Love Is Strength: Once Upon a Time and the Truth About True Love

Ginnifer-Goodwin-and-Josh-Dallas-Once-Upon-a-Time

True love isn’t easy, but it must be fought for. Because once you find it, it can never be replaced.

Once Upon a Time doesn’t play by the centuries-old rules of fairytale lore, and the show takes pride in that. Rumplestiltskin is also Belle’s Beast, Jack who climbs the beanstalk is actually a woman, and Snow White threatens the Evil Queen with a sword at her wedding ceremony. But perhaps the most important fairytale makeover this show has presented to audiences is the way it handles the concept of “true love.” The way true love is defined on Once Upon a Time—as an empowering force for good and something that requires effort and acceptance to achieve and maintain (and as something that doesn’t have to be romantic to be true)—should be one of the show’s enduring legacies.

The entire premise of Once Upon a Time is built around the idea of what happens after the “happily ever after.” What happened after Prince Charming woke Snow White from the queen’s sleeping curse? It turns out, a lot of things happened—even before their wedding—that tested and strengthened their love. On Once Upon a Time, true love isn’t something that is achieved and makes everything perfect in both your relationship and your life in general. True love requires teamwork. That’s what Snow and Charming are; they’re a team. They fight side-by-side for more than just their love; they fight for their kingdom. They don’t always agree, and their love isn’t a magical solution to all of their problems. But the support they give to one another is a defining part of their “true love.” Even when things are falling apart around them, they can rely on each other, knowing that the other has their back. True love doesn’t conquer all, but it gives you someone to take on life’s challenges beside you. And that’s a much more realistic story than one in which a prince and princess ride off into the sunset and never have any problems because they have true love.

The reason why Snow and Charming are able to both win so many battles and withstand so many losses is because they have someone who they know is by their side in both victory and defeat. Their true love is unconditional—it’s a love between two people who accept the other for who they really are, both the good and the bad. Charming and Snow met at a time when she was at her most cynical, and he still fell in love with her after she robbed him and hit him over the head with a rock. Even when Snow confessed her “darkened heart” to Charming in Season Two’s “Selfless, Brave, and True,” he didn’t judge her or stop loving her. Instead, he promised to help her believe in her own goodness again because that’s what true love is—it’s something that inspires both parties to be their best selves.

The same can be said of Rumplestiltskin and Belle’s true love. Rumplestiltskin’s phone call to Belle in Season Two’s “The Miller’s Daughter” was one of the show’s most romantic moments because it showed the way true love is built upon seeing a person for who they really are, even when they have lost their sense of self:

You are a hero who helped your people. You are a beautiful woman who loved an ugly man—really, really, loved me. You find goodness in others, and when it’s not there, you create it. You make me want to go back—back to the best version of me… And that’s never happened before. So when you look in the mirror, and you don’t know who you are—that’s who you are.

Belle is not a hero in the sword-wielding, warrior way of many princesses in the Once Upon a Time universe, but she is still a hero to both her people and to Rumplestiltskin. In this moment, we are presented with a man who not only understands but appreciates this woman for who she is at her core. And he also appreciates the impact her love has had on him. Loving Belle makes Rumplestiltskin want to be his best self. He’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and Belle has seen his flaws firsthand—but she still chose to love him for the good but broken man she knew he once was and could be again. That was the real tragedy of the “Lacey” storyline—both Belle and Rumplestiltskin lost themselves, tainting their true love with an attraction to the worst parts of who they were instead of the best.

Letting Lacey fall in love with his dark side was an easier path for Rumplestiltskin, but true love in the Once Upon a Time universe isn’t easy. It’s not as simple as a guy sharing one dance with a girl at a ball and the glass slipper fitting the right foot. True love is about the journey—Snow and Charming getting to know one another on the road to the troll bridge, Belle and Rumplestiltskin bonding during the time she was in his castle, and Emma and Henry spending a whole season working on Operation Cobra together.

The journey to true love is also about the journey to believing you’re worthy of true love, and that’s not something most fairytales want to talk about. Emma’s whole journey as a character is about accepting love from others, and that began with believing she could both love and be loved by the son she gave up for adoption. Rumplestiltskin’s curse began to break when Belle kissed him because, for a moment, he finally believed someone could love him for exactly who he was. But the moment he let his fear and self-loathing take over his thoughts again, he pushed her away, and his curse remained. And when Snow took the potion to remove Charming from her memory in Season One’s “Heart of Darkness,” she lost all memories of being worthy of love, which caused her to embrace the darkest parts of her heart. It was only when Charming proved that he was willing to die for her that she began to believe someone could love her as much as he did. That’s why their kiss awakened her memories of her true self—because she believed she was worthy of love, and she chose to accept that love from Charming.

True love cannot be forced in the world of Once Upon a Time. That’s the reason why true love’s kiss doesn’t work when one of the parties has lost their memory. Both parties must love each other in order for it to work. Consent matters in the world of Once Upon a Time, and when the male characters try to use true love’s kiss on female characters without their consent, the result is disastrous. From Charming getting knocked out by Snow and Belle screaming in Rumplestiltskin’s face to Emma kneeing Hook in the groin, the ladies of Once Upon a Time don’t take kindly to being kissed without their consent, and that’s the way it should be.

The ladies of Once Upon a Time get to do plenty of the true love’s kissing themselves, too. In fact, the majority of curse-breaking kisses on this show have been ones initiated by women. It’s Snow’s decision to accept Charming’s love and to kiss him in “Heart of Darkness.” It’s Belle who kisses Rumplestiltskin for the first time. And it’s Snow again who wakes her husband from his sleeping curse in a scene that is a direct parallel to the moment in the pilot episode when he wakes her—from the dwarves to the dialogue. That moment more than any other highlights Once Upon a Time’s focus on the equality between the halves of a “true love couple.” Snow and Charming are equals in every sense of the word. They’ve both needed to be saved, and they’ve both gotten to do the saving, too. There is a balance and a sense of equal partnership to this couple, which is such a rare thing to see in a fairytale.

The most powerful curse in the show’s history was broken by a kiss from a female character to a male one. Even better—it wasn’t a romantic kiss at all; it was a maternal one. Emma Swan might end up with a romantic true love before the show’s run is done, but it should never be forgotten—and the show thankfully never seems to forget—that her first true love was her son. It was extraordinary to watch the main female character on a major network drama go through a character arc that ended not with a romantic interest but with the acceptance of her love for her son. Not every love story is a romantic story; familial love and self-love are incredibly important in the real world. And that’s what Emma’s arc is about: her journey towards accepting love from her family, loving herself for her true identity, and reaching a point where she is comfortable enough with both of those things to possibly accept romantic love as well.

For both Emma and Regina, their son is the truest love in their lives and serves as a chance for them to learn about a kind of love that is healing instead of destructive. Love doesn’t always end in happily ever after. Sometimes you have to move on from love—no matter how true you might think it was—because it’s too painful to continue to hold on to it. It’s the reason why Hook finally had to let go of Milah; his grief over her death turned him into the darkest version of himself, while moving on and loving Emma has helped him become something much closer to his best self. Emma also faced the reality of letting go of love when she confessed to Neal in the Echo Cave that she wished he was dead because then she could finally begin to move on instead of constantly reliving the pain of their relationship.

Regina’s love for Daniel defined her for so long that she didn’t know who she was without it. Like Hook, her grief was something she clung to like a security blanket. It’s the reason why she didn’t take the leap of faith needed to find the man Tinker Bell said would help her love again. Regina’s lost love turned her into a dark, damaged woman, and she never let herself attempt to move on. But when Daniel was resurrected by Victor in Season Two’s “The Doctor,” he told Regina she needed to love again—to finally move on from the pain she had been carrying for so many years. Moving on from love that causes you pain is just as important a lesson as embracing love that makes you your best self, even if it’s a lesson that’s often left out of more conventional fairytale romances.

Both moving on from love that hurts and accepting love that heals require the same thing: bravery. For the characters of Once Upon a Time—princes, princesses, saviors, queens, and pirates who wield weapons and wage wars in basically every episode—real bravery is manifested in having an open heart, even when you’ve seen the worst in the world and in yourself. To love is to be vulnerable, and vulnerability is a terrifying thing. Snow drinks a potion that wipes her memories because she’s afraid of the continued pain she might feel over losing Charming. Rumplestiltskin destroys his first chance at a relationship with Belle because he’s afraid that loving her means giving up his power. Regina runs away from a second chance at love because she was scared of loving again after losing Daniel in such a horrible way. And Emma struggles to open her heart to anyone after years of believing she was abandoned by everyone who could have loved her.

To love is to take a leap of faith, to believe in the person you choose to love and to believe in yourself. On Once Upon a Time, to accept true love is to accept that you can be happy and hopeful even after life gives you every reason to be angry and cynical. As Snow said to Emma in Season Three’s “Ariel”:

…happy endings always start with hope.

So many love stories in today’s media choose to glorify angst. But Once Upon a Time chooses instead to glorify the ways that love can make us happy. Snow and Charming’s love story—the foundational love story for the entire show—is one that some have called “boring.” It’s stable instead of volatile; it shows itself in warm smiles instead of dramatic outbursts. But should we really be glorifying love stories that feature people who make each other cry and feel miserable more often than not? Shouldn’t we instead be teaching young viewers—especially young women—to reach for the kind of love that makes you feel supported and genuinely good?

“Love is strength” has become a kind of mission statement for Once Upon a Time, and that’s a brave mission statement to take on in today’s jaded media landscape. But the kind of love that represents strength in this show isn’t the love of fairytales of old. It’s a kind of love built on equality, acceptance, and courage. And that’s the kind of true love I can truly believe in.

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49 thoughts on “Love Is Strength: Once Upon a Time and the Truth About True Love

  1. Everything you said about Snow and Charming is precisely why I was so annoyed when Charming decided not to tell Snow about the dreamshade in Neverland.
    I understand the good intentions of keeping the focus on finding Henry, and I get that nobody is perfect but the man was going to just take off and die without telling her anything. Argh!
    I’m a bit grumpy, sorry. And I’ll blame my snickering at the “self-love” bit to my lack of sleeping. Apparently sleep deprivation turns my mind naughty.

    Fantastic read, as always. I’m really excited about Sunday and your recap afterwards. Cheers!

    • I’m so happy you liked it, and I’m so excited for Sunday (and writing my recap on Monday) that I can barely stand it.

      Now you have me snickering at “self-love” too—I’m right there with you on the sleep deprivation front! 😉

      And I was also someone who was incredibly frustrated with noble-to-a-really-big-fault Charming for keeping his secret from Snow. I understand his motives, but that doesn’t mean I liked them. I couldn’t imagine how angry I’d have been if I were in Snow’s position.

    • We were all frustrated with Charming! But I kinda hate the term “out of character”. Humans are by definition are really bad about being consistent. Charming isnt a machine, hes gonna make mistakes, and that was definitely one of them. Luckily for Charming and his family Hook had “how to deal with stubborn asses” experience.

      • Ugh, where did my grammar go? After this I couldnt stop thinking about Hook and Charming’s relationship and how Hook helped him get back on the right path. Are they each other’s “true bros”? Ok, its Friday night, time to do something that doesnt involve obsessing about OUAT.

      • Yep, for me it wasn’t as much an ‘out of character’ situation as a ‘pigheaded entitlement’ moment for Charming, which could be linked to the discussion about the power of choice that Katie proposed in a previous post. Which is why I found particularly interesting for Hook as a character, more than the fact of saving him, that he actually warned Charming about the consequences of drinking the water before letting him do it. True Bros indeed.

        • I think Charming has been immensely consistent in his ‘typical prince noble’ behavior. And it always ends badly for him. I’ve always taken it as a nod from the show that the path of true nobility is through honesty not martyrdom. But there have been several points along the way where Charming’s attempts to protect have backfired. Neverland was simply the latest.

  2. Fantastic read, these couples are IT for me and the show – Snowing, Rumbelle, Captain Swan and also Regina’s new love. Coz its about hope, it all starts with hope and trust.

    I loved what you said about Hook, because this is it, he let go of revenge/milah coz he saw that he didnt feel anything much when he thought he got revenge on Rumple, he felt empty and realised its not an beginning but an end, and happy ending starts with hope… this is his beginning… finally realising he moved on – that he was capable of it, and his love for Emma and as you so well put it being his best self as he can be!

    I look forward to your weekly recaps of the episodes now 🙂

    • Thank you so much for the comment—I hope my reviews of these upcoming episodes live up to the hype! 😉

      I love what you said about the show’s major couples and the idea of “hope” because that’s what OUaT is all about. It’s about the power of hoping that happiness is possible even after you thought it was lost to you forever, and I agree that each of the show’s “true loves” (and even couples who haven’t been canonically proven as true love yet) represent that idea of hope so well.

  3. I really enjoyed this essay. As someone who considers herself far from being a “hopeless romantic”, I am constantly surprised at how much this show resonates with me. I am cynical, I am sarcastic, and I can be overly critical. There is always a part of me that on the surface feels like I should hate this show, but I dont. And far from hating it, I have no problem saying it is one of my favorite shows on TV. Snow and Charming dont even get on my nerves, and I find them far from boring. I think the reason this show resonates so well with me are because of all the points you bring up here. Love isn’t all drama and it isn’t, to quote Regina, all “rainbow kisses and unicorn stickers”. Yes this show is about fairy tale characters, but when you strip away the shoddy CGI and the weird age thing the relationships featured on this show are more realistic than almost anything else I can find on television. I love every single one of the relationships on the show. The friendships, the family, the romances, I love it all (lets just ignore Greg and Tamara shall we?).

    I also love what you bring up about true love’s kiss and consent. While I could have told you the fact that true loves kiss doesn’t work with memory loss, I have never thought about it from the consent angle, and I really like that take on it.

    I also loved Josh Dallas’ comment today during their interviews (I dont remember which one at this point) where he talked about the show being female driven and how vulnerability is seen as a strength in both the female and male characters. And as you pointed out, being vulnerable is an important first step on the road to true love. I love that on this show you can see Rumple, Regina, Hook, and Emma’s vulnerability so clearly when it comes to the surface and we get to see the consequences of those moments of vulnerability. Sometimes the result is good and sometimes its bad, but that exploration is what truly draws me into this show. I have always been someone who has struggled to allow myself to be vulnerable (its no surprise I identify so strongly with Emma) and I find this show’s theme and message to be more than just entertaining, I find it to be incredibly relevant and important on a personal level. It breaks my heart when I see fans tear each other, or the writers, or the actors a part on the internet. No the show isnt perfect, and neither are the actors, or the writers. But every part of acting and creating (and blog writing) is to be vulnerable. And I try to remember that as a consumer of that media and I admire them all because of it.

    Ok, that got serious for a second there, but I do just adore this show flaws and all. And I am so excited for it to be coming back so we can continue to see where this theme goes in 3B! “To love is to take a leap of faith” 😉

    • I’m so sorry for being so late to comment—the rest of the world should have understood that this was OUaT prep weekend. 😉

      I always love your thoughts about OUaT in general because we come at it from such different personality types. I’m such a romantic, heart-on-my-sleeve kind of girl, so I was fodder for this show from the start. But it always makes me smile when you talk about how it resonates with you despite everything in you being predisposed to finding it cheesy. I think it speaks to the power of the show’s actors more than anything that they can make all of us believe in this story and feel emotionally attached to these characters and their fairytale journeys.

      Your entire paragraph on vulnerability was so beautifully written. To open yourself up and to allow yourself to be vulnerable is such an important journey for all of the characters on this show, and you’re right; it’s a very important journey for all of us in the “real world” as well. To put your heart and true feelings on the line in love and in any creative endeavor (which I suppose is its own kind of love) requires bravery. That’s why I often get so protective of the actors and writers and anyone in a fandom who chooses to share their true feelings—because openness and vulnerability is scary, and we should celebrate those who are brave enough to let the world see their hearts instead of tearing them down for whatever reason that may be. That’s what I always hope for NGN to be—a place that celebrates the good instead of dwelling on the negative.

  4. After re-reading your post and the comments so far, I was wondering about your take on the show’s “ships” and their parallelisms. Maybe you’ve discussed it in the past and I’ve missed it, being new around here. I do certainly hope this doesn’t deteriorate into a ‘my ship is better than yours’ as it tends to happen in most forums I’ve been in.

    I’m particularly interested, at this point of the story, in the fact that it could be argued that Regina’s and Emma’s relationships with Robin Hood and Hook respectively seem, curiously enough, balanced and opposed in a way that makes the ‘two sides of the same coin’ theory even more obvious, IMO.

    Please note that I’m not discussing the ‘canon-ess’ or lack of thereof of said relationships, or implying that they are True Loves, or even that they aren’t. The fact remains that a relationship exists between each couple of characters, whatever its nature, and that it’s been more or less officially confirmed that there is (or will be) an attraction as well.
    That said, I’m also well aware that we don’t really know much about RH and what his story with Regina will be. I’m all for giving it a chance to develop before judging if it makes sense for me or not.

    What I’ve been considering lately is that Regina and Hook seem very similar, as do Emma and Robin Hood. In very general terms:

    – Both Regina and Hook have had their True Love (or at least whom they think was their TL) murdered before their very eyes. They both chose a dark path based on getting revenge for this fact and would stop at nothing. They’ve guarded their hearts behind walls of hatred and indifference but, the moment they’ve allowed themselves to lower those walls and really feel again, they’ve started their path of redemption and decided to leave behind their revenge in order to be better persons for their loved ones (Henry and Emma, respectively), even to the point of working alongside their nemesis.

    – Both Emma and Robin are arguably ‘good guys’, but their moral compass is a wee bit more complicated than ‘good vs. evil’ and they don’t shy away from getting their hands dirty if the situation requires it. They both are (or were) thieves, after all. Their pasts have not been easy, and they’ve lost a loved one too (more permanently in the case of RH) which happens to be the other biological parent to their sons. Henry and Roland are, respectively, the most important persons in their lives, and they would do anything for them (ie, Emma slaying a dragon in search of a TL potion to save her son from a sleeping curse, or Robin breaking into the Dark One’s castle in order to steal a wand and save his then pregnant wife, and therefore his child).

    Quite recently, a fan asked Adam Horowitz a question in Twitter which is what got me thinking about all this in the first place. They said: “Isn’t RH just a male version of Emma Swan with a little bit of Hook’s misogyny thrown in?” To which Adam replied with a resounding “no”.
    Although amused by the sass, the answer didn’t solve much for me. But Adam is a #nospoilers guy through and through, so I didn’t expect differently.

    So, taking out the ‘misogyny’ bit, and the ‘just’ bit, because nothing is ever that simplistic, but still generalising hugely: would you agree that Robin is kind of a male version of Emma? And that Hook is kind of a male version of Regina? Any thoughts about the arguably obvious parallelism between both sets of characters?

    • Katie is going to need a forum/message board if we keep bombarding her posts with these awesome long comments!

      Like you said, its hard to peg Robin completely since we havent seen too much of him yet, but I feel your Hook/Regina parallel is stronger than the Emma/Robin one. I actually could probably write a lot more about how Emma is like Hook/Regina than she is like Robin. In terms of vulnerability, I see Robin as someone more in the veins of Snow in Charming when it comes to love. Yes, his first love and mother of his child died, but Robin didnt use that event to close himself off or become dark or seek revenge. Yes, he is a hero and a savior in a way, like Emma, but Robin chose that path for himself, it wasn’t forced upon him, and he seems very comfortable in that role. I almost could say the Robin/Regina pairing is a little more Rumble/Belle like in the sense that one of these people is dark and the other is light. A vulnerable loving person (Belle/Robin) will help the dark loner learn how to love themselves (Rumple/Regina) and in turn love others. I think one of the reasons I love the (Hook/Emma) pairing so much is that both of them were equally broken and lost. It wasnt a matter of one “good” person helping one “bad” person. They both need each other equally.

      I am going to admit that when it was revealed that Robin was the man that the fairy dust lead Regina to I was a little disappointed. Do I think they are going to be sexy and have great chemistry and sass together? Yes. But I also feel like Robin is going to fall for Regina way before Regina gives Robin the time of day, and I feel like the pairing is very similar to Hook and Emma in that way. The boys get it bad first, and the ladies are going to have to let their walls down and allow themselves to be loved. While Hook and Robin are very different people, this path of Regina and Emma to finding love sounds like it has the potential to be too similar especially with the focus already on Emma and Hook this season. This is just a concern I have going into 3B, and I am really interested to see what the writers do with it. I hope they prove me wrong and we get something fresh and different, because so far the main couples of Snow/Charming, Rumple/Belle, and Emma/Hook have all been unique and interesting.

      • Ha! Agreed. I actually feel bad every time I post here because I tend to get carried away. Sorry Katie! 😉

        You make excellent points.

        One of the things I love most about Emma’s character is precisely that she is so complicated, and so impossible to categorise in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Is she a ‘good guy’ who’s done some bad things? Is it even her choice to be ‘good’, or the fact that she’s the Saviour and the product of True Love is again stripping her off the chance to decide for herself? There’s just so many nuances to her character.
        And then Robin, of whom we know basically nothing. We do know that he is a ‘good thief’, a loving father, and that he apparently doesn’t like magic (as seen in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, although I have no idea timeline wise if this is before of after using a magic arrow on Rumpelstiltskin and stealing and using a magic wand to heal his wife…). We don’t really know yet if he chose his ‘merry’ life or if it was in part forced upon him by the Sheriff of Nottingham, Prince John, or whatever the writers of the show have in store for us in their revamp of the character. He does seem to very comfortable in the role, indeed. I really hope they give him some depth and don’t make him just a goody.

        The thing is that, after 2 seasons and a half, the relationship that makes the most sense to me for Emma and Regina is, actually, Emma AND Regina.
        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the other ‘ships’ don’t make sense to me, just not as much as Emma/Regina.
        For instance, I agree with what you said about Hook and Emma being equally broken and lost. I just think that it applies to Regina and Emma too. The same goes for it not being a matter of one ‘good’ person helping one ‘bad’ person and them both needing each other equally.

        The problem I find with all the possible suitors for both ladies is that no other character is as well written and developed as Emma and Regina are and thus, those other relationships seem in a way forced to me. It’s not that the characters are bad, per se; it’s just that the writers haven’t taken enough time to develop them yet. Hook’s path to redemption took what, less than a couple of weeks storyline wise, after centuries of being set on revenge? It seemed quite rushed when compared to all the struggles Regina went through and is still going through in her fight to be better. And again, I have no idea what they’re going to do with Robin Hood but I very much doubt we’ll get an in-depth characterisation for him.

        Those relationships could be great, I really think they have the potential to be great, but it feels to me like what they’re doing (or what fans hope they’re doing, you never know with this show) so far with Emma/Hook and Regina/Robin could be done with Emma/Regina and be a great thing. The setup is there. The backstory, the parallelism, the two-sides-of-the-same-coin thing. The chemistry (at least IMO). And in terms of ground-breaking storytelling history, showing the world that a gay couple can also find True Love in fairy tales would be very important. But regardless of this (it is a very important issue, and one that deserves to be discussed, just not my point here), if Emma’s character had been a guy, I’d still feel the same way.

        “Because the Evil Queen and the Savior falling in love with each other? That’s the kind of insanity that literary lunatics write volumes about. That’s the kind of thing that people in this world act out on stages and writes ballads about.”
        –I’m sorry to say I can’t remember the source of this quote. I read it on the internet and thought it fit very well with my feelings about this.

        I think ‘Swan Queen’ could be THE love story. True Love, as Katie points out, “is defined on Once Upon a Time as an empowering force for good and something that requires effort and acceptance to achieve and maintain.” Katie also says that Snow’s and Charming’s TL “is unconditional—it’s a love between two people who accept the other for who they really are, both the good and the bad.” This acceptance of the other person as a whole, and not just the part of them that we like, is the main issue IMO. And I think it’s an issue that’s been treated with great care by the writers with regards of Emma’s and Regina’s relationship, be it romantic, platonic, or whatever. There’s a hard-earned acceptance there, on both parts, and a blossoming respect. And I can see it developing into something more.

        What bums me out is that they have all the ingredients to explore what could be a very beautiful love story, but they’re (apparently, again you never know with these chaps) looking the other way. And I would be ok with it if those other options were actually given as much depth as Emma/Regina; but, so far at least, it just seems that they’re settling. And it’s a waste of potential, IMO.

        Still, I love the show and will keep giving it a chance. And I’m stoked for Sunday! =)

        • Due to the similarities between Hook and Regina, I think its easy to also see why Emma and Regina would also be a good fit together. But that said, I dont see the Emma/Regina pairing being the intention of the writers, and therefore its just not something I think too much about. I see it as something that just kinda “happened”. Just like Colin has chemistry with pretty much everyone on the screen, female AND male, I kinda feel the same way about JMo. Her chemistry with Lana is pretty great, and the emotions they share on screen over Henry are very intense and passionate. Heck I would even go as far to say that the real “love triangle’ on this show so far has been Henry/Emma/Regina, with Henry being the one being fought over. Right now I see their original relationship of intense hatred has morphed into one of at least respect, but I dont see it going any further than that. I just dont see this as a show where two people who had such abhorrence for each other at the beginning would be each others “true love”. Can a “true love” pairing start off as enemies? Sure. Can they start off being annoyed/challenged by each other? Sure. But to start with hate and jealousy? I just don’t see it. But that also doesnt mean I find the story of Regina and Emma learning to respect each other and work together for the best interest of their son as any less important than any of the other relationships on the show simply because I dont see it as a “true love” relationship.

          That said, I would love to see a homosexual couple on Once. But I want the story to have the development and narrative that it deserves (with no ‘red herring’ heterosexual option) and I would want it to be a large part of the story. Not just something that is thrown together on the side (which is kinda how I felt about Mulan/Aurora). One of my all time favorite writers, Jane Espenson, who writes for Once, could probably easily write an amazing fairytale love story between two women and/or two men. If I had one main hope for the show moving on to season 4, I think that would be it.

          • Absolutely. I think at this point in the story the only True Love both Emma and Regina have is Henry. They are nowhere close to ready for anyone else. They might have been, after rescuing Henry from Peter Pan, if they’d had the time to enjoy their success and go back to a somewhat ‘normal’ life in Storybrooke but well, new curse and all that.
            Now Emma will have to deal with reconciling a double set of memories, a son who still doesn’t remember, and the new dangers in SB.
            And Regina will be mourning the loss of Henry in the EF, the son who was her only reason to seek redemption. And then there’s the Wicked Witch who is apparently fixated on taking everything from her.
            It should be interesting to watch Emma interact with this Walsh character, in that it is supposed to be as close to what a normal and stable relationship as Emma can have, during a time in her life when everything is apparently fine and dandy.

            I think hate is too strong a word for Emma and Regina, even at the beginning. Jealousy, I agree. There’s also a deep fear and a feeling of threat which cause extreme reactions, but in the end I don’t think they can ever forget that Emma gave Regina Henry, her most precious gift, and in turn Regina gave Henry everything Emma had hoped for her son. Regina could have had the terms of the close adoption enforced on Emma to run her out of town, but she didn’t. Emma could have gone with her parents’s instinct when Archie was ‘murdered’ but she chose to oppose their opinion twice and believe in Regina (at least until she was shown ‘indisputable’ proof).
            It’s somewhat similar to how Regina’s relationship with Snow is too complicated to just categorise as hate. She had 28 years worth of chances to kill her, but she didn’t.

            As for the homosexual representation, I agree completely. The Mulan/Aurora plot twist was a disconcerting move IMO. We had previously been shown proof that what Aurora and Philip have is True Love, so Aurora/Mulan was doomed from the start. It could have worked out if they’d let Philip be gone after the Wraith Dementor-kissed him, but he’s somehow back and we don’t know why or how (let’s hope they explain this in the next chapters with something more than ‘Cora told me’).
            I love Jane Espenson, and I really hope we get to see an amazing fairytale love story between two women and/or two men, as you say. I’m a dreamer and a hopeless romantic, I still have faith that we will. So far though, gay characters don’t get a happy ending. Neither do PoCs, actually. I’m rooting for Rapunzel. =)

        • I agree with a lot of Shauna’s points on this one. I think the show lucked into chemistry between Parilla and Morrison that gives their performances nuance that they weren’t necessarily anticipating. For me the relationship that Regina and Emma share has always centered around Henry and their love for him. I think the mention of Robin Hood for Regina is interesting, but like you all the jury is out because we know so little. I do not think the trajectory we have seen Hook take was one anyone would have bet on when he first arrived. And while it has been fast, I don’t think its been unreasonable. Who knows if the same will be true for Robin Hood. With these creators anything is possible. As a huge fan of LOST, if someone had told me the great love story of that show would be Sawyer and Juliet I would have laughed, but it turned out to be true.

          When we look at the relationships in this show there is a lot of focus placed on the romantic love relationships, but throughout the show I believe the most powerful ones have been parent/child. Whether it is Bae/Rumple; Snow/Charming/Emma; Regina/Cora; Regina/Henry/Emma. These are the threads of OUaT that resonate most powerfully for me. Beyond Henry, what connects Emma and Regina is the sense of betrayal and abandonment they both felt by a parent. It is the underpinning of the challenge they face in self acceptance. The idea that fairy tales are often born of or determined by the loss of a parent also plays into my belief that the core of the show is founded on the love of parent/child and not romantic love.

          I think the thing that makes the show interesting is that people take from it differently and that these characters have woven together connections and stories that make them resonate for different reasons. I think there is too little know about Robin Hood to understand how his story might unfold within the fabric of the show and with Regina. Like you, I think the build out of a same sex relationship within the framework of a fairy tale would be amazing and groundbreaking. I too would want it to be organic and not feel contrived for the sake of having one. Certainly at this point the show hasn’t appeared to lay out a path for one to develop.

          I do agree with you however that the most of the men are not as strongly written as Regina and Emma. But I also believe that is the point. They are the focal points for the show. The other characters navigate in and around them. Early on the show established this underlying balance of nature vs. nurture. The fact that Henry is adopted and raised by Regina and is Emma’s biological son lays that out in the first episode when Regina puts Emma in her place about the closed adoption. That is the battle they go through in season one – nature vs. nurture. It is a concept that has been broadened and expanded over the last season and a half but I still think that question permeates a good deal of the characters on the show.

          • I do not think Hook’s trajectory has been unreasonable; I just think it could have been better written.
            Emma deserves better, not in the sense of her being ‘too good’ for Hook but in that her character is so beautifully written, so rich in its complexity, that it deserves an equally (or close to it) strong character –development wise– as her love interest. When I said it was rushed I meant that we could have done with more time to see the character grow and get where he apparently is now. We go from a man who’s spent centuries grieving his murdered love and seeking revenge, and who leaves Emma to her death in Rumpelstiltskin’s cell, to someone ready to abandon his dark path and confess his love for her in the span of less than a fortnight. It seems unfair for his character, even whimsical.

            It is true that no other character is as strongly written as Regina and Emma, and I’m not even asking for that, nor do I wish it. I just hope for a better balance between a couple story-telling wise, because it borders dangerously on the weaker character becoming just arm-candy otherwise. When you look at Snow’s and Charming’s story, there’s a balance there. Which is nice considering that Charming was meant to die in the early drafts of the show. But they’ve developed his character nicely and he’s not just Snow White’s prince anymore; now I find it very hard to think of the show without him or without it causing quite the impact in it because of who Charming is, not because of who he is married to or who his daughter is. With Hook, I don’t think they’ve reached that point yet. Personally I think he’s a great character with a great potential but he still feels like a ‘guest’ character to me. If they were to write him off OUaT, it would make me sad but it would not make me think that the storyline can’t go on without him. Kind of what has happened with Ruby’s character. And throwing Hook in there with the fast paced redemption and love thing seems a disservice to his character. IMO they should have waited to establish him better as a person before trying to sell him as part of a love triangle.

            I know the creators of the show want us to believe that they have everything planned and set from the beginning but I don’t think that’s true. I think that certain characters lack characterisation because they weren’t meant to become regulars at first, and that others have been suspiciously absent despite having been given a certain amount of depth because for one reason or another, the general interest in them has decreased. And let’s face it, as much as creativity and vision are important, no studio is going to ignore the audience and the ratings. So as much leeway as A&E are given by ABC, they’re not new at this and they know what they have to do to ensure that their show gets another season.
            For instance, Robin Hood. Again, waiting to actually see the story onscreen before forming an opinion but remember that one episode when he appeared stealing a magic wand from Rumpel’s castle? It’s not the fact that another actor played the role that bothers me, it’s the fact that they’ve tried to sell us the whole ‘Regina’s soulmate and the pixie dust pointing to the lion tattoo man’ plot as something that was always meant to be, yet incidentally the ‘other Robin’ didn’t have the tattoo.

            But the writers of this show are a very creative and inspired lot and I *know* they can surprise us so fingers crossed for tonight’s episode and the rest of the season!

            • Red I had completely forgotten that Charming wasn’t suppose to make it out of the first half of season 1. It’s a great point. I think this creative team does adapt to what evolves and audiences respond to, but if LOST is any indication, they do have a pretty firm handle on where they are going in general and where they ultimately want to land. What happens in between I think is up for grabs. As someone who almost stopped watching last season I appreciate the strength by which they rebooted in the pivot to Neverland. It’s far from perfect and by the sheer number of cast members it is impossible for characters to not get accelerated storylines and/or short shrift ones. If you go back and read some of Katie’s earlier posts we all had some pause around some of the pacing of the Neverland story, particularly as it pertained to Henry. I think your perspective on the characters though is fascinating and have really enjoyed seeing this through a different prism. Looking forward to the discussion from last night’s episode as well.

        • This was quite possibly the most articulate explanation for why a Regina/Emma relationship could work that I have ever read. I love the passion that you have for them both as characters.

          I feel that Emma and Regina’s relationship is one of the most important—if not the most important—on the show. To see them develop from animosity to respect has been a really beautiful journey, and it’s one I can’t wait to see continue. I also agree that none of the male characters on the show are as well written as Emma and Regina, but I think the same could actually be said for Charming as he relates to Snow, too. I think the show really lucked out when Josh Dallas was cast because so much of Charming’s characterization would be that of an archetypal “hero” if it were not for the nuance he brings. OUaT is a show driven by its female characters (except for Rumple—but I would argue that even he is not written to be as complex as Emma or Regina), so I’ve come to accept that the male characters might not have as much depth as their female counterparts.

          I see so many similarities between Emma and Regina, but I think that’s why I don’t necessarily want to see them together in a romantic sense. I think, for Emma, Hook represents a kind of emotional openness that she’s never had, and I want her to have someone in her life who isn’t afraid to love with his whole heart when he chooses to love someone. He is very much like Charming in that his driving factor is love (for better or worse), and I want that for Emma. But Regina is just as scared to love as Emma is. And I see both Emma and Regina as women who are defined by their roles within the dark curse—the savior who broke it and the “evil queen” who cast it. I think it would be difficult for them to ever move on from defining themselves by those things if they were to be romantically involved. Instead, I want both of them to find love with someone who couldn’t care less about who is the savior and who is the evil queen—someone who looks at them and simply sees Emma or Regina.

          As you said, though, this show would benefit greatly from a same-sex fairytale love story. There have been so many great twists of fairytales so far, and this is one I have been wanting to see for a while. It would say so much about the possibility for hope and happiness for people who still struggle to find that possibility depicted in the media.

          (Sorry that was so long—I am trying to distract myself from the wait until 8 pm by writing! 😉 )

    • First a point about ‘ships’. We may all have our personal favorites but I have never seen the discussion here devolve into mine vs. yours. We have discussed character and relationship parallels throughout which I believe is part of the fun and interesting aspects of the character development on the show as a whole.

      • I am so glad to hear this. It gets really ugly in most of the other internet sites I visit (particularly Twitter). This fandom is certainly passionate, but some fans show it in all the wrong ways. I’m happy to have found this website!

        • I’m so happy you found us, too! I am proud that this place is a nice little oasis of respect in the ugly atmosphere that sometimes permeates this fandom (and all fandoms in general). I love talking to people who can open my eyes to different points of view about a show that I love, and because of that, I am incredibly happy that you and (your very articulate comments) are enjoying your time here so far!

    • Like I said to Shauna in the comment above, I am so sorry I am so late to respond to this! Every time I thought I had a spare moment to devote to answering this thoughtfully, life got in the way. The nerve of it! 😉

      This is actually a really interesting question, and it’s one I’m not sure I can answer until I know more about Robin Hood, if I’m being honest. I do agree that Hook and Regina have more than a few similarities (which you pointed out very accurately and succinctly), but I actually think Emma may have more in common with both of them than she does with Robin, at least as I see him right now. Robin doesn’t seem to be as broken a person as any of the aforementioned three characters. He seems more open as a person in general, and I think that’s a direct result of still being able to have some part of his wife with him in his son.

      I’m very intrigued by the possibility of a Robin/Regina relationship because I’d love to see Regina finally have someone after Daniel who is open in his feelings for her. After so many years of living under Cora’s emotional trauma, all I’ve ever wanted for Regina is for her to feel genuinely loved by someone. I want her to find hope that she can be happy again after only associating romantic love with loss, and I like the idea of Robin Hood showing her that it’s possible to open your heart after it’s been broken because he also lost the person he loved. There are many similarities there between Robin/Regina and Hook/Emma, but I actually like that. I like the idea of both of these strong but scared women finding love with men who aren’t shy about their feelings for them, because that’s what both of them deserve. But, like you said, we know so little about Robin that I’m not too sure who he’s most like (or what his relationship with Regina will be like). But I can’t wait to learn more about him!

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  6. Oh where to start. I have to say in reading your essay all I kept thinking about was Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”. When you talk about true love and the way “Once Upon a Time” has mapped out the parameters for love, I can’t help but draw parallels to Sondheim’s musical. Because it is the absolute opposite of what this show has created. “Into the Woods” is rooted in cynicism and nothing is as it seems, especially love. When love unravels it is because it is grounded by everything but faith. Love in Sondheim’s musical is reliant on magic, where in OUaT true love is what creates magic. When you talked about the fact that OUaT looks at what happens after happily ever after is what triggered the thought. Because the entirety of act 2 of the musical is built off the premise of “ever after, journey over”. Sondheim’s musical always resonated with me because it wasn’t afraid to tap into the fear, sadness and loneliness that unexpectedly comes with love at times. I think what OUaT has done so well is to abandon the cynical aspects of what Sondheim built and created stories and character arcs that derive out of true love and abandon the conventions of what love is. That the journey doesn’t end at true love, but actually begins.

    True love takes on many facets throughout the series, but all love – real love in this realm is rooted in faith and the power of belief. When you look at Pinocchio’s tale or even that of Cora an unwillingness to believe is what drives them to their sad fate. What Snow and Charming figure out very early is as you said – love doesn’t conquer all, but it does make the battle worth fighting. One of my favorite exchanges of the show remains the opening scene when Snow awakens in the forest from his kiss:
    Snow: You found me.
    Charming: Did you ever doubt I would?
    Snow: Truthfully, the glass coffin gave me pause.
    Charming: You never have to worry. I will always find you.

    I loved it because it was brilliantly funny. But in hindsight I adore it because it encapsulates everything you are saying. Charming’s unbending belief in their love and faith of its endurance. Her honesty in the moment and that he doesn’t promise to rescue her, only to find her. Because, as they have proven, their souls are what is intrinsically linked, not their lives. Love is discovering what is home for you. Where you are your most authentic self. It requires all the things you talk about vulnerability, faith and worthiness. We see it take on all forms in OUaT, as you so smartly pointed out with Henry and Emma. I have always love how season 1 bookends. The opening with Snow and Charming and the reverse reality when Emma awakens Henry, breaking of the curse. Its significance as a pivot point in the story of Emma and the series as a whole because Emma first comes to us and Henry balking at the book and its truths. She even at one point tells Henry, “Just because you believe something doesn’t make it true”. In OUaT, belief is at the very core of true love and it extends well beyond the magic that Rumple captures in a bottle.

    Watching the journeys of Emma and Regina have been interesting when you look through the prism of true love. Because they continue to share a parallel relationship. Regina’s actions are born out of revenge for Daniel, but they are sustained by the desperation to keep Henry. And in between the two we have Cora, the mother who never gave her unconditional love because she made the choice to abandon love for power. Regina never goes to the lengths of her mother, it is why she can sacrifice her father for the curse, yet find the true sacrifice of love with Henry at the close of the first half of this season. Yes, Emma’s journey has led her to the moment where she not only fights for true love in her fight to save Henry, but that her journey to be worthy of his love comes full circle as well. Regina is not so different. She loves Henry enough to make the sacrifices to save him, because time and again Henry has loved her in spite of her evil deeds. It is why his answer to her confession about evil never winning is so heartbreaking. Because even in the moment that Regina is most fully realized and self-accepting Henry sees her goodness. That is the power of true love. It is a terrific layering the storytelling has accomplished in these two mothers. And one that deeply resonates with me as I watch the show.

    What OUaT has done so well in my mind is to lay out the complexity of love for all its merits and all its pitfalls. We see it in Mulan’s silence, Ariel’s determination, Belle’s ability to find goodness, Charming’s faith, Neal’s willingness to sacrifice, Snow’s ability to trust and Henry’s pure belief. You’ve highlighted so many of them so well and I agree the power of the show lies in the fact that so many of these love stories are driven by the women of OuAT. It’s a unique perspective on TV to have the characters, even the bad ones be driven by love.

    It is a fairy tale that’s fantastical, implausible and fundamentally grounded. Because underneath all the implausibility of its plots and story lines is the concrete foundation that drives the show – the core understanding that love is powered by belief.

    • “Because, as they have proven, their souls are what is intrinsically linked, not their lives.”

      I just had to say that I love that thought. And now I’m going to stop spamming Katie’s blog. ;-P

    • I loved everything about this comment. You so brilliantly highlighted the way belief and love are intrinsically tied together on this show. To love is to believe—not only in the person you love but in the very idea of being capable of loving and being loved.

      I’m so happy I’m not the only one who has a special place in their heart for Snow and Charming’s first conversation in the pilot. It was the exact moment I knew there was no going back for me and I had found a new show to love. There was a sense of humor there but also a real sense of understanding—understanding each other and understanding that their love is about finding each other instead of saving each other. It felt like an honest look at love, and that’s what we’ve gotten from this couple ever since that scene.

      Your analysis of Emma and Regina’s journeys in their relationships with Henry was particularly astute. They have led such parallel lives in terms of their journeys as both women and mothers, and the fact that they are defined by their roles as mothers more than their roles as potential lovers for any other character is inspiring.

      “It’s a unique perspective on TV to have the characters, even the bad ones be driven by love.” – This is what I love more than probably anything else about this show. The vast majority of its characters are driven by love, but their love stories never feel like they’re the same (and thus never feel boring). And it makes it so much easier to care about these charaters when you can see that—good or evil—their actions are motivated by love.

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  10. [“Loving Belle makes Rumplestiltskin want to be his best self. He’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and Belle has seen his flaws firsthand—but she still chose to love him for the good but broken man she knew he once was and could be again. That was the real tragedy of the “Lacey” storyline—both Belle and Rumplestiltskin lost themselves, tainting their true love with an attraction to the worst parts of who they were instead of the best.”]

    Loving a person for his or her best isn’t real love. It’s loving half a person. That’s mixing love with morality and it’s false. It’s best that Belle loves all of Rumpel – both the good and the bad. It could work as long as he is honest with her. But by the end of Season 3, it’s obvious that he isn’t completely honest.

    Look at Snow White and Charming. Snow went ahead and gave in to her more negative impulses by arranging Cora’s death in a cruel manner. Charming was upset over what she did . . . but he still loved her. And remained by her side.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read this very long post and share your thoughts on it!

      In truth, I agree that only loving someone when they’re at their best isn’t real love. As you said, it’s half-love. I apologize if that’s how you saw this post because I was really trying to prove the exact opposite. The best relationships on Once Upon a Time are the ones where both parties accept each other for both their light and their darkness—because we all have both. But I will always believe—in both this show and in the real world—that the best relationships are also the ones that bring out your best self. It’s important for someone to see both your light and your darkness, but a good partner should help you embrace the best parts of yourself, even as they understand there will always be parts that aren’t reflective of that best self. Belle has always done that for Rumplestiltskin—she loves him for all he is but believes in his best self perhaps even more than he does. That’s what made his dishonesty so disheartening. It goes against everything I believe “true love” represents on this show.

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