Neverland is ancient history for the gang on Once Upon a Time, which returns tonight after a three-month hiatus. Lana Parrilla, for one, is happy to have the island behind her. “It was getting quite dirty for everyone,” jokes the actress who plays The Evil Queen/Regina.
Emotionally, though, things remain as messy as ever for these characters. In this second half of the third season, they will find themselves contending with Zelena, the Wicked Witch (Rebecca Mader), a villain the likes of which has never been seen on the show, according to Parrilla. “She’s fighting for different reasons,” she says. “The Evil Queen wanted revenge — something happened to her and and she wanted to hurt [someone] because of it. This is a different situation because Zelena wants what other people had that she didn’t have….She has a connection to a character on the show, and that’s why she’s arrived. She’s out to hurt someone.”
A battle of wits and more will ensue with The Wicked Witch, of course, but The Evil Queen is seemingly — at least, at first — anything but up for a fight. The characters are now back in the Enchanted Forest as their fairy-tale selves, and Parrilla says getting involved in more drama is the last thing on Regina’s mind. “Her heart is closed off to everyone else,” she says. “She doesn’t have any friends, she doesn’t plan on being friends with anyone. She kind of just wants to be left alone. Obviously, that doesn’t happen.”
Much of her pain stems from the loss of her son, Henry (Jared Gilmore), to whom Regina selflessly gave the (magical) gift of a clean slate. “I think her internal struggle is that she has lost her son — yet again,” Parrilla says, “but in a different way. This time is worse because he has no memory of her, and that’s heartbreaking for her. She did the most courageous thing by letting him go and letting him have the life that she wanted him to have. And in turn, when she said goodbye to him, she knew it was forever.”
The move was a concrete sign of just how much Regina has evolved as a character, says Parrilla, but this recovering baddie still has her struggles. For one, she is still seemingly “unable to see love when it’s right in front of her face” — meaning Robin Hood (Sean Maguire), who could be Regina’s One True Love. But does Parrilla imagine Regina will come to her senses about her love life any time this season? She sure hopes so. “It’d be nice if Regina found love in this world of wicked witches, magic, and different realms and stuff,” she says. “We’re all hopeful for her….I will say that there are characters that recognize [their connection] as well, and there is someone she confides in and has a real conversation with that helps her see the hope that’s out there for her, because she really has given up in many ways.”
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.