One Tree Hill's Lucas and Peyton
Last time we saw Lucas Scott (Chad Michael Murray) and his troubled group of friends on the CW's One Tree Hill, his uncle Keith had returned from the heavens to offer his nephew a glimpse of the world without him. Starting tonight at 9 pm/ET, we get to see what Lucas does with that information. Will Keith get his wings? TVGuide.com turned to series creator Mark Schwahn to get some answers about the fate of Tree Hill's dramatic seniors, plus some old secrets, new faces and his hope to experiment with a bit of "time-traveling."

TVGuide.com: The show definitely left off on a different note before the holidays, when deceased Keith (Craig Sheffer) returned to enlighten Lucas. What made you do that sort of episode?
Mark Schwahn:
We usually go into our hiatuses with big cliff-hangers, but as you know, the week before had all the cliff-hangers — the big car accident with Haley (Bethany Joy Galeotti), and Lucas' heart attack. Normally that's where we would leave the audience, but this is our fourth season, and I just felt like we didn't have an opportunity to play Christmas because [it's] actually spring in the lives of the kids in Tree Hill. Around the holidays, people miss their loved ones, and I wanted to write an episode that told those people it was going to be OK. A couple of people said, "Why is It's a Wonderful Life on the TV in the hospital if it's spring?" I wanted to remind the audience and the people of Tree Hill that it is a wonderful life.

TVGuide.com: And then at the end we see Lucas open his eyes, so we know he's awake. The main question I was left with was whether he'd remember that he had that experience.
Schwahn: His journey, certainly in the next handful of episodes, is in coming to terms with what he saw. When you're visited by a dead uncle while you're unconscious, do you act on the things you saw? Do you believe them?

TVGuide.com: But at the same time, Nathan (James Lafferty) has been having visions, trying to remember what happened at the bridge a while back. Will he and Lucas bond over seeing Keith?
Schwahn: We use Peyton (Hilarie Burton) as more of a conduit for Lucas to cycle through all of these things, because Peyton has had so much loss in her life. And it was her who said to Nathan — when he told her at Rachel's house party that he had seen Keith — "Do you not believe it could happen, or do you not believe it could happen to you?" If anybody had a stake in believing that you could see people you have lost, it would be Peyton. It's a very smart instinct to bring Nathan and Lucas together over this, but Lucas shared a kiss and confessed his feelings for Peyton. Now what are they going to be?

TVGuide.com: Right, is it going to make them stronger together?
Schwahn: Well, I think it has the opportunity to. They're two kids that carry around the weight of the world quite a bit. Can they agree together to let go of that weight? The theme for Lucas and Peyton is, "How do you learn to be happy when you've spent so much time carrying grief around? Do you feel guilty for being happy? Is it OK to let it go, especially when you're 17?" Does he have a responsibility to act on the things that he saw, and should he take them to Karen (Moira Kelly), open up those wounds for her again, based on, what, a dream?

TVGuide.com: As far as Nathan and Haley go, I thought for a minute that you might have her lose the baby because of the car accident. Was that ever a consideration?
Schwahn: I love Nathan and Haley, and most of our audience does as well. If we let them be happy, they'd probably be bored, but I never considered having her lose the baby. She would be losing it because of the decisions and mistakes that Nathan had made, and I just didn't feel like they could recover from that.

TVGuide.com: This week, Haley discovers Nathan's dealings with Daunte, which caused the accident. Is that going to break them apart?
Schwahn: In a refreshing turn for Tree Hill, he's going to tell her the truth! [Laughs] She's going to struggle with his deception — not to the degree that our misdirected promo department will lead you to believe — but she certainly has issues with his decision-making. It's a pretty satisfying arc for them. Ultimately, I think that Nathan and Haley, as a couple, can weather almost any storm.

TVGuide.com: And meanwhile, Dan (Paul Johansson) is facing murder charges, sitting pretty in jail after taking the blame from Nathan. Is he finally going to be punished for a lifetime of cruelty, even if this particular accident wasn't his fault?
Schwahn: Probably not. [Laughs] Here's what's really interesting: He may flip out of this one. It may be because he's pulling strings, it may not be. I feel that he took the fall for Nathan because he's healing himself for murdering his brother. If he is set free, that may be the worst thing to happen to Dan.

TVGuide.com: That's true. He's really haunted.
Schwahn: He's very haunted, and it's almost like he's trying to punish himself without saying, "I murdered my brother," because he knows he could never recover from that. If set free, it's almost like he's in his own personal prison.

TVGuide.com: I thought the truth about Dan killing Keith might come out when Lucas revisited the high-school shooting scene. Is that secret going to come out, or what?
Schwahn: That secret will come out.

TVGuide.com: This season?
Schwahn: Yes, this season. I don't know if it will come out before the next hiatus, though.

TVGuide.com: It's so frustrating to watch!
Schwahn: It's a delicate balance. How long do you drag it out? Is there a point where the audience is simply frustrated, or are they still intrigued and putting the pieces together? There is a person who knows the truth and [that person] will turn up the heat. Increasingly, Dan will find that his world is shrinking in terms of the deceit he carries around.

TVGuide.com: If Dan gets out of jail, will we see more of him getting closer to Karen? It's kind of creepy that he's been inching his way back into her life while she's pregnant with his dead brother's baby.
Schwahn: I know, it is creepy, because the audience knows the truth. But I really don't suffer Karen for the choices she's making, because she is in a vulnerable position and she doesn't have many people to turn to. Deb's pill addiction is taking her out of the friendship loop, and Karen finds herself isolated with another pregnancy, similar to where she was 17 years ago — and the guy who abandoned her then is available to her [now] emotionally.

TVGuide.com: Are we going to come full circle here?
Schwahn: What I'm compelled by is [the fact that] as they grow closer, the truth about Dan murdering Keith grows closer as well, and that's going to lead to some explosive things.

TVGuide.com: Is Keith going to visit the Tree Hill gang again?
Schwahn: He might. I actually have a scenario where we would see Keith again. I don't know if we're going to do it, but there's a possibility.

TVGuide.com: Is the Brooke/Peyton/Lucas triangle going to continue, or will Brooke (Sophia Bush) have a separate story line?
Schwahn:
Brooke's story line right now is that she's failing calculus and she's going to decide not to cheat but to study. She's going to learn, in her words, that she's "Brooke smart" and not book smart, at which point she and Rachel are going to set their sights on stealing the calculus exams. That story line intersects with Shelly (Elisabeth Harnois), the leader of Clean Teens, who we met earlier in the year. There's a new member of Clean Teens, Chase, played by Stephen Coletti from Laguna Beach, and Brooke's going to take an interest in him. At that point, we'll find out how dedicated he is to a life of abstinence. [Laughs] There is a huge fan base dedicated to Brooke and Lucas, and sometimes [those people] feel a bit betrayed, just as the fan base dedicated to Peyton and Lucas felt betrayed. That tells me that we've done things correctly — that's the strength of a love triangle. Peyton spent a really authentic time with Jake, and I think that Brooke could spend a really authentic time with another character, which doesn't necessarily mean she won't find her way back to Lucas or he won't find his way to her.

TVGuide.com: Do you know if the show will be on next season?
Schwahn: No, I don't, and if you can find out for me.... [Laughs] I've talked about jumping the show ahead five years and skipping college if we come back next season. It's unprecedented and it's never been done, and I think it would be a really compelling journey to take. It doesn't mean we wouldn't go back and dedicate entire episodes and substantial moments to nights in college that affected where they are now.

TVGuide.com: I think I would want to see that!
Schwahn: Well, I would want to write it. When most of these shows go to college, it's hard to create the energy and enthusiasm for their journeys, but as a storyteller, there's such a sense of excitement to tell those stories. I think it would reinvigorate the show in a really good way, so hopefully the CW will see the merits in it.

If you like teen angst, you'll love The O.C. series-finale scoop appearing in the Jan. 15 issue of TV Guide.

Send your comments on this Q&A to online_insider@tvguide.com