“The Problems of a Savior Complex”

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“THE PROBLEMS OF A SAVIOR COMPLEX”

The Season Three finale of ABC’s “ONCE UPON A TIME” ended on a curious note. The finale consisted of two episodes – (3.21) “Snow Drift” and (3.22) “There’s No Place Like Home” – in which two of the series’ protagonists, Emma Swan and Killian Jones aka Captain Hook, found themselves transported back in time and to the Enchanted Forest due to circumstances beyond their control.

Let me make this brief. The main villain of Season Three’s second half turned out to be Regina Mills’ older half-sister Zelena, who was also known as the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz”. Due to Zelena’s jealousy of her younger half-sister’s privileged life, which included being raised by their mother Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts, she wanted to go back in time and erase Regina from existence. Although Zelena managed to set up a portal to convey her back in time, Regina managed to defeat her. Unfortunately . . . an angry Rumpelstiltskin ended up murdering an incarcerated Zelena for the death of his son, Neal Cassidy aka Baefire. Zelena’s spirit ended up re-opening the time travel portal. And both Emma and Hook got sucked into the portal and into the past.

During the pair’s adventures in the Enchanted Forest of the past, Emma nearly ruined the first meeting between her parents – Snow White and David, Prince Charming. She and Hook, with Rumpelstiltskin’s help, set out to repair the timeline and ensure that her parents will not only meet, but fall in love. Their efforts to do so led to Emma’s capture during the wedding party of Charming and Princess Abigail by Regina, also known as the Evil Queen. Inside the Queen’s jail cell, Emma met a woman who had been incarcerated for helping Snow White flee Regina’s wrath. With her and the woman set to be executed the following morning, Emma managed to break out of the cell. Hook, who had earlier warned Emma about changing the timeline, reacted with slight dismay when he discovered that she helped the woman escape. And yet . . . when Emma wanted to bring the woman with her and Hook to Storybrooke, Hook agreed to help her, arguing that the woman’s family thought she was dead and they need to continue to believe it. The woman refused to go with Emma and Hook to Storybrooke, so the former knocked her unconscious and with Hook’s help, brought her with them. As it turned out, the woman proved to be Maid Marian, Robin Hood’s wife. And Marian’s presence in Storybrooke brought an end to Robin’s newly found romance with Regina Mills.

Judging from Regina’s angry reaction to Emma and Hook’s actions, many fans reacted in different ways to this new twist in the story arc between the two women. Many fans continue to assume that Regina will fall back on her old evil ways and seek revenge against Emma for ruining her romance with Robin. Some believe she will be tempted, but continue her redemption arc and eventually forgive Emma. What is interesting about all of this is that most of the fans seemed to be interested in how Regina will react to the loss of Robin in the upcoming fourth season. Only a few fans have even bothered to criticize Emma and Hook for their actions. Yet, despite these criticisms, other fans came to Emma’s defense by stating that she was right to save Marian from being executed by Regina. I am tempted to discuss this situation from Regina and Robin’s point of view. But right now, I am more interested in what led Emma to change the timeline in the first place.

I can image the response to the last sentence in the previous paragraph. What led Emma to change the timeline? To save Marion’s life, that’s why! Emma Swan is supposed to be “the Savior”. As fan as the series and many of the fans are concerned, this is what she is supposed to do. I wish I could agree with that sentiment. I really do. But considering her actions in “There’s No Place Like Home”, I wish it were not so. Emma became labeled as “the Savior” back in Season One, when it was revealed that she was the person destined to break the curse that found many of the Enchanted Forest’s inhabitants in “the Land Without Magic” – namely Storybrooke, Maine – thanks to Rumpelstiltskin’s creation of it and Regina’s willingness to cast it. After spending nearly a season refusing to believe in the curse, let alone the idea that the town’s inhabitants came from a fairy tale world, Emma finally broke the curse with a “true love” kiss to her son Henry, who was trapped in a sleeping curse. And the only reason Emma found herself in this role as everyone’s “savior” was because Rumpelstiltskin manipulated events so they would lead to this moment. And why? Because he wanted to find his son Baefire, whom he discovered had ended up in our world. Now, if the only reason Emma had been set up as “the savior” who break that first curse . . . why did everyone else continued to regard her as “the savior” after she broke it? Why did she, for that matter?

One would think I am accusing Emma Swan of developing a bad ego trip. And you know what? They would be right. I am well aware of the fact that Emma reacted with a great reluctance and wariness to the idea of her being “the savior”. I am also aware of the fact that she was willing to flee Storybrooke (with Henry) in the Season One episodes, (1.20) “The Stranger” and (1.21) “An Apple Red as Blood” because she could not face the responsibility of being responsible for the lives of Storybrooke’s citizens. But once she broke the curse in (1.22) “A Land Without Magic”, Emma ended up embracing her “savior” role with a vengeance . . . despite her continued wariness. This was especially apparent in three episodes from Season Two and Three. After she, Snow White, Mulan and Aurora ended up captured by Cora and Hook in Season Two’s (2.09) “The Queen of Hearts” in the present day Enchanted Forest, the following exchange occurred between the four women:

(Emma is futilely banging the door of the cell with her sword, while the rest of them watch.)

Snow White: We aren’t going to break it down, Emma. It was enchanted to hold Rumpelstiltskin. We don’t have a chance.

Aurora: This is my fault.

Mulan: No, it’s mine. Cora stole your heart because I failed to protect you.

Emma: That’s very sweet, but I believe it’s my fault. I’m the saviour, and I’m not doing much saving, am I?

When I first saw this episode during the fall of 2012, I thought nothing of Emma’s words. But when I recently viewed the episode from my copy of the series’ Season Two DVD box set, her comment stunned me. I could not believe what I had just heard. For the second time, Emma expressed her deep-seated view to her mother Snow White that she would always be destined to be “the savior” in the Season Three episode, (3.11) “Going Home”. In this episode, Rumpelstiltskin had defeated his father Malcolm aka Peter Pan and Regina had to permanently destroy the curse by ripping the scroll that contain the words to it. Because Henry was born in “the Land Without Magic” and Emma managed to avoid the first curse, they were able to avoid being sent back to the Enchanted Forest. Before Regina destroy the scroll, both Regina and Snow White hinted that since Emma was “the savior”, she was supposed to remain behind and take Henry away. Emma responded to Snow White with the following words:

“I’m the savior, right? I’m supposed to bring back all the happy endings.”

Dear God. Emma’s belief in her role as “the savior” truly reached egotistical heights in her conversation with Hook in “Snow Drift” in which both discussed Emma’s plans to return to New York with Henry:

Hook: Don’t listen to me, listen to your son. (He takes the storybook from his satchel and hands it to Emma.) He thought this might remind you of what you’re leaving behind–your family.

Emma: Henry is my family and I am taking him where he is safe.

Hook: No, Swan. The safety-first nonsense is just that. You defeated the bloody Wicked Witch. You defeated Pan. You broke the curse. And you keep running. What are you looking for?

What I found amazing about Hook’s words is that he had credited the defeats of Peter Pan and Zelena to Emma. Apparently, he had forgotten that Regina was the one who saved Henry’s heart from Pan back in Neverland. Hook had forgotten that Rumpelstiltskin was the one who ultimately defeated Pan . . . and that Regina was the one who defeated Zelena. The only thing Hook got right was the fact that Emma had broken the curse. Some fans claim that Hook was merely trying to bolster Emma’s self esteem. Emma’s self esteem was not on Hook’s mind. Emma’s reluctance to live in Storybrooke with her parents WAS the topic between them. Hook merely slipped in Pan and Zelena’s defeats into the conversation. And what I found even more amazing . . . and scary is that Emma never bothered to correct him. By this time, Emma had incorporated the idea of her being “the savior” so much that she ended up wallowing in illusions over who had really defeated the Big Bads of Season Three.

As for the situation with Maid Marian . . . I can only shake my head in disbelief. I realize that many fans believe that Emma should have chosen saving a woman’s life over maintaining the timeline. I do not. Throughout most of “Snow Drift”, Hook had warned Emma about changing the timeline . . . for any reason. This reminds me of an episode from the 1998-2006 supernatural series, “CHARMED”. In the latter’s Season One episode called (1.17) “That ’70s Episode”, the Halliwell sisters traveled back in time to 1975 in order to prevent their late mother from being coerced into making a pact with a warlock – a pact that might have deadly circumstances for them. The youngest sister (at the time) Phoebe Halliwell gave into temptation and left a warning to her mother on how the latter would die nearly three years later. Realizing that she would end up changing the timeline, Phoebe tore up the letter before she and her sisters returned to 1999. As much as Phoebe wanted to save her mother, she realized that maintaining the timeline was the right thing to do . . . even if it meant her mother’s early death.

Despite the constant warnings from Hook about changing the timeline, Emma ignored him and saved Maid Marian from the cell. While I might admire her willingness to save someone, I wish she had realized that one cannot save everyone all of the time. And sometimes, it is not a good idea. But in her arrogance and misplaced belief that she had to save everyone, Emma decided to change the timeline. To make matters worse, she forced Marian to accompany her and Hook back to Storybrooke, despite the fact that Marian wanted to remain in the Enchanted Forest and find her family. And Hook’s argument that Robin and the others probably thought she was dead did not sit well with me. Emma had already screwed up the timeline by saving Marian. I did not see how dragging the latter back to Storybrooke was going to help the matter. As it turned out, it did not.

After what I saw in “There’s No Place Like Home”, I have come to the conclusion that Emma has absorbed the idea that she is “the savior” to such a degree that she has become slightly illusional in her belief. Emma’s role as Now that I think about it, I believe that the series’ creators, Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, have become illusional in this belief that Emma is always supposed to be “the savior”. Unless they were planning for Emma to develop some kind of complex over her role as “the savior” in later seasons, I suspect that Horowitz and Kitsis will never allow Emma to face the consequences of her action in There’s No Place Like Home”, aside from a few angry rants from Regina. And I suspect that Regina’s anger will not last very long. I have complained about this in an earlier article that when it comes to Emma and her family, Horowitz and Kitsis have a bad habit of not allowing them to consider or face the consequences of their actions . . . with the exception of Snow White, who had committed murder. And the consequences she faced proved to be mild and rather brief.

I must admit that I am getting weary of Emma constantly being labeled as “the savior”. This is a label that should have dropped after she had broken the original curse in “A Land Without Magic”. The only reason she was fixed with “the savior” role in the first place was because Rumpelstiltskin had arranged for her to be the one to break that curse. The longer this series continues to label Emma as “the savior”, the more I will become convinced that she has developed serious complex issues over this role.

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