Once Upon a Time: Jennifer Morrison on Emma's 'Complicated' Love Life and the New, Dark Threat

Once Upon a Time Season 2 SpoilersOnce Upon a Time‘s family tree got a lot more contorted when the ABC drama revealed that Rumplestiltskin’s long-lost son and Emma’s baby daddy are one and the same. The same episode ended with a grim bombshell, that The Dark One learned long ago from a seer that the “young boy” who reunites him with Bae would be his “undoing” — to which Rumple shrugged, “Then I’ll just have to kill him.”

TVLine spoke with Jennifer Morrison about Emma’s reunion with her first love Neal (and what it means for any potential “Hook-up”) and the dark cloud hanging over Henry, as Season 2 resumes Sunday at 8/7c.

VIDEO | Once Upon a Time‘s Emma and Neal Have ‘The Talk,’ Rumple Has a Brutal Reunion

TVLINE | So, Rumplestiltskin’s son is also Henry’s dad and Emma’s ex (played by Michael Raymond-James). Do you feel the show is strongest when dealing with these tangible family dysfunctions, albeit in a fantastical context?
It’s an unbelievable family tree, and when you really start to dive into those relationships and the connections between those people and the relationships between those people, it really starts to come to life. As an actor, that’s what excites me, to get to play with and figure out the best possible way to bring that stuff to life.

TVLINE | What I liked about “Manhattan” is that characters had a chance to, like, stop and breathe. I’m watching the scene in the bar, thinking, “This is really great, because Emma and Neal are just talking like people talk.” There’s no mystical mumbo jumbo going on.
There is sort of an interesting relief about having a breath in the real world, where there is no magical solution to something. It’s just real people with real problems and they’re going to have to deal with it — and Emma, I always feel like she’s a different person when she’s taken by surprise. She’s worked so hard to build a tough exterior in order to protect herself, based on all the things she’s been through in her life, 2Once_FallFinale_EmGoldthat she is always her most vulnerable and her most vulnerably honest when she’s taken by surprise, because she doesn’t have time to process her thoughts or to put that wall up. It allows for a lot of stuff to come out of her that we don’t normally get to see.

TVLINE | We were left with quite the reveal, in what the seer told Rumplestiltskin…
There’s now this looming threat, basically, on Henry’s life that no one’s aware of, and it’s something I think they’re setting up to pay off over time. It’s also interesting because the Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold character has really evolved — we’ve gotten to see two very different sides of this man, even in the Storybrooke world. He does have this love for Belle and he does have capacity to be good, and yet he’s also got this capacity to be darker than anyone else. He’s also made true on his deals with Emma, so oftentimes Emma does end up aligning with him, knowing it’s like “the devil you know or the devil you don’t.” With him, there’s a certain, almost bizarre “code of ethics” to his evil.

TVLINE | But like you just said, we the audience now have to somehow reconcile that with the fact that he has this longer term plan that does not bode well for little Henry.
He does, yeah — and if there’s anything we know about Gold, it’s that he will do whatever it takes to save himself. That is obviously the most foreboding, JENNIFER MORRISON, MICHAEL RAYMOND-JAMESknowing that if Henry is a threat to his life, he will definitely be a threat to Henry’s.

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TVLINE | Is the story moving forward about Emma coming around to Neal’s point of view on why he bailed on her back in the day? He’s laid out his case.
It’s a lot for her to take in all at once, and she doesn’t really have time to process any of it because so much happens so quickly, immediately after getting this information. I do think there is some sort of closure in her mind, having the explanation that he wasn’t just screwing her over. But that doesn’t change the fact that he still made a decision to not be with her, to allow her to suffer even more by letting her go to prison. In her mind, when there is love that was as true as what she had for him, you choose love. You don’t choose the person who comes to you and tells you, “Well, she’s got a job to do.” It’s why it’s hard for her to completely forgive her parents for giving her up, like she said early in this season. “Yes, you did what you thought was right for everyone else, JENNIFER MORRISON, ROBERT CARLYLE, JARED GILMOREbut what about what was right for me? I would have been in a curse, but I would have been with you.”

TVLINE | That was a great point she made.
She seems to always be the victim of that particular circumstance, which is someone making a decision for the greater good and her having to serve the greater good, instead of anyone taking care of her or letting her take care of herself.

RELATED | Scoop on Once Upon a Time‘s Regina: Did Cora Cast a Spell on Her?

TVLINE | Has Emma unwittingly leveled the playing field with regards to Regina? Is Regina going to seize an opportunity to prey on Henry’s hurt?
On some level. But unfortunately for Regina at this point, she is so wrapped up in her own sort of mess that’s going on with her mother… and her failing at trying to not use magic … that she sort of misses seeing her opportunity. She does make a move to get him back, but she doesn’t necessarily make the most strategic move based on the circumstances.

TVLINE | As we have seen, she and Cora have a much larger, nastier endgame going on.
This is [creators] Eddy [Kitsis] and Adam [Horowitz] doing such a great job of seeing the complications of human nature, which is that she still has a love for her mother, despite all the terrible things that have happened. It makes that situation incredibly complicated for her. Regina is incredibly powerful and she has found ways to push her mother out of her life, COLIN O'DONOGHUE, JENNIFER MORRISONbut now that she’s back … it’s hard for her not to be seduced by that idea of maternal love again.

RELATED | Once Upon a Time Seeks New Mad Hatter for Possible Spin-Off

TVLINE | Adam told me that Emma’s love life is going to become “really complicated” — care to elaborate?
[Laughs] I think it’s becoming incredibly complicated, incredibly slowly. Nothing happens quickly for Emma in love, unfortunately. Neal has someone in his life (played by The Walking Dead‘s Sonequa Martin-Green), so even though Emma’s saying she doesn’t care for him, you see that glimpse of, “Oh, I really don’t want to hear about this guy having someone he’s in love with.” In the meantime, obviously there’s always been a connection, some kind of “kindred spirit” element, between Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) and Emma.

TVLINE | Well, I was going to ask about Hook, because I know that while he comes with lots of baggage, here he is now, freshly betrayed by Cora and Regina. Maybe he’ll look to align with the forces of good for a bit?
I’ll be interested to see what happens with that, because we haven’t gotten to a point yet to see what that decision is. He’s so caught up in his own need to have revenge against Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold for what he did to Milah. All we know is that Emma does definitely feel a connection to him because she also started out as a thief, she also started out as abandoned in certain ways, she also lost love at a young age…. They have all these things in common, so as much as she sees him as someone she needs to keep under control or keep away from her son for sure at this point, there’s an undeniable connection between them as well.

REMINDER: I will be moderating Once Upon a Time‘s PaleyFest panel Q&A this Sunday, March 3, at 1 pm PST. If you can’t make it to Beverly Hills, watch it on LiveStream.