'Once Upon a Time:' A look back at Dark Swan

Before this season started, there was a lot of speculation as to how Emma’s character would change and how she would develop as a Dark One. The nickname Dark Swan did not go unnoticed by many, and many made connections with the film Black Swan. The film, starring Natalie Portman, took a liberal look at the progression of unchecked psychosis in a young ballerina who was chosen to perform in Swan Lake. Beyond the obvious reference by name, it could have been assumed that turning the savior into a Dark One would similarly be an exercise in the development of insanity. Once the season began, the fact that she continuously “hallucinated” a Dark One guide gave credence to such an idea.

When news hit that Jennifer Morrison (Emma Swan) was conducting research for her new character in the rare books portion of the New York Library, I became very interested in what literary, mythological, and historical references could be made. So, I set about doing some research of my own, beginning with the definition of swan. Of course, we know that as a noun the word swan refers to a type of waterfowl, but if used as a verb, it can also mean conducting yourself in an irresponsible way. Sounds like a Dark One, but let’s take it a step further. The roots of the current word swan, which include various Proto-Germanic spellings, all refer to singing. That brings us to the Swan Song.

Swans do not vocalize regularly, but do communicate with each other using what some describe as hissing or snorting, though they are capable of producing more melodic sounds. However, according to legend, swans are completely silent their entire lives, until right before their death at which point they sing an incomparably beautiful refrain. It is also common to find legends in which people turn into swans shortly before death, or perhaps instead of dying. They have definitely long been associated with magic, transformation, and death. The term swan song can also be used to refer to the last thing done before death. So, even though it may seem that 5x11 was titled “Swan Song” as a way to capture Emma’s immense sadness at yet again losing a man she loves, it is probably more appropriate to use it to describe Hook’s last heroic action prior to his death.


Who was Dark Swan, really? What appears at first to be just a play on words, Dark One plus Emma Swan equals Dark Swan, actually has much more to it. Usually, when we think of darkness, we think of the color black. Before their discovery in Australia, black swans were thought to be fictional, or perhaps extremely rare, and symbolically they still carry that connotation. What could be more rare than a Dark One that is also a savior?

Day 20: double the magic, double the fun #101smiles #darkswan #uglyducklings Photo by @vfxsup A photo posted by jenmorrisonlive (@jenmorrisonlive) on

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Carissa Shuman

Carissa is a writer, editor, and artist with a love for science and science fiction.

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