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Poor Rumplestiltskin. Despite all of his manipulating, plotting and scheming, his master plan to free himself from a mystical dagger — the one object capable of controlling him — blew up in his face. Instead, his wife Belle used the dagger to banish Rumple from Storybrooke in “Once Upon A Time’s” season four winter finale. But as all the best storytellers know, it’s hard to keep a good villain down.
The show’s midseason premiere, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” finds Rumple recruiting three evil cohorts, who just so happen to also be three of the biggest Disney villains of all time: Ursula, Maleficent and Cruella De Vil. Sick and tired of always losing, their mission is to track down the mysterious Author of Henry’s story book and force him or her to write their version of a happy ending, whatever it may be.
Ahead of Sunday night’s episode, executive producers Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis spoke with SPINOFF about the Queens of Darkness, the essence of heroes and villains, Emma flirting with the dark side, and her complex relationships with Hook and Regina — not to mention the enigmatic Author and happy endings.
Spinoff Online: Having just wrapped up the “Frozen” storyline, what were some of your goals for “Once Upon A Time” going into this Queens of Darkness arc?
Eddy Kitsis: We really wanted to pick up our search for the Author, but really, the second half is exploring what makes a hero and what makes a villain. We’ve had Regina wonder, can villains have happy endings? That’s what we wanted to get into.
Why are three Queens of Darkness better than one or two?
Kitsis: In the winter finale, we realized that the one thing the heroes always do is they work together. The villains work alone. Rumple, realizing that his plan did not go the way he thought it would, decided to take a page from the heroes’ playbook. Obviously, the more on your side, the more people you have to wreak hell with.
Maleficent and Ursula are magical beings, with obvious power and strategic uses. How does a human like Cruella De Vil stack up against those powerhouses?
Adam Horowitz: We have taken some liberties with Cruella. We are going to see she has a little magic of her own that we will reveal in the premiere. She is not fully the Cruella we remember from the animated movies.
The show’s villains tend to shine a light on many of the leading characters in some way, whether it is father issues, insecurities or other flaws. How will the Queens of Darkness open old wounds or expose new details about specific Storybrooke characters?
Kitsis: Right away, they are going to open some deep wounds. We’re going to realize a few of our heroes have crossed paths with them and perhaps left some of the details out. As we said before, the villains are really going to spotlight the theme of what makes a villain and what makes a hero. We’re going to find out, maybe not every villain is a villain and maybe not every hero is as heroic as we thought.
From the promos, it looks like Emma might be switching sides, at least temporarily. What’s the appeal for you about examining her darker urges and desires?
Horowitz: We’ve seen Emma all these seasons as the savior and the hero. We thought it would be an interesting thing to dig deep beneath that and explore the question, “What makes someone a hero?” Whether there is a darkness in all of us, and how do we handle that?
Both Regina and Rumple are determined to find the mysterious Author. What does a “happy ending” mean to them?
Horowitz: That’s a good question, because what a happy ending means to both of them is something that will really influence how they pursue the Author and what happens when they come across him/her. To get into the specifics of what their happy ending is, that is part of the journey of this half of the season.
Kitsis: Also, for Mr. Gold, for Rumple — he’s had a couple of happy endings, but they don’t seem to make him happy. What happiness is and how we achieve it is a theme we are exploring this half.
Obviously, there’s unfinished business between Belle and Rumple. Does time really heal all wounds? Does Rumple feel betrayed by his wife? How do the two of them react when they come face-to-face again?
Kitsis: I don’t think he feels betrayed by Belle, because he betrayed her. They got married, and on their honeymoon, he immediately started lying to her. The person who has the most resentment is Belle. As she said, she used to see the man behind the beast. Now, she only sees the beast. Unfortunately, Rumple is a person who doesn’t really seem to appreciate anything until it is gone. He has a lot of making up to do, if he can at all.
Where do the Charmings fit into this half of the season? Mary and David were off on separate missions last year.
Horowitz: They are brought into the center of what’s going on with the Queens arrival and the search for the Author. We’re going to be exploring a secret from their past. By the end of the first couple of episodes, it’s going to place them at the center of this chaotic vortex.
How is Emma and Hook’s relationship going to evolve — or stumble?
Kitsis: It’s taken a long time for Emma to let anyone in. First, Henry, then her parents, and now, Hook. For us, there’s always that conflict with Emma. We are interested in them growing as a couple. How do they handle the adversity of life as a couple?
Emma and Regina seem to have buried the hatchet. What is their relationship moving forward?
Horowitz: In the first half of the season, we saw Emma tell Regina, “My job is to get everyone their happy ending — and that includes you.” Then, in the winter finale, she said, “I’m a part of Operation Mongoose.” She wants to be friends with Regina, but Regina tends to like Emma’s mom more. In the second half of the season, there’s going to be a lot of Emma and Regina together, as well as the exploration of their friendship. Emma is definitely going to be helping Regina, and Regina is going to be helping Snow White.
Ariel will reportedly be back in this half of the season, but what other characters will be making an appearance?
Kitsis: We’re going to see people from Robin Hood. We’re going to see the Sheriff of Nottingham again.
Horowitz: We’ll be diving into some of the Robin Hood mythology.
Kitsis: Barbara Hershey is coming back as Cora.
Finally, how much will we learn about the enigmatic Author by the end of the season?
Horowitz: Lots. You are going to meet he, or she, or it before the end of the season. We are going to explain the mythology behind the Author and the book.