Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Thoughts from a Hopeful Romantic: An Upside Down Fairy Tale, Part II: Kindred Spirits: The Love Story of Captain Swan

No one would have ever put them together.

She was born of royalty, yet grew up in the modern world a commoner, unaware of her own value and importance until her son brought her to the place she now calls home.

He was a pirate who'd lost everyone he cared about, a villain desperate for revenge on the man who murdered the woman he loved.

Yet, after three seasons of innuendo and "yearning looks," Emma Swan, daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, and Killian Jones, better known to the world as Captain Hook, are one of the most popular pairings on the series Once Upon a Time.  Their journey to get to where they are now could fill the pages of an epic romance novel, filled with illustrious adventures, determined ex-lovers, and pasts that both of them needed to heal from.  Unlike most of the other romances on the show, the relationship known to fans as Captain Swan was a slow burn.

Killian and Emma in 2.05, "Tallahassee"
Photo courtesy of
The attraction was apparent from their first adventure together in the episode "Tallahassee," yet Emma resisted vehemently.  It took another season before she impulsively kissed Killian after each taunted one another that they couldn't "handle it."  Another season ( which really evened out to nearly two years due to a curse) passed before they had an official first date.  So, it is safe to say that when Killian said he was in this for the long haul, he wasn't lying.

Emma and Killian met at the beginning of the second season, when the audience (and Emma) were unsure of the pirate's motives.  There was reason to be.  At that point, he wasn't even sure what side he was on.  All he wanted to do was ensure his revenge on "the Crocodile," Rumpelstiltskin.  The two had a complex history.  Rumple's wife ran away with Killian many years prior, and after becoming the Dark One, he took his wife's life and the pirate's hand.  From then on, Killian 's mind was only on avenging his first love's death.

Throughout most of the second season, the side of Killian Jones the audience saw was not a most pleasant one.  He bounced back and forth between being a help and a hindrance.  His shining moment in the season was "Tallahassee," when he and Emma climbed to the top of the beanstalk together to obtain a magic bean.  It was paralleled with learning about Emma's first love, Neal, who is also the father of her child.  Killian's softer side was displayed in the episode, particularly in scenes like when Emma notices the tattoo on his wrist with his first love's name inked into his skin.  It forces her to confront her own romantic past and remember it, no matter how painful.

Killian spent most of the season flirting with Emma, and she spent that time rebuffing him, too busy and too afraid to take a chance with something who just might be able to break down the walls she surrounded herself with.  This back and forth continued into season three, in which they journeyed to Neverland to save Henry, Emma's son.  It is there that Killian and Emma share their first kiss.  It is a heated, passionate moment where all of the pent-up emotion that simmered for the past season exploded.  Still, Emma keeps her distance after that, even when Killian admits that she made him realize that he was capable of letting go of his first love, opening himself up to the possibility of falling in love again, just one episode later.  Emma never addressed this, still continuing to back away from the possibility of love, especially since Neal was back in her life.  Having two men vying for her was confusing and intimidating, particularly when the men were so different.

Killian and Emma lock lips for the first time in Neverland, episode 3.05, "Good Form"
Photo courtesy of ABC Studios
Throughout the season, many changes take place.  Emma is ripped from him by a curse, separating them for a year until he finds her in New York, living a new life with her son with no memories of him.  In a sad attempt, he tries true love's kiss for the first time, which does not work.  What does, however, is a memory potion.  The next half of the season is spent in Storybrooke with Emma doing her best to help defeat the Wicked Witch.  She's also trying to help recover the memories of the missing year that seem to be absent to everyone except Killian, who won't say a word about it.

It isn't until the end of the season, after a trip to the past where Emma saw her parents fall in love, kissed and flirted with past Killian, and played princess, that we find out the truth.  In an earlier episode, he'd admitted to another character that he loved Emma and that she'd broken his heart.  We learned the extent of that love when he tells Emma that to get to her, he had to trade something of value.  When she asks what that was, he says, with a smile, "Why, the Jolly Roger, of course."  His ship.  His home.

This was the beginning of the official romantic relationship between Killian and Emma.

Season 4 was smooth sailing, generally.  The audience was treated to a first date, a couple of rescues, and other couple-ish happenings.  That wasn't to say the season featured no adversity.  In the first half of the season, Killian made a deal with Rumple, resulting in blackmail that leads to his heart being absent from his chest for several episodes.  Besides that, Storybrooke is always a place of constant conflict, therefore it is difficult to enjoy those quiet moments together, particularly for a woman known as the Savior.

The end of season 4 was interesting, to say the least.  The first part of the episode was spent in an alternative universe, where each of the characters was the opposite of the people they normally were.  Emma was the only person who was herself, along with Henry.  When she encounters Killian, he is a cowardly version of himself, yet she still finds herself drawn to him.  It proves that, no matter the time, place, or circumstances, Killian and Emma always find their way to one another.

Caught in the crossfire, Killian ends up stabbed by Evil Prince Charming, dying in front of Emma.  She barely has time to react before being dragged away to escape her own impending death.  However, the possibility that she will never see him again is very real to her.  She confesses to another character that she watched the man she loved die and never told him once that she loved him.  Seeing Emma, a character who had always been so guarded about her emotions, finally admit something so raw was a truly powerful moment and proved that she does love Killian, even though she'd never admitted it to him.

Several scenes and a sword fight later, the real world is restored and all of the characters land back in Storybrooke.  After hugging her son, Emma makes a mad dash to the loft, the last place Killian was supposed to be before the alternative universe took over.  She bursts through the door to find her parents but not a sign of Killian.  For a moment, a look of despair and fear crosses Emma's face.  Despite all her efforts, he was gone.

Promptly at that moment, the self-proclaimed "dashing rapscallion" pokes his head out from the loft above and apologizes for the mess he's made looking for her son, a sly grin on his face.  Emma runs to him, her enthusiasm bursting through so much that in hugging him, the force of her embrace lands them on Emma's bed (an improvisation made by actress Jennifer Morrision, completely unbeknownst to acting partner Colin O'Donoghue).  After a few moments of giggling and expressing relief, she pulls him up and says, "When I watched you die, I thought I was never going to get the chance to tell you something."

Everyone, including Killian, thought this was going to be it.  He grinned and teased, "Tell me what?"

"That...I...want to thank you for sacrificing yourself."

Killian's face fell in that moment a bit.  And so did almost every fangirl's heart when they saw that damper of sadness in his eyes.  Of course, he knew, like all of us, that she really did want to say it.  However, as Emma had mentioned in the alternate universe, she was scared to say it because it would make it real and change everything.  So, instead, he was understanding, nodding his head and smiling.  When they pressed their foreheads together and just sat there, arms around one another, there couldn't have been a more perfect moment.  Despite Emma's fears, Killian understands her and loves her for it.  To many, it was better than an "I love you" moment.

Emma and Killian reuniting after a trip to an alternative universe, episode 4.23, "Operation Mongoose, Part II"
Photo courtesy of
The moment of bliss for Killian and Emma is far too short-lived, as is typical in Storybrooke.  The darkness eating up the show's arch villain, Rumplestiltskin, finally becomes too overwhelming and is removed from him, only to surround the town and try to attract a recently reformed villain, Regina.  However, Emma won't have that.  As the Savior, she feels she is the one who should make the sacrifices, no matter what it costs her.  She grabs the Dark One dagger and starts making her way to take on the darkness.  First, her parents beg her not to.  She tells them that they can save her and that they've taken the darkness out of her before.  They can do it again.  Before she turns back, though, Killian makes a final plea, begging her not to do this.  With tears in her eyes, Emma says "I love you," the words we've been waiting episodes for, and holds his hand to her chest before wielding the sword and allowing the darkness to consume her.  After a few seconds of churning magic, Emma disappears and the Dark One dagger clinks to the ground in the middle of the main street of Storybrooke.  Killian's face of despair is the last thing the audience sees as the season closes with a view of the dagger and the name Emma Swan clearly engraved across it.

Safe to say that left season five open to many theories and opinions from fans.

As a huge fan of Emma Swan as a character, I was definitely nervous to see what the creators dubbed as the "Dark Swan" emerge.  Comic-Con gave fans a first peek at the heavily bleached, leather-wearing Dark One, and it scared me a lot.  After all, how would this impact what fangirls call my OTP (one true pairing)?  The theories other fans came up with scared and worried me.  It allowed my imagination to get far too crazy with possibilities.

Contrary to what I thought, the Dark Swan arc has actually allowed for some beautiful Captain Swan moments.  Emma's initial response is to fight the darkness, even though the voice of the Dark One (Rumplestiltskin, in her case) keeps gnawing at her.  Killian is her light in the darkness, encouraging her to make the right choice and ignore the voice.  It led to a gorgeously shot scene in the last episode where Emma and Killian share a very fairy-tale-like kiss in a field of roses, the first time Emma has been free of the dark voice.  He loves her unconditionally.

However, these scenes are sharply contrasted to scenes six weeks in the future, where Emma has completely embraced the darkness.  The other members of the town have no idea what transpired during that period, except that Emma has made a complete 180-degree shift.  Initially, she attempts seduction as a way to keep Killian on her side, channeling a bit of Harley Quinn from the Batman comics in her attempts, but, as proof that he truly has changed, he walks away and tells her that is not the person he is.  When Emma realizes she needs something from him, she changes tactics, instead preying on the memories they have built together over the course of their relationship, wearing the sweet, innocent pink dress she wore on their first date and grabbing a sword to try to remind him of how she taught him how to use it in the alternate universe.  The problem is that Killian knows these are only games.  He allows his vulnerability to shine when he admits he liked her the way she was.  The line, "I liked your walls.  I liked being the one to break them down,"  was beautifully delivered by Colin O'Donoghue, and the pure pain in the scene is conveyed beautifully through his acting.  Emma, a little bit of the real her finally shining through, asks if he loves her, and tells them that if he doesn't, she will let him go.  After a long pause, he replied with "I loved you."  Emma, again allowing a bit of herself to shine through when her eyes wet with tears and she whispers, "The ship's yours" before disappearing into a cloud of gray smoke, breaking the hearts of fans everywhere.

The Dark Swan attempting to seduce Killian, episode 5.02, "The Price."
Photo courtesy of
That is the most recent scene the audience has of the couple, although last week's episode heralded the aforementioned rosy meadow scene with an epic fairy tale kiss.  Killian may have said "loved" using past tense, but the week before, he used it in the present tense.  He was simply trying to get through and see if the real Emma was still within her.  She needed to understand that he's not going to condone and like who she is right now because that's not really her.  This arc is a true test for them to see if there love is strong enough to withstand the strain of this.

It may not seem like it right now, but Killian Jones and Emma Swan are going to make it through whatever obstacles are in their way now and in the future.   They have been defined by the creators of the show as True Love, but to me, it's been obvious for a long time now.  Each of these characters has gone to great lengths for one another, putting their hearts and lives on the line in order to discover who they were and their capacity for a relationship of this intensity and passion.  What that's done has broken down the walls Emma has surrounded her heart with and changed they way Killian moves through his life.  Emma is now much more vulnerable (or was until the darkness took over) and Killian is now a hero.  That's the kind of fairy tale I want to read to a child, one that is modern and can inspire hope that love can change people in the most beautiful ways and a open a person's heart when no one else thought it was possible.

Emma Swan and Killian Jones, the ultimate fairy tale couple, in episode 5.04, "The Broken Kingdom"
Photo by

Next weeks's installment will focus on Emma Swan, an unconventional romantic heroine.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thoughts from a Hopeful Romantic: An Upside Down Fairy Tale, Part I: Welcome to Storybrooke

Like most romance writers, I grew up adoring fairy tales.  Watching the glamorous princess and handsome prince fall in love despite a fury of obstacles was somehow inspiring and hopeful to the little girl in me.  It was the first time I witnessed the power and joy of love.

Now, it has been quite a long time since I have watched a fairy tale movie.  I have replaced those stories with the romance novels I read and write.  The obstacles have changed, with more realistic conflicts separating the lovers than an Evil Queen or Ursula the sea witch.  Still, many of the elements of fairy tales arise in modern storytelling.  The heroes and heroines may no longer be princes and princesses, instead taking on the roles of powerful CEOs, lawyers, and professors, yet they still face conflicts in getting their happy ending.  Modernizing these stories reconnects us to the nostalgia of our childhoods and depicts the longevity of great storytelling.

As many who follow me on social media know, the last year has introduced me to the brilliance that is ABC's Once Upon a Time.  For those unfamiliar with it, the series follows the fairy tale characters we all know and love in their journeys through the modern world.  It features most of the heroes and villains we have come to love (or hate) as more realistic individuals with backstories, and it allows families to bond over the struggles of these characters and rediscover them as people rather than caricatures.

From left to right: Lana Parilla (Regina Mills/ the Evil Queen), Emilie De Ravin (Belle), Colin O'Donoghue (Captain Hook/ Killian Jones), Jennnifer Morrison (Emma Swan), Josh Dallas (David Nolan/ Prince Charming)
Front: Jared Gilmore (Henry Mills)
The core of the story is the family of Snow White and Prince Charming (played by real-life couple Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas), the most traditional pairing on the show.  Their love story is sweet and sappy, yet it evokes the elements of traditional romances and is the most stable romantic relationship.  Their daughter, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), is the Savior of Storybrooke, Maine, a town all of the characters were cursed to.  Because time was frozen, Emma, who grew up in our world, is the same age as her parents and has a teenage son, Henry, who she was reunited with in Storybrooke when he was ten.  Until that point, Henry was raised by his adoptive mother, Regina, who was the Evil Queen in the Enchanted Forest.

That's the short version.  And it gets more confusing than that.

While Snow and Charming have the most stable relationship, all of the other romances have been rather bumpy.  Rumpelstiltskin (former Dark One and the Beast from Beauty and the Beast) and Belle have had a complex relationship since the episode "Skin Deep" in the first season.  Until the middle of the fourth season, Belle was unconditional in her love, blind to Rumple's manipulative ways.  Since then, however, Belle has been enlightened and is currently trying to resolve her feelings for a man who has spent the majority of his life obsessed by power and revenge.  Regina, the former Evil Queen, has spent the last couple of seasons trying to become a better person.  In that journey, she's found love with Robin Hood, despite a couple of soap opera-esque plot twists that continue to loom over them.  Both of these relationships have been developed and built, to the the delight (and sadly, anger) of many fangirls.

 So, if love is a core trope of Once, where does that leave the main character, Emma?

Emma (whose role as a romantic character will be discussed in the third part of the series) is a strong female.  Finding a romantic partner who allows her to be who she is but also breaks down her emotional walls had to be a tough task for the show's creators, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz.  Despite that, they created the perfect romantic complement, an equally strong man whose past mirrored hers, who challenged her in his relentless pursuit, and who ultimately proved that he would do anything for her, even die.

No one expected him to be Killian Jones.  He is more commonly known as Captain Hook.

The relationship between Killian and Emma will be the focus of my next piece, but first, let me say how opposite this is of Snow and Charming.  These were the characters who were always meant to be together, at least according to every other telling.  To my knowledge, Captain Hook never had a romantic pairing in any of the literature about him.  Emma is an original character.  Turning stories upside down on their heads and illustrating both Killian and Emma as individuals who were kindred souls, despite what seem to be glaring differences.  It's one of the many things that Once Upon a Time does well, despite the fact that I can no longer watch Peter Pan.  Besides taking me back to my childhood for an hour a week, it reminds me that great stories never go out of style.  They may change, but the roots always stay the same.  I can only hope that some of that luck rubs off on the words I write and that those themes can be immortalized centuries from now.

Be sure to look out next week for "An Upside Down Fairy Tale, Part II: Kindred Spirits: The Love Story of Captain Swan."