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The countdown to Once Upon a Time’s return has begun.
After the events of the game-changing Dec. 15 finale saw Emma and Henry’s memories wiped away and replaced with new ones (and Storybrooke gone), mother and son set off on a brand new life trajectory. In their new reality, the two acted every part the happy family, but it wasn’t long before Captain Hook barged into their Manhattan abode, breaking the news to Emma — who failed to recognize him — that her family was in grave danger. Even a “true love’s” kiss failed to snap Emma out of her seemingly perfect life.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz to break down the winter finale cliffhanger, preview the “wicked” new villain and discuss what’s in store for the rest of the season.
You flipped the show on its head with the winter finale, wiping away Emma’s memories and inserting new ones. How much discussion was there about the cliffhanger that you left viewers with, showing Emma a year later not recognizing Captain Hook?
Edward Kitsis: We knew we were going to do that. Every year, usually you start getting ideas for one season, you kind of have things in your head. But by the end of season two, we started to see three. And then what we do is called a mini-camp in between seasons where the writers come for three weeks and we just plot it out. So for us, we wanted episode 11 to feel like a series finale, so people would say, what are they going to do next?
Adam Horowitz: That’s the question we want people to be asking — how are they going to get out of this one? What’s it going to be? And then we’re really excited for the audience to see a new paradigm for the show that will hopefully feel familiar in a nice way, but new in an exciting and intriguing way.
How many different endings did you toy with before you landed on what ended up on the screen?
Kitsis: That was the only one.
Horowitz: That came very quickly as we were designing the end of the 11-episode pod. That just became this inevitable place we kept getting to. And we got so excited by it, particularly because — hopefully you’ll see in the second half — it leads very naturally to a whole new story we’re telling that hopefully as you look through the whole season, feels like they connected to each other and spoke to each other in thematic and character ways that make a lot of sense.
The first half of the season had the characters spending a lot of time in Neverland, with hints of Storybrooke sprinkled throughout. Is there some relief on your part to bring the story elsewhere?
Kitsis: It’s really funny because we wanted to tell one story this year, and really tell it. And the patience level of the Internet is every three episodes, it needs to be a new show and then if you do that, they tell you you’re doing it too fast. So we decided that what we wanted to do was go up river and meet Peter Pan and tell the hell out of that story and end it in episode 11. Were we there an episode longer than people would have liked? It’s a matter of opinion. For me personally, I loved Neverland. I think it was some of our best stuff. It was magical, it was character and that payoff just worked. That for us was fun. You’ll see that both sides of the season feel like two different seasons.
Horowitz: Yeah, Neverland, we were very excited to tell the story. We loved the story we were able to tell there. We loved how we were able to come back to Storybrooke and throw all the pieces up in the air, and now we’re excited to show you where they land. Now for the second half of the season, we’ve got Rebecca Mader as the Wicked Witch, who is a completely different kind of villain and the kind of character were excited to unfurl on the audience.
Is this the last we’ve seen of Neverland or Storybrooke?
Kitsis: Neverland, absolutely. We will definitely glimpse Storybrooke.
In the winter finale, we saw Emma and Henry in their Manhattan apartment. Is that a new setting that we’ll see them in?
Kitsis: The most fun is to deepen the characters and keep telling their story. So to see Emma and Henry in the real world is really interesting. The premiere is a lot about that.
How soon before Emma and Henry realize that the life they’ve been living for a year isn’t the life they had?
Horowitz: What we can tell you is it’s not easy …
Kitsis: But it’s not long.
Will there be more “Captain Swan” moments in the second half of the season?
Kitsis: I certainly hope so. She’s got many suitors and I want to know if any of them have a shot.
Horowitz: The thing about Emma is she’s a tough cookie and for anyone to crack her, whether it’s Captain Hook or Neal or someone to be determined, it’s not going to be an easy road of it.
So the love triangle is still alive and well?
Kitsis: Well, it’s hard because they’re on one side and she’s in New York.
Horowitz: We don’t think of it as a triangle as it’s Emma’s story, and her journey — which involves Henry, which involves so many things — has these men in it, and as they profess their love for her, how she deals with that becomes a part of what she’s trying to do on a larger level, which is her journey as a person and a woman to get her life in order and to discover who she is and where she belongs. And Emma is not a person who defines that by any single relationship.
With Ginnifer Goodwin’s pregnancy, how has that affected the show?
Kitsis: You’ll see in the second half. It’s pretty obvious how we get around that. We did see in Neverland that her secret was that she wanted another child, so we’ll see if [Snow and Charming] had any alone time in the Enchanted Forest.
Hook warns Emma that her family is in danger in the winter finale. What can you tease to about what that danger is?
Kitsis: That danger comes in the shade of green.
Is it fair to say that the second half is lighter in tone?
Horowitz: It has a mixture of tones that we do on the show: darkness and lightness and adventure and all that. But I would say there is a sense of delicious fun that the Wicked Witch brings. It is a different tone than the fall. We felt Peter Pan was a very psychological villain and very Machiavellian. The Wicked Witch operates from a place of delicious wickedness.
Kitsis: It’s Wicked versus Evil, that’s what the second half’s about. We’ll see what wins. Always bet on crazy.
Once Upon a Time returns March 9 on ABC.
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