ABC’s Once Upon a Time is going to hell — or a facsimile thereof, when Season 5B premieres Sunday at 8/7c.
When last we tuned in prior to the series’ long winter nap, Emma (seemingly!) transferred all of the Darkness from her and to Hook and then slayed him, (seemingly!) ridding the world of the Darkness forever. Emma, though, is determined to rescue her love from the dire fate that his selfless sacrifice dealt him, by traveling to the Underworld to split and share her heart.
In that wild realm, however, far too many familiar faces (namely, foes) await Emma, Regina, Rumple, the Charmings et al. There also resides the one and only Hades, who for obvious as well as surprising reasons does not wish our heroes to succeed in their mission.
What follows is the bulk of my Season 5B Q&A with Once creators Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis — some of which has previously appeared on TVLine — punctuated by fresh-from-Vancouver soundbites from several of the series’ stars.
TVLINE | What you’re doing there with Storybrooke-as-the Underworld is obviously practical on a cost basis. But did you at any point consider building sets, doing something with creepy caves and stalagtites and stuff?
EDDY KITSIS | We may have done both…. Stalagtites and stuff would not appear on the location [shoots in Steveston]. There’s more to our Underworld than may be apparent in photos.
TVLINE | So it’s not just “Steveston through a filter.”
ADAM HOROWITZ | It’s not just “Steveston through a filter,” and I’ll also say this: There’s a reason for why some of the Underworld appears the way it does, why it appears to be a Storybrooke in a different form. Without us spoiling too much, there’s a very specific reason why the Underworld appears as a screwed-up version of Storybrooke.
STEVE PEARLMAN (EXEC PRODUCER) | From a production perspective, it’s been really fun to take our world as we know it and turn it on its side — to make it Mr. Gold’s shop, but a different version of Mr. Gold’s shop. [The vision] was always a topsy-turvy version of Storybrooke, but there was quite a bit of design work that went into it, to make it look real but a bit apocalyptic. And then there is also a series of hidden caves and rivers that are a bit more in line with the mythology of Hades and Zeus.
TVLINE | I like what the Underworld does for you, in getting to revisit past characters such as Cora, Pan…. It almost feels like a “greatest hits” album.
KITSIS | That’s right. With the back half of Season 5 and the 100th episode, people will see that there’s a very Season 1 feel to it. The theme is “Unfinished Business,” because there’s a lot of emotional closure that hasn’t happened between people we’ve seen and lost. It was a great way to celebrate five years of the show and get a chance to see people we haven’t seen in a while that really impacted us.
HOROWITZ | Sometimes you have to look back to move forward and that’s part of what the storytelling is about in the second half of the season. While there certainly are old friends and old enemies from the past who return in a new form, it’s about how the past of many of our core characters has held them back or has prevented them from finding the place that they want to be in their lives.
JOSH DALLAS (DAVID) | The coolest thing about the Underworld is that we get to confront our pasts, which is always a dangerous thing.
TVLINE | Give me a flavor for one of the reunions.
KITSIS | One of the reunions is Regina seeing her mother again – especially since the last thing her mother said before Snow White killed her was, “You would have been enough.” We’ve never seen Regina and her mother cordial.
LANA PARRILLA (REGINA) | They left off in a pretty good place, except it ended pretty quickly. So when you first see them, they have this really warm, deep embrace. They’re really happy to see each other and experience what their relationship could have been with Cora having her heart back.
HOROWITZ | I’m also very curious what it’s like for Rumplestiltskin if he were to encounter his father again.
TVLINE | Emma of course is on a journey to save Hook. Could he possibly not want to be rescued? Is it, like, the ultimate “man cave” down there?
KITIS | It is for some people, I’ll say that!
HOROWITZ | You are very perceptive on that front, but we don’t want to get more specific than that.
COLIN O’DONOGHUE (HOOK) | When Hook sacrificed himself, he did it for all the right reasons, and he never expected to be found. Whether they find him or not… he did what he did to save the people he loves.
HOROWITZ | And we will say this: The impetus to rescue Hook is the tip of the iceberg. Meaning, we’re designing the second half of the season to not be the binary question of “Do they rescue Hook or do they not?” That’s just our entry way to another world and what we hope is a wealth of stories that impact all of our characters.
TVLINE | What is Hook’s mindset when we next see him?
O’DONOGHUE | Hook is in a bad place — geographically, mentally, physically…. [Laughs] He is not doing well.
TVLINE | Do those in the Underworld take kindly to visitors?
HOROWITZ | Some do, some don’t. And there certainly are agendas down there. There certainly are some who are more welcoming than others. Some are very happy to see people who are not dead, and there are some who are very, very unhappy. That’s the fun of designing this half of the season, bringing in characters will all different agendas into this crazy world.
TVLINE | Might Emma get detoured from her objective? What drama and obstacles await her “down under”?
HOROWITZ | Although following Hook is what initially brings her to the Underworld, once there it becomes a journey that forces her to look inward and come to terms with the fact that her role as Savior has not been fulfilled, and is actually just beginning.
JENNIFER MORRISON (EMMA) | Trying to save Hook from being dead is an obstacle in and of itself! Also, her family has decided to go with her, which means a lot to her because she has never had that support in her life before, but it’s also a lot of pressure. We’re also encountering people who have “unfinished business,” and some of that unfinished business is because of us.
SEAN MAGUIRE (ROBIN HOOD) | There are obstacles everywhere. There are a lot of bad people from the past coming back, and they’re not too happy with our heroes. If Once Upon a Time was the Star Wars franchise, this would be Empire Strikes Back. This is gonna get dark, it’s gonna get a little scary, and there are going to be a few surprises.
TVLINE | What sort of conflict might the Charmings run into?
KITSIS | David does have a brother that he’s never met.
DALLAS | Let’s just say that David might come face to face with his past….
HOROWITZ | I kind of love the idea that the Charmings are so smart and so good and want to do so well, they ran headstrong into this, thinking they’ll just be “in and out.” But the Charmings are not privy to our work in the writers room, and we’re spending some time in the Underworld. There certainly are consequences to that sort of headstrong jump, where they left a child behind [in Storybrooke]…. There are some really emotional things they’re going to have to deal with because of that.
TVLINE | They acted as if they were just ducking out to a Walgreen’s.
HOROWITZ | Pretty much!
KITSIS | [The heroes] are all a little cocky now. They’re like, “For 100 episodes, we’ve been kicking villains’ asses and always winning.”
HOROWITZ | But in all seriousness, we do love that idea that the Charmings are so heroic that they didn’t really think — “We’ll just do this and we’ll be back and it’ll be fine.” But it’s much more complex than that. They have to deal with being a family and what that means and all the responsibilities that come with it.
DALLAS | [Leaving baby Neal behind] was not the best parenting choice, and they’re feeling that. They don’t want to make a mistake, like they did the first time with Emma.
TVLINE | Tell me about the always entertaining Greg Germann (Ally McBeal). If Cora is the “mayor” of the Underworld, how does Hades fit in?
HOROWITZ | It’s his domain, and Greg is a very, very fun actor who brings amazing amounts of depth and skill. He can do all sorts of things, which were very excited to have him show you. There are very specific reasons for why Hades is in the Underworld, some of which you can probably guess, based on the mythology of Hades in general. But we’re going to do our Once spin on it and have some fun in seeing what he’s doing down there and why. He also has a very direct connection at least one of our characters. He’s not related [to someone], but there’s a very important connection that were going to reveal.
TVLINE | Does Hades strike fear in even the worst of those in the Underworld, or is it more of a professional respect?
KITSIS | He strikes fear in the worst of them.
TVLINE | What qualifies one to linger in the Underworld?
KITSIS | That is a question that we will answer pretty quickly.
HOROWITZ | Are you looking for a place to move, Matt…?
KITSIS | The Underworld is kind of a weigh station between two other worlds. Hades has a brother that’s up in Mount Olympus, and then there’s a place “downstairs” that’s even worse. This is kind of a domain where you’re there because you haven’t found closure yet.
TVLINE | So if we don’t see, for example, Neal down there, it’s because he’s moved on to one of those two destinations?
KITSIS | That is correct. It must be because he moved on.
HOROWITZ | And that applies to pretty much anyone we don’t see down there. I will say this: It is our hope that in the premiere and certainly in the first couple episodes that the rules of who is there and who isn’t are clearly delineated, so the audience can understand who they’re seeing and not seeing and why. If not, they can find me on Twitter.
TVLINE | Does Emma at least inquire about Neal when she gets there?
KITSIS | I would think that it would be very disappointing for her to go down there and not have somebody talk about Neal. [TVLine has since reported that Michael-Raymond James will appear in the winter premiere, as Neal.)
TVLINE | What do you want to say about bringing back Milah?
KITSIS | Again, we’re in a place where there are people who are dead. She has a big connection to two of our main characters, so we don’t want to spoil anything, but… Emma’s been with a few people Milah knows, so that could get really weird.
HOROWITZ | I love the idea of Milah learning just how she is connected to all our characters.
TVLINE | Speaking of Belle (played by the pregnant Emilie de Ravin), how will you keep her busy back home?
HOROWITZ | We have plans to keep Belle busy.
KITSIS | We’re going to get a Belle backstory, about her time before Rumple, that will lead right up to [the events of Season 1’s] “Skin Deep.” Belle’s going to have stuff on her plate.
TVLINE | Is it a maybe an “every third episode thing” or…?
HOROWITZ | I’d say we’ll see her more than that; it’s not like she’s disappeared from the show. Although she didn’t get on the boat with our heroes, she becomes very involved. She’s important to the story. We left Belle and Rumple in a place at the end of the midseason cliffhanger where that relationship was evolving and having its own new obstacle [Rumple’s Dark One status] that we’ll eventually put in its way. We’re not in any way abandoning any of those story threads. We’re hoping, and we hope the audience agrees with this, that we pick up on them in an unexpected way. Particularly because she didn’t get on that boat, the audience may expect her not to be involved, but that’s not our intention.
TVLINE | What are you doing with Zelena in Oz, and the new “warrior” Dorothy?
KITSIS | The Zelena story in Oz, and Dorothy, will tie into our Underworld story pretty significantly.
TVLINE | Zelena is “down but not out”?
KITSIS | She’s never out. Not usually!