Season 3 of the hit ABC fantasy series Once Upon A Time sees Emma (Jennifer Morrison), Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin), David (Josh Dallas), Regina (Lana Parrilla), Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) and Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) in Neverland, on a mission to find Henry (Jared Gilmore) and bring him back to Storybrooke. Unfortunately, the very naughty Peter Pan and his Lost Boys have different plans for Henry.
During this recent interview to promote the show’s return, co-creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz talked about why they wanted to take the story to Neverland, whether they’ll ever get to Camelot, Rumplestiltskin’s daddy issues, how far the Emma and Hook relationship will go, how soon viewers will get to see what’s happening in Storybrooke, where things are headed with Neal (Michael Raymond-James), when Ariel will make an appearance, how Robin Hood will develop, just what type of Tinkerbell will appear, splitting Season 3 into two 11-episode story arcs, and the theme of the first half of the season. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
EDWARD KITSIS: We’ve always wanted to go to Neverland, but we really wanted to focus on the core characters. Because Neverland is a place where you don’t grow up, then you have to confront your past. Our inspiration was the idea that these characters would have to return to who they were before the curse, in order to achieve that. At the same time, we wanted to have them dig deeper into what everything means. Last year was such a bullet, so we wanted to have time to reflect on what’s happened and what it means. Emma looks at Mary Margaret as her mom, but does she really actually think of her as her mom?
ADAM HOROWITZ: In these first two episodes, we were really trying to use Neverland as a prism through which we can see these characters, hopefully more clearly and more deeply, and we continue to do that as the season progresses. Hopefully you saw, in these first two episodes, layers starting to peel back on all of them, and that’s what we’re trying to continue, as we move forward.
With the mention of Camelot and the sword, do you plan on going there, at all?
KITSIS: No. For us, that was just a fun way for Charming to deceive Snow.
HOROWITZ: We’ve had hints of that world before. We’ve had Lancelot. It’s a world that’s part of the Once Upon A Time universe, but there are no immediate plans to delve deep into it.
KITSIS: We could go there. By Episode 15, don’t shoot us if, all of a sudden, you see Arthur.
HOROWITZ: It’s not a world that we see as off-limits. We have Merlin in our closet.
HOROWITZ: In the premiere, Emma says, “I can’t be a mother,” and then we show a woman who is now fighting to be a mother.
KITSIS: In a lot of ways, for us, it just showed her growth, it showed how far she came, and it showed what a hard decision it was for her.
HOROWITZ: Seeing baby Henry, at the start, is so important to what we’re doing in this first 11 episodes. It was exciting for us, but it’s also not the last we’re going to see of baby Henry.
KITSIS: I’ve always wanted to see how he got adopted, so I hope we’ll tell that. If I were betting, it would be around Episode 9.
What can you say about Rumplestiltskin’s daddy issues?
KITSIS: Well, he definitely seems to have them. We’ve hinted, in the past, that his father was a coward and his father’s name was something that haunted him. His father left him.
HOROWITZ: Those issues have played themselves out in his relationship with his son. Whatever happened to Rumplestiltskin in his past is really creating a lot of the problems he’s dealing with today.
KITSIS: It is something we’re going to see this season. For us, there’s the understanding that this is a man who wants to break the cycle of his past. He wants to be a good father. It’s like that quote, “I can resist everything but temptation.”
HOROWITZ: He’s getting drawn into doing terrible things.
KITSIS: He’s a difficult man to love. Just when you begin to love him, he does something so awful that you go, “Oh, man!”
HOROWITZ: That’s the thing with Rumple. As much as he may love his son or his grandson, he’s terrible to someone else.
KITSIS: Episode 4 is called “Nasty Habits,” and that will be his first backstory that we see this season.
HOROWITZ: The whole ‘ship thing is an awesome thing that fans bring to the experience of watching this show, but the story we’re telling encompasses the relationships between all of the characters and potential romances or not, and the bigger story, as well.
KITSIS: Obviously, they think Neal is dead, and Hook is a man who likes ladies. As we saw last year, when they climbed the beanstalk, Emma has probably captured his heart a little bit. But in the same respect, we see that Neal is fighting like hell to get a second chance with her. Right now, I think that Emma is focused on getting Henry. She’s not somebody who likes to let her walls down. Her heart has been broken too many times for her to be worried about dating right now. But, we’ll see. She falls for handsome guys.
Will our only exposure to the Storybrooke characters be through flashbacks and hallucinations?
KITSIS: No, but we’re not going to see it for awhile.
HOROWITZ: It’s going to be a little while before we’re actually in Storybrooke. In this first half of the season, it will not be limited to flashbacks or hallucinations.
What can you say about where things are headed with Neal?
KITSIS: Episode 3 will show where that story is going. Come hell or high water, Neal is going to get back to Neverland. There are heroes that will support him. Robin Hood feels in debt to him.
HOROWITZ: There’s a little bit more of a wrinkle to their story that we’ll delve into in Episode 3.
Why did you decide to make the mermaids darker than we’ve normally seen?
KITSIS: In the Peter Pan book, they were only nice to Peter. They were saucy, and we like our mermaids saucy. When we were coming up with it, we just loved the idea that that’s who they were attacked by. It was symbolic of Neverland. It’s not what you think it is. Most people think of Ariel when they think of mermaids. What they don’t know is that she’s surrounded by really hot-tempered mermaids.
HOROWITZ: To be fair, they were swimming peacefully when a pirate ship disrupted their world.
HOROWITZ: We’ll be seeing Ariel in Episode 6, which is called “Ariel.” It’s our spin on Ariel. She’s going to be different from what you saw of the mermaids in the premiere.
KITSIS: You’ll see that Joanna Garcia plays the spirit of Ariel very well. It’s the spirit of somebody who wants to see the world and who wants to experience things outside of what they know. We have our own little take on it, but the thing that makes Ariel such a great character and the spirit within her is definitely in our Ariel.
HOROWITZ: And there is a fork in the episode.
How does Prince Eric compare to Prince Charming?
HOROWITZ: Our take on Prince Eric is slightly different than what you saw in the movie, but hopefully it’s also honoring what many people adore about that movie. As far as his relation to Charming, they’re both princes and they both have honor. But unlike Charming, he’s not a prince who comes from separated twins who were forced to impersonate royalty.
KITSIS: Our Ariel really focuses much more on her and her journey, and she also has a connection to one of our characters that you’ll see in her story.
Will Ursula also be a part of Ariel’s story?
KITSIS: Absolutely! And there will be a fork. We mentioned the fork, right? When you see the episode, you’ll go, “That’s why they kept talking about the fork!”
How are the Charmings dealing with not really being a family, at this point?
HOROWITZ: It’s complicated, and hopefully in a good way. They’re an unusual family because there’s this odd age thing going on between them. They’re the same age, and they’ve also been separated for many, many years. Now, they’re thrown together for a mission, really for the first time, in an enclosed space. They’re starting to deal with and sort out many of these issues that they haven’t really had a chance to address yet.
KITSIS: Snow and Charming realize that their daughter doesn’t really look to them for parental guidance, and that’s something hard to get. They realize that they need to earn it. When they see Emma thinking, “If I took that bean last year, threw it on the ground and just took Henry when we had the chance, none of this would have happened. Maybe being good doesn’t work. Maybe it works in the Enchanted Forest, but it didn’t work in Portland and it certainly didn’t work when I grew up.” What’s hard for the Charmings is that they realize their daughter grew up with hope and they have to instill it back in her. And how do you do that when her son is kidnapped and you’re in a place that is making you confront your past? She has more in common with the Lost Boys than she does Snow and Charming.
HOROWITZ: We tried to crystallize it, at the start of the premiere, in that scene from Emma’s point of view where she says, “Since I’ve been back, your lives have sucked.” But from Mary Margaret and David’s point of view, it’s been great because they’re back and they’re a family. They now have these challenges to overcome, in order to be together and be a family, and not have life suck.
KITSIS: And to be fair, David now has to deal with impending death.
What will Sean Maguire’s Robin Hood be like?
KITSIS: We’re very excited to have Sean. As you saw, he has a great take on Robin Hood. Robin Hood’s story is just beginning. We’re airing in two 11-episode pods. You’re going to get a little more into him in the beginning of this year, and we’re definitely going to get a lot of him in the second half. He’s a character we’re really excited about because he’s a thief, but he’s a thief with honor. Sean really brings a sense of honor and a code, but also a sense of playfulness, which we think Robin Hood needs.
HOROWITZ: And, if need be, he can sing.
How will the two 11-episode arcs impact how you’re telling the story this season?
HOROWITZ: That’s a great question. It is impacting it, and we hope in a really positive way. In addition to two 11-episodes arcs, the schedule of running them uninterrupted in both arcs allows us to hopefully really gain story momentum. We’re looking at the as two mini-seasons that are thematically connected and building toward one big finish. It allows us to tell the Neverland arc in the first half, and in the second half tell another arc, which we’re not going to spoil just yet, but it will grow out of where you see these first 11 end. As writers, it’s been both challenging and freeing, in a way. It allows us to really focus on giving a complete experience in the fall, and then a complete experience in the spring.
KITSIS: It’s really hard, as a writer, to do 22 episodes of one story in today’s world. Television is changing. Habits change. People are used to 10 to 12-episode seasons. For us, it’s exciting because we get to do two seasons this year. We’re trying to do all killer and no filler. For us, personally, it’s inspiring because it allows us to really tell contained stories that we want to tell without having to stretch one idea for a bit.
HOROWITZ: When you stare at the writers’ room board and there are 22 blank spots, it makes you fucking want to die. When there are 11, you think, “Oh, I’m almost done!” But, it’s actually the same amount.
KITSIS: And we’re really excited to air them uninterrupted. When you air for three episodes, and then you go off for four weeks, that pisses people off, and it pisses us off. You might end on a set-up episode, so people are like, “What?!” And then, the next episode they’re like, “All right, that was cool.” But when you air them together, you get more of a sense of the whole opera.
HOROWITZ: It was one of the many, many great lessons that we took from our time on Lost. In the final three years on Lost, we were able to air the episodes uninterrupted, which really helped, not just for the viewing experience of the audience, but from the writing perspective. It allowed us to really focus and gain momentum, and we’re hoping to really do that with both pods of this season.
HOROWITZ: Belief is the theme of this season, so far. We’re seeing how belief impacts on each one of our characters.
KITSIS: Belief is so important in everything. You need to believe in magic. You need to believe in yourself. You need to believe in your family. And Neverland runs on belief. So that, for us, was the uber theme.
HOROWITZ: On a larger macro level, it goes to how we approach writing the show. We have unabashedly tried to take cynicism out of it, and just make what we hope is a hopeful show about belief with all the obstacles that come from disbelievers and cynics in the world, and all those things that tell you, “Don’t believe in magic. The world is a terrible place.” We want to try to find a way to find that light.
KITSIS: This is a show for believers. For some people, that’s great. For some people, it pisses them off because it’s a lot cooler to be cynical. It is a show for believers and it is a show about hope. That’s what we love about it, and that’s what we want to write about.
Is Peter Pan a character that’s beyond redemption?
KITSIS: Our characters are all looking for a happy ending. They’re all looking for love. It’s just about what choices they use to get there. Some people are okay with playing hardball. Some people want to do it the right way. Peter Pan in an interesting story that will slowly unfold.
HOROWITZ: In our minds, evil isn’t born, it’s made. That applies to all our villains, including Peter Pan.
KITSIS: But he is a sick, twisted kid. We can all agree that, up until this point, Rumplestiltskin is probably the nastiest of our villains, and the most clever. When he says it’s someone that he’s frightened of, then I’m frightened of him. He gets in your head and says, “Oh, what are you most insecure about? I’m really going to exploit that.”
KITSIS: There are a lot of Peter Pans out there and you look for your own take. It came from a character place of the fact that somebody who refuses to grow up has to have a lot of problems. It sounds great when you’re 16, but when you’re 25 or older, you start to go, “Oh, I would hate to be 16 again. I’m missing out on all these things in life.” You can’t just hit the pause button. This guy is probably there alone, so we started to think about Heart of Darkness and Peter Pan started to become Kurtz to us. We started to talk about going up the river to have to get him.
HOROWITZ: Imagine that you were stuck at 16. It sounds great, but for hundreds of years, you’re getting carded. What’s that gonna do to you?
Will there be flashbacks about how Peter Pan became a villain?
KITSIS: Yes, we are going to be telling you how Peter Pan became Peter Pan, and why he made the decisions he made.
Will Rufio come into it, at all?
KITSIS: To be honest, I don’t think we can show Rufio because he’s property of Columbia. We just thought it was fun to drop his name. It became a writers’ room joke that became a screen joke.
HOROWITZ: There’s a fondness for that character in the Hook movie, so we wanted to do a little shout-out to that. But, we’re not doing a Rufio backstory.
How is Regina handling being stuck with Emma and the Charmings?
KITSIS: It’s not going to be easy for her. She doesn’t care about Emma saying that she’s the leader. She certainly doesn’t care to go camping with the Charmings. Rumple said right away, “I’m out!,” and I think she’s mad about being stuck at the kids table.
HOROWITZ: Some of that will be delved into, in Episode 3. We’re going to get a bit more into Regina and what it’s like for her to be on this trip with people she detests.
HOROWITZ: We’re going to be seeing Tinkerbell in Episode 3. Like all of the characters that we bring into the fold, we have a spin on it that’s a little bit different than what you expect. Also, there’s a connection to some of our characters that you’ve already met. As for the Darlings, they’re so integral to Peter Pan’s story that we have not forgotten about them. There is a connection and a tie-in to what we’re doing with them, as well.
What does Peter Pan really want and need from Henry?
HOROWITZ: That’s a great question. I’m really glad you asked that question because it hopefully means that what we’re communicating is coming through. That’s the journey we’re on. What we didn’t want to do was a villain that just wants world domination. What we wanted was someone who had a really character-based motivation for why belief was important to him and why the truest believer was important to him. That’s the story that we’re going to unfurl in these first 11 episodes.
KITSIS: He definitely wants that heart.
HOROWITZ: There’s something in these games that he seems to be playing, that’s all tying into what his ultimate goal is, both for Henry and for everyone else.
What role is Henry going to play in getting out of Neverland?
HOROWITZ: That’s a great question because, as we’ve seen over the years, Henry has been a very resourceful, independent boy who is now thrown into a situation where that will not only be tested, but he’s going to have to deal with a psychological test. As we’ve seen, Pan likes to mess with your head. What’s going to happen when Henry is face-to-face with the ultimate manipulator.
KITSIS: The thing that makes Henry so great is his belief. He believed enough in a book to get on a bus and go to Boston to convince this woman who gave him up for adoption in a prison in Phoenix to come back because Snow White and Charming needed to remember who they were, and it worked. This is a world where that belief is going to be used against him, and I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before. That’s what we’re excited about.
Once Upon A Time airs on Sunday nights on ABC, and you can learn more about the show at www.abc.com/shows/once-upon-a-time.