Hooked: Captain Hook, the Mansel in Distress
This post concerns season 2 and 3 of Once Upon a Time and contains spoilers.
Captain Hook has always been one of my favorite characters. His swashbuckling “good form” and general suavity have always captivated me. He is one of the quintessential villains who symbolizes adulthood and all the bad and good associated with it. On the one hand, he is the gentleman pirate, on the other he is a man who cries with fear at the sight of a boy and his crocodile.
When I first saw Killian Jones of Once Upon a Time, I was not impressed. I felt that he was more of a Jack Sparrow knock-off than a Captain Hook. I still think that is true sometimes; however, as I have watched his character develop over the seasons I have come to love this black-clad cad. He is not a bad person. He just has a strong goal to work toward (like many of the characters) and is willing to do whatever it takes to get there. I chuckled but suffered with him as he got knocked out by practically everyone at some point, and I, of course, loved to see him walk around in leather and a sheer shirt. It was not until a moment in season 3 that I realized what the writers of Once Upon a Time might really be doing with his character.
After revealing to the group in Neverland that Neal was still alive, Hook requests a reward while gently tugging his lower lip with a finger. I had to pause the video and laugh because seeing someone do that was so silly. Upon further examination, however, I realized that, no, it was not unusual to see someone do that, it was unusual to see a man do that. How often do women use their sexual wiles to get their way on television? I then thought back to other instances when Killian attempted to use his body to get his way. He attempted with Cora and Emma several times (though usually turned down) and his personality in general was more lascivious than is normal for a leading man. Obviously men are often portrayed as flirtatious in the media, but seldom in the submissive role. Rumpelstiltskin (though more of a magical creature than a man) uses his sensuality to attract women to him throughout the series. The difference is that he is usually in charge of those encounters– he’s the dominant one–and if he looses control he gains it back eventually. He even gets his revenge on Cora in the end.
Killian, however, looses regularly and still never stops trying to crawl his way back using his most reliable tool: his looks. The other men in the show have the more stereotypical male qualities such as bravery, brute strength, magical powers, and weaponry. The only time Killian ever really beats someone is pre-Dark One Rumpel. Once Killian arrives in Storybrooke, he is knocked to the floor by Cora, Regina, Belle and others. Not to mention that right after he gets his revenge he is knocked out and dragged into a storage building by Emma only to be collected by Tamara and transferred to Storybrooke in a U-haul trailer! Now if that isn’t the equivalent of a woman getting disabled and controlled when someone grabs her wrist I don’t know what is.
What all this boils down to is this: Yes, Killian Jones is the unmistakeable eye-candy for Once Upon a Time viewers. Normally this is a role fulfilled by women, but in a television series with women in the lead, the stereotype is filled by a man. I am not saying that either sex should be stereotyped as weak: that only leads to misconceptions and backward thinking. I do say, though, that while women are still being portrayed as nothing but a pretty face, why not have men shown that way sometimes too? Besides, there are eye-candy people in real life—both men and women. Not all women are shrinking violets who need to be saved, and not all men are able to draw a sword, pluck up their courage and save the day like David. Once Upon a Time does a brilliant job of displaying a wide range of characters for both men and women, and just as Snow defies the norm with her bow-shooting, Killian subverts the norm with his eye-liner and coquettish nature.
Just as the meme of taking male characters and posing them like females on movie posters illustrates the sexual inequality women face in the media, Once Upon a Time subverts the stereotype of woman as sex-object by having a man fill that role. Obviously, they are not the first to do this, but the fact that Killian exists in Once Upon a Time helps to keep people open-minded to the variety of both men and women’s roles, not only in the entertainment industry, but in society. That being said, Killian probably doesn’t deserve quite so much screen time…but, I am certainly not complaining!