There is no right or wrong way to become a hero. There’s only the choice.
Pretty words, I know. Perhaps we shouldn’t really be talking about the hero’s journey as much as we should be talking about what comes before that – about who can become a hero. Except that, in Once Upon A Time land, the answer is everyone.
As long as they really want to.
This is what separates Rumplestiltskin from our two reformed favorites, Regina and Hook. Rumple has never really wanted to be one of the good guys – he just wanted to keep Belle. And though that’s a step in the right direction, in and of itself, it’s not enough to want what someone else wants.
You have to be the one to want it.
Hook has made his choice. So has Regina. Neither of their choices has been easy. They’ve both suffered set-backs. They’ve regressed, made mistakes, stumbled and then moved forward. And no, their journeys are not the same. Honestly, their journeys aren’t’ even comparable.
No, our favorite pirate and our favorite evil queen took two very distinct paths towards redemption – and that’s okay.
Let me say that again: It’s okay they took different paths. Both are acceptable. The hero’s journey is not a straight lane, it’s a winding road.
Sometimes, I feel like I’m preaching to the choir. Or, at least, I feel like I’m stating stuff that should be brutally obvious. This mostly happens because I have one way of looking at the show and I’m married to it. Just as I’m married to my way, however, other people are married to theirs.
That’s also fine. I’m not here to tell you how to interpret Once Upon A Time. I’m only here to point how the showrunners, cast, writers and probably network want you to.
Hook’s journey to Killian Jones, the hero, was much more straightforward by Regina. They were both driven by love, yes, but Hook’s was of the romantic kind, while Regina’s arc was always more about family. Yes, Daniel was at the center of her transformation into the Evil Queen, but you could argue Cora was really the detonator, not her lost love.
Of course, you could argue that Hook’s journey started with familial love – before he met Emma he’d only ever cared about his brother and Milah, and it was the loss of that brother, not his first love, which pushed him into a life of piracy. But even as a pirate, Captain Hook wasn’t truly a villain – not until he lost Milah (and his hand).
Same as Regina wasn’t truly driven to evil just by the loss of Daniel, but a combination of her mother’s influence, a desire for revenge and her inability to handle the power that she’d just encountered within herself.
What’s the saying? You have to hit rock bottom before you can start to get back up?
Hook undoubtedly hit rock bottom first. In fact, when we met him, he was already as down as he could be, a shell of the loving man we’ve seen him become, a desperate husk made out of anger and vengeful thoughts.
Regina, however, didn’t truly hit rock bottom until she lost Henry, until she truly realized that she could never get him back, not completely, until she learned to let go of all the anger, all the hurt.
That’s a decision, right there. One they both made.
Why do I talk about their journeys being different, then? They’re both rooted in family issues, have to do with lost love and have presented us with two redeemed, nuanced, believable characters.
It’s because the end result, the reason why, the happy ending for each character is different.
Regina’s is rooted in family – Henry, being part of the Charming family unit, her sister.
Hook’s is rooted in the true love he never thought he’d get to experience.
And both reasons are more than valid. One isn’t better than the other, any more than one color is better than another. They’re just different. I like green. You may link purple. It’s a matter of taste. And taste has no right or wrong answers.
Is Regina’s journey done? More than likely, no. Robin’s death had everything to do with that, with proving that a woman like her can suffer loss and, this time, still hold on to the good. With showing that you need the people close to you to get through the hard times in life.
What about Hook? Well, he’s no longer the evil pirate, and though a part of him might always see Rumple as the crocodile he should have gotten revenge on, the truth is, Killian Jones doesn’t struggle with the darkness inside him, not anymore. He was, after all, a Dark One very recently, and he made the right choice, in the end.
He sacrificed himself, and then, once in the Underworld, he undertook a quest to help those he cared about, even if he never expected to see them again.
His hero’s journey is complete. He knows who he is now. He understands that he deserves it, that he can be better, that he doesn’t have to “earn” anyone’s respect, or Emma’s love. He’s got that already.
The final step of the journey is internal – and Killian is there already.
Not so Regina.
She’s always struggled to forgive herself, even if others have forgiven her. Truth is, the Evil Queen is still part of who she is, and even though that doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll revert, it does mean that until she learns to accept all sides of herself, she can’t truly be rid of that fear.
Next season is set to be all about Regina’s struggles. Does that mean her journey is worse than Hook’s? Better because she, presumably, gets more airtime?
Of course not. It just means it’s different. Different is okay. Different is allowed.
Killian Jones is already a hero. It’s now time to figure out if Regina Mills can get there as well.