There’s a formula popular in fiction when it comes to crafting a romantic pairing.
The connection is built atop a foundation of doubt that the couple will be together in the end.
These are the unlikely couples, the unlucky ones, the opposites who nonetheless form a helpless attraction. Audiences are drawn to the mounting tension between such characters, continually led to question throughout the film, season, or series whether their new favorite OTP will have their happily ever after.
The fact that there is no guarantee raises the stakes on the outcome of the story, even if the romantic plot is peripheral. They leave us waffling back and forth, wondering, “Will they? Won’t they?”
We lean in when the pair appear on-screen together, analyzing every look they share, the words they say, and the subtleties of body language even the slight shift of the camera might hint at. It’s a beguiling way to persuade the audience to buy into the story on an emotional level, even if the possibility of a relationship seems doomed from the start.
Those are, in fact, the connections we cling to and defend most ardently.
So on this St. Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d show a little love for some of the screen couples who’ve made us question what binds them together the most. Note, I’m not saying these are “the best couples of all time,” or placing them in any order of precedence. These pairings are simply ones that started from a place of uncertainty, that left us hoping for them. They’re the ones whose futures together were never promised, but that had great promise in them.
The Quick List:
Aragorn & Arwen
Phryne Fisher & Jack Robinson
Rey & Ben Solo
Lyanna Stark & Rhaegar Targaryen
Vanessa Ives & Ethan Chandler
The Ranger & the Elven Maiden
Never underrate the power behind a traditional love story!
Aragorn’s love for the daughter of Elrond is the gold standard by which romance in any fantasy is measured. It draws on mythological precedent to bring the mortal/immortal pairing into modern storytelling, and the tradition has carried forward since Tolkien’s day on both page and screen. Their eventual marriage in the wake of the Dark Lord’s fall is the least unlikely of the couples on this list, mostly because Tolkien was writing by a formula and the payoff the romantic subplot shared by the characters demanded the fairy tale ending he gave them. Stepping away from the logical progression of plot, however, and considering what the ranger and his lady fair had to go through in order to finally be together actually makes their happy ending rather astounding. Elrond’s interference and deception is problematic, but was the least of their worries. Aragorn’s travels as a member of the Fellowship, his participation in the battles against Isengard and then Mordor itself put his life in perpetual peril. Likewise, Arwen’s determination to remain in Middle-Earth and hope for her lover’s return deprived her of the immortality intrinsic to the elven race, leaving her susceptible to illness and death. Their reunion at the end of The Lord of the Rings is something of a miracle, all things considered, and earns them a special place on our hearts.
The Lady Detective & the Chief Inspector
A peace-keeper loves a troublemaker!
She’s smart, stylish, and gunning for both women’s rights and dastardly villains in 1920’s Melbourne. The Right Honorable Miss. Phryne Fisher isn’t your average high society socialite and her knack for sniffing out murder and mayhem is what brings her to the attention of Chief Inspector Jack Robinson … it’s not what holds his attention, though. The sharp, rapid-fire battle of wits these two wage from episode-to-episode over the course of the three seasons the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries enjoyed was a delightful cover for the romantic connection growing between Phryne and Jack. Though they smoldered with increasing heat as the series went on, the couple never overtly committed themselves to the truth of their feelings until the very end — though it was never in any doubt they were certainly committed to one another. It was tasteful torture for those of us reveling in their relationship and that slow-simmer paid off in spades: “Come after me, Jack Robinson!”
The Scavenger & the Dark Lord
Here’s to a couple who broke more than a few Twitter feeds with their bombshell of a story arc in The Last Jedi!
Now, it’s true that the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy isn’t over yet. Rey and Kylo/Ben have neither settled their differences nor shared any overtly romantic gestures … but man, have they been revving things up on the subliminal level! Throughout the second installment of the newest story arc in the galaxy far, far away, the two force wielders were brought together time and again, made to communicate where they had always gone straight for blasters and lightsabers before. Watching their brief, but potent conversations is a fascinating journey from default animosity to a considered, if hesitant, trust. Their bond brings them back together when Rey attempts to bring Ben Solo back to the Light, and though her efforts ultimately fail, the final look they share as the door to the Millennium Falcon closes between them makes it clear that they are not done with one another. It may well be that their next meeting will see a return to the tried-and-true formulaic conclusion of the Light conquering the Dark. In a trilogy that has devoted itself to changing the narrative, though, I don’t think that’s how it will play out. Keep holding onto the dream, Reylos!
The Wolf Maid & the Dragon Prince
They were the legend for which millions died.
This pairing may seem an odd choice, given there are so many other couples to choose from in the HBO adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire — Jon and Dany, Jon and Ygritte, Brienne and Jaime, Jaime and Cersei, Tyrion and Shae, yadda yadda. However, the romance that plays out onscreen only through flashbacks during Bran’s training with the Three-Eyed Raven is nonetheless a powerful one. It left viewers who hadn’t read the novels guessing about the truth of the catalyst behind Robert’s Rebellion right up until the big reveal. The immediate impact, story-wise, is the revelation that the most famous bastard in Westeros is not only legitimate, but the son of the former heir to the throne. Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark share a mysterious history that’s been almost completely forgotten by those who fought so furiously over it. In love with Lyanna himself, Robert Baratheon rebelled against the Targaryen dynasty and claimed the Iron Throne, slaying Rhaegar in the process. This is all mentioned briefly in the very first episode, “Winter is Coming,” but its significance doesn’t rise to the surface until much later. We’re cheering for what it means for Jon, especially as it confirms the most famous fan theory of all time, but at the same time it is soul-crushing to consider that the love Rhaegar and Lyanna shared resulted in a tragic conflict inherited by the next generation. For all the horror, though, the prince and his lady love earn the right to legendary status for a story that was happy, at least for a little while.
The Mother of Evil & the Wolf of God
It was in the cards.
When Ethan Chandler arrived for his appointment with the beguiling Miss. Ives he expected nothing more than a business proposition. What came of their meeting, though, set the stage for a relationship far beyond the professional that would prove as dark and complex as the souls bound together by their shared fascination. It may have ended after only three seasons, but the force of characterization in Penny Dreadful sets both it and its lead couple apart from other premium offerings. Vanessa and Ethan are tortured souls. They fight against the darkness intent on tearing them apart and their travails constantly test them both individually and as a partnership. Though they seem to be dancing along the road to Hell, their rich characters are defined by inner strength and a quiet, but unconquerable devotion to one another. Their relationship builds and comes into its own in Season Two, but the third and final season is where Vanessa and Ethan’s bond faces its greatest challenge. The story’s finale is as grim as the series’ signature sense of doom would suggest, but the story arc of the star-crossed lovers is fittingly concluded with an elegance that does justice to the depth of feeling that tied them together, even an ocean away.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
© 2018 Sarah Easley – All Rights Reserved.