FOR THOSE IN PERIL ON THE SEA
Ships as an Essential Narrative Tool in Once Upon A Time
by Teresa Martin--@Teresa__Martin
Ships are quite a popular topic among the Once Community, partly no doubt because many fan-favorite moments involve ships, and everyone loves romance and melodrama. But there is also another function that they serve. Ships on Once Upon a Time are an indispensable narrative tool by which the writers present their story. Thus in many ways they serve as the soul of the show, for the essence of the characters are entwined with their soul-mates. The outside forces beyond their control shape the characters, maybe even change them, but it is the uniting of souls through love that keeps the journey to Happily Ever After compelling.
Consider that the series began with Snowing.
We are all familiar with the dramatic, sigh-inducing opening scenes with Prince Charming riding out to kiss Snow White and wake her from the sleeping curse. Their love is asserted through their dialogue and the famous “I Will Always Find You” (try listening to the dubbing actor say that in French!). Then it’s to a wedding. You couldn’t have more shipping in these scenes if you visited a Fed Ex store.
When presenting a show’s narrative, especially a pilot, nothing is more important than the first ten minutes. It previews, it delivers, it introduces. Nothing is an accident since the stakes are so high. If the network execs don’t bite, goodbye to the show and countless number of peoples’ dreams. Ditto for the all-important network premiere. If viewers turn the channel, that’s it.
Not a second of a pilot can afford to be fluff or filler.
Obviously, the Once pilot worked. The show is now going into its third season. I can also testify that those first scenes had me hooked line and sinker (and that was a year before Colin O’Donoghue gave an entirely new meaning to that phrase.)
Snowing, including their recurring catch-line, embodies what Adam Horowitz confirmed on Twitter as the major theme of the show: hope. Hope is a word that is used often in English as a skeptical word. Such as, “You can hope you win the lottery all you want.” The other, deeper meaning is having a certainty connected with the divine. Socrates used that word before his death when he wrote “therefore I do not grieve as I might have done, for I have good hope that there is yet something remaining for the dead.” St. Paul also uses this in his writings when talking about eternal life: “hope does not disappoint us.” Both are saying this in the context of life after death, and the positive expression of hope as certainty is present. Whenever Charming says his line “I will always find you,” it is with the same conviction. Hence Snowing is an embodiment of this theme.
Once Upon A Time would be more depressing than Miss Saigon on steroids if it was all about hope in the skeptical sense.
Rumbelle also asserts hope when the ship sets sail with “It’s forever, dearie,” and Belle responds, “I will go with you forever.” This ship continues where Snowing left off and immerses the viewers into another theme of the show: redemption. Redemption involves turning away, or being saved, from evil or error. Before “Skin Deep” aired, Rumplestiltskin was a guilty pleasure, fans loving to see him make deals as he mocks the righteous. We had our first glimpse of what he lost in “Desperate Souls,” but there was no hint that there was a One True Love in his life. Moreover, there was no foreshadowing that redemption was even a part of his story arc. Then “Beauty and the Beast” happened. I remember being shocked that they were going to try to make Rumplestiltskin the Beast. That meant that there was love, and Rumple couldn’t love like that, could he? We all know (have memorized, drawn, cried, gone into therapy over) the answer. True Love’s Kiss happened and his curse actually began to break. That not only proved he loved Belle, but also that he was able to love. A person capable of love is capable of redemption.
Consider how StableQueen also illustrates this. In “The Doctor,” Regina enters “Magic Rehab,” encouraged by Henry, and begins an attempt to change her life. While this is a big step, the great breakthrough occurs with Daniel. He is the man over whom Regina began her decent into darkness that led to her unnatural hatred for Snow. Monster Daniel looks at her with pain, but enormous love, and tells her to let him go. She does, and the whole fandom bawls. Through this encounter Regina can finally begin to heal from her True Love’s death and continue her redemptive journey.
Moreover, ships fit in with the fairy tale theme. While we do have characters on Once that are not fairy tales, the main characters belong in one. Five of the regulars that we adore are from “Snow White” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Both are romances and fairy tales that end with a wedding. If you don’t center “Snow White” on Snow and Prince Charming, or “Beauty and the Beast” on Belle and the Beast, the stories are rather boring, or non-existent. Transferred over to Once, these ships are included in the framework of the plots. I have noted in detail previously this nuptial undercurrent to the entire series.
It is not an accident that the climaxes of Seasons One and Two have centered on the resolution of a ship. In the glorious scenes of “A Land Without Magic,” Snowing and Rumbelle are reunited, and Season Two’s Rumplestiltskin arc was resolved by another reunion with Belle. It is noteworthy that Snowing leads the voyage that propels the story into Neverland.
Finally, ships show the theme of family. You cannot have the Charming Family without Snowing, or Henry without Swanfire. Where do Rumbelle fit in with this dysfunctional family? Rumplestiltskin is literally related to SwanFire, and Belle’s declaration to him that when he comes back with his son she will be waiting for him implies that she will be a part of their lives, and therefore considered part of the clan. Regina’s longing for a child hearkens back to what could have been with Daniel, which led to her adoption of Henry. Charming explicitly acknowledges Regina, being Henry’s mother, as family. This family has Snowing as the head, and they all ultimately want to just live in peace with their loved ones. This is what the fans also wish for their favorite characters and the drama of the show centers on the twists and turns as they make this journey.
Through all their perils, for Season Three literally, on the sea, we know that the love each has for their significant other will never be far from their minds and neither will their wishes to be with their beloveds fade. Snowing, Rumbelle, Swanfire, and memories of StableQueen will continue to haunt these characters, and ultimately bring them home.
And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Explore the Arthurian legend surrounding Lancelot, take a trip into the woods to discover the mythology behind Red Riding Hood or learn more about a modern day hero called Snow White. Origins provides unique insights and perspectives from talented writers into the characters we know and love, going far beyond the boundaries of Storybrooke.