Warning: Spoiler Alert
Okay, Once Upon a Time, Season Four, Episode Sixteen. You’re the fourth episode in this story arc, and this is where Frozen started to fall apart for me. I didn’t realize it at the time, partially because I really wanted to believe that the story could be good and partially because I was so distracted by Rumpelstiltskin’s insistence on making every terrible decision he could possibly freakin’ make.
This time though, feels different. It might be my ridiculous and irrational optimism, but I feel like maybe the show will come back together and start to make sense again. As a bit of an aside, I’d like to make it understood from here on out that when I say “making sense” or “doesn’t make sense,” I fully realize that I am talking about a fairytale soap opera and, dude, it is bound to go to absurd places sometimes. Television shows have continuity errors. It happens. But the plot and the characters were always clever enough to be engaging despite it all. More often than not, things that may have seemed puzzling at the time turned out to be really integral parts of the past. When I say “make sense,” I mean make sense within its own storyline. I don’t feel like the Frozen storyline ever really pulled that off.
Tonight turns out to be a test of whether or not the new characters in the arc can become a comfortable part of the Storybrooke I know and love. We open with Captain Hook in Neverland, scolding Smee about overeating. The food he’s shoving into his pie hole is for Pan, and they must keep Pan happy because his request for revenge against The Dark One has not been fulfilled. Soon, the men notice beautiful singing and begin to drift aimlessly across the heavily-misted sea. They’re all dazed, but Hook soon notices they’re headed straight for some rocks that will break the Jolly Rodger into pieces.
He shouts for the men to look alive before they all get killed. The crew snaps to attention and scrambles to steer the ship away from their doom. They manage, but barely, and Smee barely manages to ask his captain what it was that nearly killed them. Hook, sneering with the kind of contempt one only feels for someone more powerful than oneself, tells him it was a mermaid.
It was, indeed, a mermaid. A beautiful young girl, sitting on the rocks and singing in the mist. She looks sad, and it’s soon apparent why. Her father, Poseidon (played by ERNIE FREAKIN’ HUDSON HOLY ACTUAL CRAP) appears and begins to hassle her about letting the Jolly Rodger get away instead of sending it crashing into the rocks, killing everyone aboard. It’s weird that a father wants his daughter to murder people, isn’t it?
Yeah, it’s weird. But maybe a little understandable, considering that Ursula’s “Humans are okay!” mother was killed after she was betrayed by a human. And, since Poseidon misses his wife terribly, he wants Ursula to lure every human possible to their death. Except Ursula isn’t into it, because her mother taught her to sing and she doesn’t like using her voice to kill people. That’s not what her mother was about, and she wants to honor her memory.
But Poseidon is unmoved. His grief over his wife has driven him to extreme cruelty. He won’t suffer Ursula’s pro-humans stance, and he orders her to get out there and start killing more people. Ursula is devastated by her father’s destructive vendetta against humanity and pleads with him to reconsider his
position. He won’t back down—when she lives in his ocean, she’ll obey his rules. And his rules say kill all humans.
Here’s a tip, parents: If you don’t want your headstrong teenager who disagrees with everything you say to move the hell out of your house the instant they’re able to, don’t give them the “as long as you live in my house you’ll do as I say” line. You’re a parent. You love your kid, right? Don’t make them feel like they’re forced to leave your house with nothing but the clothes on their backs before they’re able to actually provide for themselves. It leads to really poor decision making and probably a lot of hurt feelings on everyone’s part, even if everyone is too proud to admit it.
And in a nutshell, that’s what happened to Ursula. She stole a bracelet that would allow her to walk on land as a human from her father’s vault. She made it to the first fishing village she could find and is trying to make money by singing in a tavern to a bunch of questionable looking dudes. She needs money for a trip to a certain city her mother once spoke fondly of.
One night, a pirate captain with a hook for a hand appears in her tavern. He recognizes the voice he hears as the one that nearly sunk his ship. After she finishes her songs, he confronts her about nearly killing him. But, he admits, she didn’t wind up killing anyone after all, and for that he is grateful. He buys her a drink.
Over some ales or mead or whatever, he wheedles Ursula’s story out of her. She tells him of her mother’s death at the hands of a pirate and her father’s murderous vengeance. She swears that she won’t dishonor her mother’s memory by using her voice as a weapon, since it is so beautiful and can bring people such happiness. Hook is moved, and confesses that her voice has been the only thing that has eased his pain since Milah’s passing/murder at the hand of her estranged husband Rumpelstiltskin. He offers to help her start her life over on land. The two agree to meet the next morning to set out on their journey.
However, Hook is followed and accosted on the way back to his ship. He’s indignant about being forced onto his own ship, even when he realizes Poseidon is behind it all. He admonishes him for using his daughter in such a terrible way, but Poseidon reminds Hook that he knows just how painful it is to lose your true love. Poseidon won’t allow Ursula to live her life on land, it’s too dangerous. He must return her to the sea. Without her singing voice she’ll have no reason to want to stay among humans so that’s what he needs to take from her. He hands Hook an enchanted seashell and tells him that, in exchange for Ursula’s voice, he’ll give him squid ink that is a powerful enough poison to kill The Dark Once. Hook’s expression changes. He makes the deal.
Except he turned around and told Ursula everything the next morning. He swears that he won’t help her father take her voice. Ursula is concerned that a deal broken with Poseidon could turn Hook into his slave, but Hook figures he may have weaseled his way around that. He tells Ursula that, while he doesn’t want to help Poseidon, he does want the squid ink, and since she has experience stealing things from her father’s vault, if she could help him out he’ll take her anywhere she wants to go. She happily agrees.
She fetches the squid ink and meets up with Hook a few nights later. Hook is grateful to Ursula for providing him the opportunity for his own revenge, Pleased, the two are about ready to set sail so Ursula’s dreams can come true when Poseidon shows up.
Angry words are exchanged. Alliances are shifted when Hook refuses to steal Ursula’s voice as he promised. As punishment for the betrayal (the betrayal committed so Ursula wouldn’t have to kill any more people, mind you) Poseidon destroys the squid ink, thereby destroying Hook’s chance at revenge against Rumpelstiltskin. Furious, Hook uses the seashell to steal Ursula’s singing voice. Poseidon has his daughter back, but he’ll never hear her sing again, and that will break his heart far worse than anything Hook could do to Poseidon personally (it seems like a theme is developing in this storyline, yes?). Hook isn’t sorry. At least Ursula’s voice will never be able to sink another ship. Ursula is disgusted that Hook could be so cruel as to take her voice from her and returns to the sea, glad to be rid of something that could bring joy to such horrible beings.
Back in their palace, Poseidon is non-apologizing for his plot against her. Ursula won’t have it. Because of her father, the only thing she had to keep her mother’s spirit alive is gone, and she won’t be a pawn in anyone’s game anymore. She seizes Poseidon’s trident and uses its magic to give her the powers of the sea goddess she was named after. She commands the sea now, and her father (and everyone else) should be afraid.
And that’s how Ursula’s evil side was made. And we know how she and Hook know each other, and how he took her happiness. Though, treacherous histories tend to come in handy these days.
Upon transforming Pinocchio back into August Booth, Rumpelstiltskin and the Queens of Darkness insist that Regina begin the, um, enhanced interrogation techniques. Regina hesitates and Cruella accuses her of being soft, but Regina’s been tearing hearts out since before Cruella even played with puppies.
All hail Regina, Queen of Sass.
She conjures a fireball and leans in to August. Nervous, he blurts out that he’d heard about The Author in Hong Kong from The Dragon. The Dragon was murdered before he found out much, but August took all of his research. Intrigued, Gold goes to that trailer August used to hang out in look for the materials, leaving the witches to guard their prisoner. It’s a lot of information Regina needs to get back to The Charmings and Emma. She glares into the fire, conjuring a smoky spell that rises out of the chimney.
It doesn’t have to go far to find The Charmings and Emma and Hook, looking for Regina in the forest around Storybrooke. They watch the spell swirls around Mary Margaret. When the smoke dissipates, she looks the same but sounds like Regina. She discloses what she’s discovered—Gold is back, Pinocchio is technically okay but has turned into August, and Gold is up to something more but she doesn’t know what yet.
With word that Gold has returned, the crew heads to the pawn shop to talk to Belle. She insists his return is impossible, but his “turn into Killian so Belle will give me the dagger” trick is revealed when Belle (who breaks that whole Pirate Oath thing into a billion pieces for what appears to be no real reason) tells them that she gave it to Killian, and Killian denies ever doing such a thing. Belle is distraught that he managed to deceive her again, and Killian is outraged that The Dark One would stoop so low. He’s determined to find out all of his plan so that they can stop him before anyone gets hurt. And he knows how! Because he’s got that sketchy past with Ursula and still has her voice hanging around to use as a bargaining chip!
Ursula is at the cabin with the rest of her coven when she hears Killian summoning her with some sort of seashell pager magic thing. She excuses herself and takes off, which is weird, but the other witches are too absorbed in their own plots for happy endings to think much of it.
She meets up with Killian and threatens him a little, but eventually hears him out when he offers to return her happy ending without needing The Author so long as she spills the beans about everything she knows regarding The Dark One’s most recent plan. The voice is hidden on the Jolly Rodger, so they head to the harbor to track it. And, it’s closer than they think! Its floating in a bottle in the harbor somehow! But how are they going to get it out?
They head to the pawn shop, this time looking for Will Scarlett. Killian knows that Will has experience on magic ships and, since he is a man who knows how to get things (by stealing them), he happens to know of just the thing. A drop of a potion and a toss of a bottle into the harbor and the ship is restored! Does Storybrooke have a Staples? I think we should have an Easy Button for stuff like this.
They board the ship and Killian retrieves Ursula’s voice. The seashell shimmers and begins to release a golden-green magic that sings like Ariel’s wordless aria from The Little Mermaid. The magic pulses, and then fizzles. Ursula is furious that the magic didn’t work. Hook suggests that she’s too corrupted with evil for the spell to work properly, and that isn’t his problem, so he wants to know the rest of the villains’ plot. Ursula isn’t giving in, though. This failure proves that villains can’t get a happy ending without The Author, and so Ursula will be sticking with Gold to make sure she gets hers. And, for good measure, she ties up Killian and tosses him into the water.
He begins to sink (but thank goodness for waterproof eyeliner!) when a being swims up to him and pulls him out of the water.
ARIEL. ARIEL IS BACK.
(And yes if you read the internets about this show these things have already been mentioned, but I like to avoid those kind of things because I like these kind of surprises).
She drags him aboard the ship and revives him. Concerned, she asks if he’s okay as he regains consciousness. Initially upset that she was trapped with The Jolly Rodger, she’s also relieved to be free so she can find her way back to Eric.
But wait how did all this happen? Well, Blackbeard did some pretty unsavory things with The Jolly Rodger and so The Snow Queen shrank it in Arendelle as punishment for his misdeeds and Ariel got caught up in the spell somehow. The bottle wound up here when The Snow Queen took up her powers
in Storybrooke, because magic. And yeah, this is a stretch. But Ariel has always been the character to show up and help out just in the nick of time, and I love Joanna Garcia Fisher, so I’ll buy it.)
As Ariel is now grateful to Hook (and Ursula, really) for releasing her, Hook asks for a favor for the two of them on Ariel’s behalf. What favor? Well, he’d still like to get Ursula her happy ending somehow since he was the one who interfered with it, and he wants help figuring out a way to make that happen. More on that in a minute, though, because there are SO MANY OTHER THINGS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. THIS EPISODE HAS SO MANY THINGS.
Okay so at the cabin Regina is trying to sweat more information about Henry’s book and The Author out of August. He recognizes her and Robin Hood in the picture, also strange since he was a boy at the time Robin Hood was around, but apparently August has Pinocchio’s memories even if Pinocchio didn’t have August’s. And that makes sense actually since Pinocchio was supposed to start over and not repeat any of August’s mistakes when The Blue Fairy saved him. Anyway, he wishes he could help her, but there’s not a lot he can do.
Gold returns, revealing that he knew August was lying about The Dragon’s research, so he didn’t go to inspect the trailer. Instead, he went to the fairies and stole a potion from them that, once altered with his magic, will turn August back into wood for a time being. It’s going to be incredibly painful. Gold forces the potion down August’s throat. He groans as he changes into wood, and gasps in pain when the spell breaks and he’s a person again. But the potion isn’t just painful, Gold reveals. It will reactivate the consequences that Pinocchio had to deal with when he lied.
This interrogation just got interesting.
Gold eventually forces out of August (holding his head to the fire as his nose grows longer and longer) that he knows that The Sorcerer trapped The Author behind a door. A door that Regina will know about, since she has all of August’s things from his saddlebags. Regina admits that she has seen the illustration of the door but that it’s now in Henry’s possession so it won’t help them much. Gold demands to know where the door is, but all August knows is that it’s somewhere in Storybrooke. Satisfied, Gold pulls August back from the fireplace and secures him into his chair again. Since Regina has seen the door before, she’ll be accompanying him to The Sorcerer’s mansion to look for it. Cruella will stay behind to guard August.
Cruella is satisfied with her assignment, given that August isn’t too bad to look at when he’s all stubble and less wood shavings. She’s been ogling him for hours when Emma bursts in. She, Mary Margaret, and David have set out to save August. Cruella is delighted to have a crack at fighting The Savior, but Mary Margaret knocks her out cold with a frying pan from behind. First rule of being a bandit, she explains. The back door is usually unlocked.
They work to free August (and he and Emma have a cute moment reminiscent of all the flirting they did back in season one) when Ursula returns. She has her shell, but her happy ending is still out of reach, so she’s going to pour everything into working with The Dark One to find The Author. She holds Mary Margaret by the neck with one of her tentacles and orders them all to leave her and Cruella with August.
But Hook and Ariel had figured out a way to help Ursula, so they’ve been headed to the cabin as well. They arrive on the scene just as Ursula gets really close to choking Mary Margaret to death. She’s surprised to see him alive. He approaches the scene gingerly but calmly, the way hostage negotiators need to work. He has something important to tell her. It wasn’t Ursula’s dark magic that made her unable to retrieve her voice. It was just that the voice can’t be retrieved by anyone except the person who enchanted the shell to begin with. Ursula’s eyes fill with tears as she thinks of her father, and there isn’t a dry eye in the house when Poseidon himself walks through the door.
He explains that a mermaid took him through a portal, seeking him out when she found out about Ursula’s wicked plan. He apologizes for everything and wants her to have her voice back. It had been so painful to hear her sing, because he was reminded of his lost love, and he took his grief to a dark place instead of being comforted by what she’d left behind.
Ursula’s voice is restored. Father and daughter have a beautiful reunion and swear to leave Storybrooke in peace. Everyone is crying. Or, I am crying enough for everyone.
Then they realize that Cruella managed to slip off. David and Mary Margaret help August out of the cabin while Killian and Emma stand to catch their breath after all the drama. Emma is grateful that Killian helped Ursula, but Killian is concerned. Villains don’t get happy endings, and he used to be a villain. He isn’t sure what’s going to happen now that he has found his happy ending for real.
Emma is confused. What’s his happy ending?
Well, it’s Emma, of course. And he’s afraid that since Regina reformed as a villain but lost Robin Hood anyway, that the same thing will happen to them. More crying. Lots of kissing. And Emma is The Savior and she won’t let that happen, even if Killian isn’t so sure.
Cruella has taken off to find Gold and Regina and tell them what has happened. She arrives at the mansion and tells the story, right down to Ursula’s happy ending. Gold is furious but Cruella insists it wasn’t her fault. Someone must have told the heroes where August was being held! Except she assumes it was Ursula because she managed to get a happy ending out of it.
Annoyed but not discouraged, he sends Regina to take the illustration of the door from Henry to see what information they can get out of it while he and Cruella return to the cabin with Maleficent to regroup.
Hook is seeing off Ursula and Poseidon, who are going to travel through mermaid portals back to their own realm. She’s overjoyed to have her voice back and moved that Killian tried so hard to keep up his part of their bargain. So, she decides to honor her part as well. It’s not just The Author that Gold needs for the villain happy endings. Since things work differently here, The Author can’t grant any happy endings since he wasn’t the one who gave them. Emma, The Savior, did that. And as long as there’s still a Savior, The Author won’t be able to do anything for them. Rumpelstiltskin knows of Emma’s capacity for darkness and evil, and plans to fill her with it. They’re going to have their work cut out for them.
But maybe they have more on their side than they know. Regina has gone to The Charmings’ loft to retrieve the illustration from Henry, and she’s there as August recovers enough to tell them what he learned of Gold’s plot. He’s suspicious of Regina, but she assures him she’s working undercover.
So, August reveals that he was a little more flexible with the truth than Gold thought he was. He only knew that the door was “somewhere in Storybrooke” because he didn’t know where Henry was keeping that picture. Yeah, it’s not an illustration of the door. It IS the door. The Sorcerer trapped The Author in the book.
Dramatic Music! The End! We’ll need an entire week just to recover from that mass amount of plot movements! At least things are happening!
The Story Continues Next Sunday Night at 8:00 pm on ABC.