The crowning glory of Once Upon a Time will always be Emma Swan. The main character of the series, this unique, beautiful, strong original fairy tale creation is their greatest hero, and along with Killian Jones, their greatest character. But even beyond the series, Emma Swan will forever be one of the most remarkable characters of all time, from her profound and moving journey and development, to the impeccable performance by Jennifer Morrison, the resulting gratitude, joy and inspiration is indeed boundless. And she is not the greatest hero or character simply because she’s a strong woman who can equally wield a sword or a gun or her magic- though that certainly is a large part of it. Rather, it is because Emma Swan is a real, well rounded and relatable woman who shows us there’s more than one way to be strong and courageous- physically, emotionally, and through vulnerability with a willingness to completely open her heart. She represents that ideal balance while still remaining ever realistic. And from the brilliantly profound performance and choices of Morrison, to the storytelling and writing, and even the costumes and iconic imagery of her character, Emma Swan truly is remarkable.
It’s easy to be thankful such a character from a storytelling perspective alone, but all the other elements add to the richness of Emma, providing so much, as I said, relatability, inspiration and joy. Her development is so moving and extraordinary. Emma went from orphan, to bail bonds person, to mother, Sheriff, friend, lover, Savior, hero, wife and mother again. Indeed, Emma went from feeling like an unwanted orphan and a little lost girl, unloved and like she didn’t matter and never would, to a young woman opening her heart only to be betrayed, making her grow hardened and jaded. And yet goodness remained, and hope still resided deep within the cracks of her heart, brought to the surface with her heart healing with the love she found with her parents, her son Henry, her friends, her eventual husband Killian, and her own sense of self worth. She didn’t think she could be a mother or open her heart romantically again and yet she found the courage to do so. The world can be cruel but you need not become such. And what is so beautiful and special about Emma is that duality of bringing back the happy endings for others and in the end finding her own.
With her iconic red leather jacket and bright yellow VW Bug she represents color being brought back into the cold, grey world. Her true love brings her son back to life and awakens Storybrooke from its sleep, and her heroics and indeed very being inspires Killian out of the darkness, reawakening both of their hearts from their long, long sleep. She saves others and saves herself, learns to love fully and love herself, her strength only growing as her vulnerability does. She could equally defeat a villain and help inspire and redeem them. Indeed, so many adjectives and superlatives can be attributed to Emma, who is truly a complex and well rounded character.
How can one not be captivated by the richness and beauty of such a story- a modern fairy tale character and story that will continue to inspire and delight. Emma Swan also inspires what Once Upon a Time exemplifies: Hope. She is light and the living embodiment of Hope, inspiring it in others, and rekindling it in her own heart when she had long lost it. She continues to be a beacon, now passing that onto her and Killian’s daughter of the same namesake bringing the show, her story and character full circle. It is truly beautiful.
If one is thankful for Emma Swan, so much of that lies within the beautifully brilliant performance of Jennifer Morrison. I cannot imagine another actor portraying Emma, especially with the same amount of depth, beauty, care and understanding that Morrison brought to the role year after year. She showcased all of Emma’s facets of the real and well-rounded woman she is always in such a deep and profound and brilliant way- with vitality, with humor, with softness, with subtlety and nuance, and with strength. For Emma is smart and witty, sometimes sarcastic and funny, sometimes hard and jaded, sometimes lost and heartbroken, sometimes soft and tender. She will wear a leather jacket, jeans and boots one moment, a soft pink dress another, and a beautiful ball gown another- a symbolic visual representation of the fullness of her character. No matter the scene Morrison expressed Emma’s strength, warmth and radiance, through her tears, her smiles, her expressive eyes , and her mannerisms. She spoke the words but also showed us Emma’s soul. I must also note how wonderful McKenna Grace and Abby Ross were as young Emma, both portraying fundamental pieces of Emma’s demeanor, psyche and development beautifully. They both clearly studied Morrison’s performance and did a fine job of maintaining consistencies and expressions, and physicality.
This is reason enough to be thankful, but beyond that, in the case of Morrison, not only did she breathe life into Emma, but did so with such care, consistency and understanding that is truly special. Morrison read memoirs of those who grew up in the foster system to understand their lives and experiences more thoroughly, and developed a special way Emma dealt with food, mimicking the way a child like Emma have to fight for her share in crowded group homes . She would cradle the head of those she loved when she hugged them, much like her father. Her smiles and expressions varied depending on the scene partner showcasing the variances in each relationship. In particular, one of the loveliest consistencies is the way she’d have Emma stand with Killian, her arm around him, often her head on his shoulder, and always with her hand resting over his heart in a loving and even protective manner- all done after his character had his heart taken and then restored by her. All of these consistencies bring beauty and depth to an already grand performance infusing subtleties that only the most gifted would even think of, let alone express so warmly, beautifully and with such reality. She always speaks about Emma’s journey with eloquence and complete and utter understanding. Instead of trying duplicate her words I’ll let them speak for themselves.
“Do you know how strong you have to be, to be vulnerable? I think you have to be even stronger to be vulnerable than to be defensive. And so I see it as an evolution of her strength for her to feel that she has it in her to be this vulnerable, to be this open, to risk getting hurt. I think that takes an incredible amount of strength.”
“She has grown to a place where she’s capable of being strong and in love. And I think that that is what makes that really special for her. Is that after everything she’s been through and after all journeys that she’s been through and all of the obstacles that she’s faced, she’s surrounded by her family and friends and someone who loves her for who she truly is and she loves him for who he truly is. I think it’s nice that she’s being portrayed as being in a relationship where they know the good and the bad of each other. It’s not just we are happy go lucky and everything is great. They’re very aware of each other’s flaws and very aware of the times they’ve failed. And they accept the broken parts of each other. Just as they accept the healthy parts of each other. I think for her she feels like for the first time in her life she’s in a safe place. She is with someone who is truly her side and truly by their side. And I think that’s ultimately the best happy ending I could imagine for her after everything she’s been through. She started her life completely abandoned and sort of abused in certain ways. So to come to a place where she’s healing from all that, and she’s loved and supported by her family and by her now husband, I think it’s great.”
As is often the case, an actor’s fine work in one thing and can result in seeking out others. A few seasons into Once Upon a Time I found her wonderful work on House and How I Met Your Mother as well as re-watching Star Trek and discovering Warrior. A film like Sun Dogs (a review for this will be on here soon) may have never been on my radar but I’m so happy to be following Morrison’s career and obvious multifaceted talent, and look forward to whatever future projects are on the horizon. She also brought to light worthwhile causes which I was proud to be a part of: Dressember which helps to combat human trafficking, and the “Be the Hero” campaign which benefited research to battle Jacobson Syndrome. And beyond this, Morrison is an inspiring, kind soul that myself and countless others are thankful for- for her kindness, humbleness, and generosity of spirit, beyond her immense talent. I was moved by her words when I had the privilege of attending her panel at NerdHQ:
“And I think a lot of the time we like to categorize things and say it’s all one thing or all another. It’s like if you’re strong then ‘you’re hard and you’re tough and you never cry and you don’t need anyone and you don’t need a man’ and if you’re vulnerable then it’s like ‘you’re soft and sweet and take care of some guy.’ People like to delineate those two categories. I’m not all one and I’m not all the other. I can be extremely strong and really tough and I can stand up for myself and I can take care of myself. But there’s also things that hurt me, there’s also things that make me very vulnerable. And there’s also people I care about and I’m very open with them and I let them close enough that they could hurt me. I think it’s really important to try to bring wholeness to these characters otherwise you’re setting up young girls to have an unrealistic expectation of what it means to be strong.”
And I was extremely touched by her kind words about my writing for The Nerd Machine- to hear the appreciation, and praise and hear one’s writing called lovely and thoughtful means more than I could ever express. Morrison is an inspiring, lovely, truly nice person and I’m thankful for her being the one to bring Emma to life and everything beyond.
Emma Swan inspires me and I can easily say that she (and indeed Morrison) changed my life. It has not been as dark as Emma’s, but I can most definitely relate to feelings of insecurity, loneliness, and self worth having suffered from bullying, anxiety and other things. Emma is a character for anyone who has ever in some way felt like they weren’t enough- that they were an ugly duckling- to remind us that we were never nothing and that we have the power within ourselves to be the swan. To remember that love and hope spring eternal and that we have the ability to change our lives. Emma inspires the best in us all. To love without limits or walls up, to pull yourself up and fight for your happy beginning, middle and end. Emma Swan is the hero, the woman we needed for this generation and for all time. So thank you Emma Swan and Jennifer Morrison for inspiring us all and being a light in the world.
Bonus: Take a pictorial journey through 40 defining moments for Emma Swan
1. Emma makes a wish to not be alone on her birthday and Henry shows up at her door
2. Emma and Henry make their first real connection at his “castle”
3. Emma shows what she is capable of when she takes a chainsaw to Regina’s tree
4. Emma gives Ashley wise advice about life
5. Emma makes a deal with Gold to ensure Ashley can keep her baby
6. Emma displays a flicker of hope that her heart could open in a moment with Graham
7. Emma helps reunite two orphaned twins with their father
8. Emma breaks down after Augusts tells her she is Storybrooke’s only hope
9. Emma touches the Storybook and finally believes in magic
10. Emma fights a dragon to help save Henry
11. Emma saves Henry with True Love’s Kiss and breaks the curse on Storybrooke
12. Emma shows vulnerability with her mother after seeing everything she sacrificed
13. Emma finds a kindred spirit in Killian and admits she was once in love
14. Emma is set up to take the fall for Neal’s crime and is arrested
15. The magic inside of Emma shines through as she says “Love is strength”
16. Emma gives an impassioned and inspiring speech about the best way to save Henry
17. Emma reveals to her mother how she’s always felt like a lost girl who didn’t matter
18. Emma kisses Killian for the first time
19. Emma saves Killian’s life, sacrificing her magic in the process
20. Emma shares a romantic waltz with Killian
21. Emma witnesses the moment her parnets fall in love
22. Emma tells Killian Storybrooke is her true home, getting her magic and their way home back. She returns calling her parents Mom and Dad
23. Emma opens her heart and kisses Killian after hearing of his great sacrifice of the Jolly Roger to bring her home
24. Emma reveals she’s pulling away out of fear of losing Killian
25. Emma makes a brave, personal stride and asks Killian out on a date
26. Emma shares some childhood mementos for the first time with anyone
27. Emma accepts herself as she is and gains control of her magic
28. Emma reveals her true love for Killian and regrets in not expressing it
29. Emma becomes the Dark One to save everyone in Storybrooke from the darkness
30. Emma fights backs against the darkness declaring she was “never nothing!”
31. Emma fully turns into the Dark Swan when she tethers Killian to Excalibur
32. Emma proclaims her family’s motto marching into the Underworld to save Killian
33. Emma takes the last name “Swan” as a sign of what she wants to be
34. Emma takes a big step in stating her love in a normal, peaceful moment
35. Emma begins therapy revealing she fears her happy ending is an illusion
36. Emma makes her final transformation into the swan, who is strong and not alone- and never has been- in her song “Emma’s Theme”
37. Emma marries her True Love Killian
38. Emma chooses to be the hero Henry tells her she is
39. Emma has her Final Battle as the Savior
40. Emma has her first child with Killian, naming her Hope
Gif sources: shoedonym, doomsdayy, lumadreamland, onceland, odonowest, captainswanouat, captainswansource, ceeyoutea, onceuponadaily, jemmablossom, swanemma, once-upon-a-captain-swan, someone-like-robsten, killiancomeback2me, dashingrapskillian, emmaswaln, kimidakewooooo, dianasofthemyscira , ohmycaptn, youseetherealme, warriorswan, swanshope, handsomeswan, captainpoe, captainswaan, Joyce Scott, tough-lass, once-land