'Once Upon a Time' Needs to Stop Neglecting Emma Swan
If you haven't seen Sunday's episode of Once Upon a Time yet, then avert your eyes. In "Kansas", the Wicked Witch Zelena was finally defeated (and then later murdered in her prison cell by Rumpelstiltskin) and the day was kind of saved. However, after all of the build-up of Emma Swan's magic being trained and honed, as it is the only weapon they have that can actually take Zelena down, the show took a left turn. Zelena forced Emma to give Captain Hook mouth-to-mouth to save him from drowning, ridding her of her magic for what seems to be for good. Regina was forced to undo years of dark magic reliance to summon up the light magic to defeat her sister even without her heart — and thanks to the love and belief of her son, Henry, she managed to do just that.
However, with Regina's victory came the third time a Once Upon a Time villain was taken down by someone other than the so-called Savior. Who killed Cora? Snow White, with unwitting help from Regina. Who killed Peter Pan? Rumpelstiltskin. Who stopped Zelena? Regina. Not to exacerbate Emma's constant self-esteem issues, but exactly what is she the savior of? The only way she truly contributed to this storyline was by finally consenting to allow Henry to get his memories back, thus breaking the memory curse on the citizens of Storybrooke. Which means that Emma was inadvertently helping Zelena by hesitating this entire time.
To be perfectly honest, despite the fact that she is the main character, Emma as a person doesn't receive as much focus as she should. Of all of the main characters that have been on the show since the very start, she is the one with the least amount of focus episodes fleshing out her past. In fact, she only got one. "Tallahassee" introduced us to teenage Emma the street thief and her whirlwind affair with Neal Cassidy that would leave her pregnant and in jail and we haven't gotten any episodic insight into Emma's past since. If that doesn't seem ridiculous to you, please note that her on-screen beau, Captain Hook, who arrived late to the Once Upon a Time game, has already gotten two focus episodes: "Good Form" and "The Jolly Roger".
The closest thing we've had to an Emma-centric episode since "Tallahassee" was "New York City Serenade" and that gave us a look into her fake life, just in time for it all to get taken away from her. Maybe the reason that Emma wants to return to New York so bad is because she finally gets her own storylines there.
While it was great to see Regina's character development from villain to true hero, great to see her finally believe in herself and her place in the town, great to see her extend the metaphorical olive branch to her sister instead of being out for revenge, where does that leave Emma? She never got her magic back and she doesn't even want it back because she's still determined to head to New York with Henry, who, unbeknownst to her, has no desire to leave Storybrooke at all.
Is Emma's resistance to settling back into her fairytale life indicative of a subplot that will blow into something that gives her more focus in season four? Or is Emma going to continue to be defined by what ultimately small role she's allowed to play in whatever crisis pops up next?
As great as watching Captain Hook and Emma Swan on screen every week may be, the romance will-they won't-they plot is stealing a lot of focus off Emma's individual journey. We've seen how much Regina has grown, but Emma seems to be just as closed-off and prone to making a run from her emotions as she was when we first met her. She tries to keep herself as stoic as possible, which means the real highlights of her growth are best shown by comparing her past and her present.
However, we still don't know much more about her past than we did before "Tallahassee". Even the origin of her last name — which she took from her first foster parents — is something that was only explained in an off-screen tweet from Jennifer Morrison rather than on the show itself, where most references to Emma's past concern her abandonment by Neal or her parents.
Emma has been my favorite character since day one and her journey has the most potential. Once Upon a Time's ensemble cast is great and Emma works well within it, but would it really hurt to give her more solo storylines? Doesn't the Savior deserve it?