I’m going to break form to set up this poll, because it feels entirely personal to me, but I’m getting ahead of myself. As previously reported, after the season six finale, star Jennifer Morrison is leaving the Once Upon a Time TV show and her character, Emma Swan, daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (aka David Nolan; Josh Dallas). While Once Upon a Time is renewed for a seventh season, Morrison has contracted to appear in just one future episode. For what it’s worth, Once Upon a Time was renewed for season seven on May 11th. Details here.
A fairy tale fantasy drama, Once Upon a Time also stars Lana Parrilla, Robert Carlyle, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Rebecca Mader, and Jared Gilmore. It’s long been known that the seventh season will be a reboot without Goodwin and Dallas. Still, ABC Studios had been negotiating for Morrison, Parrilla, and O’Donoghue to return (although it seems they’ve known for quite a while that Morrison was out). Reportedly, Andrew J. West, a veteran of Once creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz’s cancelled Freeform TV show, Dead of Summer is joining the cast, in season seven.
Even when networks cancel shows I dislike or don’t watch, I never revel in cancellations. I feel too sorry for the people who are going to lose their jobs, particularly the below-the-line crew members, and rookie actors who are trying to establish themselves, professionally. I mention this, because although I am quite happy OUAT snagged a season seven renewal, I still kind of feel like it has been cancelled.
I’ve lost a job I loved and needed. The heartbreak was horrible and the financial hardship was worse. That job happened to involve recapping the first few seasons of Once Upon a Time, for the now defunct website, Television Without Pity. (Pssst. All the TWoP recaps are archived at Brilliant But Cancelled.)
Once upon a time, after watching the season three premiere, in fact, I opened my recap of episode 3.01, “The Heart of the Truest Believer,” with the following:
Welcome to the third season of Once Upon A Time. While they beat pilots, I’m not particularly fond of season premieres. “The Heart of the Truest Believer” is an exception. From the cold open, it engaged me far more than I expected and made me see the show from a fresher perspective: this show tells Emma’s fairy tale.
I’m both sure I’m not the first person to have thought or said so, and this isn’t even the first time I’ve thought it, but throughout season 2 I forgot all about it, and that’s where I think last season suffered.
Emma, who grew up in the stark reality of Our World, is our gateway to this magical multiverse. When an episode or plot-line forgets about Emma, it forsakes us. No matter how deliciously devilish Regina, Rumpy, Cora, etc. can be, no matter how noble Snow and Charming, no matter how well done flashbacks are, Emma needs to be the heart of this show, because this is her story, every bit as much as Sleeping Beauty is the story of Princess Aurora, or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is Snow White’s.
Over the ensuing seasons, Emma’s story has not always been the one upon which Kitsis and Horowitz have chosen to focus. Now, please know, I am a great fan of this dynamic duo, and have been since they wrote for Lost (which I also recapped). In my opinion though, when storylines have shifted focus away from the fairy tale of Princess Emma Swan, the show has usually suffered as a result.
So, while I am grateful Once Upon a Time was not cancelled, I’m not sure I’ll watch, once she’s gone. I wanted the renewal for Kitsis, Horowitz, the remaining cast and crew, and most of all for the loyal Oncers — those fans who will keep watching through the end credits of the Once Upon a Time series finale, no matter how many seasons it runs.
Coincidentally, I also recapped The Vampire Diaries for TWoP, so this feels a bit like déjà vu all over again. When Nina Dobrev exited, also at the end of season six, I tried to keep watching. I made it through the first episode of season seven, before quitting, in disgust. My heart wasn’t in it, because I felt her character, Elena, was central to the story for which I had signed up. I only returned for the TVD series finale, earlier this year, because Dobrev did.
So while I might try to watch an Emma-free seventh season of Once Upon a Time, I’m already pretty sure I won’t get through it. Truthfully, I’ve had tears in my eyes the whole time I’ve been writing this article. I am just so sad — deeply sad. Should Kitsis, Horowitz, or Morrison happen upon this piece, I hope they understand my sorrow is a tribute to the beautiful character they created together, and I thank them for it — and for my Emma.
Right now, as I wipe away my tears, I’m nearly certain I’ll sit out season seven, read spoilers, and if it sounds worth watching, binge the whole installment once it’s through. I know that’s not what the creators, cast, crew, studio, or network want to hear, but it’s my truth.
Despite the season seven renewal, I feel Morrison’s departure has cancelled my show, if not the show. I know she feels worn out, and she so deserves to have a personal life. Honestly, I applaud her moving on to try new things. I wish her the best and will follow her career with interest and enthusiasm. I’m neither bitter, nor angry. It’s just that Once Upon a Time without Emma is not the story I chose to watch, back on October 23, 2011, and it never can be.
How about you? Will you watch a seventh season of Once Upon a Time, without Jennifer Morrison’s Emma Swan? Please vote in our poll, and sound off in the comments, below.