Dealing with family can often be challenging, but in the world of Once Upon a Time, the element of magic has made the family dynamic even more complicated.
Jennifer Morrison's down-to-earth Emma had previously lived a rootless existence, but now she's decided to stay in Storybrooke long-term, and her presence has begun to chip away at the curse the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) had unleashed on the town. While this has caused the residents to see changes in their lives that have put them on the path to learning their true fairy tale identities, Emma is also undergoing her own transformation. Although she's currently unaware that the alter ego of her roommate Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) is actually both her mother and Snow White, living with her has made an impact.
"In the beginning of the year, Emma was a person with walls up, who didn't let anyone in," executive producer Edward Kitsis tells TVGuide.com. "We always said she's a character looking for home, but she doesn't know where that is because she's never experienced it. Now, through the year, we've seen Henry [Jared Gilmore] and Mary Margaret poking at that wall. Underneath that wall is the role of being a savior, and who wants the job of saving everybody when you can't save yourself?"
Though Emma has been mainly working to uncover the true motives of the mayor Regina — who is in fact the Evil Queen and therefore Mary Margaret's stepmother -- as the series heads towards its first season finale, Emma's emotional journey will come back into focus. "She's going to have to make a decision what she wants out of her life, if she wants to stay in this town and what her role in this town is going to be," executive producer Steve Pearlman says.
In particular, the upcoming Wonderland-themed episode on March 25 will mark a turning point for Emma in whether she truly believes in the curse or not. "She obviously doesn't believe in any of this, but now there's been enough people who have said enough things that there's enough cracks for her to start to figure out that something is going on," Morrison says. "She's slowly, but surely broken down to possibly believe."
Believing that the curse is real, and that the Storybrooke residents are actually fairy tale characters, means that Emma will have to accept that her new best friend, Mary Margaret, is actually her mother, whose actual identity is also Snow White — both of which the roommates often joke about in passing. "Ultimately, there's going to be a point where that has to happen," Morrison says. "I think we're headed toward those worlds having to be exposed in some way. Emma can't be skeptical for six years."
As Emma continues to butt heads with Regina, the producers plan to juxtapose their often hostile relationship with that of Snow White and the Evil Queen. "The parallels between all those characters, and the fact that they're all one big dysfunctional, twisted family is something we're playing into in a big way," executive producer Adam Horowitz says.
Those parallels will play heavy into an early April episode, where the audience will finally learn the catalyst of the Evil Queen's hatred for Snow White, which ultimately lead to the curse. To tease the upcoming reveal, Kitsis asked fans to ponder this: "Why was the Evil Queen so unhappy at their wedding? Why did her very wedding make her so upset?" Adds Horowitz: "True love seems to piss off the Evil Queen, why is that?"
"It's a real gift to the audience that we're going to tell that story this season," Goodwin notes. "It's a very important piece of the puzzle, and folks will sympathize with the Evil Queen in ways they're not expecting."
As TVGuide.com previously reported, that episode will flash back to a young Evil Queen — and a young Snow White not played by Goodwin — and the Queen's own mother, Cora (Barbara Hershey). "Cora helps me understand Regina more because the way Regina is with Henry — we see that she loves her son, maybe not in the healthiest way, but she does and that's very similar to how Cora loves Regina," says Parrilla, who also teases that we may see more heart-crushing before the season is up. "Cora loves her daughter, but she wants the best for her and she controls and manipulates the situation in the same ways that Regina does with Henry."
While Parrilla was shy to say whether Regina might ultimately change her mind about the curse, she noted, "There are some concerns and questions around the curse that you'll see, like, who really made that curse and what was in that curse?"
Still, the curse may be affected in other ways as the producers plan to call back to the premiere's pivotal clock-ticking moment in the finale. "It's huge," Pearlman says of the season-ender. "It's quite large in typical Lost fashion. With Emma coming to town in the pilot, she got the clock to start ticking, which started to affect everybody in the town in different ways. In the season finale, there will be something that will happen that will affect everybody in the town."
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.