By Sandra Gonzalez
December 30, 2011 at 04:16 PM EST
Craig Blankenhorn/CBS

Welcome back, friends! Hope the holidays were as fattening for you as they were for me.

As winter hiatus comes to a close, it’s time to get back into the swing of things. (Although, I hope you still enjoyed the special Once Upon a Time edition of Spoiler Room that was served up last week!) And this week, there’s a little bit of something for everyone, I hope. If not, there’s a simple way to solve that: Hit me up! E-mail SpoilerRoom@ew.com or Tweet me @EWSandraG. And if you don’t see your question, keep trying! (I do read them all!)

Enjoy, and it’s truly lovely to be back in the swing of things! (Side note: Anyone else sort of love what’s going on in this week’s Spoiler Room blend? Now that’s a trio!)

‘THE VAMPIRE DIARIES’: STEFAN CHANNELS… JACK BAUER AND CHUCK NORRIS?

The year 2011 hasn’t been the easiest for Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Co., on The Vampire Diaries, and, as Julie Plec told Mandi Bierly, the first new episode of the season doesn’t do much to indicate changing winds in 2012. “One of the mysteries of Stefan is he’s got a lot of pain, and he’s got a lot of rage, and a lot of grief, and a lot of guilt. When his humanity was turned off, he didn’t have to deal with that stuff,” she says. “But as it finds its way back through, there’s gonna be a lot flooding back in.”

The first episode will, as Plec puts it, find Stefan with “tunnel vision” in his quest to hit Klaus (Joseph Morgan) “where it hurts” and rid Mystic Falls of hybrids. And by the second episode back, “We get the sense that this guy, who used to be much more concerned with protecting collateral damage, now has no concerns about who might get hurt as he tries to get Klaus to back off,” she says. “[The hybrids] are contributing to the sense of unease that Elena and her friends have about living in this town, and Klaus is relishing everybody’s paranoia, and Stefan is sort of like, ‘No way, get ’em out. You’re not gonna get ’em out? I’ll get ’em out for you.’ So Stefan starts going all Jack Bauer-Chuck Norris on ’em.”

But Stefan’s “extreme lengths” will cause him to lose fans (cue: brother fight!) — including one person who has thus far been Stefan’s greatest supporter. “His methods are not very much appreciated by Elena,” Plec says. “Our characters themselves are asking this question: Is he good? Is he bad? Is his humanity switched on or off? If on, what the hell is going on? What’s he doing? And the question of how Stefan is channeling all of his emotions into this rage makes him as much of a villain in his own way as he’s been all season.”

I know what you’re thinking: Will all that open the door for more Elena-Damon action? Next Thursday’s new episode will have your answer.

‘JUSTIFIED’ SEASON 3: YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED!

Justified has a lot to live up to this season. Not only did last season set a new creative bar, but it also yielded a well-deserved number of acting nominations, including one for star Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, and guest star Margo Martindale. So how’s it going to top itself? Here’s some scoop:

NEXT: Beware of Limehouse.

Justified scoop please! So excited for the premiere!! – Meredith H.

As you should be, Meredith. (Watch a preview here) Season 3 picks up right where we left season 2, but it doesn’t stay there for long. A small time jump will help explain what’s been happening since Mags (Martindale) killed herself, show us how Raylan (Olyphant) is recovering from being shot, and finds Boyd (Goggins) taking a page from the Emily Van Camp notebook of retribution to seek some revenge. (I won’t say for what or against whom.) Some small bonus info? You’ll get some nice shirtless action from Raylan as he bares his manly wound. (I know; I’m a pig. I acknowledge that.)

Hi, Sandra. So, Justified’s coming back Jan. 17, any imminent scoopage? FX has started airing teasers, but we need the scoop! Thanks. — Susola

If you’ve been tuning into teasers then you know this year will see the introduction of a mysterious new villain named Limehouse, played by Mykelti Williamson. I can’t tell you much about him, but let’s just say that the second episode will give you a very chilling example of how brutal this guy is and will leave you wanting more. (If you, like me, are a sick, sick person.)

Justified is almost here. Three cheers! And I’ll cheer more for some scoop on Raylan and Winona? — Liz

With a baby on the way, the couple will start having serious conversations about a big step in their lives together. Oh, and talk baby names, which is actually a great, funny scene that perfectly highlights the chemistry between these two actors.

Have more questions? Send ’em my way!

‘ONCE UPON A TIME’: RICHARD SCHIFF TEASES THE KING’S DILEMMA

Just a few days remain until we’re served up a new episode of Once Upon a Time (Jan. 8!), but Richard Schiff is already excited about the show’s eleventh episode, in which he’ll appear as Snow White’s (Ginnifer Goodwin) father, Enchanted Forest’s King Leopold. (“I don’t think I’ve ever played a king before, except in my own bedroom,” he jokes.)

Shortly before the holidays, the West Wing alum (TOBY!) chatted with me about the upcoming revealing and “intricate” story line that flashes back to his days with the Queen and his daughter, Snow White. “He certainly seems to be a happy guy at first glances,” says Schiff, who will soon also appear in Showtime’s House of Lies. “They wrote him as a happy-go-lucky guy. [He doesn’t] desire anything. But at one point he says, ‘I have a prosperous kingdom, a beautiful daughter, and a lovely Queen,’ and I decided to make the Queen line not as excited as the other two items on that list. In other words, he’s unhappy and I don’t think people are ignorant [to that] … So there’s a little bit of darkness underneath him.”

And while anyone who watched the show’s fall finale can guess how the King’s story ends, Schiff, who shares scenes with Lana Parrilla, Goodwin, and magic mirror Giancarlo Esposito, says his Once costars aren’t so sure they’ve seen the last of the King. “The actors all seem to think I’m coming back, but that’s a discussion I’ve have not had with anyone else. But they all say, ‘You have to come back because you explain this and that’ and ‘You’re the reason that… ‘ But, really, they’re all guessing along with [viewers].”

NEXT: Side Dishes!

SIDE DISHES

Any news on how Glee plans to explain Darren Criss’ absence while he’s away dancing it up on Broadway? Are we going to have to sit through a Blaine-free episode at some point soon? — Samantha

There will be one Blaine-less episode that will air in early February. Small price to pay, right?

Are we going to see more humor or tension between the guys after the Elizabeth story closes on White Collar? Will Neil be back to tormenting Burke any time soon, or will he be too busy re-proving himself after his mistakes? – Tricia

A twist in episode 1 will clear the air in a big way between these two. As a result of the heavy emotions and issues addressed, the midseason premiere (airing Jan. 17) is a little light on big laughs. But I think things will be back to normal between these two quite soon. The question we’re left with by the end of the episode: How long can normal last as one of the pair face a possible major life change?

Please, can we get some scoop on The Secret Circle! — Alexis

Are you a Cassie and Adam fan? Or more of the Jake-Cassie variety? Regardless, you’ll have a little action on both fronts — particularly because she nearly kills both of them in two separate occurrences. But be warned: One of the near-deaths is not as it seems.

All the Parks and Recreation scoop you have, please. — Chelsea

In an upcoming episode, Ann (Rashida Jones) will become one half of the most unlikely pairings you’ve ever seen on the show. Before you ask, the other half is not Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz). (But, wow, that’d be amazing.) Think shorter.

Sandra, I’m so excited for The Lying Game to return! Any scoop on Charisma Carpenter’s addition to the show? — Elizabeth

I actually had a chance to speak with the Buffy alum about her new gig as Rebecca Sewell. And while I’ll share the full chat with you soon, I can tell you this for now: Char’s mom Phyllis will not be happy to see her. In fact, she spirals, leading Rebecca and Alec (Adrian Pasdar) to step in. Speaking of Alec, you’re going to love the juicy backstory on his love triangle of sorts with Rebecca and Ted (Andy Buckley). Looks like the teens aren’t the only ones with major drama hanging over their heads.

Sandra, you’re my source for great HIMYM scoop! So let’s hear something great before we go into the New Year! — Jenna

Well, when you put it that way… Keep your eyes and ears peeled for another classic How I Met Your Mother tie-in website to be mentioned in the next new episode on Jan. 2, then run to a computer to check it out. I don’t have specifics, but my guess would be it has something to do with the opening of Ted and Barney’s bar, Puzzles.

I’d love some Marshall and Lily scoop! I’d make my new year! — Hannah

Impending parenthood will soon start to weigh on the young couple. “We’re going to see her work out a few demons on her way to becoming a mom and see them as a couple working things out,” teases EP Carter Bays. “It’s no surprise where this story is headed — with a trip to the hospital — but, maybe along the way, we’re going to see them going through some stuff before they step up to the plate and become ready to be mom and dad.”

What’s gonna happen with Naley and Brulian in the season 9 premiere of OTH? — @b0997

Where to begin!? Since I can tell you everything, here’s what I can say. Haley is having a tough time dealing with Nathan’s absence (he’s traveling a lot) and finds herself easily spooked when he’s not around. And by the end of the episode, an additional complication arises that will no doubt put further strain on their situation. Meanwhile, Brooke and Julian are having a heck of a time dealing with two new babies. Namely, sleepless nights are getting the best of them. Still, Brooke is not so busy that she doesn’t have time to plan her next professional step.

NEXT: Southland, Cougar Town scoop!

Any Southland scoop for me? I can’t wait for it to come back. It’s been waaaayyyyyy too long! — James

It has! Luckily, Shawn Hatosy was kind enough to chat with me a little bit about the new dynamic of the show now that Ben and Sammy have started riding together this upcoming season. “I get a sense of what the dynamic between Ben and Sammy is and it’s this kind of run-and-gun-and-have-fun mentality. It’s nice because it’s just different, it’s a different Southland so far,” he says. “I gotta be honest, it almost feels like, for Sammy, it’s a different show now that I’m in uniform and driving fast in the cars. I was running before but now we’re really running and running together. It’s action-packed.” The latter is especially true. In fact, the first episode back will find the pair involved in a truly shocking shootout in a most unlikely place.

I’m sure you get tired of people asking why different shows don’t get recapped, so I won’t ask why EW dumped the Desperate Housewives recap. Instead, I’ll ask for some scoop, with a note that EW should totally be recapping Desperate Housewives in its last season. See what I did there? — Katie

Very clever. Well, the next new episode (airing Jan. 8) will find someone unlikely coming to Bree’s side in her time of need, Lynette and Tom reaching a surprising conclusion about their bond, and not one but two characters headed out of town by the end of the episode.

Fringe, PLEASE! — Nina

Nothing for you… yet. But I’m chatting with masterminds Joel Pinkner and Joel Wyman next week, so send me all your questions ASAP! (spoilerroom@ew.com)

Much as I love me some Justified, I’d rather have some Archer scoop. Sploosh. — @ secretsvsrumors

The Jan. 19 episode, featuring a guest-voice spot from Burt Reynolds, is one of my favorite episodes ever. After Reynolds (who plays himself) sets his sights on Archer’s mom, Archer reconsiders his mancrush on the legend and instead looks to sabotage their impending romance. My Top 2 moments? A moment where we get to hear Archer’s voicemail message (which will now become my voicemail message) and Burt Reynolds tickling Archer. Yes, I said tickling.

How long do we have to wait for the results of your amazing interview with @VDOOZER (EP Bill Lawrence) and Courteney Cox? If I missed it, whoopsie! — @mollyarena

You didn’t miss it. Stay tuned. But meanwhile, here’s a tease: A skull fracture will leave one character sporting some seriously stupid headgear in the first batch of episodes, whenever those air (sob). Poor Travis. Oops.

Any word on if A Gifted Man going to have a second season? I hope they give it a chance. — Scott

I sort of do, too, especially after watching the next new episode, which finds Michael on the operating table after he falls ill during a blizzard. It’s not surprising I liked this episode — I’m a sucker for doctor-turned-patient story lines — but this episode was particularly strong because of how it highlighted the under-appreciated supporting cast, particularly Dr. Barnes (Rhys Coiro), who has a hilarious scene with Michael when he tries to examine him against his will. My only problem with the show remains its tendency to make Michael (Patrick Wilson) a superhero rather than a man. (In this episode, he has surgery without anesthesia. Possible, I guess. But probable? Not likely.) But the chances for a second season? A look at Lynette Rice’s list of most and least watched shows of the fall indicate it isn’t looking good.

Sandra, I need to know more about Thomas McDonell as Tessa’s love interest on Suburgatory! Or any scoop on the show for that matter! — Lillian

You know the basics on McDonell’s storyline, so I won’t say much more on that. But in the general scoop category, get ready to know the men of Suburgatory on a whole new level. The next new episode will feature a pretty physical fight between George (Jeremy Sisto) and Noah (Alan Tudyk) that takes place in a steam room… with at least one of the two sporting a tight-fitting, flesh-colored pair of undergarments. The scene almost calls for a Cam-in-bike-shorts-style blur.

Royal Pains is coming back! But I’m a little torn. I like Evan and Paige, but secretly also root for Evan and Divya. They’re both pretty adorable. Are we going to see any action between either pairing in the second half of the season? — Jane

When we come back, Divya (Reshma Shetty) is pretty preoccupied dealing with the fallout from her major medical mistake at the end of last season. Obviously, she’s facing major consequences. (And the first episode back leaves us on a bit of a cliffhanger on this front.) Meanwhile, Evan (Paulo Costanzo) also has his hands full as he seeks out the General’s approval. When that turns out to be harder to achieve than he realized, Paige makes a very bold decision.

(Mandi Bierly contributed to this column.)

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