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ABC’s Once Upon A Time has proven to be one of the stalwart network series of the season, holding strong ratings and fan interest though to Sunday’s finale. While the fairy tale-meets-modern world drama was one of a few fantasy-themed shows to debut in 2011, the series created by writers Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz has separated itself from the pack by continually pulling more mysterious storybook characters out of the woodwork as the season went along.
The latest addition to the ongoing battle of amnesiac fairy-tale figures versus the curse of the wicked queen has been Pinocchio (Eion Bailey), who recently revealed himself as the savior of Snow White’s daughter Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) and also the man who’s now trying to convince Emma to accept her birthright and battle the Queen/Mayor Regina (Lana Parrilla) for the fate of all the lost characters.
That story comes to a head Sunday, and Spinoff Online spoke with the series creators about the path that’s led to this battle, from the continually star-crossed fate of Snow White and Prince Charming to the human side of villains like the queen and Rumplestiltskin. Below, the two tease what has to happen by the end of the season finale and what will be left for the incoming Season 2.
SPINOFF: There have been a lot of dominoes falling over the past few episodes from the reveal of Pinocchio to the incoming conflict with Regina the Queen. When you guys started out with the pilot episode and the reveal of the curse, was this setup the endgame you had in mind?
Eddy Kitsis: I think obviously you have one thing in mind, and hopefully you discover things along the way and different paths. That’s what happened to us. When we first were picked up, knowing the odds of television we never thought we’d make it past the 13 [original episode order]. So we kind of concentrated on making those 13 great, and our first real goal was working on those first seven because we knew after that was when the Huntsman would die. It was around there that the show started to premier, and we knew we’d make it the full year. We had a plan in place for that, but I think along the way, you had to kind of let things sink in. There are certain things we changed because we liked them better, but we never would have discovered those if we hadn’t done everything that came before.
Adam Horowitz: Yeah, we tried to plant seeds early on for things that we would like to do if we were given the chance on a full season. And at the same time, we gave ourselves the flexibility of allowing the organic process of television to take hold, which is to say that you can’t be too rigid in your planning. It’s good to know where you want the big things to go, but there’s a lot of variable along the way that you have to be open to because ideas you have in March may not be as good as ideas you have in October.
With the finale on Sunday, you’ve teased a real final-looking confrontation between Emma and Regina in Storybrooke, where the two worlds may be coming together for some of the people in town. You said previously how characters realizing that they are from fairy tales is not necessarily the end of the story. In which way does this episode represent an end for the season and maybe a beginning for what’s to come?
Kitsis: It’s hard to answer that question without revealing too much. [Laughs] I can tell you what our intentions for the finale are, and whether they’re met or not can be up to the viewer. Our intentions were to highlight a lot of things we set up in the pilot that we knew we had to conclude by the end of the season. But at the same time, we didn’t want to conclude in a way that didn’t leave us open for a Season 2. The finale should resolved the season and open the door for the next one, which is what we endeavored to do.
The appearance of August as a character before we even knew he was Pinocchio changed the dynamics of the cast and the shape of the end of this season. A lot of that story was teased out earlier in the year – Geppetto and Jiminy Cricket most obviously – but how did the casting of Eion Bailey kind of create this end of Emma’s story and the season?
Horowitz: We knew we wanted to have a stranger come to town, and when we conceived of the character, you can tell in his very first appearance the clues that he’s Pinocchio. Emma is reading the newspaper in that episode about her childhood and how a 7-year-old boy found him on the side of the road, which was foreshadowing of what we would show much later in the season. We tried to slowly unfurl that plan and his significance throughout the season and fully integrate him into the show. The mystery of who he was helped propel the whole series forward.
Kitsis: And we dropped in hints on who he was as small as his name: August Wayne Booth. Wayne Booth was the guy who coined the phrase “unreliable narrator.” And August was a storyteller, and he was lying about lemurs. But we also wanted him to have a mission which, unfortunately, he seemed to fail at, and that was getting Emma to believe.
Well, part of the complication there is that the real world, our world, seems to change all of the cast members in specific ways. For Pinocchio, he was taken in by the more selfish nature of our world which reversed what made him a real boy. Other characters like Snow White feel completely different in fairy tale land versus how they appear in Storybrooke. Do you feel like you’re writing two sides of the same character in crafting these people, or are they truly different on either side of the world’s divide?
Kitsis: Mary Margaret is definitely much different than Snow White. She’s more passive, she’s less sure of herself, and she’s less confident. She’s also somebody who’s searching for love and can’t find it. Snow White is the opposite of all those things. Yet, we don’t want it to be so black and white. There are moments where we feel like to see how when Emma came into town and the clock ticked, you started to see bits of who these characters were pop out. You saw that in Leroy. You saw that when Archie tells off Regina. And you see it with Snow in various places where that toughness comes out. It’s a balancing act where these characteristics are in all of them, but they appear at different times.
Horowitz: They’re the same people, but their circumstances have been so changed by the 28 years of the curse that they’re acting differently than they ever would have in a perfect, free world. And that’s what they were in in fairy tale land. So the Snow that’s inside Mary Margaret has been slumbering and was forced her into a corner by the curse. But Emma’s arrival has changed that, and so we’ve seen flashes of her as we have with some of those other characters.
Let’s look at each of the core story threads for the cast leading up to the end of the season. The kind of “gun on the mantlepiece” we’ve been teased from fairy-tale land is true love’s kiss – this idea that a real kiss from David can awaken Mary Margaret’s true self. Is that an even we’re barreling down on sooner or later, and will it break down those barriers?
Kitsis: Well, first off we saw those two kiss at the end of episode 10. But what we’ve tried to give Mary and David is an actual, real-world problem to solve right now. But in the finale, we’re definitely going to go back into that story.
The major turn midway through the season was the revelation of Rumplestiltskin’s backstory, who at this point I’m not sure if I should call him the Beast or not. Part of watching his story unfold has humanized him while he remains a villain, and unlike Regina, viewers go back and forth on whether or not there’s good in him or even what he actually wants. Is there a definite goal he has in mind in this finale conflict, or is there a definite side he’s chosen?
Kitsis: I would say that he’s always on his side. He always has a very specific agenda, but he doesn’t always reveal it to us. I would say he has a very specific goal for the finale and in general. But as to what side he’s on, it’s just his.
Like I said, Regina is a character who’s done so many terrible things in both worlds over the season. Yet when we got to her origin episode, there was still a very relatable human aspect to her hatred of Snow White. Were you guys afraid to take the character too far on the evil scale to make that sympathy still work?
Horowitz: The challenge of writing that character was always taking someone who does absolutely horrible things and making us understand why. That is one of our philosophies on the show: “Evil isn’t born, it’s made.” We always knew that the queen had to be a character who tragically found herself this way, and we’ve tried to peel back the layers to show how that happened. While not excusing any of her actions, it allows us to understand very clearly why she’s doing what she does.
Kitsis: And one very important thing about her is that she’s a character who continues to make the wrong choice because of the pain and suffering she feels she’s endured.
Emma is the character who doesn’t have an antecedent in the fairy-tale world, so we don’t have as many expectations for what she “has” to do, but at the same time, she’s had the role of Chosen One thrust on her. In what ways does she either accept or deny her fate coming out of this episode, and how does that change not just Storybrooke but her direction with Henry moving forward?
Kitsis: The interesting thing about Emma is that when Henry knocks on her door, the first thing she does is deny she has a child. She’s someone with walls up who won’t let anyone in. What makes her a character of contradiction is that she’s a character looking for Home, but because she’s never had a home, she doesn’t know what that looks like. Through the season, we’ve seen Henry chip away at that wall as well as Mary Margaret so by the end of the season, she calls Mary family and almost believes [in the fairy tales]. But that responsibility freaked her out, and it sent her into denial. But Henry very heroically realized that if she’s ever going to become the savior unless she’s pushed into it, and that’s why he ate that apple – because he’s so full of faith – hoping that it would wake her up. So the finale is going to be a culmination point for Emma about whether she chooses to believe or not, and everyone’s fate is going to rest on that.
We’re in one of these situations where the show has been very successful this year, and people assume that a second season is coming, though it hasn’t been officially confirmed yet. [NOTE: Shortly after this interview, Horowitz confirmed the official Season 2 pickup on Twitter] Have you started to do the work on more episodes? I know there have been some episode titles floating out there.
Kitsis: Writing we haven’t done, but we had what we used to do on Lost, which we call a mini-camp.
Horowitz: It’s where we convene the writers for a few weeks.
Kitsis: And we kind of “blue sky” Season 2. We’ve done that, and now Adam and I are going to go off the grid for a couple weeks of downtime. Though nothing’s been made official, we’re pretty confident on a second season.
What might your focus be in Season 2? We’ve had teases of stories untold yet like more from Sleeping Beauty and Rumple’s tale, yet there’s also been talk of all-new ideas like the Little Mermaid showing up.
Kitsis: I think it’ll be a little bit of both. There are times where there are still things to be explored. We’ve seen Malificent, but we haven’t seen the other side of her story. But we also love to bring in new people. One of our favorite things this year was that all of the sudden you met the Mad Hatter, and we go to tell his story. We did that with Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel. So part of the fun of the show is getting more in depth with the old characters, and we’ll at least attempt to do that across Season 2 as well.