her father to fear her, so she chose to take matters into her own hands and become someone to be feared. While it’s never a good thing to watch a villain become a villain, it was strangely empowering to watch Ursula choose to take back some sense of agency in her life, even if the choices she made were dark ones. At the beginning of this episode, she chose to turn away from being used as a weapon for destruction. But at the end, she had been broken enough to turn herself into an even more powerful destructive force. I’m always amazed at the depth Once Upon a Time can give to the origin stories of its villains. In just one episode, I felt so much for Ursula—both the younger version and her present self—that I found myself sad to say goodbye to her after only knowing her for a few episodes.
I loved that Hook took a page out of Emma’s playbook and wanted to give Ursula her happy ending in the present storyline. His way of getting information out of her was to offer her hope and happiness, which was so different from Rumplestiltskin’s use of torture with August. Hook isn’t perfect—he still gets caught up in his anger at Rumplestiltskin, and there will always be darkness around his edges, especially when he’s desperate. Him turning the gun on Ursula after she refused to help him was a stark reminder of the fact that one choice can take you back down a dark path. Thankfully, Hook got some sense squeezed into him by Ursula and slapped into him by Ariel. He’s better than that, and he knows it. And while it may scare him to know that his inner darkness will always be there, it’s a fact of life everyone has to deal with. What’s important is choosing not to let that darkness consume you again.
Ariel helped Hook see that villains don’t get happy endings not because they’re labeled as villains, but because they act like villains. Happy endings come to those who work for them, and that often means helping others be happy, too. The difference between someone like Emma and someone like Rumplestiltskin is that Rumplestiltskin only cares about his happy ending, while Emma’s idea of happiness is helping everyone around her be happy, too. And Hook was able to channel that beautiful part of Emma into giving Ursula what she wanted—not just her voice, but also a second chance at a healthy relationship with her father.
I loved that Ursula’s happy ending was about her family and her sense of self. Romance is great, but not everyone’s happy ending needs to be with a romantic partner. For Ursula, true happiness was finding her voice and finding a relationship with her father built on love for exactly who she is. Her story was incredibly inspiring because it was a story of finding your voice after it had been stolen from you and, with it, finding the best part of yourself again.
Watching Hook work to reunite father and daughter reminded me of the little, personal ways Emma helped bring back happy endings even before the curse broke at the end of Season One. However, it was also heartbreaking to see that Hook didn’t think it was enough. The reason Hook isn’t looking for the Author like the rest of the villains (and reformed villains) was an underlying theme in this episode. And I think a big part of the reason is because he’s one of the few characters with a villainous past who feels an immense amount of guilt over who he was and what he did at his worst. He still doesn’t know if he deserves his happy ending, and it was heartbreaking to see O’Donoghue play Hook’s reaction to reuniting Ursula and her father with a sense that he feels he can never do enough to atone for who he was.
But we all know happy endings always start with hope, so Hook needs to find a sense of hope that he isn’t destined to darkness and loss because of who he was at his worst. Luckily for him, he has a woman in his life who brought hope back into his world after three lifetimes spent without it and seems more devoted than ever to making sure he doesn’t give up on himself.
Happy endings on Once Upon a Time generally involve finding someone who loves you for who you are. It’s what Snow and Charming have with each other, it’s what Regina found in Robin, and it’s what Rumplestiltskin turned his back on with Belle. It’s also what Emma and Hook have found with each other. Emma lived up to her promise in “Unforgiven” to see the best in Hook in “Poor Unfortunate Soul.” Even when her parents doubted him, she defended him with just the right amount of passion from Jennifer Morrison—because Emma understands Hook on a level that I don’t think she understands anyone else. She knows what it’s like to be angry and to have a past that “heroes” might not approve of, and I loved seeing her fight for her parents to believe the best in Hook the way she does.
Emma continued to believe in Hook’s best self once she saw him reunite Ursula and her father. Her look of pride was a thing of beauty, and that kind of pride is what Hook needs to feel in order to start believing in himself. Because he’s still afraid of his own darkness, as he revealed so emotionally when he told Emma that he almost gave in to his worst self. But his lingering sense of self-loathing was met every step of the way by Emma’s desire for him to have the kind of faith in his inner goodness that she has. (I love the way Morrison plays Emma’s sweet stubbornness in moments like this one.) She’s not giving up on him—not because she feels a need to save him because she’s the savior, but because you don’t give up on the people you love.
Emma’s support of Hook’s best self allowed him to be open and vulnerable with her in a way we’ve never seen before. And it all culminated in him telling Emma he’s scared to lose his happy ending because of who he once was. While Emma—bless her heart—seemed surprised that he’d found his happy ending, Hook told her in no uncertain terms, “It’s you.”
I was moved to real tears by the emotional honesty and raw vulnerability in that scene from both Morrison and O’Donoghue. Hook’s little head shake as he questioned how Emma couldn’t know and the hitch in his breathing after telling her she’s his happy ending were such powerful details. And Morrison’s wide, tear-filled eyes said more than any lines she could have spoken in that moment. Both actors sold the importance of that moment with total sincerity and openness, and it made for one of the most emotional love scenes Once Upon a Time has ever had.
Hook once saw his happy ending as blood, death, and vengeance. But now he sees it as light, hope, and love. He’s found a happy ending worth fighting for, and it’s a happy ending that won’t lead him to darkness in search of it; it actually led him out of darkness. And Emma spent so much of her life thinking she was never enough to make the people she loved happy. But in this moment, someone told her that she was enough to make him happy for the rest of his life. She didn’t bring Hook his happy ending by being the savior; she became his happy ending by being herself—broken pieces, imperfections, and all. As Morrison showed Emma’s expression change from disbelief to overwhelming joy (Her single tear during the kiss killed me.), I felt like I was watching a “true love’s kiss” in the making. And while there may not have been any curses to break with that kiss, it was as full of true love as it gets on this show—because it was full of hope.
Both Emma and Hook are going to need that hope now that Rumplestiltskin’s big plan has been revealed. Hook learned from Ursula that Rumplestiltskin is planning to turn Emma’s heart dark because villains can never get a happy ending as long as she’s still working for the heroes as the savior. Once again, Rumplestiltskin wants to get his happy ending through manipulation, but it’s my hope that we’re going to see Hook fight for his happy ending, which means fighting for Emma to stay true to her best self. He’s not going to be frightened by her potential for darkness any more than she is by his, and his ability to turn away from darkness with her help is going to allow him be there when darkness calls to her and her parents don’t know what to do (because they still don’t understand how people can have both light and dark in them). It’s going to be incredibly emotional to watch all of this unfold, and I can’t wait.
• The Jolly Roger is back! Was anyone else giddy with excitement at seeing her again? I wonder if Hook will move out of Granny’s now.
• Speaking of the Jolly Roger, who else thought it was weird that Elsa suddenly acquired the power to shrink things?
• I loved Snow hitting Cruella on the back of the head with a frying pan. Tangled references are the best.
• I enjoyed the glimpses of Emma and August’s big brother/little sister relationship we got in this episode. It felt warm and loving but never romantic, which isn’t an easy feat to pull off.
• I’m hoping Ursula’s departure means that we’re going to see all the Queens of Darkness get their happy endings without the Author, until all that’s left is Rumplestiltskin against the world, which would make for an excellent season finale.