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Jane Espenson Teases Once Upon a Time’s ‘Return’

By on April 20, 2012
Jane Espenson. Photo credit: Adam Bouska

Jane Espenson. Photo credit: Adam Bouska

 Once Upon a Time returns to screens on Sunday April 22 with a brand new episode, aptly titled ‘The Return.’ The episode, penned by writer/consulting producer Jane Espenson (whose extensive writing credits include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, The O.C., Gilmore Girls, Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones and Torchwood among others) promises to shed light on the mystery surrounding August (Eion Bailey), and in particular what his presence in Storybrooke might mean for Mr Gold (Robert Carlyle). (Don’t forget to check out the Sneak Peek trailer for Sunday’s ‘The Return,’ courtesy of ABC, at the end of the article.)

Once Upon a Time Episode 1.19 ‘The Return’ Official Episode Description

Espenson’s previous Once credits include Desperate Souls, Red Handed and Skin Deep – episodes which pack a substantial emotional punch, particularly where Rumpelstiltskin is concerned. We sat down with Jane yesterday to tease ‘The Return’ further.


Chevron One: What can you tease about Sunday’s ‘The Return?’

Jane Espenson: “I can tell you that Mr Gold is going to be trying to figure out who that stranger is! Just like the viewers have been trying to figure out. He has a theory. It’s going to be interesting to see if he’s right. And at the same time, we’re going to be flashing back to past events in Fairytale land in which we’re going to see Rumpelstiltskin interacting with his son. His son is trying to figure out a way save his father from a rumpled-skinned future!

“The interesting thing is because Mr Gold has these memories, he’s going to be emotionally affected by both of these stories at the same time. You’re going to see him being a little more emotionally shaken than you might have before.”


Robert Carlyle as Rumpelstiltskin. Dylan Schmid as Baelfire. "His son is trying to figure out a way save his father from a rumpled-skinned future" Image © ABC/Jack Rowland.


CO: ‘The Return’ is an episode which features Mr Gold/Rumpelstiltskin in some depth, and you’ve written episodes which focus on this character before, including Desperate Souls, and in particular Skin Deep. You’ve succeeded in making the audience feel a deep empathy with this character. Is he someone you particularly enjoy writing for?

Once Upon a Time Episode 1.19 ‘The Return’ Promotional Pictures

JE: “Yeah! I really love writing for him. One of the great privileges of being a writer is when you can take a character and try to find the layers and mix them. Because even the most villainous villain – am I’m not convinced that Gold is the most villainous villain – is doing things for a reason. There’s something he wants. And when someone wants something they can’t have they are inherently sympathetic. So I love that. I love bringing that out. Rumpel is a great character. These guys I work for, Eddie [Kitsis] and Adam [Horowitz], are amazing. They came up with this amazing back story of him being a coward who ran away from a war- and his shame over having done that fueling so much of what came after. What a great sympathetic place to start!”

CO: Do you have a favorite character to write for? I’m sensing a lot of love for Rumpel.

JE: “I do love writing for him but it’s very hard to pick a favorite because they’re all so great. Regina is amazing to write for. And Emma! and Snow! and Henry and Archie and Jiminy Cricket! Even Pongo the dog has layers! This show has a lot going on!” [laughs]

CO: Are we going to discover who August really is on Sunday?

JE: “Well, the episode after ‘The Return’ is called ‘The Stranger’ so we’re certainly zeroing in on it. We’ll see. Rumpelstiltskin thinks he knows. Viewers have theories. I have … well I know.  You have to be very careful on our show. We give a lot of clues but sometimes those clues are intentionally intended to mislead you. I’ve seen people talk about lemurs and I’ve seen people talk about femurs (because there’s something wrong with his leg) Who knows which of those is the real clue? You’ll find out this season.”


Eion Bailey as August. Who is he, really? "We're zeroing in on it," says Espenson. Image © ABC/Jack Rowland.


CO: Is it difficult to juggle two different worlds? We’ve got the fairy tale world and Storybrooke. We have the same actors but they’re almost playing two different characters. At times it almost seems like two different TV shows melded together.

JE: “Yes, it can be hard. We don’t want the stories to be just haphazardly put together. The Fairy tale story has to inform the Storybrooke story. But most of the characters don’t have memories of who they were so it’s a matte of figuring out a way that those resonate. Some of our characters like Emma don’t have a fairytale counterpart. Figuring out how those fit together is the main challenge of the show. On the other hand yes, two TV shows put together but they’re each only half as long.” [laughs]

CO: We don’t often get to see three female leads on a TV show. Is that fun to get to play with?

JE: “Yes it really is fun. Do you know about the Bechdel test? It’s this measure of respectful female writing. You’re looking to see if you have a scene with two females talking without a male character in the room, and if they are, are they just talking about a guy? It’s very hard to find a show that passes the Bechdel test. It’s hard to find a show where two women are talking not about a guy. And our show passes that test all over the place and I’m so proud of that. We have three strong female leads. I love that about us!”

Catch ‘The Return’ Sunday April 22 9/8c on ABC.


  1. TJ Burnside Clapp

    April 20, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    Great interview! It’s nice to hear how much Ms. Espenson loves Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin. Robert Carlyle does such a great job with that character and with Jane’s writing!

    Now I REALLY can’t wait for ‘The Return.’ 😀

  2. Magpie

    April 24, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Thaks for the teases guys. Sounds exciting!

    • Jennifer Griffin

      April 24, 2012 at 7:14 pm

      *Whispers* It aired last Sunday 😉