“Once Upon a Time” has left Storybrooke behind — for now. Emma (Jennifer Morrison), Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin), Charming (Josh Dallas), Hook (Colin O’Donaghue), Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) and Regina (Lana Parilla) all head to Neverland in the third-season premiere. Their mission: to rescue Henry (Jared Gilmore), who was kidnapped by Tamara (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Greg (Ethan Embry) in the season finale. Their adversary: Peter Pan (Robbie Kay), who may be the show’s fiercest villain yet. It’s a more sophisticated, focused and cohesive arc than the often meandering second season that takes the show back to its roots.
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Executive producer Edward Kitsis explains, “We really wanted to focus on the core characters and we thought because Neverland is a place where you don’t grow up, then you have to confront your past. So what we did, our inspiration was the idea that these characters would return to who they were before the curse in order to kind of achieve this and at the same time, we wanted to have them dig deeper into what everything means.”
At a recent press screening, the show’s executive producers revealed five things you need to know about Season 3 of “Once Upon a Time,” which premieres Sunday, Sept. 30 at 8/7c on ABC:
1. The Road Trip from Hell Is Family Therapy for the Charmings. During the premiere, the Charmings — Emma, Snow and Charming — along with their assorted nemeses, find themselves in literal and metaphorical choppy waters on a very long boat ride to Neverland. At one point, everyone comes to blows. “We just wanted them to be like, “We’re getting on this road trip together because we’re all united under Henry,” and on any road trip, the first hour is like, ‘Yeah!’ The second hour is like, ‘Why would you buy Cool Ranch Doritos?'” said executive producer Adam Horowitz. In addition to being very funny, the scene establishes the dysfunctional Charming family dynamics. “They’re an unusual family in that there’s this odd age thing going on between them. They’re the same age and also they’ve been separated for many, many years, and now they’re thrown together on a mission and, really, for the first time in an enclosed kind of space, they’re able to start to deal with and sort out these many, many issues that they haven’t really had a chance to address yet.” Kitsis adds, “For Snow and Charming, they realize that in this moment that their daughter doesn’t really look to them for parental guidance. And that’s something hard to get. So they’re realizing in a lot of ways, they need to earn it… And I think what is hard for the Charmings is that they realize their daughter grew up without hope and that they have to instill it back in her and how do you do that when your son is kidnapped and in you’re in a place that’s making you confront your past, because she has more in common with the Lost Boys than she does with Snow and Charming.”
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2. Peter Pan Is Not So Big, But Oh So Bad. The Neverland of “Once Upon A Time” bears little resemblance to the island of fun from the Disney animated film. In this version of the story, Peter Pan is not the hero. He is a very dark, troubled teen. Says Kitsis, “For us it came from a character place which is, someone who refuses to grow up has to have a lot of problems… we thought, well, this guy is probably there alone and we started to think about Heart of Darkness and Peter Pan started to become Kurtz to us, and we started to talk about going up the river to Happy Gap. “Peter Pan may be the show’s scariest villain yet, making even Rumplestilskin shake in his boots. He gets in your head and he says, ‘What are you most insecure about? I’m going to really exploit that.'” Peter’s immediate agenda is to take something valuable from Henry, but he has beefs with several other characters. His youthful appearance, and that of his minions, the Lost Boys, makes him even more dangerous. “That is a really interesting dilemma to have villains that, just by looking at them, you really can’t engage in a real way. They look like children, like boys,” says Horowitz. Kitson elaborates, “It is a challenge because even Regina is like, ‘You’re a teenager,’ but in the same respect, they seem to have a profound effect on Emma… That guy is so creepy and the Lost Boys have a bit of the Lord of the Flies situation going on. But it is tough and no one wants to kill children. But they want to get Henry back and this is their villain.
3. Meet Ariel and Robin Hood and Tinkerbell. This season we will meet more characters from the fairytale universe. British singer Sean McGuire plays Robin Hood, who will appear in the first two episodes. “He’s a character we’re really excited about because he’s a thief but he’s a thief with honor. He has a sense of honor and a code to him, but there’s a sense of playfulness that we think Robin Hood needs,” Kitsis said. Since the show is visiting Neverland, Tinkerbell (Rose McIver) turns up in the third episode and Wendy appears a little later. Horowitz reveals, “All the characters that we bring into the “Once” fold we try to have a spin on it that’s a little different than what you would expect and also there’s a connection [Tinkerbell has] to some of our characters that you’ve already met and, as for the Darlings, they’re so integral to the Peter Pan story. We have not forgotten about them and there is a connection and tie in and we’re doing that as well.” “The Little Mermaid’s” Ariel (Joanna Garcia) will appear in episode six. “I think the spirit of Ariel you’ll see Joanna Garcia play really well, which is the spirit of somebody who wants to see the world, who wants to experience things outside of what they know,” said Kitsis. Added Horowitz, “There’s a fork in the episode.”
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4. Rumpelstiltskin Tries to Fight His Fate. The Charmings are not the only ones working through their psychological issues. Rumpelstiltskin also will deal with his Daddy angst. “We’ve hinted in the past that his father was a coward and that his father’s name was something that haunted him and that his father left him,” reminds Kitsis. “Episode four is called ‘Nasty Habits’ and that will be his first backstory that we see this year.” Rumpelstiltskin’s family drama will inform the decisions that he makes in his attempt to fight the prophecy that Henry will be his undoing. “The character pictures we’ve been releasing every couple days, on the Rumpelstiltskin one, it says, ‘Can You Change Fate?’ And whether you can or you can’t, that is a dilemma for him because he is being ripped back and forth between this prophecy that the boy will be his undoing and the fact that the boy is his blood. What are his priorities? What’s he going to do? How’s he going to do it? Can he wiggle his way out of this?”
5. Emma Is at the Center of a Multi-Dimensional Love Triangle. Last season, viewers noticed the chemistry between Emma and Hook. This season, their flirtation will heat up, though Hook will face competition, both from a romantic rival and everything else that is going on in Emma’s life. “Obviously, they think Neil is dead. Obviously, Hook likes ladies. And, as we saw last year when they climbed the beanstalk, Emma has probably captured his heart a little bit,” said Kitsis. “But in the same respect, we see that [in Fairyland] Neil is fighting like hell to get a second chance with her and, right now, I think that Emma is focused on getting Henry. She’s not somebody who likes to let her walls down. Her heart’s been broken too many times for her to be worried about dating right now. But we’ll see.”
“Once Upon a Time” premieres Sunday, Sept. 30 at 8/7c on ABC.