The latest season of When Calls the Heart found two teams of viewers battling it out for their pledge to win Elizabeth’s heart.
But by focusing all of our attention on Nathan and Lucas, we failed to recognize that the true journey was Elizabeth allowing love into her heart and saying goodbye to the life she thought she was going to live and the man with whom she was going to live it.
There were so many disappointed and disillusioned people when Elizabeth chose Lucas, calling foul in light of the last few seasons, that I decided to dig through my reviews to see how things really fleshed out while watching to see how they fell in love over time.
Did the story progress naturally, or did Nathan fans get blindsided? Beginning with Nathan’s introduction, I’m drilling down the relationship dynamics that unfolded during When Calls the Heart Season 6 and When Calls the Heart Season 7 and how they relate to what we know now.
I don’t expect it to change opinions, but it can’t hurt to take a look. Was it always a straight path to Elizabeth and Lucas, or was Nathan really in the running?
When Nathan was introduced on When Calls the Heart Season 6 Episode 4, Lucas was still Bouchard — the rogueish saloon owner who was not readily accepted.
In fact, it was only one episode later, on When Calls the Heart Season 6 Episode 5, that Nathan, who had just arrived in town, told Lucas that he wasn’t welcome in town.
Nathan: What’s your story, Bouchard? Why are you such an expert at cheating?
Bouchard: I’m not. In fact, I’ve only cheated once in my life.
Nathan: This is a great town, good people, fine opportunities.
Bouchard: What’s your point?
Nathan: You don’t seem like a good fit here.
Bouchard: [laughs] That’s kind of the story of my life. But I’m not going anywhere.
The welcome I’d issued Nathan a week earlier was sullied with that disappointing exchange.
That was also when I first realized how worthy of a match Lucas was for Elizabeth. Painted in an unflattering light, Lucas was in a very similar spot to Elizabeth herself years earlier.
Do you remember how nobody thought she’d last in Hope Valley and actually tried to get her fired and send her away? Elizabeth and Lucas are kindred spirits who come in like lions and tame like lambs, their genuine kindness and compassion eventually winning everyone over.
When Calls the Heart Season 6 Episode 6 found Lucas (he asked her to call him Lucas then) and Elizabeth discussing the library for the first time. And on When Calls the Heart Season 6 Episode 7, Lucas’ penchant for gambling was further explored at the same time he gambled on Henry’s for oil.
At the time, I figured that it was he was spurred him to consider funding the library because he felt dirty working with Henry. It would be much later that we learned the importance of reading to his upbringing and his family.
When Elizabeth was talking with Lucas about that funding, she was flustered. Heat rose to her cheeks. There was attraction. We had no idea why Nathan was in town, but how quickly he felt rebuffed by Elizabeth’s interaction with Lucas laid the groundwork.
He had come to Hope Valley to care for and protect Elizabeth, and Lucas didn’t have a stellar reputation.
It would be natural for him to be concerned, given what we know now. He even went so far as to suggest that Lucas was only interested in the library as a way to get closer to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: You can’t blame the library or Lucas for what happened. There’s nothing wrong with being a book lover.
Nathan: Yeah, he’s a lover alright. I’m just not sure about the book part.
Again, given what we know now about Helen and his upbringing, it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Elizabeth even called him out about his interest in funding the library. In response, Lucas told her she was no doubt beautiful, but her goodness fascinated him. And then he revealed his love for books.
Elizabeth: Why are you so interested in setting up the library?
Lucas: Hope Valley needs one.
Elizabeth: Is that the only reason? Because if I have in any way led you to believe… Never mind.
Lucas: Now I’m not going to deny that I was aware of your beauty, but as I got to know you, I became fascinated by your goodness. [picks up a book] Dangerous Liaisons. One of my favorites. I wanted a library because it seemed like a good thing. No disrespect.
In my When Calls the Heart Season 6 Episode 7 review, I wrote, “I’d like to think that Bouchard is getting set up to be something he is not much in the same way Rosemary (and Faith) both first arrived in town with thoughts of Jack on their mind.
“Initially, they were at odds with Elizabeth, but over time things changed dramatically. Nothing shows that more than the way Elizabeth and Rosemary have become best friends.“
There were very logical connections to Lucas eventually winning Elizabeth’s heart.
When Calls the Heart Season 6 Episode 8 revealed the trouble associated with Lucas since his arrival. He had nobly protected a female friend, and when he arrived in town, he had no idea if the man at the heart of it had a long enough reach to be working with someone in Hope Valley.
That incident led to a very precarious situation for Elizabeth when she was used to by the villain to get Lucas’ attention.
In the When Calls the Heart Season 6 Episode 8 review, I wrote, “While it would make the most sense for Elizabeth to slip gently into the arms of another Mountie, the lives of both men carry risk, and that’s something Elizabeth struggled with when it came to Jack.
“Bouchard is a gambler, yes, but he’s also a lover of the arts and a philanthropist.
“Nathan saves lives for a living and could get called into a perilous situation at any moment. The same doesn’t go for Bouchard.
“Elizabeth comes alive when she’s around Bouchard, even when she’s rebuffing his offer of a coat after a harrowing night.
“She hasn’t shown that same kind of intensity with Nathan.“
That was a mere five episodes after Nathan’s arrival.
Looking back, you can see that, even though he was falling for her, Nathan’s primary agenda was to protect Elizabeth, and he viewed Lucas not only as a romantic threat but a threat to Elizabeth’s safety. But since he and Lucas never got along, he missed the nuances of their burgeoning relationship.
By the time When Calls the Heart Season 6 Episode 9 arrived, Nathan and Lucas were both fully invested in winning Elizabeth’s heart, and she was already considering opening hers to love again.
The library opened, and Nathan gifted Elizabeth with a plack from one of her favorite authors, stumbling over his words in her presence.
Dancing with Lucas, Elizabeth couldn’t help but be drawn to Nathan, and the timing of that is important. Little Jack was Christened, and she was aching for her husband to be there to share it with her. Nathan wasn’t Jack, but it’s impossible not to see why Elizabeth would be drawn to him, especially on that day.
Although she asked Lucas to dance, she was also gutted by the disappointment on Nathan’s face when he left while she was in Lucas’ arms on the dance floor.
During that finale, I wrote, “My wish is for a long, enchanting season ahead that sees Lucas and Nathan battling for Elizabeth’s heart. To put either man with her this soon would be a huge disservice to the show,c especially when you think about how long she and Jack danced around their feelings for each other before making a move.“
I’m sure many of us were in the same boat, hoping that another season of that dating dance between the three of them would reveal a true connection for Elizabeth.
During the Christmas episode that year, Lucas chose to recreate the feeling of love and togetherness he once shared with his family during the holidays with his new, found family in Hope Valley.
People, including Henry, were eager to criticize Lucas, trying to find ulterior motives for his gift of a festival of lights. When the festival was an attraction for people from all over, Lucas ran out of food, which was an opportunity for the town to come together to share their holiday meals with the many visitors.
However, Nathan summed up his thoughts by saying, “Leave it to Lucas to run out of food.” Ouch.
But Lucas made friends by his actions, even as he desperately hoped to win Elizabeth’s attention. At the same time, Nathan considered leaving Hope Valley with Elizabeth very disappointed that he was considering it.
That was the first time I’d felt the pull between Elizabeth and Nathan. Nathan was proving to be an effective father to Allie, and Elizabeth couldn’t help but realize he’d be great with Little Jack, too.
It was Little Jack’s birthday, though, and the thought of losing Nathan was intricately tied to losing Jack during yet another time she desperately wished to share one of their son’s milestones with him.
It was easy for me to believe that attraction was something other than what it turned out to be, so it’s not surprising that many took the interactions at face value without considering how closely Nathan resembled Jack to Elizabeth. We weren’t meant to make that connection yet, as Elizabeth didn’t understand it, either.
Elizabeth discovered on When Calls the Heart Season 7 Episode 1 that Lucas had motivations for the library because his mother was a reputable editor, Helen Bouchard. When Lucas offered to read her work, she took him up on it. He urged her to write from the heart, which inspired her to write A Single Mother on the Frontier.
At the time, I wrote, “Her heart seems to be with Nathan, while her mind is with Lucas. They each inspire in her something different, and because of that, I wonder if either of them is the right man for her.“
It was also apparent that Elizabeth was skittish and confused about Nathan while Nathan made assumptions about Elizabeth that were often untrue, including that there was something larger between her and Lucas.
“Those hesitations on Nathan’s part allow Lucas to get closer to Elizabeth. Lucas is a confident man in his knowledge, his charms, and in his abilities,” I wrote.
“He’s very interested in Elizabeth and will use every opportunity to show her how he feels about her without saying it.“
While Lucas used any positive reaction from Elizabeth to continue his pursuit of her, when Elizabeth told Nathan that the best writing comes from the heart, he said, “So, what’s in your heart? You let me know when you figure it out.”
That didn’t get much of a reaction from Elizabeth, and because I’m used to romance on TV finding the central parties fumbling more often than not, I read it as the writing on the wall for Elizabeth to choose Nathan.
I failed to understand that there was a larger story unfolding, and it had nothing to do with the two men but with Elizabeth learning to let go of Jack.
I wrote, “If there’s one thing I know about fictional romance, though, the more anxiety you have about a potential romantic interest, the more likely you are to believe it’s real love.” And that’s very true, but not in Hope Valley.
By When Calls the Heart Season 7 Episode 3, Lucas had read some of A Single Mother on the Frontier, and he found the character, Luther Brant, to be of interest. It seemed like the epitome of what I’d been saying all along — that a melding of Lucas and Nathan could have been a perfect man for Elizabeth.
When Lucas went to Elizbeth to eat humble pie after reading more chapters, he admitted that Luther was a combination of him and Nathan, and Elizabeth said, “Well, remember. It is just fiction.”
Of Elizabeth’s two suitors at the time, I wrote, “Lucas always surprises Elizabeth with unexpected details of his life as he tries to impress her and share with her who he is.
“And because of Nathan’s status raising his niece as a single father, she’s always available to guide him through territory with which he isn’t always familiar or doesn’t wish to recognize.
“It’s a sweet balance that makes Elizabeth quite fulfilled.“
When Calls the Heart Season 7 Episode 4 found Lucas regretting putting his trust in Henry, who had taken an easy route to make fast cash. That led to Lucas and Nathan trying to discover the cause of some bad business and Nathan calling Lucas to the carpet for his love of “the town.”
Nathan: Listen, Lucas, we both know why you volunteered for this.
Lucas: You’re not the only one who cares about this town.
Nathan: The town?
Nathan: Well, the town’s not here right now, so if you’d like to bow out, now’s your chance.
Lucas: I’m a man of my word.
By this point, Elizabeth was getting very confused. Every time one was around, the other followed thereafter. Elizabeth talked about the beauty of unconditional love, and Lucas said she deserved nothing less than that.
About her connection with the two of them, this is how I saw it. “So far, it’s been Lucas who is reaching out to Elizabeth in intellectual and civil matters, such as charity. Elizabeth often reaches out to Nathan because of her connection to Allie and desire to ensure the young girl has a female influence in her life.”
And after that comment about “the town,” the competition was only going to increase for Elizabeth’s heart.
When Calls the Heart Season 7 Episode 5 found others getting in on Elizabeth’s romantic life, Elizabeth mysteriously received a bouquet of flowers. Bill made it his mission to discover who sent them.
It didn’t matter who sent the flowers because it fueled the fight for Elizabeth’s heart. Of course, Rosemary had only hoped to lift her friend’s spirits with a lovely bouquet, but she unwittingly set off a chain reaction that left Elizabeth confused, and a one-two delivery of additional bouquets from Lucas and then Nathan.
If Elizabeth was confused, then you can imagine how viewers took it. On my part, I wrote, “That Nathan was only steps behind had me very confused. Does the rabbit or the turtle win this round? Will Elizabeth remember the first bouquet or the last? Is Lucas stuck in the middle of three bouquets?“
Yes, we were meant to be confused. Our journey has always been as Elizabeth. Why should we realize her heart’s desire before she did so herself? It’s brilliant, actually, that the story unfolded this way, even if we failed to appreciate it for what it was.
By When Calls the Heart Season 7 Episode 6, I seemed to have pegged what was happening, even if I didn’t recognize it. Here’s what I wrote:
“She always had qualms about starting a life with Jack for her fear of losing him in the line of duty. To have that reservation and for it to unfold in reality has to give her pause about considering a future with Nathan no matter how much she appreciates him otherwise.
“But I can’t be the only Lucas fan who believes that Elizabeth will choose Nathan when the choice is finally made in part because of that similarity with her previous husband. There are a lot of reasons that I prefer Elizabeth and Lucas over Elizabeth and Nathan, but none of them stem from his job as a Mountie.
“Nathan seems more reserved than Nathan and quick to get jealous. He’s not as open in his communication as Lucas. Elizabeth spent a lot of time being reserved in her feelings for Jack, and as a result, their union was far shorter than it could have been.
“Elizabeth needs someone patient who wouldn’t require a lot of reassurance from her, and those are more Lucas’ traits than Nathan’s.“
Lucas and Elizabeth went on their first date on When Calls the Heart Season 7 Episode 7, despite Elizabeth’s protestations that it wasn’t a date.
Lucas confided in Elizabeth how coming to Hope Valley was the result of him finding the perfect place to stop and start a family. That surprised Elizabeth.
Lucas: I know what you mean. If I’m being honest, that’s partly what drove me to Hope Valley in the first place. Growing up, traveling, moving all around, I really wanted to find the perfect place to stop and start a family.
Elizabeth: I don’t think I’ve heard you mention wanting a family before.
Lucas: Well, I’m in no hurry. My father used to stress the importance of patience, especially when it comes to finding your soul mate. He, uh, courted my mother for five years before she finally agreed to marry him.
Elizabeth: Five years! What took him so long?
Lucas: You know. Life. Things get in the way. My father says he always knew she was the one. My mother says she got tired of turning him down. But she loved him. I think she just wanted to be sure.
Elizabeth: So, you plan to be patient like your father?
Lucas: I have always had faith that I would know the perfect woman when I met her, and I will wait as long as I have to to win her heart.
Lucas said he wasn’t in a hurry. “My father used to stress the importance of patience, especially when it comes to finding your soul mate. He, uh, courted my mother for five years before she finally agreed to marry him.”
The five-year plan didn’t necessarily appeal to Elizabeth, but what he said when she asked if he planned to be patient like his father did. “I have always had faith that I would know the perfect woman when I met her, and I will wait as long as I have to to win her heart,” Lucas told her.
We didn’t know it then, but that was one of the defining moments in their relationship. Elizabeth wanted, no needed that patience as she struggled to say goodbye to her husband.
It was also a defining moment for Lucas, who was initially greeted in Hope Valley by people who believed that being wealthy and well-traveled must mean that he arrived with an ulterior, possibly unsavory motive.
Even though Elizabeth was torn between two gentlemen, she told Rosemary in no uncertain terms that her outing with Lucas was perfect.
Rosemary: Did you have fun?
Elizabeth: I wouldn’t know where to start.
Rosemary. Oh, no. Not good?
Elizabeth: Oh, Rosemary. It was, it was perfect.
Nathan, though, was not pleased that Lucas beat him to the punch for a date. If you recall, it would be the next season before he got the gumption to ask her, and it never did come to fruition.
This was the episode that I laid my cards on the table. I was going to cheer for Lucas to win Elizabeth’s heart, but I admitted that if the right tone was reached with Nathan and Elizabeth as they continued to explore that dynamic, I’d be on board. It was Elizabeth’s journey, after all.
When Calls the Heart Season 7 Episode 8 found Elizabeth lost in the woods and Nathan’s inability to handle her in danger. Now that we know he felt responsible for Elizabeth’s safety, how he reacted to her saving Emily instead of staying put and waiting for help makes sense.
Elizabeth: What is this really about?
Nathan: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just. I’m going to put this as simple as I can, OK? My focus is on two things — raising Allie and keeping this town safe, and today, both of those things were put in jeopardy. So please, in the future, just let me do my job.
When Elizabeth asked him why he was so angry, he refused to answer. It seemed only to be about his feelings for her. But he almost lost her, and that would have crushed him after what happened to Jack how he made her his responsibility to protect.
Elizabeth discovered on When Calls the Heart Season 7 Episode 9 that Lucas shared her writing with his mother.
Elizabeth: Lucas, you can’t just take someone’s writing and send it to whomever you please.
Lucas: I trust her opinion. Do you trust mine?
Elizabeth: Yes, of course. But that is not the point here.
Lucas: But this is what you wanted, isn’t it? I guess I shouldn’t have sent without asking but just take a look. Think about it.
She felt betrayed, but she wound up forgiving him and appreciating his efforts because Nathan still wouldn’t address what happened in the woods. She knew he was reacting to more than her running after Emily, but he refused to address his feelings.
Since Lucas had been openly pursuing her for a while, Elizabeth wanted to know if Nathan was interested in doing the same. She asked him if he knew how she wound up in Union City with Lucas. The answer was surprisingly simple — because he asked.
Nathan: So what can I help you with?
Elizabeth: I think we should talk. About yesterday.
Nathan: I don’t really think there’s much to talk about.
Elizabeth: Well, I do. What was that?
Nathan: A lot of stuff happened up there, and if you don’t mind, that’s just where I’d like to leave it.
Elizabeth: That’s not what I want.
Nathan: I have to get to the train station.
Elizabeth: You’re entitled to whatever it is you are feeling, but please stop shutting me out.
Nathan: I’m not shutting you out.
Elizabeth: Really? This is clearly about so much more than me running after Emily.
Nathan: I really have to get going, OK? I don’t…
Elizabeth: Nathan. Do you want to know how I ended up in Union City with Lucas?
Elizabeth: He asked. Be safe.
For whatever reason, Nathan was unable to pursue Elizabeth. Perhaps he was as cross-connected with Jack as Elizabeth.
Although Nathan has never admitted that he felt guilty about what happened to Jack, these scenes seem to prove it even if he wasn’t, in fact, guilty of anything. He was torn between protecting and loving Elizabeth, not seeing that they could have been one and the same.
Finally, Nathan said, “Elizabeth, I just want you to be safe because, because you matter to me.” But even after saying it, it never appeared to be that simple for him.
When Calls the Heart Season 7 Episode 10 found Lucas saving the oil business when Henry wanted out and Elizabeth celebrating her book deal.
The two of them were working in tandem to ensure that the town wasn’t left in the lurch if the business was sold, and Lucas, once again under the premise of a not-date, arranged a beautiful and intimate dinner to celebrate her book deal.
It was a dinner that Elizabeth recreated on When Calls the Heart Season 8 Episode 12, repaying him, if you will, for having faith in her and waiting patiently for her to find her way back to him.
Lucas discussed with Elizabeth how he would treat her if it were a date, and he proceeded to act on those suggestions, including holding her gaze longer than normal and gently touching her hand.
Lucas: Now, I know that this is not a date, but would you say that, as friends, we toast to your success with a glass of champagne?
Elizabeth: I would like that very much.
Lucas: However, if this were a date, I would take your jacket. [Elizabeth gives him her jacket]
Elizabeth: Thank you.
Lucas: I would also pull your chair out for you. And I might even gently touch your hand as I pass you your glass and hold your gaze for longer than normal.
Elizabeth: And I would think that was very sweet.
If the Virginia Woolf date was the defining moment in their early relationship, this cemented that they were, whether either of them admitted it out loud, falling in love.
They shared a deep intimacy that was only achieved through words. If only we could all be so lucky.
All of that happened, and then, before Nathan rode off into uncertain danger with Bill, he asked her to dinner.
Elizabeth? Would you like to get dinner with me? When I get back? Maybe at the cafe? I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you think about it, and you can let me know.
Once again, Nathan was too late. Elizabeth had shared many special moments with Lucas, the most recent bringing them even close to admitting that they were dating.
But with Nathan’s life in danger, Elizabeth began reliving Jack’s tragic end. She was beside herself. And when Elizabeth saw Nathan safe, she saw Jack. She replayed a time when she waited for the man she loved with all her heart to ride into town, only to be met with tragedy.
Flinging herself into Nathan’s arms is heartbreaking, not only because of what it meant to Elizabeth but what it meant to Nathan, who, just like so many of us, was too close to the situation to see what was happening.
When Calls the Heart Season 8 rode on all of that, allowing Elizabeth to slowly discover how she viewed Nathan and Lucas. That process showed her that Nathan was everything she had hoped for of her life with Jack, but he was not Jack. It also showed that Lucas offered a new and different love, and unlike Nathan, he wasn’t Jack.
Knowing what we know now, it wasn’t a bait and switch. There wasn’t a true competition between two men at all. It was a competition between Lucas, and Jack, who Elizabeth had intertwined with Nathan.
Elizabeth had already fallen in love with Lucas for everything he is by the end of When Calls the Heart Season 7, and she explained it quite eloquently during When Calls the Heart Season 8 Episode 12.
Elizabeth: Well, I would like to thank you for coming to tonight’s very special reading. You may know me from my previous work, A Single Mother on the Frontier, which I have here in galley form, due to be published something next year, thanks in large part to the very handsome man down front. But tonight, I’d like to read from my heart. It’s a love story and one that I’ve only just begun to write about a woman who has fallen deeply for a man who is patient and kind, thoughtful and adoring. Yes? Question?
Lucas: Yes. Will we get to hear about his side of the love story? Because he’s fallen deeply for a woman who is true, selfless, and sweet, beautiful, and endearing.
Elizabeth: Well, I am sure we will be hearing more from him and from her, but for now, I’m afraid she’s all out of words.
Everything in between the Season 7 and Season 8 finales was further cementing Elizabeth’s discovery. Of course, Lucas misread it, and Nathan’s slowly put his reason for being in Hope Valley behind him, almost fully pursuing Elizabeth.
The lines were a lot more delineated than the players and viewers realized, and viewers’ tendency to choose “‘ships” blinded many of us to the subtle storytelling that showed Elizabeth’s healing heart opening again to a new love with Lucas.
If you need to investigate further, you can watch When Calls the Heart online.
Otherwise, I’d love to hear what you think about my article and the part that hindsight played as I revisited Season 6 and Season 7 since Nathan’s arrival.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.