Belief has been a central tenet of Once Upon A Time since the pilot, but its importance becomes more integral than ever in the first two episodes of season three, titled Heart of the Truest Believer and Lost Girl, which I just got back from screening!
First let me say that Neverland exceeds expectations -- the stakes are instantly raised as Emma, Snow, Regina, Hook, Rumple and Charming surface in this dangerously unknown land while Henry's journey is equally exciting, and just as unexpected.
Following the screening, OUAT creators Adam Horowitz and Eddie Kitsis took our questions, and while many of their answers will have to wait until after the world has seen the two-parter, here are five teases about what you can look forward to this year!
The Central Tenet
"Belief is really the theme of this season," Horowtiz revealed. "We're seeing how belief impacts each one of our characters." Kitsis adds, "For us, belief is so important with everything: you need to believe in magic, you need to believe in yourself, you need to believe in your family and Neverland runs on belief."
Finally Saying Never
OUAT was always destined to head to Neverland, according to the writers because, "Neverland is a place where you don't grow up, [so] you have to confront your past," according to Kitsis. "Our inspiration was the idea that these characters would have to return to the idea of who they were before the curse in order to achieve this. Last year was such a bullet, we wanted to give them a moment to reflect on what happened. Yeah, Emma looks at Mary Margaret as a mom, but does she really think of her as her mom?"
And those tensions come to a breaking point quite quickly this season. An expected outcome for anyone who has ever embarked on a real-life roadtrip, laughs Kitsis. "It's like any roadtrip: the first hour's like "Yeah!" The second hour is like, "Why would you buy Cool Ranch Doritos? This car smells! Are you kidding we have three [more] hours?" We want to build that up and have them go at it."
The Big Bad
Yes, there will be infighting, but Emma, Regina, Mary Margaret, Hook, Charming and Rumple will have to put their differences aside to deal with Peter Pan, a "sick, twisted kid" to use Kitsis' words. "We didn't want to just do a villain who wants world domination and wants to do something terrible," Horowitz says. "We wanted someone who had a really character-based motivation. What we said in season one is that evil isn't born, it's made. And that applies to all our villains, including Peter Pan. That's the story we're going to unfurl in these first 11."
In telling Peter's story we will be reunited with The Darlings and meet Tinkerbell! "We see Tinkerbell in episode 3 and like all the characters we bring into the Once world, we try to have a spin that's a little different," Horowitz says. "And [she has] a connection to some of the characters you've already met."
New Season, New Faces
The premiere re-introduces Robin Hood (now played by Sean Maguire), while episode 6, titled Ariel, brings the mermaid into this whole new world. "The spirit of Ariel is the spirit of someone who wants to see the world and experience things outside of what they know," Kitsis says. "We have our own little take on it, but the thing that makes Ariel such a great character is the spirit within her. And there is a fork!"
Not only is there a fork, but you can also expect to see Ursula and Prince Eric! "Our take on Prince Eric is slightly different than what you saw in the movie, but hopefully it honors what people loved about him in the movie," Horowitz adds.
Making Bad Look So Good
Early in the first hour, Hook and Regina have a conversation about whether or not villains can get a happy ending, and that's something Regina will struggle with all season long. A fact not made any easier by the fact she's surrounded by people she loathes. "This [quest] is not going to be easy for her; she doesn't want to go camping with The Charmings," Horowitz laughs.
As for Mr. Gold/Rumple, Horowitz teases, "The Rumple character poster says, 'Believe you can change your fate.' And whether you can or can't, is kind of a core dilemma for him [this season]. He's being ripped back and forth between this prophecy, which says 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 wiggle his way out of this? Can he wiggle his way out of this?" Kitsis adds, "[Rumple] believes he has nothing left to live for. He believes he's responsible for the death of his son. Neal is very important to many characters in the show right now, who are behaving in certain ways under the belief that he's dead."
Including Emma, who softens (a bit) to Hook's charms. Although Horowitz is quick to caution that it won't be smooth sailing for that particular 'ship. "The whole 'ship thing is an awesome thing fans bring to the experience of watching a show, but the story we're telling encompasses the relationships between all the characters -- and the bigger emotional story as well." Although Kitsis adds, "They think Neal's dead, and Hook is a man who obviously likes ladies. And as we saw last year when they climbed the beanstalk, Emma has captured his heart a little bit, but Neal is fighting like hell to get a second chance with her ... although Emma is focused on Henry [and] her heart has been broken too many times to worry about dating right now. But we'll see, she’s got two handsome guys!"
Once Upon A Time premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC.