ABC's Once Upon A Time is once again starting its season in a strange new world-- for its characters as well as its audience. When Henry (Jared Gilmore) was snatched by two real world villains doing the bidding of a secretive "Home Office" in the season finale, his family formed the most unlikely road trip-- well, boat trip-- and set sail after him to bring him home. The journey will bring all of our beloved characters, from Henry to his mother Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and her parents Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming (Josh Dallas) to the slightly more villainous Regina (Lana Parrilla), Rumple (Robert Carlyle), and Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) to Neverland-- a world where little boys, led by Peter Pan, never grow up. But none of the characters in Once Upon A Time are exactly what we'd expect them to be from the stories we may have grown up reading or watching, so true to its form, neither is Peter Pan nor the world which he inhabits. Emma may have been a fish out of water stepping into the cursed Storybrooke in season one, but here we have a group of fish out of water trying to navigate a dark and dangerous jungle to ward off Lost Boys and find Henry.
"We've always wanted to go to Neverland, but we really wanted to focus on the core characters, and we thought because Neverland is a place where you don't grow up that you have to confront your past. So what we did-- our inspiration was the idea that these characters have to 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. Last year was such a bullet, and we wanted to have time to reflect on what's happened and what does it mean," Once Upon A Time executive producer Eddy Kitsis said during a special Q&A in Los Angeles.
"It's complicated and hopefully in a good way in that they're an unusual family…There's this 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 sort out some of these issues that they have, " Adam Horowitz added.
The new setting, therefore, especially in the first two episodes of the season, per producers, is really a "prism" through which we will see deep details about all of our core characters. Collectively they are on a very external mission, but individually, they will each have to confront issues about themselves and with each other that threaten to derail their plans and even the best of intentions.
And it's not just the place itself that is the cause of this but rather its ruler, Peter Pan. In Once Upon A Time's world Pan is demonized-- he is literally called a demon by a character with whom he shares a past. He is an old, angry soul trapped in a forever youthful body, and he manages to strike fear into even some of the biggest villains we have met those far. How he does this is by being a master manipulator of those around him.
"Our characters are all looking for a happy ending; they're all looking for love. It's just what choices do you use to get them? Some people are okay playing hardball; some people want to do it the right way. Peter Pan is an interesting story, and I think as it slowly unfolds…he's a sick, twisted kid…He gets in your head and says 'Oh what is the thing that you're most insecure about? I'm going to exploit that!'" Kitsis said.
"Somebody who refuses to grow up has to have a lot of problems because it sounds great when you're sixteen but when you start to turn twenty-five or older you go 'Oh God, I would hate to be 16 again!' or 'I'm missing out on all of the things of life.' And he just hit the pause button. 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 having to go back up the river to get him."
Once Upon A Time will explore how Peter Pan became this way, because as Horowitz pointed out, the show has always explicitly said that "evil isn't born; it's made." Season three will dive into his backstory to get a sense of who he was before, how he came to be who he is now, and what he really wants with Henry.
"What we wanted was someone who had a really character-based motivation for why belief was so important to him, and that's the story we're going to unfurl," Kitsis said.
Henry has always been a very special child. He was able to see the truth in a story book he read, and he dragged his birth mother to a strange town to convince her she had a part in not only his life but that entire town's. The third season premiere of Once Upon A Time gives Henry a brief flashback moment (the first of what producers promise to be at least a few this season with a core one coming in episode nine to show how he got adopted) to see the origins of his specialness, and yes, some of the magic within him comes from his genes. But more of it comes from the fact that he genuinely believes-- in magic but also in those around him.
"Henry, as we've seen over the years, is a very independent, resourceful boy who has now been thrown into a situation where that will not only be tested, but he's going to have to deal with not just as we've seen before running away but also a psychological test because Pan…is the ultimate manipulator," Kitsis said.
"The thing that makes Henry so great is his belief. He believed enough to get on a bus, to go to Boston, to meet this woman who gave him up for adoption in a prison in Phoenix to come back because Snow White and Charming needed to remember who they were. And it worked. It worked. But this is a world where that belief is going to be used against him...[it's] really kind of the theme of this season so far, and we're seeing how belief impacts all of our characters. Neverland runs on belief."
Once Upon a Time returns to ABC on September 29 2013 at 8 p.m.
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