Once Upon a Time's Charming family reunion was painfully short-lived and that won't change any time soon.
In last Sunday's premiere, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) was sucked into a portal to what was left of fairy-tale land after the curse. Unwilling to lose her daughter again, her faithful mother Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) jumped in after her, sending them both directly into the clutches of presumed enemies Mulan (Jamie Chung) and Aurora (Sarah Bolger).
So now what? The journey back to Storybrooke will be a long one, according to consulting producer Jane Espenson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica), who penned this Sunday's outing, in which we also learn the origin story behind Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Rumplestiltskin's (Robert Carlyle) troubled relationship. Get the scoop:
For the writers, how hard has been it been balancing three story lines?
Jane Espenson: When we started the season with the three threads instead of two, we were all tentative. Will this work? It really quickly became evident that it was not just going to work, but it was going to step everything up. For the first time, you have story lines that are happening contemporaneous with each other. We always had those fairy-tale story lines from the past. We just felt this excitement when we got to the end of Episode 201, when we do that reveal that these two stories have been happening at the same time. We can still tell stories from the past, so we've got three different colors of story on the board; we write on the white board with different color ink. We've totally fallen in love with these stories.
In Sunday's episode, we'll see how Regina met Rumple, which kind of sounds like When Harry Met Sally... in a way, though I'm sure it's very different.
Espenson: [Laughs] Can an evil queen and a wicked sorcerer be friends? They are the main focus of this episode, but there's an awful lot going on in town with David (Joshua Dallas) as well. They're sharing the spotlight. I'd listen carefully to what Rumple says about their first meeting. Maybe this is their first meeting, but maybe they go even further back.
For Snow and Emma, they're enemies of this land because of the Wraith. How are they navigating those waters?
Espenson: They've got a lot of explaining to do. It's not just about explaining that it's not their fault, but where did they come from? Are they who they say they are? Who is that anyway? We don't know what relationships Mulan and Aurora had with the characters that we've already seen from fairy-tale land. Will they know the name Snow White or not? Of course, Emma doesn't know anything about this world. We handed them a big old of bouquet of obstacles to deal with. Not to mention, they're dealing with charred fairy-tale land. I'm reminded of cinder Earth from Battlestar Galactica and what happens when you find the place you've been yearning for and it's not what you thought it would be. It's interesting for both sides. Aurora and Mulan are going to have to deal with who these people are, who they naturally blame for this terrible situation. And we have to deal with Snow and Emma, on the other hand, dealing with this strange world.
Nice Battlestar reference.
Espenson: We never say it explicitly in the room, and I don't think [executive producers] Adam [Horowitz] and Edward [Kitsis] have made the parallel, but when we talk about fairy-tale land, I can't help but think of cinder Earth. It's not, in any way, narratively used in the same way, but I always think of that heart-dropping feeling of finding Earth and it's cinder. It's very evocative.
Going back, you mentioning Aurora and Mulan possibly not being aware of Snow White is a parallel to Whale (David Anders) telling Charming that he's not his prince. Is that a geographical thing, or could that be Whale knowing that Charming wasn't really the prince?
Espenson: I've heard a couple different interpretations of "You're not my prince." One being that he comes from a land that's not fairy-tale land, another being that he comes from a different part of fairy-tale land and has an allegiance to a different prince. I hadn't heard that one. That's cool too. Whale gets more and more interesting, doesn't he? I love that notion. That line is one of my favorite lines ever because it is so multiply interpretable. Obviously, we're keeping the Whale mystery going. It is worth thinking about that line and all the different things it could mean.
Emma's reaction to that line was also very strong. She's really starting to realize her father is a prince!
Espenson: She has some amazing takes in these early episodes, where she's just still reeling from this realization and taking in this new world. It's not just intermittently heartbreaking — and the heartbreak on Snow's face when she hugged her, my God, and Emma realizing that she's found her parents and nothing that she thought was true is true — but it's also funny because we're dealing with this modern woman who's dealing with these crazy things that are apparently true. Beyond that, these are things she's read about in fairy tales throughout her life. It isn't just, "My father's a fairy-tale prince," it's, "My father is Prince Charming?!" That very notion is so comedically rich. Jennifer does such a great job of playing the comedy of it.
How soon will we get a sense of what the real danger is now in fairy-tale land?
Espenson: They will be on to the danger in Sunday's episode; you'll learn a lot more. Look, in particular, to the very ending of Sunday's episode to get a glimpse at some real danger. It's not just ogres. It's so much worse.
Is part of that danger Hook (Colin O'Donoghue)? Are there people who have taken advantage of what this leftover world is?
Espenson: The new cinder FTL has a number of dangerous characters in it, let's just say that. And yes, Hook is going to be introduced. Is there a line between those two? Sounds like a good guess to me.
FTL, aka fairy-tale land, made me think of Battlestar again!
Espenson: It all goes back to Battlestar. [Laughs]
How difficult will Emma and Snow's journey back to Storybrooke be? Not only just the journey, but dealing with Emma's feeling about Snow and Charming having given her up.
Espenson: Absolutely. It's not just going to be Snow and Emma trying to get back, but obviously David trying to figure out how to get them back from the other side. We don't know how possible that is. It's not going to be easy. The first scene of Sunday's episode is not going to be, "Oh look, I got the hat to work!" It's going to take some real effort and I would look for that to not be resolved right away. We've put them in a very difficult situation and we're not going to make it easy to get out of it.
And David can't just turn to Jefferson (Sebastian Stan) to have him make a new hat?
Espenson: That is a very smart step to go to Jefferson. Does David know about Jefferson? I like that idea a lot and I wouldn't be shocked to see Jefferson show up at some point because he would be very useful.
Speaking of the hat, Emma appeared to have a hand in starting it up in the premiere. What are the consequences of the fact that Emma can apparently do magic?
Espenson: Can she do magic? Or facilitate magic? Or conduct magic? That shot of her hand on the arm was certainly evocative. It was not meaningless. I wouldn't take that to mean Emma can do magic. But yes: Emma. Magic. Some sort of loop around those two words. Again, the first scene of Sunday's episode is also not going to be Emma making frogs appear. You're on a very long journey with these characters.
To find out what the first scene of Sunday's episode will be, tune in at 8/7c on ABC!
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