So this was a pilot. I never really look at a pilot as representative of a show – it’s made to be picked up by a network and that is not necessarily going to be characteristic of the series audience. That’s not to say pilots are never representative of the show or that they can’t be good or bad or problematic or refreshingly not so. It just means I don’t judge a series by its pilot.
Which is good news for Once Upon a Time in Wonderland because its pilot was a little rocky. The characters were mostly one note, the action was a bit all over the place, the plot was contrived and the effects were, well, awful. I love the Red Queen’s palace but other than that I hope they scale back on the shiny (aka green screen) because it is not working. If you don’t have the budget to animate Wonderland well, please try to create it differently.
As well as a pilot this was also a spin-off. As a huge fan of the parent series, Once Upon a Time, the Alice-Aladdin mash-up and flashback heavy exposition didn’t phase me. It was curious that Alice still lived in Victorian times while the Knave had escaped to post-curse Storybrooke, but this is the realm of curiouser and curiouser after all.
The set up is simple: Alice travelled to Wonderland as a girl but when she told the absolute truth about where she’d gone no one believed her. She tried going back to get proof of her stories but never succeeded and ended up held in an asylum as a deranged runaway. The physicians want to lobotomize her, to help her, you know. Alice eventually gives in not because she believes them, but because she is heartbroken. Her father has abandoned her, she can’t get to Wonderland, and the Red Queen killed her true love, Cyrus, a genie she’d met on one trip down the rabbit hole and who had proposed moments before their nemesis arrived and murdered him. For Reasons.
But just before the operation is to take place the Knave of Hearts appears to tell Alice her genie was not killed. Alice fights her way free and the two escape to Wonderland with the help of the Rabbit. Once back in Wonderland the Rabbit admits he didn’t see the genie himself, he’d just heard a rumor from the Dormouse. In reality, and in the most convoluted part of the whole episode, Jafar told the Red Queen to tell the Rabbit to tell the Knave to tell Alice that Cyrus was alive. They needed Alice back in Wonderland. For Reasons.
While things nefarious are going on elsewhere, Alice and the Knave walk through the woods to the Mad Hatter’s cabin (where Cyrus was seen “per the Dormouse”). We learn that Alice has three genie wishes she carries in her heel (I want those shoes) and the Knave is not just unwelcome in Wonderland, he’s a wanted criminal. At one point Alice takes off her shoes to climb a tree and the Knave runs off with them only to return just in time to save her from the Cheshire Cat. Who wants to eat her for Reasons. Alice explains that wishes can’t be stolen, only given, and they twosome go on their way.
They find cabin empty, but Alice comes across her genie’s magic amulet on the lawn so she believes he’s out there somewhere. The Knave agrees to stick with her and the duplicitous Rabbit reappears just in time to join their merry band of Wonderland wanderers.
Will I watch more? Absolutely. I love Once Upon a Time and I love Alice in Wonderland; I will watch every episode. But because I love Once Upon a Time and I love Alice in Wonderland I have a lot to say about it.
My main criticism concerns the romance with the genie. I assume they were trying to anchor the series with a romance the way Once Upon a Time is centered on Snowing. But Alice is not Snow White, she doesn’t have a Prince Charming. And not just because she’s canonically a child. In Disney’s live action version of the story, Alice is of age to marry but specifically rejects her suitor and the idea that all she can hope to be is someone’s wife. Marrying the prince is not Alice’s happy ever after. And so I find myself actively rooting against Alice and Cyrus.
The there’s the Knave who I like because he has the richest backstory and most interesting motivations, if they are all mostly shrouded in mystery. He is our clearest link to the other series by way of Storybrooke where he wandered briefly and wants to go back, to start over somewhere nobody hates him yet. He likes Alice enough not to go through with abandoning her, and to stay with her on her journey he doesn’t really believe in. He says it is for the wishes but we can read the signs: he likes her. He’s Han Solo. This is a love triangle. The Knave is Jacob, the genie is Edward, and Alice is Bella. UGH.
Plus, the Knave and Alice are whiter than the white rabbit and Cyrus is white passing if his ethnicity is indistinguishably vague while the one definitive person of color is the villainous mastermind. At least we can look forward to Jafar’s tragic backstory and him becoming sex symbol right?
The Red Queen, the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat have not left much of an impression thus far. My daughter hopes we see more of little Alice. I hope we see more of Storybrooke but I expect the twelve second shot of Jessy Schram’s Cinderella (I miss her!) was there simply to establish this series on the other’s timeline.
Well, like I said, it was a pilot. I’m excited to watch the second episode.
But that timesplit really IS curious, don’t you think?