Once Upon a Time Returns With a 'Whodunnit Mystery' That's Quite Wicked, Even a Bit 'Creepy'

Once Upon a Time Season 3 SpoilersIt’s Valentine’s Day on the set of Once Upon a Time, but there isn’t a whole lotta love in the air — if only because of dire circumstance.

When TVLine visited one of the ABC drama’s Vancouver location shoots, a small clutch of characters was gathered at a familiar location (well, familiar to all but one of them) to solve a life-threatening riddle — namely, to find out what has happened to them and at whose (possibly green?) hand. “Maybe Belle will have more luck…,” one character muses. “There has to be something that can help us.”

The second half of Season 3, premiering Sunday at 8/7c, “is much more of, in a broad term, a whodunnit mystery. In a lot of ways,” says Eddy Kitsis, who created Once with Adam Horowitz. And the nature of said puzzle is unsettling, to say the least. “It’s kind of creepy, but a good creepy — a little like a horror film,” Ginnifer Goodwin posits. Jennifer Morrison concurs with her TV mom and longtime friend, adding: “It’s supernatural in a different, adult way.”

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As ABC’s third-year drama entered its long winter break, the vanquishing of Peter Pan and his curse upon Storybrooke came with a price: Rumplestiltskin seemingly perished, while everyone else — save for Emma and Henry, now sapped of their Storybrooke memories and living in New York City — was transported back to the Enchanted Forest. The fracturing of families (Emma torn from the parents she never knew, Regina sacrificing a future with her son) would seem indefinite, so all parties must for the time being get on with their lives, as somewhat false as they may be.

HOME AGAINOnce Upon a Time Season3B Spoilers | Upon being returned to Fairytale Land, “Everyone has a different agenda,” says Lana Parrilla. The Charmings, for example, think it prudent to make camp somewhere, even if it means crashing at the Evil Queen’s castle. “Do we rebuild? How do we rebuild? What’s the state of Fairytale Land? Those are the questions,” says Josh Dallas. “It’s a very different place compared to 28 years ago, so there’s a lot to be done. But of course, some things are going to get in the way of that.”

But not everyone is content to play house. Captain Hook’s priority is a very pirate-like one, while Neal is resolved to not just confirm his father’s fate (for better or for worse) but also to reunite with Emma. Alas on that second front, he gets little back-up from his true love’s folks. “Because Mary Margaret and David never could be the parents they wanted to be for Emma, it was their chance at the end of the [midseason] finale to let her go and be happy,” Dallas explains. “So when they see that Neal is determined to find her, they try to say, ‘Look, this is where we live now and that‘s where she and Henry are. We have to let them go.'” LANA PARRILLALuckily, the erstwhile Baelfire finds at least one ally. “Most of us stick together,” Goodwin reports, “but Belle does go on an adventure with Neal.”

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And then there’s Regina, who having sacrificed a future with Henry “is not the same Evil Queen that we once knew,” Parrilla acknowledges. “She made a very brave choice, for the betterment of her son, and for Emma, knowing that the consequences were probably not going to be positive. So when we see her again, she’s a different woman.” The discovery of a new foe, however, could raise the cackler’s hackles. “The second part of this season is pretty much about building up the Wicked Witch (Lost‘s Rebecca Mader) versus the Evil Queen,” Parrilla affirms. (And just what differentiates Evil from Wicked? “The Evil Queen’s main focus was revenge — she wanted to hurt others because of what they did to her — while the Wicked Witch is about envy, wanting things that she never had,” Parrilla explains.)

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THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES…? | Things are a bit less wicked in New York City, where for a year now Emma has “been very content. She has a real life for the first time ever,” Morrison reports. Embedded with a tweaked memory in which she never gave Henry up for adoption (yet still feels betrayed by baby daddy Neal), “She has memories of raising her child, feeling like she made the right choice and was there for him.” What’s more, Emma’s dating a great guy named Walsh (played by Covert Affairs‘ Christopher Gorham). And while the bail bondswoman will always guard her own heart — a lasting after-effect of her upbringing as an orphan, Morrison notes — “She’s definitely JENNIFER MORRISON, COLIN O'DONOGHUEinterested in the idea of Henry having a father.”

As such, one can’t blame the blonde beauty for casting a very wary eye on the guylinered, leather-clad gent who in the winter finale stormed into her life trying to convince her that she’s living an idyllic lie — and tried to smooch her, to boot. “It’s just weird enough that he shows up at my door dressed as Captain Hook. That alone would be enough to raise some concern,” Morrison notes with a laugh. (So, why didn’t NYC-savvy Neal, the other fella from Emma’s past, make this bold trek instead? “The answer to that is a little complicated…,” Colin O’Donoghue teases, “so the task fell upon Hook.”)

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What will it take to for the semi-good captain to make Emma remember her past? In short, “A lot of persistence,” Morrison answers. Adds O’Donoghue: “Hook thought that true love’s kiss might work.” But since it didn’t, “He has to figure out another way to jog her memory. Because his whole purpose is to get her to come back to Storybrooke to help save her family.”

Wait — come back to Storybrooke? Didn’t the town blink out of existence when Regina stopped Pan’s curse?

THE YEAR OF LIVING MYSTERIOUSLY | This is where the “whodunnit” comes into play, because the Charmings, Regina and others have somehow been deposited back in the sleepy Maine burg, this time aware of their fantastical identities yet conspicuously wiped of their memory of the past year spent in FTL. As such, they can only wonder: Why? And to what end? “It’s almost like there hasn’t been time for us to be terrified about what happened, because we’re still ‘on the first page,’ gathering everyone,” says Goodwin. “There’s not enough puzzle pieces at this point to even begin to figure it out.” Adds the actress’ TV/real-life love Dallas: “There are a lot of questions.”

Once Upon a Time Wicked WitchMaybe the “new” gal in town, Zelena, can conjure up a clue? Or… maybe not. Because part and parcel with everyone’s bout of selective amnesia, the genial ginger’s true identity — as the Wicked Witch — is a well-kept secret. “All we know is that she’s something of a kindred spirit to Snow White, and she seems so genuinely kind, which I think is really the core of what makes her so wicked,” Goodwin remarks. “She’s just so damn likable! Rebecca called her ‘Mary Poppins.'”

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Again plucked from their enchanted home, and unwittingly held prisoner by an unknown entity who’s quite possibly milling among them? It sounds like Fairytale Land’s finest might need their Savior again, and soon, to help lead a campaign to unravel this twisted reality.

“Just as in the [Neverland] part of the season, we see characters that normally wouldn’t work together do just that, for the greater good,” Parrilla previews. “The characters are constantly surprising one another, and I think that’s pretty magical.”

Want even more scoop on Once Upon a Time, or for any other show? Email insideline@tvline.com and your question may be answered via Matt’s Inside Line.