[WARNING: The following contains spoilers from the winter finale of Once Upon a Time. Read at your own risk, dearie!]
The Once Upon a Time powers that be won't be going by the storybook this time.
On the midseason finale on Sunday, Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) was forced by his wife Belle (Emilie de Ravin) to step over Storybrooke's town line and thus into our magic-free world. Naturally, he's already devised a plan to get his previous life back, but it required allying with his former enemies, the Queens of Darkness: Maleficent, Ursula and Cruella de Vil (Kristin Bauer van Straten, Merrin Dungey, Victoria Smurfit).
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Although fans have already been introduced to Maleficent, series showrunners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis tell TVGuide.com about their unique interpretations of Ursula and Cruella for the series. "We wanted a formidable group," Kitsis says. "In the first half of the season when we did Frozen, we were very faithful to the characters... but in the second half of the season, Maleficent is based on our mythology, and that is the same with Ursula and Cruella.
"We're going to find out how Ursula became Ursula," he continues. "We're going to see that she had a surprising cross with somebody from our world. And we're going to be meeting a different Cruella than we would remember from the 19s movie. ... Perhaps Cruella herself has magic or powers."
A magical Cruella? That would explain why Maleficent and Ursula would bother teaming up with her. In One Hundred and One Dalmatians, the Disney animated film based on the 1956 novel by Dodie Smith, Cruella de Vil was a woman who wanted to make a fur coat from the skins of pet dalmatians, but by no means had any special powers. It's possible that the show's Cruella will have a power related to canines. As fans saw on Sunday, Belle was following a cute dalmatian puppy just before she got captured by the Queens. "There are more dogs to come," Kitsis promised.
Check out what else is coming in the second half of the season:
Now that Rumple also wants his happy ending, the race to find The Author is on. How much will we delve into the process of how the storybooks are made?
Adam Horowitz: I think the entire mythology behind the storybook and any other storybooks and The Author and all that will be something that we intend to explore quite in depth in the second half of the season. We intend to reveal the identity of The Author and what that means for all of our people.
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With Emma (Jennifer Morrison) in on Operation Mongoose, are she and Regina (Lana Parrilla) now a match for Rumple and the Queens of Darkness?
Horowitz: That's going to be a really interesting task. With Emma now joining forces with Regina to help her, they're a formidable duo, but they've got a new problem coming to town that is more than they could possibly anticipate. We'll just have to see how that plays out.
We know that Regina has history with Maleficent. Will we find other Storybrooke characters have history with the other Queens of Darkness?
Horowitz: Yes, and first of all, early on we intend to show a flashback episode how the Evil Queen met Maleficent.
Edward Kitsis: You're going to learn that a few of our characters have surprising backstories with the Queens of Darkness.
Will we get flashbacks for those too?
Kitsis: Yes, we're going to get to go back to that time from Season 1, pre-Curse, where Snow and Charming have just taken back the kingdom and have been married. Although we're bringing in three new villains, we're going to be telling stories about our core characters and we're going to be focusing on them and their journey and their problems in the second half.
As with Rumple and Regina, we've seen that villains are not entirely bad. Will we find some humanity in the Queens?
Horowitz: As we've said from early on in the series, "Evil isn't born; it's made." I think we'll find that that applies to these new women as well. Hopefully the audience will discover that there is quite a bit of depth to each one of them and reasons for why they're doing what they're doing beyond just pure evilness. Which is not to say that there isn't a large dollop of delicious evilness.
Kitsis: Yeah, you can't have the Queens of Darkness and not have some evilness.
Is Rumple comfortable in our world?
Kitsis: He is not comfortable going somewhere without his magic. We're going to see a much more humbled Rumplestiltskin in the real world. He thought he could have everything, and he ended up with nothing. So now we're going to see a Rumple who wants to get it all back. He realizes that what Regina said to him — "Villains don't get happy endings" — maybe there's some truth to that. He never wanted to get rid of Belle, and we saw that he was willing to save Henry, but what he did want was freedom from the dagger... as he has that dagger, he can always be somebody's slave. So he made a mistake and he should have told Belle what he was doing. So his methods tend to be wrong, which ends up in him losing everything.
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Because Belle used the dagger to compel him, have his feelings changed towards her?
Horowitz: He had a chance to be free and once again he let that consume him. With Rumple, he chooses power over love. What I really think is that it's fear over love. He was frightened to come to a land without magic so he let his son go, and he was frightened to be enslaved by that dagger again so he tried to free himself.
There was that heartbreaking scene where he steps over the town line and tells Belle, "I'm afraid!"
Horowitz: That's exactly right. He was frightened to go into a land without magic because he doesn't want to go back to the coward that he was.
Kitsis: What we love so much about Rumple is that he's such a complicated character, and he has so many faults. It's fun because the audience likes to forget those faults, and when we remind them of them, they hate it. But he warned us in Season 1 that he was a difficult man to love.
Belle is heartbroken. What's next for her?
Horowitz: One of the things we loved about [the midseason finale] was that she finally got to stand up for herself. Belle is going to realize that she started out as someone who wanted to be a hero and save the world. She met Rumple, and then she was immediately married. So I think Belle has a lot of exploration as an individual to do first.
Regina is heartbroken too, but only as the result of giving up her true love and actually doing a good deed. How will that fall out for her?
Kitsis: We saw some hope for her at the end of the episode when this year's finale ended with the heroes joining Operation Mongoose. Everybody's involved with trying to get Regina her happy ending. Emma made a vow to her. So I'm thinking that Regina is staying on the straight and narrow path. I hope for good things for her.
Will we see any of what happens to Robin Hood, Marian (Sean Maguire, Christie Laing) and their son in our world?
Horowitz: Absolutely. Their story is not over.
Why did you decide not to show Anna and Kristoff's (Elizabeth Lail, Scott Michael Foster) wedding?
Kitsis: What we loved about Frozen was it was about the sisters. What was inspiring to us was telling a story about two sisters. We wanted to begin and end with the two sisters. It was never about the wedding for us as writers; it was about their relationship. So we didn't feel that was necessary or as interesting as the two of them clasping hands and going into [the wedding].
What did you think of the winter finale? Are you excited about Team Operation Mongoose taking on Rumple and the Queens of Darkness?
Once Upon a Time returns for the second half of its season in March on ABC.
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