The damsel in distress is a classic figure in literature, art, film, video games and television. If we look for a definition, we’ll find that the term usually refers to: a young woman in trouble (with the implication that the woman needs to be rescued, as by a prince in a fairy tale). This theme is so common that all of us, at one point or another, have stumbled upon a representation of it, no matter what our favorite means of entertainment might be.
Once Upon A Time, as a rule, stays away from this trope. Sure, there are plenty of female characters, but they’re not what you’d call damsels, and even when they are on distress, they can typically save themselves. In fact, the show even makes a nod do to this by having Emma tell Hook that “the only one who saves me is me” in the Season Three Finale.
So, that means the harmful stereotype is out the window, right? Once Upon A Time wants nothing to do with you!
Not so fast.
It’s become increasingly obvious, especially during this season, but certainly for the past two, that while Once Upon A Time might not exactly place a female character in this particular scenario, it does the exact same thing with a male one.
Let’s just call Robin Hood a gentleman in distress.
When his character was first introduced he was painted as Regina’s one true love – and yet, that was never all Robin Hood was supposed to be. This is not a character original to Once Upon A Time, after all. We’ve known Robin of Locksley for far longer than we’ve known this show, and some of us have loved him for all that time.
Of course, this is an interpretation. Once Upon A Time has proven time and time again that they’re not married to the source material. Which is why we took the changes to his canon with a grain of salt. We closed our eyes and trusted in the story that the showrunners wanted to tell us. The question now remains, were we right to?
I’m not so sure.
This is not about Robin being dead, no. This isn’t even about the end of a love story they crafted and promoted. This is about how little justice they did to a character we all wanted to love.
He was supposed to be a great strategist, and yet, the show never put him in a situation where he could prove this, and to make it worse, in his final episode, they made him walk into Regina’s office without a plan.
He was supposed to be a leader, and yet the most we ever saw of the Merry Men was Little John.
He was supposed to be a doting father, and yet his scenes with Roland were few and far between, and he was very quick to abandon both his kids to go to the Underworld to do absolutely nothing important.
He was supposed to be a hero, and instead, he was a silent victim, tricked by Zelena and used as a pawn against her sister.
He was supposed to be the love of Regina’s life, but he was mostly a sidekick, tagging along with her, providing reassurance, reaffirming her place on the “heroes” side, on his side.
He was supposed to be many things, and in the end he was only a pawn, used alternatively to further Zelena or Regina’s storylines, without any concern for his actual development. You’ve ever heard of “fridging” a female character? Well, Robin was fridged, and the fact that he’s not a female character doesn’t make it any less concerning.
This is equality, I’ve heard some say. If it happens to female characters, why shouldn’t it happen to male characters? And though I understand the point, I don’t share the message behind it. I’d rather this happen to no one, male or female.
In the end, Robin wasn’t killed because he’d become a stereotype, at least, not specifically. He was killed because the cast of Once Upon A Time is simply too big and the writers didn’t have much use for him. And, of course, he was also killed to further Regina’s storyline. Being a good person is all fine and well when you have all you want – the question is, can you still stay on the right path when you lose the love of your life?
Regina has already strayed before, when Daniel died. The thinking is Robin’s death will push her towards a similarly dark path that this time, she can escape. Which is probably true, Regina is a great character, and she doesn’t need a man to define her. No one does. But that doesn’t mean I can’t wish this had been different, that I can’t imagine an alternate universe where Robin Hood was a character worthy of the writer’s attention and respect. One where he was treated as more than a gentleman in distress.
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 9/7c on ABC.