Major spoilers below – continue reading at your own risk
I’ve been wanting to write a short series about the different ways that marriage is displayed on various television shows for some time now, and I think I’ve finally gathered the courage and procured the necessary amount of rest to do so.
This installment, I think I’ll look (yet again) at my favorite show at the moment, Once Upon a Time. More specifically, at the marriage between Snow White and Prince Charming.
Are they adorable or what?
A huge part of how marriage is portrayed in any type of creative media heavily depends on the overall worldview of the work, and as I discussed in my previous post, the worldview expressed in Once Upon a Time is at least similar to that of a Christian one. So you’d kind of expect this union to be more biblical in nature than, say, one found in the world of sitcoms, right?
At first, Snow and Charming seem to have a wonderful thing going for them. I was really impressed to see the history of their love unfold in the first season. Their wedding in the first episode seemed so spectacularly dreamy, a perfect event in a land where fairy tales are not tales at all – it was a pleasant surprise to see that they did not fall in love at first sight. In fact, they hate each other for quite some time.
Admit it, you were happy that this story arc didn’t take hints from its cartoon predecessor.
Over time, their feelings towards one another go from animosity to reluctant camaraderie to love – a very realistic progression. And even more realistically, when they realize that they love one another, their problems don’t disappear into the ether. In fact, they multiple. So, points to the writers of OUAT for creating a relatable, believable, and magical romance.
Bonus – Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas are engaged in real life, and also expecting a child. How adorable is that?
Another favorable trend that I’ve noticed in the show is the unwavering devotion to one another that Snow and Charming possess. Whether it is Regina’s antics, Charming’s unfortunate betrothal to Abigail/David’s unfortunate marriage to Katherine, Charming’s fake dad the sadistic war king, or Snow’s poor choice to drink a potion to erase all memories of Charming, the couple always manages to make it through. You have to admit that Charming won you over with his oft repeated line – “I will always find you.” He won everyone over with that.
But at some point, I caught myself wondering why he doesn’t just resolve to stop losing her in the first place. Sure, the trials that they experience together are not their fault – he didn’t ask to have a murderous new father, and while she kind of did ruin Regina’s life, Snow doesn’t deserve the never-ending flood of vengeance that she receives. But around the middle of season two, I realized that if Snow and Charming aren’t off to defeat some insurmountable enemy, to fight some unwinnable fight, to achieve some dangerous and life-threatening task, their relationship completely falls apart. They are there for each other, swords brandished and arrows trained, when external forces threaten their chances of being together.
But how do they handle it when it’s their own feelings, not an evil queen or a wicked curse, that threatens to interrupt their happily-ever-after? The short answer: not well. Not well at all.
For one thing, Charming lies to protect Snow’s feelings – all. the. time.
When Charming found himself poisoned by dreamshade, a death sentence if there ever was one, his reaction was not to tell his beloved wife so that she could at least mentally and emotionally prepare for his impending death. Nope, it was to hide it from her. And even after Hook helps him find a cure which requires him to stay in Neverland forever, he only tells her because they have to reveal a dark secret in order to save Neal. Not because he feels convicted about being honest with his wife.
Back in the Enchanted Forest pre-curse, he does something similar when he constructs a fake Excalibur and feeds her all sorts of made up lines about how the one who wields the sword will be indestructible. When Rumplestiltskin rats him out, he apologizes, but it seems that he’s more sorry that he got caught than anything else.
For another, they can’t talk to each other. Like, at all.
Snow and Charming risk life and limb for each other on a near daily basis. Rumplestiltskin intimates that their love is the truest and most pure, which is why he designed the curse to be broken by someone powerful enough to do so – their daughter, the product of true love.
So if that’s true, why can’t they summon the courage to just freaking talk to each other?
Back in Neverland when everyone has to reveal a dark secret in order to rescue Neal, Snow spits out this emotionally wringing, ever-circling confession that ends in “I think I want to try for another baby.” My first thought was – seriously? It took a magical cavern forcing you for you to admit this to your husband?
Similarly, both back in the Enchanted Forest and in our world, Charming struggles with the fear that he will be a horrible father. Instead of confiding this fear to his wife, he turns to drinking, then he talks about it at length with Robin Hood (whom he barely knows), and then he sets off to consume a magical root that takes your deepest fears and somehow personifies them into a demonic clone of yourself.
I know that this rather long-winded post is about a made-up couple from what many probably consider to be a dumb television show, but the way that marriage is portrayed in creative media matters. It creates expectations and models that we subconsciously absorb into our cultural knowledge base. On the surface, Snow and Charming are great when you compare them to the married couples featured on other television shows, but the sore points I have noticed and noted above are blinding.
If being married has taught me one thing, it’s that honesty and communication are vital to a successful marriage. If you cannot trust your husband or wife, your partner in life, to either tell you the truth or feel safe revealing their innermost thoughts to you, you have done something wrong. I’m holding out hope that the writers of the show will redeem themselves on this one before the show reaches its conclusion.