Last Once Upon a Time, The Queens (and guy?) of Darkness left us with the grim image of a de-kidified August tied to a chair in a log cabin awaiting whatever wicked fate our five evil doers had in store for him. It seemed strange, if not downright grim for our villains to get their way so easily from our favorite wooden man-puppet so easily. No, instead our episode was bizarrely – and surprisingly – all about Ursula.
Of the “poor unfortunate souls” of the episode’s namesake, I’d never guess that it’d be our tentacled femme fatale who’d grab the spotlight – and I suppose she needed it the most. Ursula’s who’s been relegated as “just” the spare tentacle of the group. Amidst all the Rumple action we’ve gotten over the past few episodes, it seemed like odd-timing to get Ursula’s backstory thrown in for kicks, but got it we did, if not at the expense of any real relevancy to our present-day drama.
Written to accompany under the category of “aquatic” characters, we’re shown she was an old acquaintance of Hook’s, though their relationship’s a bit dimmer than what I’d call an old flame. She has an obsessive sea god as a father and sings like an angel, but it so happens that ‘ole Hook takes a liking to her, and the feeling’s vaguely mutual. So why not jump on the sea-fairing goth pirate’s boat, why don’t you? And so, in typical Disney fashion, things go awry and daddy dearest’s soprano daughter is suddenly his evil sea goddess daughter.
The episode hits all the usual beats of teen angst and lover’s scorn and it’s a shame, really, that there’s nothing more novel here than what you’ve come to expect from rebellious children and their controlling parents. If Tiffany Boone’s young Ursula is hard to take seriously as a villainess in the making more than a mildly annoyed adolescent, than it’s more puzzling that Poseidon’s trident not being so much as password protected. Beyond swiping her dad’s powers like a credit card, no one probably taught Ursula how to be making threats like an adult. “You don’t need to protect me, father. You need to fear me,” she says, glowering.
Anyone invested in the original Little Mermaid cartoons can probably overlook most of the silly genre conventions here to get a smirk out of the array of character cameos, but it’s all too disappointing that Ursula and Hook’s present-day face-off’s solved by the appearance of a certain mermaid girl. It’s all ratherIt’s clear that Boone at least studied Merrin Dungey’s present-day Ursula and the two mesh nicely for it, but if this is their last episode, it feels like a “been there, done that” earlier than it should be. And you’d hope that a sea goddess would cast a larger shadow on the series than that. The “ooh” and “awww” moments are plenty though, and there’s something satisfying about Ursula’s motives being changed from here on out should she choose to stay.
There were some rather quick explanations to connect the dots and they sufficed, but just barely. There’s a lot of leeway you feel like you owe to a fantasy show for creating its own flexible set of rules, granted, but I’m still not sure just what opens portals now that we’re including tentacles. Nor am I sure what constitutes unlocked hideout doors as being the usual. What is admirable is the show’s dancing around the idea of a torture scene – none of it straying too far from the series’ more magical connotations and all of it making more of a character out of August than I’ve grown to think of him.
On brighter – or should I say, “darker” side, the show’s made some admirable progress regarding Regina’s own undercover mission with the evils. I can’t help but wonder what Regina really would do with a happy ending if she ever does get one by this point, but between her and Robin and Emma and Hook, I’d say she’s earned it. A disconcerting (and jarring) premonition can’t shake the feeling that she’s a literal deathtrap to any thief she dates, but that she should be her own enemy is a rather subversive take for the character. It’s probably fair to believe in Regina’s sincerity enough by now to think her above Rumplestiltskin’s influence, even in his inner circle, but what it’ll take to keep her cover’s an increasingly urgent question.
It’s doubly interesting to see what’ll become of Rumple’s alliance as slowly as his hand’s being forced and it’s not hard to imagine him likely being the last one standing, as it’s probably always been the case from the start. Cruella’s too amusing of an quip-machine, but Maleficent’s too dangerous to be kept around for too much longer, especially given her maternal grudge against Snow and Charming, whatever it is. While I don’t buy Belle and Will Scarlett tying a very firm knot in his absence, I’m guessing Rumple’s going to have to confront her for real, face-to-face, before this is all over.
That all leaves us where Poor Unfortunate Souls’ cliffhanger, something Once Upon a Time‘s getting better about this season. If even a lick of the fan theories regarding Henry and the Fairy Tale book’s authorship is true, than I’d be more excited than I already am to see this thread unraveled. In a lot of ways, solving just how to ink in everyone’s happy endings seems like too much of a triumphant end game for the show, but not one I’m unwilling to buy given the show’s reflectiveness as of late.
While I’m beginning to think of the show’s flashbacks more as filler than character-building, Once Upon a Time is doing a splendid job at diving deeply into some of its biggest questions. Despite what felt like a needless half-hour of contrived teen angst, our present-day segments paid off big and hopefully even bigger as we go through this latter half-season. As the Queens of Darkness get closer to being put in the singular, it’s a big question whether they’ll be holding auditions, because I can’t, however, buy Emma as their next recruit.
Once Upon a Time airs Sunday nights on ABC at 8/7 Central. Catch all the latest episodes at ABC.com and all the latest reviews here at BagoGames.