Saturday, October 12, 2013

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland: Season 1, Episode 1: Down the Rabbit Hole

Once upon a time, we have an idyllic forest, a child’s teaparty laid out and neglect, now dusty and dirty and overgrown with vines

And an explosion. Ok. That jarred the image.

Out of the crate crawls the little girl, Alice.  She runs home shouting for her father and bangs on her front door when it’s locked. It’s opened  by her confused and shocked father, hardly able to believe it’s really her. She’s been gone for so long her father thought she was dead.

Later she eaves drop on a conversation between her father and another man, her father tells him what Alice said she’d experienced – white rabbits and caterpillars et al – and the man naturally thinks she’s a liar or delusional.

Alice is determined to prove her honesty.

Credits and tom the present day on a stormy, windy night and a man wandering through the streets, quite unconcerned by the weather or cars in the road even. He walks past Leeroy and Ashley (that’s Leeroy and Ashley from Once Upon a Time – Grumpy and Cinderella) and pick pockets Ashley’s keys. He lets himself into Granny’s diner and pours himself a cup of coffee.

Then the whole place starts shaking, as if in an Earthquake until there’s an explosion in the middle of the floor. Out of the crater climbs the White Rabbit. Who is an actual rabbit, not a human under the curse or anything we’re used to from Once Upon a Time. Apparently they’re late – for Alice. She needs their help, particularly the help of our pickpocket – the Knave of Hearts.

We switch to Alice who is now in a shadowy, dark and sinister asylum. Alice, now older, is questioned about her story by a board of 3 doctors. She had been entered into the asylum not just for her original journey to Wonderland, but her repeated disappearances since to try and prove herself right to her father. She now looks defeated, agreeing with the doctors that her story is ludicrous.

We have a flashback to a very pro-active Alice stealing the caterpillar’s size-changing mushroom and dodging the Queen’s guards through the maze, shrinking tiny and hiding in a bottle – the bottle of Cyrus, the genie. They sit and drink and make friends, talking about their respective homes. She’s returned to Wonderland to kidnap the White Rabbit – who she has in her sack – as definitive proof that Wonderland exists. Lots of chemistry, lots and lots; Alice tells him the proof is for her father and Cyrus questions why she should risk her life for someone who doesn’t believe in her – if you love someone, you don’t need proof.

Objection! If Beloved came tomorrow with a story of dodgy cats, hyperactive playing cards and pot smoking insects, I’d want either a) proof or b) him to share the good booze.

Alice wishes things were different in her land – and Cyrus asks what she wishes – she has found the bottle of the genie after all.

Back in the asylum, defeated Alice admits she made it all up. The doctor interrupts her frequent flashbacks and uses the word “wish” and she bitterly, angrily says she doesn’t wish for anything. Ouch, she and Cyrus ended badly then. The doctor catches that and brings up the genie – apparently she set him free and they travelled different worlds having many adventures and falling in love. He questions if she will say that was also a lie.

Another flashback to another wonderful world shared between Alice and the Genie and with lovely, awkward charm, Cyrus proposes to Alice. They kiss and the gem around his neck glows – apparently their hearts are now entwined (sounds painful) and he’ll know when she’s nearby (I feel more marriages would last if each spouse had a proximity alarm for the other). There is the sound of tromping feet interrupting their moment and Cyrus tells Alice to run.

Back to the asylum, and Alice cries as the doctor confronts her that she told her father that the love of her life had been murdered. The doctor again calls her stories the creation of a lonely girl seeking attention but most cases don’t persist into adulthood and Alice, still tear stained, insists she doesn’t believe it any more.

But the doctor doesn’t believe her. She still calls for Cyrus in her sleep. Flashback again and the tromping of feet resolves into robed, hooded and cowled guards, led by a woman in red. They’re overwhelmed and the woman intends to “borrow” Cyrus the genie – but he breaks free to save Alice, killing the last of the guards. The woman in red gestures and Cyrus is thrown off the cliff, into the boiling sea.

In the asylum the doctor tells the tear streaked Alice that they have a treatment, one treatment, that would let her forget everything; and it will hurt far less than the pain she’s currently in. She signs the consent form.

Panning out (the computer graphics really could have been better) we see she’s in Bethlem Asylum (better known as “Bedlam” from where we derive the word).

The next day, the doctor prepares his drill (which is ominous) and orderlies are sent to collect Alice. But the first person into her room isn’t the orderlies – it’s the Knave of Hearts. He wants to rescue her but she protests that he isn’t real. Her protesting (and him complaining about her stubbornness) delays them long enough for the orderlies to arrive. He shouts at her to remember, she insists she doesn’t want to. Until he says that Cyrus is alive – the Rabbit saw him.

To which Alice knocks out one guard and launches herself at the other, breaking one neck and battering other hapless orderlies to the floor while breaking many bones. This Alice isn’t just pro-active, she’s kind of vicious. She rescues the Knave of Hearts who stands back and watches with a wicked little smirk on his face. Orderlies dealt with she mocks the Knave’s rescue and he counters that it was more a message delivery.

They meet the White Rabbit in the tunnels (who complains that they’re late – of course). The doctor tries to convince her to stay – then he sees the White Rabbits. Alice is awesome in her snarkiness.

They run out into the city and are chased. Needing an escape, Alice demands the Rabbit dig (and you don’t question Alice’s demands, she’s quite fearsome). The White Rabbit opens a portal, but the Knave of Hearts is afraid of returning. She tells him that one she got him back his heart now he has to help Alice get back hers. They jump through the portal together.

They land on a giant trampoline – the Rabbit disdaining them (I think I may love the Rabbit) and Knave cursing the place and snarking at the ridiculousness of a marshmellow pond. It turns out that the rabbit hasn’t seen Cyrus, but the Doormouse (“narcoleptic rodent” as the Knave puts it) saw him in the Hatter’s old place (the Hatter hasn’t been seen for a while – because he’s in Once Upon a Time). Knave and Alice get stuck in the Marshmellow (the Knave being awesomely sarcastic – though he clearly didn’t write his lines because no actual English person says “what the bloody hell are you doing?”) and Alice grabs one of the dragonflies (which is, actually, a dragon of course) and uses its fire to toast the marshmellow. They climb out of the pond using the toasted top to stand on.

Once out, Knave wants to leave – not happy that the Rabbit hadn’t actually seen Cyrus. He has a lot of enemies in Wonderland (and apparently enemies who have good reasons to want to kill him) and he wouldn’t have come back on such flimsy evidence. Alice offers to pay him and shows him 3 gems she had hidden in her shoe – wishes. She hasn’t used them herself because wishes are unpredictable. The Knave agrees – for a wish.

The Rabbit, who ran for help when they were sinking in the Marshmellow, runs into the same guards who attacked Cyrus and Alice. And the woman in red – the Queen, who says he’s late (*snerk*)

In the castle, the Rabbit talks to the Queen – the Rabbit had made a deal with her to bring Alice to Wonderland. The Red Queen now wants the Rabbit to spy on Alice. After the Rabbit leaves, the Red Queen gets another visitor – Jafar. They want the genie’s bottle – and Alice to have made all her wishes. But they’re not allies – Jafar threatens the Red Queen and declares he doesn’t need her any more. He starts to use his magic to strangle her but she points out it’s her world, not his – she knows where Alice is, where Alice is going – he still needs her. Faced down by the Red Queen he leaves on his flying carpet after a parting threat.

Meanwhile the Knave and Alice arrive at the Tulgey Woods, the Hatter’s home is on the other side; and the Knave suggests it may be a trap, but for Cyrus, Alice will risk it. They set off, Alice indulging in some vicious revenge fantasies against the Red Queen. Along the way they find wanted posters for the Knave of Hearts, though he’s unwilling to talk about why he’s wanted. To find out where they’re going Alice climbs a tree, taking off her boots including the wishes hidden in the heel – much to the Knave’s temptation. He takes her shoes while she’s up the tree. She realises what he’s done – but she has more pressing concerns; the Cheshire Cat appears

The Cheshire Cat is an incredibly huge cat, rather bigger than a tiger and much taller than Alice herself and he has a big rather creepy grin. And he considers her food – he leaps for her and she falls out the tree, rolling away before he pounces on her. She dodges around the cat but he quickly pins her – apparently the Red Queen told him she’d taste nice. He leans down to bite when the Knave of Hearts jumps on his tail. The cat spins round and the Knave throws a piece of shrinking mushroom into his mouth, reducing him to normal, cat size. There’s a brief confrontation about stealing her wishes and he returns them – especially since wishes can’t be stolen, they have to be granted.

They arrive at the Hatter’s house and Alice runs through it excited… but Cyrus isn’t there. She tries to cling to hope but the Knave confronts her with the truth and she leaves the house in tears. The Knave accuses the Rabbit of making her lose Cyrus twice; but outside Alice finds Cyrus’s glowing red necklace. Alice takes it as a sign Cyrus survived but he Knave doubts – a magic necklace can survive the boiling see, but not a flesh and blood person. He tries to get her to leave but she insists he’s here. He says she has no proof and she says when you really love someone, you don’t need proof. Of course the Knave stays with her.

Elsewhere we see Cyrus wake up in a cage and a flashback to him falling into the sea – before he hit the water he was caught by the magic carpet, directed by Jafar, his gaoler.

Ok… that was actually shockingly good. I expected something decent, but I never expected to be as intrigued and entertained as I was. It was immense fun – even if the CGI was rather awful

The acting is excellent. I think it’s the acting that sells it for me because it just carries all the characters. It makes Alice so much more real and powerful – who is not only strong and determined and active, but outright vicious when she has to be and definitely in charge. The Knave of Hearts is now cemented as one of my favourites – again, carried by the acting that really pulls off the whole excellent character. Even the White Rabbit is awesomely done in his way.

If the Knave continues to gloriously, sarcastically snark the sheer ridiculousness of Wonderland I’m going to become an eternal fanpoodle. The characters are keeping me going

We have the early strings of inclusion  of Jafar (a villain) and possibly Cyrus - I’m still unsure. A lot remains to be developed.

So far, consider me drawn in and having fun – for Alice and the Knave if nothing else.