[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the midseason premiere of ABC’s Once Upon a Time.]
With Once Upon a Time ending after its current seventh season, the ABC fairy tale drama is now in its final stretch of episodes — and the show has set up a killer arc heading toward its series finale.
The midseason return revealed more information about Frozen villain Mother Gothel’s evil plan, one seemingly evil character was redeemed as she sacrificed herself for her child and a mysterious killer arrived in Seattle with an unknown agenda. Creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz spoke with reporters about the final 11 episodes, and touched on the killer character introduced at the end of the episode, new Disney characters headed to the show before it wraps, and the fans’ sometimes negative response to the rebooted series.
“Secret Garden” focused on Zelena’s (Rebecca Mader) daughter Robin (Tiera Skovbye) harnessing her witchy power with the help of Mother Gothel (Emma Booth), who turned out to have an ulterior motive (freeing the Haunted Mansion’s Madame Leota). Zelena offered to sacrifice herself for her daughter, but came out safely — and got her power back. Victoria (Gabrielle Anwar), on the other hand, dealt with Gothel in present-day Seattle. She wanted to save Henry (Andrew J. West) and Jacinda’s (Dania Ramirez) daughter Lucy (Alison Fernandez) from the coma she’d placed her under to save her own youngest daughter Anastasia (Yael Yurman) — which meant taking her eldest daughter Drizella’s (Adelaide Kane) life in return. But it turns out Victoria wasn’t as evil as everyone thought she was, and ended up sacrificing herself so that all three girls could live.
Meanwhile, Henry and Jacinda had undergone testing to see if they could help revive Lucy, and the doctor supervising the little girl’s care discovered that the still-cursed Henry was Lucy’s father. But before she could tell the parents, she was murdered by a mysterious figure wearing black leather gloves who took a lock of her hair and gathered the test results before anyone could see.
According to Kitsis, that murderer will remain a central figure in upcoming episodes. “Someone is, we will find out, killing witches. So while Gothel is trying to assemble a coven, someone is trying to knock them off and that is what we’re going to be seeing for the next little bit,” he said.
Added Horowitz, “The identity of the gloved perpetrator is a mystery. It’s not the mystery, it gets revealed probably sooner than you expect, but it’s opening a story avenue.”
Horowitz and Kitis promised familiar Disney witches will be some of the members of the coven Gothel is assembling, and they teased how that storyline will tie into the others.
“The coven story and the serial killer story and what Gothel wants sort of intertwine,” Kitsis said.
Added Horowitz, “it becomes less an external mystery and starts to reflect back on our central people in a really direct way.”
As for Victoria’s death, it played into a frequent trope on Once Upon a Time: that evil isn’t born, it’s made. Victoria (a.k.a. Rapunzel) was deeply affected by her time trapped in the tower, but it turns out she wasn’t the unredeemable villain she appeared to be.
“At the end of the day, she was able to reclaim who she was and I think that’s always been a message on the show,” Kitsis said. “This is not a show where we expect you to be perfect, this is a show where we all say okay, every day we make mistakes but it’s how you come back from them. We felt like that was a fitting ending and also Ivy now has to deal with what happens when you spend your entire life hating someone and then you realize you shouldn’t have, they really liked you. Now where do you put that hate?”
And yes, there will “absolutely” be more deaths before the season ends.
Other storylines before the series wraps will include more of Robin’s romance with Alice (Rose Reynolds), a flashback to Henry’s college tour as Jared Gilmore returns to reprise his role in episode 20, a Zelena-centric episode directed by star Lana Parrilla (Regina), and more with Robert Carlyle’s mysterious Weaver/Rumplestiltskin.
“He has a very, very tough mission, which is to resist his darker impulses so that he can keep his heart clean and go back to Belle, and that’s going to be challenged,” said Kitsis, adding, “As Weaver or as Rumple or as Gold, he is the dark one who wields the most powerful dark magic, and at some point someone’s going to want that knife. We’re going to see a couple of people go after him in this second half and it’s going to be very tough for him to not punch back.”
When Kitsis and Horowitz announced their intention to reboot the series in the midst of the departures of Jennifer Morrison, Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin (none of whom are confirmed to return for the series finale, though Kitsis and Horowitz promised announcements in the coming weeks), some fans weren’t pleased — and they continue to tweet their displeasure at the duo online. But Kitsis and Horowitz both stand by their creative choice to reboot the series and are proud of the episodes, despite some fans’ vocal disappointment.
“We have a very, very vocal fan base, and so I think there’s a lot of people that aren’t tweeting that like what we did this year, and I think the episodes are really fun,” Kitsis said. “I think the people that work on this show were very energized by doing something new. That being said, sometimes when you go to see a band you just want to hear their early songs so what I think Once has that is so strong is the cast, and the cast and the people that you’ve grown and loved for six years it’s very hard to let go of. That’s really what it comes down to, and so do I regret it? Absolutely not because I would regret it more if I was trying to string along this without Snow and Charming and being like ‘We got a letter from Snow today! Let’s go to the library!’ For us, we at least got to finish that version the way we wanted to and I’ve loved a lot of the things we did this year.”
They began the season knowing there was a possibility it would be the final one, so there’s an ending they’ve had in mind since the beginning of the year that they’re going to continue to write toward in the emotional final days of the writer’s room.
“We’re going with that plan,” Horowitz said. “There’s no alternative.”
Once Upon a Time airs Fridays at 8 p.m. on ABC.