As ABC's "Once Upon a Time" races towards its winter finale, the many fantastical story threads are coming together as Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and her daughter Emma (Jennifer Morrison) try to return to Storybrooke and keep the dastardly Cora (Barbara Hershey) and Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) from following them. Also, there's a small matter of Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) being trapped inside a sleep spell as well as the exploration of deeper layers for both Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Gold (Robert Carlyle).
There was only one place to get all the non-spoilery answers to where things are heading with this Sunday's episode so our Jim Halterman ventured to Storybrooke (a.k.a. Vancouver, where the show films) as part of an ABC-sponsored trip to talk to the cast members.
Regular viewers already know that this season has been jumping between two locales of Fairytale Land and Storybrooke with Snow and Emma have been stuck in Fairytale Land and have been trying desperately to get back home. As physically and emotional challenging as that has been, Goodwin admitted there has been an upside to the mother/daughter being together on this quest. "I just could not wait for these mother/daughter scenes," she gushed. "And they weren't at all what I expected because I didn't know that we were going to be thrust into a fairytale world and therefore our bonding would occur as a result of our having to deal with magical obstacles."
The experience also gave Goodwin's character a chance to step into the motherly role. "These two women learn a lot about themselves and each other at the same time and Mary Margaret/Snow White's sort of Mama Bear instincts take over often... [she] takes down some ogres to defend her daughter's life, things like that. So they were sort of fast forwarded through that [and] they were bonding at light speed, which I think is really marvelous in how we told that story."
While Morrison was also happy with that aspect of the story, there were others elements of Fairytale Land that she personally was glad to leave behind. "I was thrilled to no longer carry around a giant, heavy, compass," she said. laughing. "I've swung logs with that compass in my hand and had knife fights and had sword fights and I've had hugs and I've climbed a beanstalk. Literally, I was like, 'I don't even know how to act anymore without a giant compass in my right hand, or in my pocket.'"
There was a not-so-happy side to leaving the fairytale world behind, though. "I felt like it was bittersweet," Morrison said. "Because I really enjoyed working with both Sarah Bolger [Sleeping Beauty] and Jamie Chung [Mulan] and not to say that they're not going to be back in different ways but the four of us will never be in the forest again and have a nine-episode journey in the forest together and we just had a lovely time."
But one interesting story component for Emma in the fairy tale world has been her potentially romantic relationship with Hook, who, according to O'Donoghue, isn't truly the villain that we think we know... or is he? "I think it's a bit more complex than the outwardly evil Hook that people are probably used to... he wasn't a completely wholesome guy in the first place and probably, pretty ruthless." However, the Irish actor added, "The way I see it is that he will use his charm up to the point and if it's not going to work, then he'll have no problem killing the person if he has to; that's the way I see it. It's kind of like a sociopath in a weird way. Like he'll use somebody to get his own means, but once they're done, they're done, that's it, move on kind of thing."
Devious or not, Morrison sees an attraction between Emma and Hook as a result of their characters being more alike than we might first believe. "They're definitely kindred spirits," Morrison stated. "They're both thieves and they've come from troubled pasts and they've both lost a true love, so I think that there's a lot that they recognize in each other. So there's that camaraderie and also the combativeness of that right away." Plus, Morrison added, Emma's love life needs some attention. "I'm hoping that Emma has some romance in her life. It's been a while."
One thing Emma hasn't had a lot of time to do this season since she's been away from Storybrooke is get to know her father, Charming. "I hope we explore it more," Dallas offered. "[David] doesn't want to push it, he doesn't want to push that relationship because it's been a long time and she's never known her father or anything like that. So he doesn't want to push her and I think he is more interested now in getting to know her as a woman and who she is as a friend before delving deep into that kind of parental role."
Amidst the time spent in both worlds in the sophomore season, two of the show's more evil characters - Regina (a.k.a. The Wicked Queen) and Mr. Gold (a.k.a. Rumplestiltskin) - have shown much more dimension this year and both the actors couldn't be happier. "I've done so much of the historical background for this character," Parrilla said, talking from her character's Mayoral office, "so it's kind of nice to see it all coming to fruition this second season." Viewers shouldn't worry, though, that just because we've seen the softer side of Regina this season that she has lost her wickedly ways. " I know everyone misses the evil queen but she's not too far from our future. She's coming back."
Carlyle admitted that he doesn't see Mr. Gold and Rumplestiltskin as different people but is clearly thankful for all the various sides to them. "Gold/Rumple is the same guy," he said, "so it's two different sides of the same coin, really. But I really enjoy it, particularly on the Rumple side because sometimes you go back to pre-nasty Rumple and getting the opportunity to do that all in the one episode... to play three, sometimes four roles in the one, it's very unusual to get that in mainstream TV. So I'm blessed. I really enjoy that."
But, as Carlyle added, don't forget that Gold/Rumple has an objective that he always has his sights on. "Everything about him is about finding his son," the actor said. "Everything is about that. Nothing takes precedence over that - love, power, nothing. It's about that now, so he will definitely try to find his son, that's for sure." Despite that objective, Emilie de Ravin, who plays Gold's love interest, Belle, said that she would never get in his way of his search. "She is completely supportive of that," the former "Lost" star said, "and I think that really she is the only person that he talks to about that and for him to open up about that. And for him to open up to somebody about something so personal is also a big character development."
With all the changes in the second season of the series, Dallas said he was initially a little nervous about how viewers would take to the changes. "It's such a wacky premise and I didn't dream that they would break the curse in the first season, I thought that was going to be the thing over four or five seasons or whatever. To break it and completely change the whole setup of the show and the rules of the show was yeah, totally frightening. But you know I put full faith in [executive producers] Eddie [Kitsis] and Adam [Horowitz] that they know what they're doing."
"Once Upon a Time" airs Sundays at 8:00/7:00c on ABC.