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With its first seven episodes, the fantasy Once Upon a Time proved to be ABC’s biggest hit of the fall season. The series mix of fairy-tale lore and modern-day drama has remained up in the ratings while focusing on the battle between series lead Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), the unwitting daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, and the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) who trapped the most recognizable princesses, legends and creatures in the unchanging town of Storybrooke, Maine.
But with the show’s return Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/PT, the fairy-tale focus will expand beyond the tiara-wearing set to uncover a second layer of stories behind the stories, including the origins of Rumpelstiltskin, the hidden secrets of Hansel and Gretel and the complications that come as more and more characters begin to recall their storybook pasts.
“I think for us, we started with some of the most iconic characters,” said co-creator and executive producer Edward Kitsis, who along with his partner Adam Horowitz revealed new details about Season One’s second act to SPINOFF ONLINE. “But then Episode 5 was Jiminy Cricket’s back story. And we’ll be telling you the Magic Mirror’s back story. And on top of Hansel and Gretel, we’ll tell you Grumpy’s story. So for us, there is no hard and fast rule. It’s just what excited us that week. We’ve mapped out the season, but we’ve done it in a way where every four or five episodes, we go, ‘What are we most excited to play with?’ and then we just do that.”
The journey deeper into the secrets of the old fairy world begins with Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle), who so far has proven one of the most deceitful characters on the series in both the realm of magic and the modern world, where he lives as conniving curio shop owner Mr. Gold.
“I would say that part of the fun in the first seven episodes was just setting him up and watching him be unpredictable,” Kitsis said. “For the rest of the season, you’re going to see much more. In Episode 8, you’ll learn how Rumpel became Rumpel, so to speak. It really is his origin story, and I think everyone is going to look at him in through a new light and in a new way. That’s what’s most fun about the show for us. When you do think you have a handle on something, all of the sudden you see it in new eyes. That’s what we want to do as writers.”
The writers explained that part of the character’s growth came from Carlyle’s performance, as they’ve strived to remain loose and follow the path the story dictates. “It’s a really organic process,” Horowitz said. “As much as you want to plan everything about the show out with details, in our experience you shouldn’t. You should know where you want to go, but how you get there is that you allow yourself the latitude to take detours and find out interesting things about the characters. The cast that you have is going to be unique to the show, and you have to roll with that. That’s what we’re trying to do. Every day when we write a scene and see film come back, it’s a growing, organic process of developing the show.
“It’s funny because the actors on our show are so fantastic, and they really elevate the material,” Kitsis added. “And at first, you write the pilot, and it’s filmed, and they bring it to life. But then what happens is you start working with them, and there comes this third element. We get inspired by them and come up with stories all the time based on a look they give or a thing they say. Or sometimes we’ll be hanging out with them in Vancouver and have dinner and when someone says something it’s ‘Oh, my God! Let’s do this!'”
And one thing they won’t shy away from doing is letting all the fairy tale characters realize who they are and what they’ve lost. However, the writers couldn’t say when such an event would take place – just that it wouldn’t mean the end of the series.
“The Evil Queen cast the curse to bring them to a place where she can win, and that’s our world,” Kitsis said. “She transported them from that realm to this one, and it took away their memories, but even if their memories come back, they’re still stuck here. And they still have problems. So Geppetto already knows that he doesn’t have a kid, but if he wakes up tomorrow and realizes that he’s Geppetto without a kid, sure he’s got more knowledge, but he’s struggling with the same issues.”
And as the pair revealed in our last discussion, the end of the season will hold major reveals about the Evil Queen and her hatred of Snow White. “That is kind of an extension of when, in Episode 2, the queen is talking to Maleficent about how she lost someone she loves,” Kitsis said. “There, we kind of understand that Snow White had something to do with this, and it’s a question of ‘Is this why she hates Snow so much?’ I can tell you that that is a question we hope people are asking because it’s one we plan on answering this year.”
Horowitz added, “And it goes right back to that question of ‘Why is the queen evil?’ and taking an iconic character and making her as real as we can. Something happened to this woman to make her want to do these things. Something happened to make her hate Snow White, and the ‘fairest of them all’ story that we all grew up with is only the tip of the iceberg for the story we’re telling. In the Hunstman episode, that line is the beginning of us digging beneath the surface of what exactly happened in the past to create this situation – which we will be getting to this season.”
Once Upon a Time‘s eighth episode premieres at Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.