By Alex Doria
When I was a kid, I was a firm believer in all things magical. Being the 90s child that I am, I lived and breathed Disney movies (and if I’m being honest, I still do). So when Once Upon A Time premiered back in 2011 and brought all of my favorite fairytale characters into the real word, my childhood fantasies had finally come true.
The Disney princesses I had idolized were no longer two-dimensional cartoons but living, breathing women. Snow White is a small town schoolteacher; Rumpelstiltskin is a pawnbroker; Little Red Riding Hood’s granny owns a diner; Jiminy Cricket is the local psychiatrist; and of course, the evil queen is the mayor of Storybrooke (a decidedly not subtle pun, but we love it anyway).
However, Once Upon a Time doesn’t just draw from the Disney catalogue for its characters and stories, especially when it comes to our central heroine, Emma Swan. Emma is the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, which makes her story uncharted in the Disney cannon.
When we first meet Emma, she’s a tough bail bond’s woman chasing down criminals in Boston. After surviving the foster system, as well as spending some time in jail herself (courtesy of the evil queen’s curse, thank you very much), she’s not exactly the typical definition of a princess. But that’s completely okay, because it’s not Emma’s destiny to be a princess but to be the savior and break the evil queen’s curse. And saviors don’t curtsey, they kick ass.
What with her personal childhood abandonment, as well as having to give up her own child since she didn’t want to raise her son from a jail cell, Emma is not the most open person when we first meet her. She hides her emotions and keeps anyone and everyone at a very safe distance.
As the show goes on and Emma spends more time with her son, who despite her best efforts to stop him manages to get behind Emma’s walls, we begin to see a slow but beautiful change. We see a woman who couldn’t trust a single person outside of herself, begin to put her faith in others, like her son Henry and her parents after they have reunited.
It is especially moving to watch Emma fall earnestly in love. Now, I know throwing a male lead at an already strong heroine is not everyone’s favorite plot line, but when you take into consideration that Emma’s biggest issue is learning to let people in, it makes sense that a beautiful love story should be in the mix for her.
A great deal of Emma’s emotional development comes from her relationship with the dashing Captain Hook, and what makes their pairing so beautiful is that they change each other for the better and only make each other stronger. The couple epitomizes strength through vulnerability, and for one to be a pirate and the other to be a former jailbird turned savior/princess; their story is truly epic.
With the finale of season five airing this past Sunday, we saw Emma’s most emotional arc to date come to a close: after becoming the Dark One and going to the Underworld and back for the man that she loves, Emma was finally able to say without the threat of death on her heals or an impending curse, the she loved Hook. For a woman who had to work hard to let her own child into her life and accept the love of her family, this is her greatest triumph yet.