After two years of misadventures with our favorite fairy tales, we have a brand new adventure. Only instead of focusing on fairy tale characters, we have a character from classic literature, Alice. I would have a bit of a rant here about Alice in Wonderland not being a fairy tale, and not really fitting with the theme of Once Upon a Time, but I overused that with Frankenstein last season, so gonna skip that for now and just get down to the review.
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland opens with a young Alice’s return from Wonderland and overhearing that her father believes that she made everything up. Desperate to prove the truth she has many visits back to Wonderland, or so we assume as the show was a bit vague on how often she went to and how long she stayed in Wonderland on these trips, where she eventually meets Cyrus, a genie. They have adventures, they fall in love, he pops the question, and then a bitch in red throws him into a boiling ocean. Sad day for Alice. These flashbacks are interspersed with Alice’s time in the asylum, being interviewed by Dr. Lydgate, as she tries to convince him that she her time in Wonderland was just something she made up and didn’t actually believe happened. He doesn’t believe her of course and proposes a new procedure that will fix her “problem” and take away her pain, which apparently involves what I can only assume is a skull drill. *shudder* Before she can get pointy bits of metal shoved into her skull, the Knave of Hearts, who started out in Storybrooke before being picked up by the White Rabbit, shows up to tell her Cyrus is still alive and kicking. The two escape the hospital, where Alice shows she is very much a badass by fighting off the guards and getting in a last jab at Lydgate, and jump through the rabbit hole to Wonderland. We learn the rabbit is reluctantly working for the Red Queen, Alice finds the necklace that Cyrus was wearing, and the adventure to find her heart begins
As far as pilots go, this one wasn’t the best. It wasn’t bad by any real stretch, it did a good job of introducing the characters and setting up the story for the show, the quest to find Cyrus, but the entire thing just felt a little ‘blah’ to me. This episode didn’t grab me and instantly pull me in like the premier of OUaT did. As much as I dislike their use at times, I feel the limited use of flashbacks here actually hurt the episode a bit. What we got was very brief just glimpses into Alice’s past. It would have been better if more time was devoted to setting up Alice’s past. Show more of her and Cyrus’ relationship develop, her interactions with the characters from Wonderland, i.e. the Cheshire Cat, Tweedle Dee and Dum, who I am sure will be showing up before to long, what she did to make an enemy of The Red Queen, and how she and the Knave know each other. These are all things that if done early on could have given us more of a connection with Alice, and cut down on the use of flashbacks in later episodes. There limited use left a lot of questions, ones that I am sure will be answered as the story progresses, but right now leave me with a sense of confusion. What do the Red Queen and Jafar want with Cyrus, is it just that he is a genie and want the wishes, or is there something more? How did their evil alliance come about? Where’s Cora during all of this? We know that she became the Queen of Hearts, so how does she factor in?
A little bit more background would have been nice as I feel it would have helped with the story down the line, but these questions I want answers to, so that alone will be enough to keep me watching for now.
As far as Characters go, I am loving Alice so far. In the asylum we see her as this broken woman, which is understandable. She lost her true love, I can’t even begin to imagine what sort of pain that would put her in, and her desire to forget, to make that pain go away, was perfectly understandable. She took a complete turn when the Knave told her that Cyrus was alive, hope to find her love giving her the strength to free herself, and make to Wonderland, overcoming both the wacky dangers (marshmellow swamp? really?) and the terrifying dangers of Wonderland. The Cheshire Cat, amazingly well done in my opinion despite the lack of background info. I could see him being a very interesting antagonist to Team Alice down the line, I hope this won’t be the last we see of him. And when she is confronted with the possibility that Cyrus really is dead, that broken look returns, her hopes are raised only to be dashed again, at least until she finds Cyrus’ necklace, where the hope returns, and I believe will remain to give her the strength for her quest.
The Knave is by far the most interesting character thus far. His history is still very much shrouded in mystery. All we know about him is that Alice got him his heart back, he did many things in Wonderland that he is hated for and ashamed of, ended up in Storybrooke somehow, where it he was almost hit by Emma and had a run in with Grumpy and Cinderella, and that he seems to just want to make his way through life with as little trouble as possible. In spite of this however, he does show the makings a of a good man. When presented with the knowledge that Cyrus may be alive he immediately went to save Alice, agreed to go to Wonderland to help her, and saved her from the Cheshire Cat. The anger he showed towards the White Rabbit when they found the Hatter’s house empty was amazing. You can see he honestly cares for Alice, I am hoping in just a friendly way as I would hate to see some sort of love triangle form, and in his comforting of her afterwards. Even with his payment of wish, I still can’t help but see him as an honorable man who will be invaluable to Alice along her journey.
Bringing us to White Rabbit. The Rabbit is pretty simple so far. At his core he is a good person, if a coward, He is deathly afraid of the Red Queen, which is understandable, and you can tell we feels terrible about having to spy on Alice. My favorite part about this character though, that he is voiced by the AMAZING John Lithgow. He is the perfect person to give a voice to this character.
As far as the villains go, not much to say here. The Red Queen and Jafar seem to be pretty much stock villains so far, their evil, they have evil plans, and don’t have much love for each other. That being said, I am THRILLED that Jafar is going to be a villain for this show. He was one of my favorite Disney baddies, and I can’t wait to see what villainous plots he will be plotting as the story progresses.
While there is nothing overly original about what makes up this show and its characters, what we have is good. Alice is the dedicated hero, who will obviously stop at nothing to save her love. The Knave is showing signs of the classic noble scoundrel, as made popular by the likes of Han Solo, and the White Rabbit is the unwilling traitor. What I like most is the twist on the classic “Damsel in Distress” story where the male has been taken prisoner and rendered powerless and its up to the female to save him. While this is a very overused plot, it is refreshing to see a bit of a twist on it.
Overall, I think this was a solid, if not great, opening to the series. We are left with a lot of questions about the characters and a the basis of what could be a great adventure. I look forward to next weeks episode.