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.