SHIP WARS: Once Upon A Time’s Captain Swan

OTP: one true pairing. Canon/not canon. Shipping…Spend time around any fandom and you’ll find a ship or two that is questioned: Which character is best for the lead? Where is the great love story in this show? That character is totally wrong for her/him. Etc. Watch any series; and chances are, you’ll find some sort of love triangle or ship war happening.

Once Upon a Time is no stranger to this. With such a large cast, multiple ships have formed. Some overlap; some are known as a don’t-touch-this-its-perfect ship, like Snow White and Prince Charming.

Snow and David had it easy. They were each other’s true love; and, as everyone seemed to agree, that was not something debatable. For other characters, it’s not nearly as easy.

Emma Swan is one such character. She’s seen her fair share of love interests throughout the series. Emma has interacted with almost everyone on the show, and some chemistry that might not have been written into Once Upon a Time has been felt by fans. By the end of the series, The Powers That Be made it clear that Emma was to end up with Captain Hook. This left half of the fans ecstatic…and the other half vomiting.

Captain Swan has been fought over for years. Our own staff is split on whether this relationship was the best for Emma or not! So, without further ado, let’s discuss.

What are your overall thoughts on Captain Swan. Love it? Like it? Hate it?

Sarah: In a few words: Love it, hands down. Captain Swan caught me off guard, in that the typical “will they, won’t they” lasted literally one season instead of the typical four or five. When you throw in the fairytale background with dynamic and independent characters in their own right, you have a recipe for an epic OTP. I fell for these two the day “Tallahassee” first aired. I’ve never gone back since, and I’m all the happier for it.

Captain Swan have had their ups, downs, and magical challenges along the way; but, for me, the characters’ continued drive to be the best versions of themselves and how hard they’ve fought for their happy ending says it all.

Bravo, Captain Swan, I hope you’re enjoying married life! (Before season 7 hits. Oy.)

Anam: UGHHH No. Just no. Captain Swan is literally the worst, most problematic relationship on this show. Rumple and Belle had their own share of problems, but at least Rumple owned up to the fact that he was messed up.

Hook, though…Homeboy spent half a season not knowing he was The Dark One and perfectly fine. But then, you know, he finds out and decides he’s going to kill the woman he supposedly loves and her family. The dark one powers are not suppressed until, you know, that darkness is supposed to eat away at you; and he did a total 180.

Granted, this was bad writing and not at all on Colin’s part. Speaking of that arc, that was supposed to be Emma’s arc — her struggle with the darkness and the light. They had so much potential there to really delve deep and give Jennifer Morrison quality material to work with, and they made it ALL ABOUT HOOK. Lord, have mercy!

This relationship ruined Emma: Badass, doesn’t give a damn Emma. She physically looked rundown by the end of this.

So, yeah, I hated it.

Luci: I freaking love it! I fell in love with Colin O’Donoghue’s Captain Hook from the second he first showed up on my screen, and I knew from that beanstalk adventure that he and Emma were just meant to be. The thing is, Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue make sparks fly when they are together, and — let me tell you — chemistry is everything. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked out if someone else had been cast as Hook, but the chemistry between Jen and Colin is so spectacular that Captain Swan had everything working in their favor.

Emma was my favorite character from the get-go, and watching her journey was such a treat for the past six years. If there was one thing The Powers That Be did right on Once Upon a Time, it was character development; and Emma Swan’s growth was a work of art.

And Hook was a HUGE part of it.

So, yes, I am a Captain Swan shipper all the way. They are each other’s missing piece, and it has been amazing to watch their relationship grow and evolve over time. Showrunners tend to ruin ships once they get together — but not this one. Captain Swan was the one ship that stuck together. Of course, things weren’t all sunshine, rainbows and unicorns all the time, but that’s the beauty of it — they faced whatever adversity, obstacle or crisis together. And that’s why they work so well and have such a huge following.

Chris: Sorry, but definitely not my cup of tea. Or, rather, not my cup of ANYTHING.

I watched Once Upon a Time for almost two-and-a-half years before I became more invested, and up until somewhere in season 3, Hook — albeit, well, a baddie — was a favourite character of mine.

Hook was a badass, decisive, fearless character, who made his mistakes but knew how to own them; and even when he didn’t realize he was doing something wrong, it was still part of who he was: frivolous and spontaneous. But then…They literally shoved Captain Swan down our throats, killing Neal in the process, one of the first unforgivable decisions the creative team ever made, and the first totally unnecessary death in the service of a not-so-great ship.

While I never truly cared for Emma, she and Neal together seemed very natural, as if love was just there, without even trying, without it affecting the overall essence of the characters. But that was not the case with Hook and Emma, which was the greatest issue when it came to Captain Swan. I didn’t feel it. There was no chemistry; there was no connection. It just seemed a big fat lie, thrown at us by the writers because Emma one of the leading ladies, and Hook was one hell of a gorgeous lad.

To be clear, I have absolutely nothing against Colin O’Donoghue. He’s a fantastic actor and a wonderful person; and I completely adore him. I believe he loves playing his character and does the best he can with the material he’s given. But the material stopped doing him any favours the second Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis decided it was time for Captain Swan to shine.

Because it destroyed Hook’s character and turned him into a crying puppy that ran after Emma’s tail, practically turning him into her pet. And Emma…Oh, did they ruin that girl for the sake of that ship. I didn’t even like her in the first place, but after Captain Swan? She became insufferable. Where is the kickass woman that appeared in the pilot? Probably lost into her princess Grace Kelly wedding dress. So here they were, two objectively good characters apart, being ruined when put together.

Thanks writers, but no thanks.

Lizzie: LOVE IT. In caps. I know, in general, Once Upon A Time is a show where we have to take tremendous leaps of faith with basically every character because there are some writing issues that affect most, if not all, of them. Hook, in particular, is not exempt, but if I were honing in on those I would have stopped watching sometime in Season 2.

Thing is, Emma is my favorite character. She always was. And I don’t think a woman learning to open up, learning that being vulnerable is not being weak, learning that loving doesn’t take away from being a badass is anything but a great journey. And, in general, I think the series’ writers treated them way better than they did basically every other couple on this show, Snow and Charming excepted…But they also didn’t give Snow and Charming that much, so that would explain it.

Do you think this was the best relationship for Emma? Did it help her character growth?

Sarah: Personally, I’m not sure you can say any one relationship is the best over any other. However, if I were to narrow it down to romance, Hook definitely represented a lot of firsts for Emma. He was the first to never willingly choose to leave her; he never once gave up on her and never stopped believing in everything she was capable of. Killian Jones was the first to show — not just say — how much he truly loved her.

For Hook, it was always about the one part of Emma’s life that was taken away far too often: her choice. Emma spent most of her life with a wall around her; and while more than one person helped her choose to lower that wall, Hook, I believe, helped her in a way unique to him. The amount of faith he portrayed — and I firmly believe always will — was returned in kind with trust and the true love they fought for tooth-and-nail, all the way to their walk down the aisle.

The Emma I saw walking down the aisle to marry the man she loved, even when the Final Battle was right around the corner, was miles away from the Emma I met in the pilot.

The character has overcome a great deal, but I stand by that opening her heart has been a wonderful experience for her and one she absolutely deserved. Hook may have been the one to come along and be the first to understand that Emma is worth all the waiting in the world. The best part of it all will be that it was her choice.

Anam: Far from it. It ruined her character. This strong, independent woman, who would have done anything for her son, suddenly decided that taking him LITERALLY to hell to save a man was a good idea. She even considered letting her parents stay forever locked in a sleeping curse to spend the rest of their days without one another for this man.

That’s not who Emma was.

If a relationship is going to make you do things you wouldn’t do, it’s toxic. Hook was toxic for her. Sure, they got a little zippidy-do-dah wedding, and the writers tried to stuff this down our throats, but five seasons of questionable (at best) interactions with Hook solidified so many messages you don’t want to be sending to kids. For example: staying with someone who flip-flops between hot and cold faster than Katy Perry’s song.

Luci: Hell yes! Like I said earlier, Hook was a huge part of Emma’s journey and character development. He was the one who helped her accept herself, accept that she can be happy, that she can love someone and that she can be loved. Before Killian came into her life, she was so completely closed off, afraid to show any weakness or emotions, but he helped her overcome that. He helped her understand and control her powers, and that was just because he loved her and was there for her every step of the way.

Remember how long it took for Emma to even be able to voice her feelings for Hook? But he was still there, patient as ever, because he knew she would eventually be able to say the words to him. Through everything, he was her rock, the one person she knew she could lean on, and he showed her that she didn’t have to go at it alone.

If you compare the Emma we first met in season 1 to the one we last saw in the season 6 finale, her growth and change are absolutely remarkable. She went from being a closed off, distant, completely scared-of-love shell of a person, to a mature, powerful, loving, loved and absolutely confident woman.

And Hook was most definitely part of that change. If that’s not an absolutely fantastic thing, I don’t know what is.

Chris: Ok, here’s the thing: Was season 1 Emma better than season 6 Emma? No. But was season 6 Emma better than season 1 Emma? HELL NO.

I still don’t know if it was Hook’s fault, per se, or the fault Captain Swan as her romantic story. I cannot blame someone else for all the bad decisions I’ve made, so I cannot blame Hook for all the bad decisions Emma made. Hell, he even tried to stop some of them, but she wouldn’t listen. Emma changed a lot in the course of six seasons, to a point that even someone like me, that was not interested in her AT ALL, noticed that the woman in the season 6 finale had absolutely NOTHING left in her from the woman in the entire first couple of seasons.

Letting love in is hard. Being afraid of having your heart broken, especially when you’ve been in that position too many times for your own good, is natural. I get how Captain Swan fans view that this relationship was good for her, in terms of Hook breaking all those walls Emma built around herself and helping her open up again. It’s healthy to let go of your fears and a great thing to have others by your side that are helping you through the process little by little. But I feel that Emma either lost her true self somewhere in her loving bubble, or that bubble actually revealed her true colours.

I thought her parents and her son were the ones she would NEVER put in danger for the sake of not even herself, let alone her lover. I thought she understood the price of breaking rules that are there for a reason. And yet, she never hesitated when she dragged not only her parents and friends, but Henry as well, to the freaking Underworld in order to bring Hook back from THE DEAD.

How exactly was someone who died a hero, someone who died in order to protect the ones he cared about, not worthy of…dying? How, in Emma’s mind, was Hook an exception to the rules that say that you cannot bring back the dead, especially when even dying came by his choice not once — but twice? How was that so unfair that Emma decided that risking everyone’s lives (and losing one of her friends in the process) was actually the right thing to do? I’m sorry, but do all these idiotic decisions come from someone that calls themselves the Savior?

Really, now?

In a nutshell, I think that while Captain Swan contributed to Emma’s emotional evolution, it also played an important part in her destruction in the most basic human aspects. And it certainly didn’t help her character become more likable. On the contrary, many of those that loved her ended up despising her.

So… deduct on your own whose fault that was.

Lizzie: Though I agree with Sarah in the sense that best/worst is a subjective thing, I think in the context of what the show gave us, Hook was clearly the person who made Emma happy; and saying that wasn’t what she deserved seems to me like basically saying she doesn’t deserve to be happy or make her own decisions about what makes her happy.

If someone said that to me in real life, I’d slug him/her.

Did the Captain Swan relationship help Emma’s character growth? Yes. I think the Emma from Season 1 is clearly an Emma afraid of believing, afraid of love and afraid of the idea that she can be part of something; and then she begins changing, not just because of Hook or FOR Hook but because of everyone in the town, because of her parents and Henry and — yes — the relationship she found with Killian. I don’t think true change can or should come just for just one person, but I think Emma found in Killian someone who, like her, wanted to be better, someone who had his own, different issues but that was willing to embark on a journey towards being the person the two of them needed to find that happily ever after, and they did.

I also have to vehemently disagree that if a relationship is going to make you do things you wouldn’t do, it’s toxic. If a relationship can’t help you grow, it’s stale. What is the point of being with someone who never challenges you to be better? What is the point of always being the same person? Would we even want to watch a character who never evolves? I personally wouldn’t. And growth sometimes means you’ll make the wrong choices, yes, but at least it means moving.

How do you feel about the character of Captain Hook? Have your feelings for him changed over time?

Sarah: Captain Hook was a fairytale character I grew up knowing quite well (as Peter Pan is one of my favorite stories), but Once Upon a Time was the first show where I found myself rooting for him. Don’t get me wrong: When he first came on, I thought he was a fantastic character, but I was always hoping he’d see that throwing his life away on Rumplestiltskin — of all people — was not worth it in the slightest. There were a few moments I found myself yelling “GET IT TOGETHER, MAN, YOU HAVE POTENTIAL, I KNOW IT!”

Ahem.

Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for Hook to see sense, and his redemption in the story has, frankly, been a wonderful tale to see unfold. There have been some bumps in the road, which I attributed to crappy writing choices, sacrificing the character for plot drama (you just had to make it so Hook killed Charming’s father, didn’t you, A & E?).

Over time, though, Hook has deftly gone from favorite anti-hero to one of my favorite characters on the entire show. Colin O’Donoghue was a perfect casting for this role, and his ability to bring out Hook’s struggles, quick wit, fighting spirit, and strong heart underneath all the tragedy he’s gone through, is nothing short of phenomenal. Straight up, I believe with all my heart that Hook worked hard to redeem his villainous past and has earned the family and love he’s taken into his heart. And I’ll always be glad I got to see that week to week.

Anam: When Hook first showed up all dark and gorgeous, yeah, I liked his character. He was a villain. I have a thing for villains.

But as the years went on, that feeling faded so fast. So, I’m not a fan of him — at all. He’s annoying. Now, I’m not saying anything against Colin O’Donoghue — quite the contrary, he’s a great actor and an excellent singer. His character was written horribly. There was potential. If they really wanted to redeem him, it should have been a slower curve and not a consistent flip-flop. Not to mention, I really wasn’t feeling the chemistry between Hook and Emma.

Now, Hook and Regina? That I felt. Hell, I would still be on board for a little Hooked Queen action.

Hook started off mysterious and dreamy but became a cumbersome character to lug around. Certain storylines really didn’t need to be about him. He was annoying towards the end.

Luci: From the moment we first saw Hook, I knew he would be trouble — in the best sense of the word. He was charming, sarcastic and a villain. He was all wrong for Emma in theory; but when the beanstalk episode came around, I knew those two were absolutely meant to be and that Killian was ultimately a good person with an even better heart. He just needed to overcome his desire for revenge.

But that’s what was so great about Hook: The potential for character development and his journey towards redemption was nothing short of incredible. Just like Regina, he was a villain who faced obstacles, found love, and let that love be a way to redemption.

I loved Captain Hook when we first met him. Watching his fantastic journey has been an absolute pleasure, and it has only made me love him even more.

Chris: Like I said before, when Hook first appeared, he almost immediately became one of my favourites. Everyone has a soft spot for the bad boy, especially one with that accent and such gorgeous eyes. I was not particularly a fan of everything he did, and certainly did not applaud many of his actions, but I found an interest in him as a character, a villainous one too, that was probably more complex than just plain evil. You could see a broken man that thought the only way to reach his catharsis was through revenge against the crocodile that rid him of his true love (reminds me of a certain Evil Queen we all fell in love with). You could see the pain behind the nasty facade Hook used as his shield. And while I think that him wanting to become a better man when he fell in love again is wonderful, I truly believe the writing was too bad to make him worthy of being accepted as a redeemed character.

Gone was the man that lit fires with his eyes. Instead, there was a crying puppy that made heart eyes and lost his decisiveness every time Emma was around. Little by little, Captain Hook lost almost all the elements that made him who he was, not because he evolved into a better man, but because the writers tried too hard to make him less than Emma in order to preserve that sense of feminine power.

Newsflash: They had failed feminism too much already, anyway.

Lizzie: In general, maybe because I’m a woman or because I look for characters I can relate to on TV, I always like the female characters more. That being said, I like Hook. I like his progression — I wish the writers had refrained from using him as a poster boy for their backwards ideas from time to time — but I like the idea that, even if you spent 300 years as a villain, you’re not tied to your fate. You can choose to be better; it’s never too late.

As for how my feelings have changed…Well, when Season 2 brought us Hook, and with that backstory, and especially considering they were already giving us hints that they were gonna “redeem” Regina AND Rumple, I never really expected him to stay a bad guy, so — yeah. Can’t say I hated him and now love him or vice-versa. I’ve always been a fan.

In a hypothetical world where Hook and Emma are not together, who would you have liked to have seen Emma with?

Sarah: Honestly, I can’t pick any one character, and it’s not because I want Emma to be alone if she’s not with Hook. I would want her to be with who she chooses to be with. I’d want her to be with someone who makes her happy, understands the kind of person she is, and chooses to stand by her. If, hypothetically, that turned out to be a different character, then I’d be enthusiastically supportive of her.

Anam: Literally ANYONE else. Drop the one-handed wonder, woman, you can do SOOO much better. Neal was incredible. Graham was great — too bad he didn’t last…Hell, even August would have been great.

However, if I had to pick one person, I’m going to go with the obvious here: This person started off on not the greatest terms with Emma, but they became the best of friends. Both of them have been there for each other countless times and have verbalized not wanting to raise Henry alone. Their magic can move the moon — season 3A. They’ve been side by side through it all. Through thick and thin, they found a way to make it work, and they raised one hell of a young man together.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about Regina.

Emma and Regina have come such a long way. Emma was willing to take on the darkness for Regina. The writers, fans, etc. can go on and on about how she did it to save the town, but the characters flat out say that she sacrificed herself for Regina’s happiness. They’ve fought countless villains together and are stronger together. Regina’s magic didn’t even start up until Emma touched her in season 2. Regina accepted everything about her, darkness included. She didn’t try to change her the way Hook did. They trusted each other, like when Emma trusted Regina with the dagger. They knew when the other was lying…

I can go on, but Regina is clearly the one who would have been the best for Emma. Had SwanQueen been canon, I don’t think Emma would have been looking as dowdy and rundown in the later seasons as she did.

Luci: Uh, no one? I can’t even imagine a world in which Emma and Hook aren’t together. All her other supposed love interests weren’t at all a good fit for her, especially chemistry-wise. So, no. Emma and Hook complete each other and are so much better together. I can’t think of anyone else.

Chris: I never really cared who Emma would end up with, to be honest. But like I said before, I felt there was much better chemistry between her and Neal; and yes, I would have liked to have seen them work through their relationship once they were both adults and had found their son again. It would have also been quite interesting to see the two of them coparenting Henry alongside Regina. And I feel the writers never really gave that duo a chance, and with all the history they had, along with the fact that he was the son of The Dark One and she the product of True Love, the potential was immense.

And, once again, the potential was lost. What else is new in this show?

But they were already a family, and there was so much love that was certainly not gone, so it’s truly a shame that it was destroyed so unfairly.

I also got great vibes from all of Emma’s interactions with August. Although, I do admit that I loved the big brother/little sister dynamic that was portrayed, so I’m cool with the fact they didn’t go that way with those two. But had they decided to go in  a romantic direction with Emma and August, I would have totally been game.

When it comes to Regina… I’m sorry, but I feel like those that claim that she has hurt Emma in the worst possible ways are being intentionally blind. I’m not justifying Regina’s actions — she comes with a past as dark as the night — but Emma was no better to her either. She tried to abduct Henry when she had absolutely no legal rights to him. She barged into Regina’s life and played boss. She planned to take Henry back to New York again without his legal mother’s consent. She brought back Marian/Zelena for crying out loud, effectively ruining Regina’s happiness forever. She dragged them all to the Underworld, leading to Robin Hood’s demise while she was making out with her newly revived boyfriend over his tombstone.

If that was my so-called best friend, what would I need enemies for? If that was the person I was meant to end up with, I’d rather be single forever. Say what you will, but to me they were never best friends; and never would I wish such an ill fate for Regina, as ending up with someone like Miss Swan.

Lizzie: Literally no one else. For all the Hook detractors that criticize his faults, they seem to be very quick to forgive others for theirs. Neal? For crying out loud, the man who basically seduced a teenager, framed her for a crime because August suggested that was the right thing to do for like, the future or whatever, then refused to come back when the curse broke because he was too much of a coward to face his dad and then got all high and mighty about Emma not telling him about Henry? Please, give me a break. And that’s not even going into the fact that he had a fiancee one second, and the next second, he was proclaiming his eternal love to Emma. I can’t roll my eyes back any farther. Go tell someone who cares, Neal.

Graham might have been nice if, you know, Regina hadn’t killed him.

August? Not only did he never seem interested in that way, but he abandoned Emma time and time again because it wasn’t convenient for him. I love Emma too much to want that for her. I want someone who puts her first.

Now, I know Regina is a popular answer here, and in another universe, I might have liked that. I think there was a lot of untapped potential in the idea that two people who share a son but don’t really share a son could end up becoming a real family, especially because TV is a barren wasteland of diverse families. But that’s all there was: potential.

In the show, Regina and Emma don’t work because Regina is the person who has hurt Emma the most, consistently. She robbed her of her family, of a happy childhood, of stability. She caused Emma to become this closed-off person who didn’t believe in love. That’s all on Regina. But that’s not even going into raping and killing Graham, constantly treating Emma, for seasons, as if she were no more than an annoyance, and then never truly showing any particular interest in Emma being happy. Not that I was really asking her to put Emma’s happiness first — Regina is her own person and she has to look out for herself, for her own happiness — and that was clearly not about being with Emma.

Once Upon a Time Season 7 premieres on Friday, October 6, at 8pm on ABC.

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Anam Ahmad

Anam is a self proclaimed TV nerd who loves all things TV. Anything with a fantastical or SciFi twist, a drama, or a show produced by Shonda Rhimes usually catches her eye. She’s a DC native so naturally she’s an activist when she’s not sitting in front of the television.

4 thoughts on “SHIP WARS: Once Upon A Time’s Captain Swan

  1. Adore Emma and Hook. It’s been great to see for both characters individually and together. They bring the best out of each other and grow. Light, love and hope.

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  2. Killian is the best possible partner for Emma IMO. He builds her up but at the same time calls her out on her crap. He helps her but doesn’t push her. He is her shoulder to cry on. He pushes to to accept her family., her magic and herself. He doesn’t care if she gets with him or not; he cares that she and her loved ones are happy. There is a reason so many of the CS fans are Emma fans first and foremost.
    No the writing is not perfect and he missteps at timee but overall its probably the healthiest ship on the show not counting Snowing.
    As for Emma’s growth; she is confident, happy, open and vulnerable while still being badass. And that is called COMPLEX CHARACTERIZATION.
    I cannot help but scoff at the irony at people saying Hook is bad for Emma and proceeding to say she should be with Neal or Regina; the two people who constantly drag her down. I mean, Neal is her rapist for God’s sake and she is canonically scared of Regina. Or the comment about Emma’s looks which is sexism through and through. She wore less make up and she looked STUNNING.
    Another criticism was that Emma took Henry to the Underwold. I ask, what was better, leaving him in SB where he likely would have found his way there on his own or taking him with her and having him be protected by his family. And as for 6×17; Hook was in far more danger than Snow and Charming were. They were asleep; he was dying.

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