By Natalie Abrams
Updated September 25, 2015 at 05:56 PM EDT
Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

Gird your loins: The Dark Swan is coming!

When Once Upon a Time returns for its fifth season, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) is struggling with what it now means to be the Dark One — which you can also read all about here. While it won’t be an easy journey to expel this ancient evil from within her, it’s a bit too easy for her to succumb to her darker instincts. EW goes inside the mind of the Dark One, a.k.a. The Dark Swan, with an extensive chat with Morrison about what’s in store:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk about where we’re picking up with Emma, since the Comic-Con video showed her in a jail cell in the Enchanted Forest.

JENNIFER MORRISON: Right. That was just a teaser to show what we’re looking at. That’s not a piece of the show, so that was just for Comic-Con. That’s not an extraction from the actual episode.

Where is she then?

We pick up right where we leave off in terms of everyone in Storybrooke standing over the dagger and realizing that Emma sacrificed herself to save Regina’s happy ending, and save the town, and save everyone. We pick up with them banding together and trying to figure out how they’re going to find her, and what to do about it, and who’s going to hold the dagger, because, obviously, that’s a powerful position as well, and then we find Emma reborn as the Dark One somewhere.

Emma isn’t quite the Dark One just yet, so what can you tell us about her struggle with the darkness?

When we saw Rumple (Robert Carlyle) take on the Dark One, he obviously had good reason for it. He wanted to be able to save his son, and be a hero, and have power in a way that he thought was positive. He had good intentions in the decision to do it, and then we watched him through flashbacks struggle with the good and the bad inside of him once he took that on.

There’s a similar journey for Emma, which is that once you’ve agreed to surrender to the Darkness and be the Dark One, that doesn’t mean that you’re consumed with it immediately. It means that it’s within you, and now there is the struggle between what was once you and how to reconcile that with the Darkness that’s also within you at this point. We’re going to see her go through that struggle and that journey to fight within herself to make that decision. There are things that she’s faced with where her instinct now is incredibly dark and incredibly violent, but then there’s still that part of her that wants to overcome that — and then that part of her that wants to overcome that is then going to come against that darkness inside of her, and there’s this internal struggle. There’s definitely a journey for her in terms of how long it will take for her to actually surrender to the Darkness inside of her.

How different would you say the Dark Swan is from what we know of Emma?

She’s incredibly different in the sense that everything that the good Emma has always done has been motivated by wanting to do the right thing and being willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good. That’s been the core of her worldview for her whole life, even in scenes that we haven’t seen on screen. There was always this fight within her to be able to overcome things and try to be a stronger, better person, and now that she has this Darkness within her, her instincts are to be selfish, which has never been her instincts as good Emma. That immediately changes every decision, and it immediately changes the way that she is capable of being manipulative, and conniving, and vindictive. All of those things were things that she was constantly pushing down and not dealing with as good Emma and overcoming and making the good, positive choice. And now, because she has that Darkness fueling her, when she’s faced with decisions, unfortunately, the selfishness is what’s pushing forward first.

How is the Dark Swan different from Rumpelstiltskin as the Dark One? Do they share any common traits, or is she a whole original new version of the Dark One?

It’s a little bit of both in the sense that all of the Dark Ones, anyone who’s been the Dark One, is accumulated into the newest Dark One. There are bits and pieces of all of the Darkness from before that come with the Darkness once you’ve surrendered to it. There is an element of Rumple, and Zoso, and whoever else we may establish was, at some point, a Dark One. But the difference for Emma is that she wasn’t raised in fairy tale land, and she wasn’t raised around the villains of fairy tale land. She was raised in the real world. So her villainy, selfishness and Darkness is more rooted in the real-world version of villainy, selfishness and Darkness. That’s where the shift is. We’re not seeing a fairy-tale villain. We’re seeing this woman who is impacted by this accumulation of Darkness, but it’s coming out of her in a way that she has seen villainy in the world, not in a way that we would’ve seen a fairy tale villain in fairy tale land.

The producers have said we’re going to be learning a lot more about the Dark One mythology this season.

That’s all stuff that I’m not allowed to talk about, but will come out pretty quickly in the season.

Might we learn how the dagger is really used?

There’s definitely going to be more information on the mythology of the dagger, and there’s definitely going to be more information about previous Dark Ones, what it means to take on the Darkness and some of the rules and regulations of that mythology. Some of it comes out pretty quickly, and then some of it gets hung over our heads a little while through the first several episodes and then starts to come out slowly, but surely over time.

So, about that photo of Rumple and Emma. What’s really going on there?

I understand why it seems very confusing, especially with the things that come out in photos when we’re shooting. People are trying to add it all up, and what I can tell you is that once it starts airing and all of the pieces start to come together, it is all very clear and very exciting, and it is a real leap forward in terms of adding some mythology of what’s been established for four years.

What’s Emma’s relationship like with her parents right now, since Adam and Eddy have teased she may harbor some anger towards them over what they put her through in the past?

That’s very based on how surrendered to the Darkness she is. That’s something that comes into play once she has given herself over to it. As the show always has, we jump between flashbacks, and reality, and lands and different things. There are all those elements at play. We’re going to see Emma at different stages of her Darkness. We’re going to be seeing her all the way surrendered to it, next to her barely surrendered to it, next to her somewhere in the middle surrendered to it. Her relationship with her parents and her feelings about certain things are going to be more extreme based on what phase of the Darkness she’s in.

You mentioned that she’s somewhat vindictive now. Could that side come out with her parents?

I think it’s going to come out with everyone eventually. It’s definitely a part of what drives her to surrendering to the Darkness. It’s just good to keep in mind the motivations for someone, because if Emma, as her good self, was faced with a struggle or something that was painful, her first reaction would be, “How do I overcome this, and what do I do to make this better?” Emma, surrendered to the Darkness, faced with something that hurts her or upsets her, her first reaction is, “How do I destroy what hurt me?”

It’s not entirely the metaphor that we’re using for it, but if you were to consider extreme, extreme depression, if you’re consumed with the heaviness of extreme depression, your decision making would be really different than when you had a balanced amount of serotonin in your mind and you were feeling light, and connected, and present. It’s kind of looking at the magical extreme version of something like that where her decision making is so clouded by that Darkness pursuing her, that her first reaction is to lean into how to destroy what hurt her or how to eliminate what’s in her way, which is completely the opposite of where she’s ever operated from when she’s been Emma.

Part of what Emma did was sacrifice herself to save the town, but she also did it for Regina’s (Lana Parrilla) happiness in particular.

To protect her happy ending. Absolutely.

Does she blame Regina at all for what she’s become, or might she even try to entice Regina over to the Dark Side?

I don’t know the answer to the second half of the question just because we haven’t gotten far into into season for me to know if there’s truth to that. In terms of blaming her, initially, no. It’s more about the events that unfold after that that lead to resentments, because these are decisions that are being made while she has the instincts of Darkness within her. It becomes an accumulation of the events that happen after the surrender or sacrifice that add up to her having these resentments, and selfishness, and all those things.

Turning to Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), what’s Emma’s reaction to him trying to save her? Could he be the one thing that helps her hold onto hope?

Yeah. It’s interesting because, so far, what you’ll see is that Henry (Jared Gilmore) is Emma’s kryptonite as Dark Swan, because that love is so pure and so strong and similar to how Baelfire (Michael Raymond-James) was kryptonite to Rumple’s Darkness. There was something about that bond that makes it hard to completely lean into the Darkness, and so I would say Henry has the most powerful effect on keeping her from wanting to lean into the Darkness. And then Hook is the next most powerful force after that in the sense that she does truly love him, and she doesn’t stop loving him just because she’s now the Dark One, similar to how Rumple continued to love Belle (Emilie de Ravin) even though he was the Dark One. She does still have genuine love for him, but that’s mixed in with her new capacity for manipulation and for selfishness.

It’s always a complicated thing between Dark Swan and Hook because it’s a mixture of her true feelings with her new capacity for these darker deeds. It’s a complicated dance whenever Emma’s dealing as the Dark Swan with Hook because her feelings are true, but her decision making is based in a bad place now. That clearly affects them, and it clearly affects whether or not he can trust her decision making, and he knows that because he has been dark, and he was a villain at some point. He knows better than anyone what it’s like to struggle with that. I don’t think that there’s any concern about them loving each other. I know that he’s going to fight with all it takes to try to save her, and he’s not going to be put off by the fact that she’s dark. He knows what she did and why she did it, and he knows what they’re all up against, and I think he’s going to really lead the struggle to do all that everyone can to redeem her and bring her back from the Darkness.

Charming (Josh Dallas), Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and others will be on the quest to find Merlin (Elliot Knight), who is supposed to be the one person who can save Emma. How does she feel about Merlin because of that?

It’s complicated because the good part of her wants to find him, and then the part of her that’s dealing with Darkness doesn’t want the chance of being destroyed. It feels, right now, like she continues pushing into this idea of trying to find Merlin, but there is a part of her that’s definitely terrified of that, because it also means the potential for her being destroyed in some way.

Whether Merlin is able to save her or not, do you think that Emma will be forever changed by this experience?

I think so. I hope so. I think that no matter what, whatever you go through in life is going to add to your life, whether it’s good or bad. I think that she will clearly have regrets and things to overcome because of it, but I also think that there are going to be things that she learns about herself that will be important for her to know moving forward.

We see that Merida (Amy Manson) and Emma are going to cross paths. Is there anything you can tease about that?

They do cross paths. I think I was just supposed to say that they cross paths. [Laughs]

Lastly, what kind of mischief is the Dark Swan causing for the residents of Storybrooke?

The initial situation isn’t that she’s creating the mischief, it’s that she’s no longer helping them solve it. I think it will be turning into her creating some of it as well as she embarks on the mission that she embarks on, but initially it’s more that she’s making the point that they don’t have her to help save them anymore.

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Once Upon a Time returns Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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Once Upon a Time

Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.

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