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An aquatic villain gets her own flashback—and finds redemption.

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March 23, 2015 at 04:11 AM EDT

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

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