The "Once Upon a Time" Season 3 premiere, "The Heart of the Truest Believer" has now aired, and we've had our first glimpse of all the dangers lying in wait for our characters in Neverland. Peter Pan has revealed himself to be a master manipulator, tricking Henry into revealing just how powerful his sense of belief is, Greg and Tamara met a swift (and fitting) end, and our reluctant gang of heroes and villains learned that if they want to survive in Neverland, they'll have to work together.
But many questions still remain -- why does Pan want Henry's heart? How will Neal make his way from the Enchanted Forest to Neverland to reunite with his family? What is the significance of the doll that brought the fearsome Rumplestiltskin to tears? HuffPost TV was among a group of reporters who spoke to "Once" showrunners Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis to find out what we can expect in Neverland, when we might meet Tinker Bell and how the "OUAT" version of Ariel differs from the killer mermaids that attacked the Jolly Roger in the premiere. Read on for more.
Questions and answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.
What's ahead in Neverland?
Kitsis: The thing we wanted to do this year -- and we've always wanted to go to Neverland -- is we really wanted to focus on the core characters, and we thought because Neverland is a place where you don't grow up, then you have to confront your past. So our inspiration was the idea that these characters would have to return to who they were before the curse in order to achieve this, and at the same time, we wanted to have them dig deeper into what everything means. Last year was so [fast] like a bullet, and so we wanted to have time to reflect on what's happened and what does it mean? Yeah, Emma looks at Mary Margaret as her mom, but does she really actually think of her as her mom?
Horowitz: We were really trying to use Neverland -- and we continue to do this as the season progresses -- as a prism through which we can see these characters hopefully more clearly and more deeply.
Will we see anything romantic develop between Emma and Hook?
Horowitz: Well, the whole relationship “ship” thing is an awesome thing that fans bring to the experience of watching the show, but the story we’re telling encompasses both the relationships between all the characters and potential romances and not, but the bigger emotional story, as well.
Kitsis: Obviously, they think Neal’s dead. Obviously, Hook is a man who likes ladies, and 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, and right now, I think that Emma is focused on getting Henry. She’s not somebody who likes to let her walls down, and her heart’s been broken too many times for her to be worried about dating right now, but we’ll see. She’s got two handsome guys.
Why choose killer mermaids to attack the Jolly Roger?
Kitsis: Well, in the Peter Pan book, they were only nice to Peter, and they were saucy, and we like our mermaids saucy. For us, when we were coming up with this, we just loved the idea that that was who they were attacked by, and that was kind of symbolic of Neverland. It’s not what you think it is. Most people think of Ariel when they think of mermaids, and 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 came through.
Kitsis: Yeah, to be fair to the mermaids, this is their turf, and they did not have an entry visa.
What Is the "Once Upon a Time" version of Ariel like?
Horowitz: It’s our spin on Ariel. She’s going to be different than what you saw of the mermaids in this premiere.
Kitsis: I think the spirit of Ariel, JoAnna Garcia plays really well, which is the spirit of somebody who wants to see the world and wants to experience things outside of what they know. So we have our own little take on it, but I think that the thing that makes Ariel such a great character -- this spirit within her -- is similar to our Ariel.
Horowitz: And there’s a fork in the episode.
How does Prince Eric compare to our Prince Charming?
Horowitz: I think our take on Prince Eric is slightly different than what you saw in the movie, but it also is hopefully honoring what many people adore about that movie. As far as relation to Charming, they’re both princes, and they both have ...
Kitsis: ... honor. They like adventure.
Horowitz: But unlike Charming, he’s not a prince who comes from separated twins who were then forced to impersonate royalty ...
Kitsis: Nor was he engaged to Midas’ daughter. Our Ariel [story], though, 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.
How will the Charming family dynamic shift in Neverland?
Horowitz: It’s complicated, and hopefully in a good way ... they’re an unusual family in that there’s this odd age thing going on between them -- they’re the same age, and they’ve been separated for many, many years, and now they’re thrown together on a mission. And really, for the first time in an enclosed kind of space, they’re able to start to deal with and sort out so many of these issues that they haven’t really had a chance to address yet.
Kitsis: I think, also, for Snow and Charming, they realize in this moment that their daughter doesn’t really look to them for parental guidance, and that’s something hard to get. So they’re realizing they need to earn it. In a lot of ways, when they see Emma thinking, "if I took that bean last year and threw it on the ground and just took Henry when we had the chance, none of this would have happened. And 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."
I think that what is hard for the Charmings is, they realize that their daughter grew up without hope, and that 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? Because she has more in common with the Lost Boys than she does Snow and Charming.
Horowitz: From Emma’s point of view it’s [like] "since I’ve been back, your lives have sucked," but from Mary Margaret and David’s point of view, "no, it’s been great, because we’re back, and we’re a family." They have these challenges to overcome in order to be together and be a family and not have life suck.
What does Sean Maguire bring to the show as Robin Hood?
Kitsis: We were very excited to have Sean. He has a great take on [Robin Hood], and Robin Hood’s story is just beginning. We’re airing in two 11-episode pods, and I think you’re going to get a little into him in the beginning of this year, and we’re definitely going to get a lot of him in the second half. I think he’s a character we’re really excited about because he’s a thief, but he’s a thief with honor. Sean just really brings a sense of honor and a code to him, but there’s a sense of playfulness, which we think Robin Hood needs.
Does airing the show in two "pods" impact the way you're writing it?
Horowitz: It is impacting [how we write], and we hope in a really positive way, which is in addition to two 11-episode arcs, the scheduling of running them more or less uninterrupted in both arcs allows us to really gain story momentum. To really look at them as two mini-seasons that are hopefully thematically connected and building to one big finish. It allows us to tell this ... we call it the "Neverland arc" in the first half, and in the second half, tell the "blank" arc, which we’re not going to spoil just yet, but which will grow out of where you see these first 11 end. As writers, it’s been both challenging and really freeing ... to allow us to really focus on giving a complete experience in the fall and a complete experience in the spring.
Kitsis: It’s also really hard, as a writer, to do 22 episodes of one story in today’s world. I think television is changing, and the habits change, and people are used to 10- to 12-episode seasons. So for us, it’s also exciting because we get to do two seasons this year ... we’re trying to do all killer, no filler, and it’s inspiring because it allows us to really tell contained stories that we want to tell without being, like, "well how do we stretch this one idea for 22?"
Is Peter Pan beyond redemption or sympathy?
Kitsis: Our characters are all looking for a happy ending. They’re all looking for love. It’s just, what choices do you use to get them? Some people are okay playing hardball. Some people want to do it the right way. Peter Pan is an interesting story ...
Horowitz: What we’ve said before on the show is ... in our minds, evil isn’t born, it’s made, and I think that applies to all the villains, including Peter Pan.
Kitsis: But he is a sick, twisted kid. The fact that Rumplestiltskin who, up until this point, is probably the nastiest of our villains and the most clever -- when he says it’s someone he’s frightened of, I’m frightened of him. He gets in your head, and he says "oh, what are you most insecure about? I’m going to really exploit that." ... There are a lot of Peter Pans out there, so you look to have your own take, but for us it came from a character place, which is somebody who refuses to grow up has to have a lot of problems. Because it sounds great when you’re 16, but when you hit 25, or older, you start to go, "oh God, I would hate to be 16 again," and "oh, I’m missing out on all the things of life." You can’t just hit the pause button.
Horowitz: I mean, imagine if you were stuck at 16. It sounds great, but for hundreds of years, you’re getting carded.
Kitsis: Oh, by the way, you can’t even rent a car.
What are the challenges of having Lost Boys as villains, considering you can't have our heroes killing kids?
Kitsis: Can't we? [Laughs.]
Horowitz: We thought that that is a really interesting dilemma, to have villains that, just by looking at them, you really can’t engage in a real way ...
Kitsis: Even though they’re probably two hundred years older than you.
Horowitz: But they’re trapped as children, as boys, and how is that going to be a challenge?
Kitsis: I think it is a challenge ... but Felix scares me. I mean, that guy is so creepy, and the Lost Boys have a bit of a "Lord of the Flies" situation going on. But it is tough, and no one wants to kill children, but they want to get Henry back, and this is their villain. So, I think that is a challenge, but we have a very clever group, and I think that one of the things on the show is we have got very dark, including killing someone’s father to enact a curse, and kidnapping children, and throwing them in the Infinite Forest, but we never do violence that is gratuitous, and we don’t kill people unless it is earned ... and I think Greg and Tamara were probably earned because they believed in something without thinking about it.
What role will Henry play, now that he's in Pan's clutches?
Horowitz: Henry has, as we’ve seen over the years, been a very resourceful, independent boy, who is now going to be thrown into a situation where that will not only be tested but he’s going to have to deal with ... not just running away and trying to escape, but now dealing with a psychological test, which is Pan, who 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, to 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 whom they were -- and it worked. So 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. So that’s what we’re excited about.
How is Regina going to handle being trapped with people she hates?
Horowitz: It’s not going to be easy for her.
Kitsis: You could see at the end, she doesn’t care for Emma saying she’s the leader. Rumple said right away, "I’m out," and I think she’s mad that she's [like] "why am I at the kids’ table?"
Horowitz: Some of that will be delved into in Episode 3. We get a little bit more into Regina and just what it’s like for her to be on this trip with people she detests.
How will Tinker Bell and the Darlings play into this version of Pan?
Horowitz: With Tinker Bell, we’re going to be seeing her very soon -- in fact, in Episode 3, and like all the characters that we try to bring into the "Once" fold, we try to have a spin on it that’s a little bit different than what you would expect, and also there’s a connection to some of our characters that you’ve already met. As for the Darlings, they’re so integral to the Peter Pan story, we have not forgotten about them, and there is a connection and a tie-in to what we’re doing with them, as well.
How much will the season focus on Rumple's predicted fate, and his attempts to avoid it -- or not avoid it?
Kitsis: A lot. There was a prophecy, and the prophecy said that the boy would be his undoing. So it seems to me he left, very determined to do the right thing, but he was offered a deal -- he is offered many temptations, and now he doesn’t even have to kill the boy. He just has to leave an island.
Horowitz: It’s funny, the character posters we’ve been releasing every couple days, the Rumple one says "believe you can change fate," and whether you can or can’t is kind of a core dilemma for him because he is being ripped back and forth between this prophecy, which tells him the boy will be his undoing, and the fact that the boy is his blood. What are his priorities? What’s he going to do? How is he going to wriggle his way out of this? Can he wriggle his way out of it?
Kitsis: He believes he has nothing left to live for. He holds himself responsible for the death of his son. What he doesn’t realize is that his son is in his house with Robin Hood. So Neal is very important to many characters on the show right now, who are behaving in certain ways based on the knowledge that he’s dead ... Episode 4 is called “Nasty Habits” and that will be [Rumple's] first back-story that we see this year.
What can you tease about where Mulan, Aurora, Phillip and Neal's story is headed?
Kitsis: Episode 3 is going to show where that’s going, and Neal is going to, come hell or high water, get back to Neverland, and so I think that they feel like they're heroes that will support him, and we know Robin Hood feels a debt to him ...
Horowitz: There’s a little bit more of a wrinkle to their story that we’ll delve into in Episode 3.
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
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