by Zach Van Norman
The writer's room of Once Upon A Time is full of many talented, hard-working people who fashion the stories of the show with a love and respect for the material with which they've been given responsibility. Andrew Chambliss and David H. Goodman are two of those writers. Together they have written or co-written 46 episodes of the show, including "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree," "Hat Trick," "The Cricket Game," and "Lost Girl," among many others; the two of them have also co-written the penultimate episode of season five, "Only You." They recently spoke with me on a phone call from Vancouver, where they were on-set for filming of the season five finale, to offer hints at things to come and share their insights about our favorite fairy tale.
Like Henry, and Isaac before him, many Oncers are authors in one trade or another, mainly novel-like stories known as "fan fiction." Screenwriting is different from other forms of literature in that the writer is responsible only for the story and script; once they're finalized, it's up to the crew to bring the words on the page to visual life. Given this unique perspective, it had to be asked whether there are times when an episode airs a scene which looks exactly the way the writers pictured it? "Sure!" says Goodman. "I would say part of that is a function of the two of us having been part of the show for so long that, at a certain point, you know when you’re writing it when you’ve hit the tone, when you’ve got a Regina line that you know is going to stick, or you’ve got a Gold line that you know is going to stick. I’ve written lines where I can see it onscreen for sure."
"There are a lot of times when we’re surprised by things in a way that is really good," Chambliss says in reflection. "You’ll write something and you picture it one way, but then the cast, they’re incredible, they come up with ways to make a scene work with a depth that you maybe hadn’t thought of when you’re sitting at the computer or when we’re in the room talking about it. So it doesn’t always come out as we imagine it, but generally when it does, it’s for the better, because there’s some angle of the scene that we didn’t see that the crew and the cast see. And you get these nice, fun surprises of saying, “Wow! I didn’t even realize that moment was buried in the scene.”
The cast has indeed done an incredible job bringing new depths of humanity to their television personas. These characters have transformed a great deal (literally, in some cases), and their evolution, particularly that of the villains, has stayed with the writers. "Andrew and I have both been on the show since, essentially, the day after the pilot, and [we’ve] been with the show the whole run," says Goodman. "I think the thing that struck me then, it doesn’t strike me as much now, is… the evolution of the… villains. I think when I sat down and watched it, I never thought the show would do such an amazing job, and Adam (Horowitz) and Eddy (Kitsis) would be so determined to dig into the lives of the bad guys just as much as the good guys. And... it’s not something you see on television, and it’s been a fun element to work on."
Chambliss echoes those sentiments. "I think David and I had a moment the other day when we were up here on set looking at the villains who are the driving forces of season one with Regina and Gold, and… how five years ago, did we ever think they would be on the side of the heroes? More so with Regina, but it’s just crazy to really think how we’ve lived with them as real people."
Regina is easily the character who has changed the most since the series began, but we have yet to see her offer an apology to Emma or the Charmings for casting the curse that broke up their family. Since the Underworld is forcing our characters to face their pasts, could we see Regina take responsibility for the pain she's inflicted on this family? I think that [there] will definitely be this season, from Regina’s perspective, a lot more introspection for what she’s done and what that means for who she now that she’s become a hero with the rest of the Charming family," says Chambliss. "We’re definitely going to see a lot more development in terms of Regina’s character and her coming to terms with who she was and who she is now."
Lana Parrilla as Regina. Image Credit: ABC Studios
Villains on the side of the heroes? Regina working with Snow White? Such a thing was unthinkable in the early days of the show. Once mortal enemies, Regina and Snow's animosity has evolved into an unlikely friendship, built on a foundation of support and encouragement thanks to quiet scenes where they could stop for a moment and express how they feel about what has happened in their lives. Goodman agrees, offering a hint at things to come. "I think you’re hitting on something that we just touched upon," he says, "and I think as season five continues, you’re going to continue seeing the effect of those two women on one another and standing by one another as they confront things from the past, [as] they confront things from the present moving forward."
At times, Regina and Snow's relationship has led to some distinct role-reversals, a scenario which the writers are very aware of. "I think one of the things we just saw a couple episode ago, in “Labor of Love,” was Regina being the one to go up into the loft and have to give Snow the pep talk, and say, ‘Find that strong character who you used to be, because we need her now,'" says Chambliss. "Just in terms of evolution, you would never think… the woman who blamed Snow White, unfairly blamed her for the death of Daniel, would be in the opposite position of trying to make this woman, whom she spent so much of her life hating, find the hope and become that hero who, the whole time in the Enchanted Forest, she wanted to destroy."
"We give props to Lana (Parrilla) and Ginny (Goodwin) for their performances there," Chambliss continues, "because that scene just distilled what that whole episode was about. I think, from Regina’s point of view, she’s not the kind of person who’s going to talk about that, and that does take them to these extreme circumstances where it pushes what she’s feeling. And it’s not something that happened overnight, she’s probably been feeling this way for a long time. But in that moment, she realized she had to be honest with her and say something that she probably thought she would never say to Snow."
Lana Parrilla and Ginnifer Goodwin as Regina and Snow White. Image Credit: ABC Studios
Regina and Snow's hostility played out, for the most part, during the early days of Snow and Charming's relationship. When asked if the Charmings would face changes in their partnership, Goodman gives a bit of a tease for what they'll encounter together. "You’re much more going to see the two of them facing things that the two of them have faced in their past as opposed to facing interpersonal stuff between the two of them," he offers. "And that doesn’t just go for them. In the episode coming up featuring Captain Hook ("The Brothers Jones," airing Sunday March 27), we’re going to be seeing him delving back into his backstory and one of his most important relationships with his brother, and seeing the unfinished business that he has in terms of that relationship."
Another relationship that will face unfinished business is that of Gold and Belle. We learned in "Devil's Due" that the beauty and the beast are expecting a child. This happy occasion is marred by Gold's past decision to sell his second-born baby to an Atlantean healer, a deal which now applies to the impending Gold-en child. "This is a character who is always walking a line between good and bad and he’s always being tested between making decisions between power and love," says Goodman. "I think you're gonna see him in a new mode, where he is really, in a way I don’t think he has before, coming to terms with that duality and being a little more open about those two sides of him, and how both of those sides need to co-exist in order for him to be who he is."
Coming to terms with duality is a challenge all of our characters face, including the most Wicked of them all, Zelena. Many audience members have expressed hope that she will let go of her wickedness and find redemption, but there appears to be no stopping her at present. There is, of course, the possibility that she will find love, and that this will be the catalyst for her turning to the side of good. One possible mate is Hades; #WickedDevil is the latest ship name to appear on the Twitterverse, and Goodman and Chambliss support it. "We like it!" says Goodman with a laugh. "It’s definitely an interesting pairing," echoes Chambliss. "And I think it teases what’s to come. Hades, right now, other than the connections he’s had to our characters through their unfinished business, does have a connection to our characters that we haven’t seen yet. So I think I”d say to the audience, 'keep watching,' because there are some fun surprises with Hades and some of our other characters."
Greg Germann as Hades. Image Credit: ABC Studios
Whatever surprises are in store for the end of season five and their episode "Only You," they were unable to share them with me ("If we do, you'll never get the opportunity to speak with us again!" laughs Goodman), but with such quality storytelling to their names, rest assured that Andrew Chambliss and David H. Goodman have helped craft something special.
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8pm on ABC. Thank you to Andrew Chambliss, David H. Goodman and ABC Studios.