A Happy Beginning: A (New) Letter to Emma Swan

I know I’ve already written one of these, but so much has happened in both Emma’s journey and mine since I wrote my first letter to her that I needed to write something new. This is also felt like the right way to say goodbye to a character who has meant so much to me. If you’re interested in writing a letter like this one to a female character who’s inspired you, this post has all the details about The Fan Mail Project! And if you’ve already written a letter to Emma (or any other character) but want to change any part of it, you can always send me an edited version at nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com!

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Source: ibtimes.com

Dear Emma,

As I watched you and your husband step toward a portal to return home to live a happy life with your growing family, it hit me…

This might be the last thing I ever write about you.

I’ve written thousands of words about you over some of the most tumultuous years of my 20s, and as I approach this last post, I keep thinking about what could possibly sum up the journey we’ve been on together for more than half a decade.

When I started writing about your story, my entire life changed. I wrote things that reflected parts of myself I never imagined showing to the world. As I wrote about your discovery that there is bravery in vulnerability, I became a more vulnerable writer because I wanted to be brave like you. As I wrote about your story, I began to write my own story.

I found myself as I wrote about you finding yourself.

Needless to say, it’s a little intimidating to think of how I can put all that into a proper tribute. But because you taught me that opening your heart is the most heroic thing you can do, I’m going to try.

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Fangirl Thursday: The End of an Era

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“Now we get to do what’s next…”

After this season’s finale of Once Upon a Time, I had to ask myself, what’s next? The show isn’t ending (Although it is moving to a new night—Fridays.), and the glimpse we were given into what the next season might look like—featuring an adult, unbelieving Henry and his young daughter—was promising. However, the version of the show that drew me to my TV every Sunday and drew me to my computer every Monday to write about it for years—Emma Swan’s story—has ended. It’s the end of an era for “Oncers,” and it’s caused many of us—especially those of us who have been inspired to write, draw, create videos, or participate in fandom at any level—to evaluate our relationship with the show now and going forward.

I’m still planning on watching Once Upon a Time (as long as its message of hope and optimism is still present). And maybe the next season will still inspire me to write about it from time to time. But as far as weekly posts are concerned, I think it’s time for me to do what’s next.

This season’s finale post will be my last Once Upon a Time episode analysis for the foreseeable future. I’m hoping to fill that gap in my posting schedule with analysis of another television show (the identity of which has yet to be determined), and if you find yourself missing NGN television discussions, you can always catch up on The Americans and visit our discussions of its episodes until the show airs its final season next year. There will always be plenty of nerdy fun to be had here at NGN, and I hope those of you who first came here because of my Once Upon a Time posts stick around to see what comes next.

Once Upon a Time will always hold a special place in my heart. It was one of the building blocks of NGN in this website’s earliest days. It’s the show I’ve written about the most in terms of years and word counts, and it was the show I watched for the first time the day I decided to start this site. There would be no NGN—at least not as we know it today—without Once Upon a Time. And that’s why I can’t walk away from my weekly posts about it without saying thank you.

Thank you, Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis, for creating a show that spoke to a lost girl in her 20s who was looking for something positive to believe in. Thank you for never losing sight of your vision and for never letting go of your belief that hopeful media still matters. Thank you for creating a story about complex, flawed, relatable women who find strength through many different kinds of love—a new set of fairytales women in today’s world can be inspired and empowered by.

Thank you to all the writers who took their vision and made it your own, and thank you to the most underrated cast on television for bringing these fairytales to life with depth, charm, and sincerity; this show could never have worked without the right cast. But even more than bringing these stories to life, thank you for caring so deeply about those who care so deeply about the show. The kindness and enthusiasm this entire cast has shown toward their fans is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in all my years in various fandoms. We have been truly lucky to have our favorite characters be played not only by talented actors but also by genuinely good people who truly believed in what they were doing. That makes all the difference in the world.

This show has changed my life. It was the reason I attended my first major fan convention. It was the inspiration behind some of my best and bravest writing. It introduced me to people I would never have known without it who have now become close friends of mine, and it helped strengthen my relationships with friends and family members by watching and talking about this special show together. And thanks to the incredibly encouraging corner of the fandom that I was a part of as well as the support and kindness I was shown by the incomparably thoughtful Jennifer Morrison, it gave me the confidence that I needed not just to make NGN the best it can be but also to push myself forward in my career as a writer and editor.

Once Upon a Time is a true light in the darkness. It has reminded me to never give up hope, that it’s never too late to be the best version of yourself, and that there is no darkness so powerful that it can’t be overcome by belief in yourself and the love of those around you. It has helped me learn to define myself on my own terms—to punch back and say “No, this is who I am.” And it has given me the courage to believe and to keep believing at a time in my life when it is all too easy to become cynical and apathetic.

More than anything, though, the most precious thing Once Upon a Time has given me is a place to belong. I’ve had different fandom “homes” before, but I’ve never stayed in one this long. And along the way, I have met so many incredible people—all because this show about fairytales brought us together. I feel honored to be a part of a close-knit community of fan writers who have written about every episode of this show for years and have formed our own support group to offer encouragement to each other in hard times and to celebrate with each other when things are good. To be surrounded by such positive, enthusiastic women and to be part of a group of ladies supporting ladies the way we have for as long as we have is a true joy and a gift that I don’t take for granted. I can’t wait to see what all of them do next.

Finally, when I look back on the years I spent writing about Once Upon a Time, I will think about the growth of the NGN Family during this time. I will think about the incredible discussions we had in the comments, the words of support I cherish to this day, the friendships I watched form with smiles on my face and tears in my eyes, and the reminders in a million tiny ways that I have the most beautiful chosen family on the Internet—a group of people who always has my back, who makes me want to be a better writer and a better woman because they deserve the very best of me, and who has shown me the true meaning of love being strength. It’s been an honor talking about this show and the journeys of these incredible characters with all of you, and I hope you know how much I value your readership and, more importantly, your friendship.

So let’s raise our Doctoberfest mugs to the show that brought us together. Cheers, Oncers!

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.21/6.22

JENNIFER MORRISON

Source: ew.com

Title The Final Battle: Part 1/The Final Battle: Part 2

Two-Sentence Summary After the Black Fairy casts her curse, Henry has to try to get Emma to believe the truth about herself and her family, who are trapped in an Enchanted Forest that is rapidly disappearing along with her belief. Meanwhile, flash-forwards reveal the next generation’s Truest Believer and her skeptical parent.

Favorite Line “Now we get to do what’s next. Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a powerful thing, but living with that kind of belief—that’s the most powerful thing of all. That’s hope. So you ask ‘What now?’ Now, we get to keep going on. We get to keep doing what we love with people we love. An ending isn’t happiness. Being together is.” (Snow White)

My Thoughts
“Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing.”

Once Upon a Time has always been a show for believers and for those who want once again to believe. It’s a show that reminds its viewers that there is power in believing—in magic, in your loved ones, and in yourself. Belief—and the hope that comes from living out that belief even when others try to tell you that you’re crazy for it—is a saving grace in a world that all too often has forgotten that being hopeful isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength.

This chapter of Once Upon a Time was the story of a woman’s journey to believe in the face of incredible obstacles, and it was also the story of the boy who helped her find that belief. This chapter taught its viewers many lessons, but one of its most lasting messages , which was reflected in an important way in this finale, was that it’s okay to need help sometimes; you don’t have to do everything on your own—including believing in yourself.

The power of belief was at the center of “The Final Battle,” to the point where the titular battle wasn’t really referring to the swordfight that occurred near the end of the episode but was actually the battle for Emma’s belief, which began—as Rumplestiltskin predicted it would—when Henry brought Emma to Storybrooke on her 28th birthday with the goal of getting her to believe in her true self.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.20

JENNIFER MORRISON, COLIN O'DONOGHUE

Source: telltaletv.com

Title The Song in Your Heart

Two-Sentence Summary When the Black Fairy challenges Emma on her wedding day and brings her back to a time when she felt alone, flashbacks reveal that her mother’s wish to help her find her happy ending gave her a song that she’s always carried with her, which helps her understand that she’s never truly been alone. After facing the Black Fairy, Emma is finally able to marry Killian—right before a new curse descends on Storybrooke.

Favorite Line “They say that a captain’s heart belongs to his ship, but with this ring, it now belongs to you.” (Killian)

My Thoughts Greetings, fellow Oncers! I’m coming to you from my hotel room at Walt Disney World’s lovely Contemporary Resort, where I’m enjoying a much-needed dose of magic this week. Typically, I try to avoid writing of any sort on my vacations since I do so much writing when I’m home, but I couldn’t leave the NGN Family without a place to talk about this episode. And after hearing the news of Jennifer Morrison’s departure from Once Upon a Time this morning, I also knew I couldn’t leave you without a space to talk about what she has meant to you, what Emma Swan has meant to you, and what you think is going to happen to the show without her should it be picked up for a seventh season.

I know that I am going to miss both Emma Swan as a character and Jennifer Morrison as an actor on my favorite television show more than I ever imagined before learning the news today. Writing about Emma’s journey completely changed me as a writer and as a woman, and meeting Morrison remains one of the highlights of my life as a fangirl. While I’m incredibly sad to lose this character (and am really hoping the show just ends instead of trying to go on without her), I’m so thankful for what Emma brought into my life—including most of you reading this. NGN became what it is today because of how much fun I’ve had writing about Emma’s journey and how much I’ve loved connecting with all of you about it.

A few members of the NGN Family have reached out to me today about writing a letter to Emma for The Fan Mail Project, and I wanted to let all of you know that you can definitely do so. I haven’t started putting together that part of the book yet, so please don’t shy away from writing something about this character if she’s meant something to you over the years. You can send them to nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com whenever inspiration strikes you. And if you already wrote to Emma but want to edit your letter, you can always do that, too. (Lord knows I’m going to be adding so much more to mine!)

But enough talk of endings…Let’s talk happy beginnings instead! Since I have to be up early to catch a flight on Soarin’ Around the World at EPCOT, I’ll leave most of the analysis up to you this week, but here are some discussion topics to get you started:

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That’s When the Fun Begins: The Best of Captain Swan

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Is there anything more magical than a wedding? On Sunday, Emma Swan and Killian Jones are finally tying the knot during Once Upon a Time’s musical episode extravaganza, and to prepare for their walk down the aisle, I thought it was the perfect occasion to take a walk down memory lane, reliving our favorite moments in their fairytale romance.

There’s never been a love story on television like Emma and Killian’s. From the very start, it’s been the perfect blend of sweeping fairytale and relatable realism. This pirate and princess have taken us on a journey that’s spanned years and realms; have found each other through lost memories, alternate realities, and a ridiculous number of curses; and have gone to the Underworld and back again for each other. Along the way, they’ve struggled with their own demons, fears, and emotional walls—forces of darkness just as strong as any villain they’ve ever faced—but they’ve emerged from those battles stronger as individuals and as partners.

Killian and Emma have proven their True Love many times—sacrificing for each other, choosing each other, fighting for each other, supporting each other, and making each other happy when they thought happiness might not be in the cards for them anymore. They’ve given each other hope, and in the process, they’ve given hope to so many people watching.

So before the next chapter in this love story begins, let’s take a look back at my 10 favorite moments along the way—from Never Land to the Underworld and from time-traveling adventures to breakfast table kisses. Don’t forget to share your favorites in the comments!

1. “Perhaps I would…” (3.02: Lost Girl)
There’s a moment in every “shipper’s” life when you go from liking the idea of a pairing and thinking they have good chemistry to being completely sold on what this relationship could be, and this moment of startling sincerity from Killian Jones was that moment for me. I appreciated Colin O’Donoghue and Jennifer Morrison’s chemistry and could see the potential in pairing their two character together as far back as “Tallahassee,” but this was the moment I went all in. The way the scene shifted from playful and flirtatious to suddenly sincere stopped me in my tracks, and it made me realize that what Emma Swan truly deserved in a partner was exactly what Killian Jones was offering her in that moment (and would continue to offer her from them on): someone who would love her for everything she is and would patiently wait for her to let him see the true Emma behind her armor.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.19

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Source: tvafterdark.com

Title The Black Fairy

Two-Sentence Summary When Rumplestiltskin, Emma, and Gideon travel to a dream realm to find where Gideon’s heart is being hidden, they actually discover the truth behind Rumplestiltskin’s abandonment by his mother. With this new knowledge, Rumplestiltskin makes a choice that will affect not just his future but also Emma’s—on the eve of her wedding.

Favorite Lines
Killian: This might be the most important mission yet: Operation Best Man.
Henry: Really? I’m honored.

My Thoughts Due to time constraints (and a certain other post I’m working on before next week’s big Once Upon a Time musical wedding extravaganza), I’m afraid I can’t go into as much depth as I’d like to when it comes to unpacking this incredibly rich episode. However, I still wanted to generate some discussion about what was another solid outing in what’s becoming a nice run-up to the Season Six finale. Therefore, here are my Five Fast Feelings about “The Black Fairy,” and I welcome all of you to share your feelings in the comments!

1. My biggest complaint with this episode was that I’m not sure even the writers can keep the show’s mythology straight anymore.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but Emma was originally considered the Savior because Rumplestiltskin built a “Savior clause” into the Dark Curse that he made, right? So much has changed in terms of the mythology of the Dark Curse and the Savior since then, though, that it’s basically impossible to keep it all straight at this point. This season has given us multiple Saviors, different definitions for what it means to be a Savior, and even a different origin of the Dark Curse. Things like that generally don’t bother me too much, but I’m so confused now about what it actually means to be a Savior that it takes me out of the show from time to time. I thought this season would be about Emma learning that she doesn’t have to do all the saving on her own (because that’s far too much of a burden to place on one person—especially since she already seemed to have fulfilled her role as Savior by breaking the Dark Curse), but it just seems to be reinforcing that point instead.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.18

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Source: tvfanatic.com

Title Where Bluebirds Fly

Two-Sentence Summary Zelena’s confrontation with the Black Fairy leaves her with a choice: go back to Oz and live alone with just her daughter or give up her magic to help the only family she has. Meanwhile, Emma and Killian’s impending nuptials has her parents in full wedding-planning mode, until Charming is reminded of what Emma must face.

Favorite Lines
Emma: We were just making some pancakes.
Snow: Pancakes. Right. Maybe I should come back after you’ve made pancakes.
Killian: Don’t worry. I’ve lost my appetite. I have to go and have a quick and bracing shower.

My Thoughts Once Upon a Time is at its best when its plot works to serve its characters—not the other way around. As the buildup to the climactic “Final Battle” has begun, I was initially worried that this major plot point would dominate the show, but in a surprising turn of events, it seems the opposite is true. The last two episodes have been filled with lovely character-driven moments, and “When Bluebirds Fly” was perhaps the least plot-driven episode of this entire season. Nothing really moved forward as far as the Final Battle is concerned (It actually ended with things back at Square One for the Black Fairy.), but various characters—especially Zelena—took huge strides forward in their development. And that is a far more engaging and entertaining way for me to spend an hour on a Sunday night than watching a series of plot twists and turns that offers little to no time for characters to do anything other than offer up expository monologues or create new and unnecessary conflicts.

Every conflict in this episode came from a place that felt true to who these characters are and have always been. Nothing felt contrived or forced; everything felt earned and thematically resonant—tying back into the ideas of love and sacrifice, true happiness, and what makes a place a home.

For all of these characters, home is the place where you feel you belong—it’s where you’re loved. Home truly is where the heart is on this show. And for a long time, Zelena felt she belonged in Oz. But this episode’s flashbacks reminded us that she didn’t feel she belonged in Oz because she was loved there; she felt she belonged there because she was powerful there. Zelena’s entire arc has been about letting go of her need to define herself by how good she is at magic, which is a much more relatable story than it would seem at first glance. Haven’t we all defined ourselves by the things we feel we’re best at? Haven’t we all worried about who we would be if we suddenly didn’t have that talent anymore? Maybe it’s just my inner Slytherin coming through, but I related to Zelena much more than I was expecting to in this episode. When you spend your whole life wanting to be the best at something, how easy would it be to give that talent up for someone else? I know I’d struggle with doing the right thing if it meant losing the talent I’d always prided myself on having.

Zelena has become one of the most complex characters on this show. (Remember when I thought she was just a one-note, over-the-top villain back in Season 3B?) She wants so badly to be wanted, to feel important, which is a very believable byproduct of being abandoned the way she was as a child. And for her, magic was the key to making her mark on the world. If she could prove that she was the strongest, most powerful witch, then she would be able to feel she was worth something. Because otherwise, she was just a lost little girl whose mother left her behind because she wasn’t worth the trouble.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.17

ouat awake

Source: tvfanatic.com

Title Awake

Two-Sentence Summary As Regina’s plan to break the sleeping curse on Snow and Charming backfires, weakening both their hearts and forcing them to confront the idea that Emma might have to face the final battle alone, flashbacks reveal a time in which they chose to leave Emma alone to allow her to fulfill her destiny and save everyone. Meanwhile, Killian tries to find a way to reach Emma with the help of Tiger Lily.

Favorite Line “Swan, I know you face an uncertain future, but there is one thing I want you to be certain of: that I will always—always—be by your side. So Emma Swan, what do you say? Will you marry me?” (Killian)

My Thoughts It’s no secret that Once Upon a Time makes me cry a lot. I cry during happy moments and heartbreaking ones, romantic scenes and family-focused ones. But I’m not sure I’ve ever cried as often as I did during “Awake”—or as intensely. After six seasons and countless emotional journeys, this show still managed to knock me off my feet with feelings, and it did so by focusing on the reasons I first fell in love with this show (Snow and Charming’s relationship with each other and their relationship with their daughter) and the reason I devoted years of my life to writing about it (Emma and Killian’s relationship). At the end of the day, I have been and will always be a Charming Family fangirl and I will always love writing about Emma Swan more than perhaps any other fictional character ever created. So “Awake” felt tailor-made to both break my heart and fill it with hope by once again putting the parts of this show that have always meant the most to me in the spotlight.

“Awake” was an episode about the sacrifices we make, which made it heartbreaking, but it was also an episode about those moments in life when we don’t have to sacrifice—when karma works in our favor and people who deserve to be happy get to be happy, which made it hopeful. And all of that was told through the lens of Emma and her relationship with her parents and her pirate—relationships that make up the very fabric of Once Upon a Time.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.16

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Source: spoilertv.com

Title Mother’s Little Helper

Two-Sentence Summary As Emma and Gideon team up to defeat the Black Fairy, flashbacks reveal the extent of the damage she caused for all the children in her realm—especially for her grandson. Meanwhile, Killian and Blackbeard form a shaky alliance and end up in Neverland, and Regina works with Isaac to get answers about Henry’s author powers taking over his body and mind.

Favorite Lines
Isaac: What did I do to you that was so bad?
Regina: Tried to kill us all.

My Thoughts For being almost a purely plot-driven episode, “Mother’s Little Helper” was one of the better episodes of this season. It was entertaining in the way only this show can be—with villains whose darkness is at once terrifying and fascinating, unexpected character pairings, and a sense of humor that comes from an understanding that sometimes a show about fairytales should just lean into its premise and embrace the fact that it can be fun for no other reason than the fact that it’s a show about fairytales.

This episode’s present-day plots featured three character pairings that seemed to have no connection to each other on the surface but were actually incredibly similar when looked at more closely. Emma/Gideon, Killian/Blackbeard, and Regina/Isaac were all pairings featuring one hero and one villain working together because they each have something the other needs: Emma needs her pirate back, Gideon needs someone to help him defeat the Black Fairy (or so we thought), Killian needs a magic bean to get back to Emma, Blackbeard needs a ship, Regina needs answers about Henry, and Isaac needs his freedom. And by the end of the episode, these three storylines also had one more thing in common: The hero was double-crossed by the villain. (I know Isaac didn’t really double-cross Regina, but he wasn’t much help, either.)

I think the reason I enjoyed “Mother’s Little Helper” so much despite the fact that it wasn’t the deepest or most emotional hour of the show (and despite the fact that Emma and Killian are STILL separated) was because it kept me guessing at every turn. It was filled with betrayals and twists, and each one felt genuinely surprising, building to the episode’s biggest twist involving Gideon and the Black Fairy.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.15

Title A Wondrous Place

Two-Sentence Summary As Killian works to get back to Emma in Storybrooke, his adventure aligns with Jasmine and Aladdin’s quest to find and save Agrabah—with some help from a familiar face. Meanwhile, Regina and Snow take Emma out to help her open up, which has some unintended magical consequences.

Favorite Line “You are a hero.” (Aladdin, to Jasmine)

My Thoughts “A Wondrous Place” was the television equivalent of a magic carpet ride: bumpy at times and sometimes dangerously close to crashing, but ultimately inspiring, beautiful, and unique—and despite a bit of a rocky takeoff, it nailed the landing.

Despite the plethora of other characters who played important roles in this episode, this was finally Jasmine’s time to shine. “A Wondrous Place” revealed the layers to her story that have been hidden from us since she was introduced earlier this season, and as each of those layers was peeled back to reveal her reasons for her desperation to find Agrabah and her distance from Aladdin, she became more of a fully-realized character with flaws she was more than aware of and strengths she had yet to fully embrace. In short, she became the kind of princess Once Upon a Time specializes in bringing to life: a fierce, complex female leader learning to love herself and to accept love in her life.

Jasmine certainly retained that “I’m not a prize to be won!” mentality from Aladdin, but she was given even more depth beyond that independent, outspoken streak. This version of Jasmine was allowed to be afraid, was allowed to have doubts, and was allowed to fail before succeeding—not because she wasn’t strong enough to defeat Jafar, but because she didn’t believe she was strong enough. She felt like a real person with flaws and emotional baggage, and I have to give the writers and Karen David credit for creating such a nuanced and believable character arc for Jasmine in such a short time.

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