Three years ago today, the Once Upon a Time pilot aired, bringing some much-needed magic to primetime network television. I will admit; I didn’t watch the show that first night. But I caught a marathon of the first seven episodes on New Year’s Day 2012, and it was love at first sight for me. I knew from the opening of the pilot episode that I was watching something special, and I know I wasn’t the only person who felt that way. And three years (or almost three years in my case), dozens of plot twists and new characters, and far too many hours spent analyzing this show later, so many of us still feel that way. And that’s something worth celebrating.
Once Upon a Time and Nerdy Girl Notes are intrinsically linked. The day I first watched the show was also the day I made the resolution to start this website. In no small way, Once Upon a Time has shaped the look and feel of NGN more than perhaps any other piece of media I’ve written about. Nothing inspires me as a writer like Once Upon a Time (just in case you didn’t already know that from the length of my weekly posts or the number of essays I’ve written about this show), and I am forever grateful that I found a show to write about that challenges me the way this show does with each new episode.
Once Upon a Time has taught me to write from a place of optimism and positivity. It’s taught me that it’s okay to acknowledge flaws, but it’s also important to acknowledge the good stuff—and there’s always good stuff. It’s helped me see that writing for me is a lot like magic for this show’s characters—it’s all about emotion. I write my best when I write from my heart, and Once Upon a Time celebrates the beauty and power of approaching everything with an open heart. Because of that, this show has undoubtedly made me a braver writer. It’s helped me feel like it’s okay to wear my heart on my sleeve, and I know for a fact I’m a better writer because of that.
Once Upon a Time inspires me as a writer, and it also inspires me as a person. This show has such passionate fans because we relate to all of these richly-developed characters for reasons as unique as we are. These characters are parents, children, grandparents, siblings, friends, leaders, and lovers. They’ve dealt with grief, heartbreak, self-doubt, and abandonment. In our favorite characters (and even the ones we don’t always love), we see reflections of our struggles, our joys, and our journeys.
I see my own quest to define myself by who I am and not who I once was reflected in characters like Regina, Hook, and even Red. I see my hopes for the kind of love I want to find—a partnership of equals that makes you feel strong, supported, and happy—reflected in the story of Snow and Charming. And I see my belief that strength doesn’t always have to be physical to be important reflected in characters like Belle and Aurora.
Once Upon a Time has given me and so many other young women a group of female characters to relate to who are all incredibly strong but show their strength in vastly different ways. Three years ago, I would have laughed if you would have suggested that Snow White would become a fictional role model of sorts for me, but that’s exactly what happened when I started watching this show. Snow is exactly the kind of woman I hope to be: someone who understands that the world can be dark and unkind but never stops believing that there is good in the people around her and that goodness is worth fighting for. In Once Upon a Time’s version of Snow White, I was given a beautiful reminder that it’s not just okay to be hopeful and warm-hearted when the world wants you to be cynical and cold; it’s heroic.
And that brings me to Emma Swan and her journey to find hope and happiness. Emma has taught me that the bravest thing you can ever do is open your heart when life has given you every reason to be afraid to do so again. Emma has taught me that true strength shows itself in vulnerability and trust—not in trying to do everything on your own. And Emma has taught me that you have the power to define yourself and you should never let others take that power from you:
People are going to tell you who you are your whole life. You just gotta punch back and say, ‘No, this is who I am.’ You want people to look at you differently? Make them. You want to change things? You’re gonna have to go out there and change them yourself because there are no fairy godmothers in this world.
At its heart, Emma’s story is a story about love in all of its forms—familial love, romantic love, and learning to love yourself for exactly who you are. More than anything else, Once Upon a Time is a show about love. It’s a show that isn’t afraid to say that love is strength when so many other forces in the world want to tell you it’s weakness. And whether that love is between parents and children, husbands and wives, or pirates and princesses (or thieves and queens), it’s beautiful because it’s all about hope—hope that we can all find our own happy ending and become our best self in the process of finding it.