Once Upon A Time: In Defense of Captain Swan

You’d think the most popular canon ship in Once Upon A Time wouldn’t really need defending. And yet, you’d be wrong. When it comes to shipping and fandom, any and all ship is fair game, and most of them need defending from time to time. If I’ve taken up the Captain Swan defense banner now, however, is because, through a combination of a few writer missteps and lack of understanding of certain terms, this ship has gotten a raw deal in the last few (forever) years, and with them moving in together, getting closer to marriage (I saw a ring. There is a ring. Who else would have a ring?) and maybe, a happily ever after, it’s time they get the recognition they deserve.

Perfect? No way. No ship is perfect, which mostly follows the ‘no writer is perfect’ notion and quite probably the ‘no person is perfect’ mantra we should all remember when trying to judge someone else.

Perfection is a myth, and the less time we spend trying to look for it, be it in real life, in our TV characters or in our very own relationships, the better.

That doesn’t mean there’s no critical thinking involved in everything we do and everything we consume on TV. We can, and should, hold writers accountable for their mistakes, without aggrandizing, without exaggeration that dilutes the point, but with facts. We should also celebrate the things they do right, and try our best not to let personal preference cloud our judgment.

I can’t say I always succeed in that, but I’m going to try. And, in order to do that, I’m going to get this out of the way first: I’m a Captain Swan shipper. I think Emma and Hook make a good couple, I think they bring out the best in each other, I think they’re going to get married and end the show together and I think that was always the writer’s intention.

Along the way, though, writers have to contend with – actors and life and circumstance. Had Colin O’Donoghue not broken his leg while skiing during the S2 break, Hook’s S2 storyline would have been very, very different. Maybe Neal’s, as well. We don’t know, and at this point, we can only speculate, but maybe, maybe Captain Swan would have been less of a slow burn if that season had progressed the way the writers aspired.

Does that take away from the ship? Not in my opinion. In fact, it probably contributed to the epicness. Fans had to wait longer; Hook’s redemption was more nuanced. Sometimes, accidents can bring about good stories. We’ll always kind of wonder what we could have had, but considering we got something pretty dang good in Captain Swan, I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Why all these caveats? Why not get straight to the point? (Points – I have more than one) Well, because, just as Captain Swan, I’m going to take you on a journey. A journey towards true love. It won’t be an easy, straightforward journey, because, well – people – but in the end, it’ll be worth it.

The Emma Swan Captain Hook first met was a lost girl trying to find a way to put the pieces of her heart, of her own sense of self-worth, back together. She’d found her parents, yes, she’d found the answers she’d been looking for, and yet, as much as answers can be a balm, they’re not the be all and end all. Twenty eight years is a long time, and Emma couldn’t just flip a switch and become the person her parents wanted her to be.

The Captain Hook Emma Swan met was a man hell-bent on revenge. He’d survived centuries with the idea of killing Rumplestiltskin as fuel, and even though he recognized a kindred spirit in Emma from the beginning, someone who could understand his reasoning, he wasn’t ready to give up on the thing that had been sustaining him for centuries just because someone else might understand him.

At least, not at first.

Hook was a villain then – and as such he was represented. But, as the show has proven time and time again, life is not black and white and even villains have a chance to make the right decision. It just so happens that going from villain to hero requires a person to make the right  choice, not once, but over and over and over again.

Bu then there was Emma. And there wasn’t just Emma in the romantic sense of the word – there was Emma the person who understood him, the person who said, you might have been this for many years, but you can be better. All you need to do is make a choice.

So, in a way, you can say Emma was the catalyst for Hook’s change, but she wasn’t the reason. You can’t change your life the way he did unless you want to change it.

Redemption comes from within, no matter how much support and/or understanding you might find on the outside.

And that man – the man who decided he could be better, the man who screwed up but kept trying, that man would end up teaching Emma a lesson as big as the one she taught him: that if you live your life walls up, never really committing to feeling anything in case you get hurt, you will never be truly happy, either.

The lesson, of course, wasn’t romance-specific. Emma needed to learn this to let her parents in, to be a better mother and sister, to be able to have friends, to live a fulfilling live. And she needed to learn little by little, taking one step forward, and three steps back, because that’s the only way lessons are ever learned. Just like with redemption, you can’t learn this lesson for others – you have to do it for yourself.

A cynic would then ask – why are Emma and Hook so important in each other’s journey? And I would counter with the simple truth that, even when we want something, even when we yearn for it and we think about it all the time, we don’t always reach for it. We don’t always believe we deserve it.

Sometimes, another person’s belief in us goes a long way toward showing us that we can believe in ourselves.

Emma always believed there was more to Hook than fearsome pirate. Hook always believed Emma could be more than the perennial lost girl, putting walls around her heart to protect herself from the world. And because they believed, they were both able to push towards the person the other saw, the person the other thought they could become.

And even then, that wasn’t the end of the journey. It never is in life. Doubts remain, the past comes back calling and we feel like we’re falling back into old habits, we make the wrong choices. Failing is a part of life. Opening up to Hook didn’t mean Emma was cured from her insecurities and entering into a relationship with Emma didn’t mean Hook wasn’t tied to his past anymore.

It just meant that, now, they could face the challenges that came their way as a unit. It meant that they weren’t alone.

For Emma, not being alone is as scary and wonderful as it is for Killian. He’s presumably been alone for longer, but they’ve both isolated themselves from the world, Killian by being single-handedly focused on one goal, to the detriment of everything else, Emma by relying on the old if they don’t get close to me they can’t hurt me routine.

Except, now we see two different people on our TV screens. We see a couple that tries, one that doesn’t always say or do the right thing, but that considers the relationship they share as something valuable, something to fight for. And, if in nothing else but that, we want to be like them.

Though, I wouldn’t mind the wardrobe. Or the true love. I really wouldn’t.

You say this ship is toxic? I say this ship is anything but. It’s a respectful and mature relationship made up of two adults who are most definitely not perfect, but who have each other’s best interest at heart and who never put each other down. It’s a relationship of two people who don’t feel the need to hide who they truly are, but who also understand that change is a part of life and feel free to explore new facets of their personality, to be better, different, more themselves.

I also say that, as I stated before, relationships are not perfect because people are not perfect. No one teaches a class in how to be a good boyfriend/girlfriend, and everyone is going to make mistakes from time to time. What makes a relationship toxic is when those mistakes become the norm, not the exception. That’s clearly not the case with Emma and Hook.

You say Emma’s become unrecognizable, that she only does what Hook wants? First, I want to call bullshit, not just because Hook has always been supportive of who Emma is and what she wants to do, but because, if this were true, their relationship would have probably moved at a different pace.

I’m pretty sure he was ready to move in way before she asked.

But I also say that we should respect any woman’s decision to be whatever they want to be, even if what they want or who they want to be with doesn’t jibe with what we’d want for ourselves or even for them. I say let’s not take away Emma’s agency. Let’s respect her choices, even if they wouldn’t be ours. Let’s break away from the stereotype and let people be who they want to be.

You say Hook’s a rapist? I say we’ve seen actual rape in this show, and that yes, the writers are shitty at calling it by its name and that yes, they’ve put comments in his mouth that have been questionable at best, but when we cry wolf when the wolf isn’t even around, we contribute to a culture that doesn’t really understand what sexual assault is and treats its victims like they’re hysterical for simply stating facts.

Of course, part of the problem with all of this comes from the interpretation of the overall narrative arc, and there, I can’t always defend the writers. But looking at just one side and basing all our arguments on the side that supports our interpretation is not just problematic, in the world we live in, it’s actively dangerous.

If you take into account the overall story, character development, progression and what we actually see happening on screen, it’s easy to call Captain Swan not just one of the best ships on TV, but also one of the healthiest ones. And yes, that’s interpretation, mine, to be precise, but hey, at least I’m not basing it on blatant falsehoods, like someone we know.

All I’m doing is taking what they give me, paying attention and reaching the obvious conclusion. It’s as simple as that.

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