Thursday, January 21, 2016

Thoughts from a Hopeful Romantic: An Upside Down Fairy Tale, Part III: The Lost Girl: Emma Swan as a Romantic Heroine

Orphan.  Savior.  Lost girl.  Mother.  Dark One.  These are all words that have been used to describe Emma Swan, often simultaneously.  Most of them display the strengths of her character, or at least how she built herself to be who she is.  Others, such as her new role as the Dark One, show how these roles can culminate and ultimately cloud the light within a person.  It is plenty of meat to work with as a writer and allows for the creation of a truly three-dimensional character.

It also makes her much more difficult as a romantic interest.

Emma Swan (played by Jennifer Morrison) in a season 3 promotional shot.
Photo courtesy of ABC Studios.
Emma is an extremely guarded character.  She trusts few people, and it takes a long time before she allows them in.  That makes falling in love with someone quite difficult.  Still, looking at Emma's history, her skepticism and distrust of others is completely understandable.  She spent the first eighteen years of her life shuffled around in the foster system, feeling out of place and unwanted.  Following that, she spent time as a thief, joining forces with Neal Cassidy, forming a Bonnie and Clyde-like team.  They fall in love and make plans for the future in a hotel room with a dreamcatcher and a map.  Their bliss ends all too quickly, a warning from an elusive stranger sending Neal running, leaving Emma to go to jail for their crimes.  Worse yet, Emma discovers that she is pregnant.  She gives birth in jail and decides to give the baby up for adoption.  After leaving jail, she turns her life around, getting a job in bail bonds.  She establishes a new life for herself, yet she is all alone.

Finding out at the age of twenty-eight that she was the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming and the Savior of an entire world of storybook characters only seemed to strengthen the walls around Emma.  It hadn't helped that she'd known her parents first as friends, or that Graham (fairy-tale alias: the Huntsman from Snow White) a man she had a genuine connection with in the town of Storybrooke, was killed shortly after they met, just another in the tragic string of losses in Emma's life.  Her son, Henry, was really the only person who could get through to Emma throughout the first three seasons.  To this day, all of her relationships are complex and layered.

Killian Jones' appearance in Emma's life was significant from the start.  At first, he seemed like just another man who came onto her with flirty lines determined to score an easy conquest.  Emma's reaction to this was, obviously, to roll her eyes and keep walking.  She had dealt with enough smooth guys in her life to see someone like him coming from a mile away.  However, their adventure on the beanstalk in "Tallahassee" showcased a much deeper connection between Killian and Emma.  He could see things in her that no one else recognized, perhaps because they were reflections of herself.  Despite being reluctant to reveal anything to him, Emma spends much of the episode remembering her first love, Neal, and how important he had been in shaping her life.  Killian challenges her to remember and encourages her to trust him, an opportunity she rejects in the episode because of her fears.

Emma Swan in Neverland, season 3.
Photo courtesy of watermarked.
Emma maintains the firm walls around herself throughout the season as Killian bounces between being good and bad, continuing to push away anything she might have felt for him.  However, she is forced to join ranks with him as well as a larger group of heroes and villains as they journey to Neverland to save Henry.  The sexual tension between Killian and Emma begins to mount, culminating in a passionate kiss shared after some goading from Killian.  However, Emma discredits the moment almost instantly, referring to it as a "one time thing" and refraining from mentioning it to anyone.  It is evident that Emma's fears hold clout over her.  She is afraid of the feelings that Killian Jones awakens in her, and her natural response is to push him away.  She succeeds in doing that for the majority of the season.

Emma's life is turned on its head yet again when another curse is cast, sending Emma and Henry back to New York with no recollection of their lives in Storybrooke.  Emma and Henry live like this for a year, in a domestic life that they had never had the opportunity to before.  She finds a boyfriend who is preparing to propose when Killian shows up at her door, kissing her in an effort to jog her memory.  While that doesn't quite do it, a memory potion he offers does.  Still, even when she realizes that her entire life in New York is based on false memories, it doesn't stop her from wanting to return to that life, mainly because Henry does not know the truth as there was not enough memory potion for him.  While fighting yet another Storybrooke villain upon her return, Emma is determined to return to New York upon finishing and resuming the life she has built there with Henry.  While much of it is because she is comfortable with the life she'd built in New York, it is apparent that she is also running away from Killian and the possibility of love.  When the curse took over, she'd forgotten everything that transpired between them in Neverland.  However, because all of her memories had resurfaced, she is now desperate to run away and find "home."

A turning point for Emma romantically came at the conclusion of season three, when she and Hook take a trip to the past, which results in them changing the future and the two of them being forced to work together to get future events on track.  At one point, the two of them are forced to attend a royal ball, complete with a Cinderella-like costume change and romantic dance scene.  For the first time, Emma felt as though she was a princess and was a part of the storybook.  Not only that, but she was able to use the magic she thought she'd lost.  Upon the return to Storybrooke, she finally realizes that the quirky little town is home and she learns to appreciate her family.

Emma's next step is accepting love.  When they return, Emma discovers that the reason Killian was able to get to her was because he traded his ship for a magic bean to get to her.  For once, someone truly put Emma first.  For Killian and Emma, season 3 ends with a kiss and the promise of a new relationship.

Season four was good for Killian and Emma.  The two of them begin to fall into a routine, as we see them go on their first date and slowly watch both of them reveal more of themselves to one another.  This includes Emma allowing Killian to go through a box of things from her childhood and Killian fixing a mistake with sea queen Ursula from his past.  However, it was the end of the season where the challenges to their newfound happiness began.


The Author of the storybook creates an alternate universe that reverses the roles of the heroes and villains, leaving Rumplestiltskin the primary villain of this new tale and Snow White and Prince Charming as evil royalty.  Emma is locked in a castle, relegated to knowing the truth but not being able to do anything.  When Henry helps her to escape, she finds Killian to be a cowardly one handed pirate who is far from the man she knows so well.  Their reunion is short-lived, as Killian sacrifices himself to save her and Henry.  It is only after that that she reveals to Regina for the first time that she loved Killian, yet she never told him because she was too afraid that it would drastically changed everything.  Her vulnerability in this scene is gut-wrenching, as it displays perfectly how much Emma has changed and the emotional intimacy that she has allowed in her relationship with Killian.

The work of the Author is eventually undone, presenting Emma with the perfect opportunity to tell Killian that she loves him when they meet again in her parents' apartment.  However, just as she is about to tell him, she panics, instead replacing the words with suitable substitutes.  It breaks the heart of the viewer that Emma is so afraid to tell him that she still won't even after almost losing him.  However, that is Emma Swan.

Season four concludes with the darkness that has been filling Rumplestiltskin being removed from his body and surrounding the town of Storybrooke.  In order to eradicate the darkness, it needs to be put in someone so that it can be controlled by the dagger.  Then, in a heroic move we have grown to expect of Emma, she takes the dagger, allowing the darkness to consume her.  This is not before she reveals to Killian that she does love him.  She vanishes into thin air, only leaving the dagger, with the name Emma Swan clearly engraved on it.

The Dark Swan arc was a shock and delight to fans.  The transformation of Emma from the light, leather jacket-wearing Savior into a cold Dark One clad in skin tight, black clothing was chilling, to say the least.  She was methodical, and her sultry attempt to convince Killian to trust her opened into one of his best scenes: when he rejects her advances and tells her that isn't who he is.  More shocking yet is the discovery that Emma is not the only Dark One in Storybrooke.  During weeks missing in the memories of the other Storybrooke residents, they traveled to Camelot and attempted to rid Emma of the darkness.  To do this, they need to reunite the legendary Excalibur sword with the Dark One dagger, as together, they create the most powerful weapon of all, that could eliminate the darkness forever.  Killian is struck with this dagger, and the wound is fatal.  To save him, she makes him the thing he hates most: the Dark One.

Killian is unable to fight the darkness, particularly after Emma's own darkness allows her to distrust him.  Therefore, he enacts the dark curse that sends them all back to Storybrooke after killing Merlin the sorcerer.  Emma, distraught by his actions, knocks him out, and removes his memories and the memories of all of those who knew he'd become the Dark One.  It leads to Killian, now angry that Emma has lied to him since the return from Camelot, to exact his revenge by bringing back all past Dark Ones.  Ultimately, though, what happens is the last thing that Emma Swan should have had to do.

In a shocking twist, Killian breaks through the darkness, stating that he is being the man he wants to be.  He absorbs all of the darkness into the now-whole Excalibur, telling Emma that she needs to kill him with it to destroy the darkness forever.  In other words, she is forced to let another person she loves die.  Even as she begs him not to, Killian tells her that it is okay and that he does not want to lose her.  Despite her love for him, she does as he asks, stabbing Excalibur through him, allowing Killian Jones to die a hero.

The last scenes of 5A's finale were heartbreaking and groundbreaking for the character of Emma Swan.  We see her truly grieve for Killian, unable to let go of his hand as the paramedics take him away, laying aimlessly in the house he picked out for them, twirling his ring on the chain around her neck.  The loss of Neal in season 3 paled in comparison to this.  It only went to prove how deeply she loved Killian and how much it gutted her to lose him.

5A ended with Emma's decision to follow Killian to the Underworld after discovering that Rumplestiltskin had absorbed the darkness as Killian died, allowing him to become the Dark One and Killian's sacrifice to be in vain.  The episode "Swan Song" concluded with Emma echoing the words her father had first uttered in an early episode of season one: "I will find you...I will always find you."  There had been no man before that Emma Swan would have ever thought to go that far for, proving just how broken her walls were.

In romantic novels, both the heroes and the heroines are on a journey that leads to love.  Even more than that, though, another part of that is the character learning more about themselves.  In falling in love with Killian and her past experiences with other men and with her son, Emma Swan learned that while she may have experienced a lot of heartache and loss, all of it led her to where she ended up and the man she ended up falling for.

Some people have been critical of Emma having a love interest on the show or her chosen love interest.  Many have said that they miss "badass" Emma and that it is a shame that she relies on a man for her happiness.  Truly that is the complete opposite of what the show has done.  Emma spent the first three seasons resisting any possible romantic interests and pushing people away.  It was only in the last two seasons, where her relationship with Killian has blossomed and flourished, that Emma has opened up and allowed herself to become vulnerable.  It has made Emma better in all aspects of her life: as a girlfriend, a daughter, a mother, a friend, and most of all, a woman.

What will become of Emma Swan?  That is up to the creators of the show, but I hope to see her find her happy ending, and for it to comprise all the aspects of her life.  As a romantic, I hope that she can enjoy a blissful life with Killian and continue her introspection.  Emma is the kind of woman who does not want to need anyone else, and in truth, she doesn't.  However, having that kind of support in a romantic relationships is part of what makes her one of the best female heroines on television.

This blog series will soon conclude with part 4 focusing on Killian Jones (also known as Hook) as a romantic hero.  Thanks for reading!