Co-creators Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis break down season five’s (familiar) format, Emma’s anger, the “adventure and romance that’s inherent in Camelot” and more.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the Once Upon a Time season premiere.]
The fight to save Emma (Jennifer Morrison) took an unexpected turn during Sunday’s Once Upon a Time season five premiere.
Although Charming (Josh Dallas), Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin), Regina (Lana Parrilla), Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), Henry (Jared Gilmore), Zelena (Rebecca Mader), Robin (Sean Maguire), Belle (Emilie de Ravin) and company were able to transport to Emma’s location thanks to a nifty portal — and set off on a mission to free her from the darkness — the hour ended on a sour note. The ABC drama flashed forward a few weeks to the future, with everyone back in Storybrooke and Emma — now full-on Dark Swan — furious with her former friends, all of whom had no memories of what went down in Camelot.
“Emma, as we see in Camelot, is trying to resist the darkness [at first], and then she went full-on Lady Stardust at the end of the season premiere,” Once Upon a Time co-creator Eddy Kitsis told reporters following a recent press screening. “What happened? And how did that happen? That’s what we’re going to explore — what makes you succumb to the darkness? What makes you resist it? Her relationships with everybody are going to be tested. We love the idea of watching Hook fight for her, as well as Regina and her family. Emma came to Storybrooke a non-believer and now she is a leader and she’s united everyone. When you take the leader out, everyone starts bickering.”
“We also love the notion that two of the people that she has expectedly and unexpected grown closest to over the years, Regina and Hook, are both people who’ve battled darkness themselves,” Once Upon a Time co-creator Adam Horowitz added. “The fact that she is facing darkness — and they’ve faced it — [we can explore] how their experiences can inform what she’s going through and either help or hinder her. [It] is something that we want to explore this half of the season and beyond.”
To catch viewers up to what led to Emma embracing her darkness, the show will flashback to the time the characters have lost, though Horowitz noted, “it’s not going to be the whole winter before we catch up, and it’s not necessarily everybody at the same time.”
“It’s going to be very similar to season three that we are going to be flashing back to Camelot and then [going back to] present-day Storybrooke,” Kitsis said. “We’ll get Merlin’s origin story, we’ll get Arthur and Guinevere and Lancelot’s origin story [in these upcoming hours, too].”
But since the core group was in Camelot to save Emma, that will continue to be the focus as the series explores the missing time. “It’s about our core group of characters and what they’re going through in Camelot with regards to Emma,” Horowitz said. “We’ll see what seems to have happened to her, and explore that mystery and how they can or can’t help her.”
Going forward, the big question will be what the group could have done to Emma — or what she thinks they did to her — to cause her to reject them so fully. And everyone will struggle with that.
“Emma plays her cards very close to the vest — but that does not prevent her from interacting in very direct and close ways with characters like Hook, Regina and Henry,” Horowitz said. “While there is this mystery that’s going on of what may or may not have happened, we’re going to see relationships move forward in a new way, in the present, which is where we have a very dark Emma appearing. At the same time, in the past, we’re going to be seeing these relationships interacting. Choices are going to be made by different characters, by Emma and the people who care for her, and some choices that may seem like the absolutely correct thing to do, are going to turn out to be maybe the worst thing to do.”
Not all help will necessarily be good for Emma. Kitsis warned that Rumple’s (Robert Carlyle) Dark One persona will continue to hang around Emma “until she accepts the darkness or not.”
“There’s different forms of Rumple,” Horowitz added. “We saw this aberration in her head form and then of course there’s Mr. Gold in Storybrooke and we’re going to explore what’s going on with him.”
Emma’s newfound dark powers will also allow OUAT to explore the histories of the Dark Ones who came before her. “As the aberration said, [it] is all the darkness and that is the very darkness itself; it is a combination of all the Dark Ones,” Kitsis noted, adding that viewers will meet the first one.
As Rumple’s version of the Dark One leads Emma down that path, his Storybrooke persona, Mr. Gold — who is still comatose — will have his own journey this season.
“He might wake up,” Kitsis teased. “I don’t think it’d be much fun to see him lying around the whole season. His arc in Storybrooke is something we haven’t fully seen before. It’s going to go right into his very essence as a character.”
As Rumple heals in Storybrooke, his estranged wife, Belle, had her own adventure in Camelot … but she only left his side after the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy) gave her a rose that was linked to his health, with the promise that as long as the rose had petals on it, Belle could feel confident he was safe. (Which was a hat tip to the iconic Beauty and the Beast enchanted rose.) “My favorite Belle is the one where she’s strong. And we’re going to see that strength this year,” Kitsis said.
“Belle cares about what’s happening to Gold/Rumple right now, but that doesn’t mean that all is forgiven and everything that happened before doesn’t need to be dealt with,” Horowitz said. “It does.”
“When something really horrible happens to someone, you tend to push pause and make sure they’re OK and then you can go back to being mad at them,” Kitsis added.
Belle won’t be the only character who goes on a journey this season. As the core group fights to save Emma, some unusual partnerships might form. “Hook and Henry have a lot of stuff coming up,” Horowitz teased, pointing to a Henry-focused episode five. “What we love with Henry is that he’s growing up, and he can take a more active part in the adventures now. I think you’re going to see that he’s going to take a more pivotal role in some of the things that are coming up.”
There’s also a mysterious new character in the mix: Elliot Knight’s Merlin, who appeared to a young Emma (during a screening of The Sword in the Stone) and warned her not to pull the sword from the stone.
“We saw Arthur pull the sword,” Kitsis acknowledged. “And we realized that the Dark One dagger and Excalibur were meant to be whole, so we’re going to explain to you why that is, why Merlin is where Merlin is.”
“[And] why he was warning Emma all those years ago,” Horowitz added. “It’s not something we’re going make you wait the whole half-season for … we’re well aware that introducing him as the usher is the world’s worst mystery, so we’re not planning to play that as a long mystery.”
“Merlin is going to get an origin story that is going to explain his whole thing, and the Emma of it is going to come in [to play], so that arc will be explained,” Kitsis said. “And that warning will be explained as well right in the first seven episodes.”
Setting the flashbacks — and many of the origin tales — in Camelot will also allow for a new kind of fun. “The next episode is going to feature a grand ball,” Kitsis said. “We are going to see Arthur and David … have a bromance unlike any other. David, now that his daughter has magic and Regina is there, he’s starting to be like, ‘I was the guy who used to slay dragons — what’s going on?’ So we’re going to see a reawakened hero.”
“The adventure and romance that’s inherent in Camelot as a mythological story that we all know affects all of our characters,” Horowitz added. “So beyond just whatever mythology in our show that we’re exploring, being in this place of romance and adventure has an effect on each and every one of them, and we’re going to see stories where that really impacts them. While the stakes are super high for Emma, there’s still room for the fun and swashbuckling adventure.”
The high stakes will also bring tension for the people closest to Emma. “Mary Margaret and David have a past with someone from Camelot — Lancelot,” Kitsis said. “We know that Mary Margaret, if we remember back to season two, was able to have a child because of Lancelot. So we’re going to see those two — as desperate parents wanting to save their daughter — feeling powerless and not knowing who to trust, so there’s going to be a bit of palace intrigue. When you’re married and there’s a really bad situation and you can’t do anything about it, sometimes you turn on each other. We’re going to see Snow and Charming fight in a way we’ve never seen before and we hope that the fact that they share a heart wins out, but it’s all because of the emotion of just trying to save their daughter — we’re trying to play that in as real a way as possible.”
With Regina, in flashbacks, having possession of the dagger, that also colors the relationship she has with Emma and the people who care about Emma.
“It’s a lot of responsibility for Regina,” Horowitz said. “Regina’s a character who has grown a lot over the years and has tried to put her evil behind her and do good, but that part of her, the evil and the darkness, is a part of her. So she is kind of struggling with, how does she do the right thing and how does she help Emma?”
The ramifications of that will also bleed over to the present-day stories.
“You’re going to see in Storybrooke with, as we saw as good as Sneezy was as Sheriff [in present day], he went down pretty quick,” Kitsis said. “So it’s going to be everyone looking at the mayor. It’s one thing to ask everyone’s forgiveness; it’s another thing to lead people. So we’ve seen Regina on our side helping out the heroes, but she’s going to be thrust into a leadership position in saving the town, a town [with], quite honestly, a lot of people that are still frightened of her.”
“That also impacts Regina’s relationship with Snow, who’s someone who has been a leader and people have turned to,” Horowitz added. “It becomes, hopefully, very complicated and messy in a good way, which is these kind of familial and adversarial connections are now forced to [intersect] in a good way.”
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC. What did you think of the season premiere?