It’s been a long time on hiatus so soon after starting, but Once Upon a Time in Wonderland is back – and opening with a flashback to many many years ago in Agrabah
To a blacksmith apprentice in the market and his cruel, abusive master. The market is busy and bustling – but everyone hides when a woman in fine clothes arrives to do her shopping, conjuring payment at abandoned stalls with magic. The blacksmith tells the boy to look away, that she will burn them both where they stand, but he watches her and she spots him and stares back... before turning and going about her business.
That night the boy knocks on the woman’s door – he wants to learn magic, dark magic – and he’s risking knocking at her door because death would be better than the life he’s living. He wants people to fear him like she is feared – but she’s not interested in teaching a boy to fight of bullies. But when he says he wants revenge on the Sultan – his father (he’s an illegitimate son and was abandoned) – and how very much he loathes him. She respects that and teaches him. The boy is Jaffar.
To the present where the Red Queen is being pampered and Jafar drops in for one of his surprise visits. He wants to know why the Red Queen never mentioned the Knave of Hearts before – she dismisses it as inconsequential, she only involved the Knave because Alice trusted him and he would pull her back to Wonderland. Since he’s so inconsequential, Jafar wants the Knave dead. But they have history.
Meanwhile said Knave tries to convince Alice not to launch a frontal attack on the Queen and the entire Red army and instead use some guile – by getting information from the White Rabbit since he doesn’t know they know he betrayed them (Alice goes with threats and pain as a good interrogation technique).
Future Rabbit tortures are put on hold when the Caterpillar’s collectors start chasing them (said Caterpillar is not happy with them since they didn’t return the Knot to him last episode). After a nifty chase, Knave has Alice hide while he runs off and leads the Collectors away, since he’s their main target. He runs and hides, managing to avoid the pursuers – when he hears the sound of combat. He peeks out to see all of the Collectors dead or unconscious; he calls for Alice, but it’s not her. It’s the Red Queen
Meanwhile in the prison, Cyrus the genie begs the guard for some food, grovelling until the guard throws him a chicken carcass. His fellow prisoner is shocked, Cyrus has never grovelled before, not for food: he didn’t – he grovelled for the wishbone, which he promptly snaps.
Flashback time! Jafar thanks a man, Akil, for finding their goat and gives him wine as a reward before returning to his mentor. She wants to teach him a masking spell he has coveted – a spell that requires a human liver; he protests, they don’t have one – right as Akil starts choking from the poisoned wine he gave the man, even as Jafar protests he was a kind, good man who did nothing against them. His mentor agrees – and offers Jafar the antidote: of course if he gives Akil the antidotes they won’t have the liver they need. She points to her décor, covered in snakes, and talks about how they shed their skin to be reborn – which Jafar has to do, to prove to her he will do whatever it takes to get what he wants. Jafar lets Akil die. In the wonderful glow of murder, the two kiss.
The Red Queen locks the Knave up and one of her servants reports his capture to Jafar (possibly without the Queen knowing). Knave and the Queen snark back and forth a little (I give points to “[Alice] is not my girlfriend, I’m clearly not attracted to nice, normal women” as an excellent shot).
Alice heads to the Caterpillar’s hideout but one of the Caterpillar’s Collectors stops her and tells her that the Red Queen has Knave. Alice decides to go charge the queen again and this time the Collector – Elizabeth, known as Lizard, decides to go with her because the Knave owes her and dead men pay no debts.
In the palace Jafar storms in and demands a public execution for the Knave to show everyone the price of helping Alice – he pulls the same line on the Queen as was used on him: is she a woman willing to do whatever she wants to reach her goals, or just a little girl with a stolen crown. He demands she kills him while the Red Queen looks wide eyed and tearful.
Flashback! Jafar’s mentor shows him her super special book she has been hiding from him – it’s her Big Book O’ Genies and inside it is a spell that requires the power of the Three Genies to cast, a powerful spell she can’t cast alone that will allow them to rewrite the laws of magic. And she’s willing to share it with him because she loves him.
Back to the present and we see that Jafar already has the lamps/urns of two genies: Cyrus is the last one. In the prison, Cyrus has sharpened the point of the wishbone to the point where it can draw blood – but the guard finds it and throws it away.
As Alice and Elizabeth walk Alice learns that Elizabeth was taught by the Knave, that he took her in when she was a street kid: that’s the debt between her and Knave. And more hints to Alice that Knave is carrying around a broken heart. Speaking of, the Red Queen goes to the Knave in his cell and tells him she’s having the White Rabbit taking him home – he suspects she’s looking for an excuse to kill him but she doesn’t need an excuse – she needs an excuse NOT to kill him. He refuses to co-operate, calls her a terrible person who does terrible things to people and that he dares her to kill him. He then effectively double dog dares her to kill him.
Well, he’s not the smartest guy out there.
Alice and Elizabeth learn of the Knave’s public execution and hurry to the sight of the beheading. It has a catapult – the severed head is catapulted into the crowd. Nice touch. The Red Queen and Jafar watch from the balcony, snarking back and forth, and one of the Queen’s servants report that Alice is in the crowd. She wants to seize her – but Jafar wants to wait – maybe Alice will use a wish to save the Knave.
Flashback to Jafar tracking down genies – and we learn you can’t kill the person who currently holds the bottle, they have to use all their wishes. Of course, torturing them until they use their wishes? Totally within the rules. The last owner of the bottle wishes for Jafar to be unable to hurt him – sensible. Less so is insulting Jafar – because his mentor is quite capable of hurting him.
To the present and the Knave is dragged out to stare defiance at the Red Queen and complain about the cleanliness of her execution equipment. The executioner raises his huge axe and… cuts the Knave’s bonds and knocks out the guards. It’s Alice. They then use the ghoulish catapult to launch themselves over the castle walls and into the Queen’s maze.
They run through the maze but are quickly cornered by Jafar on his carpet and the Red Queen and her guards. Jafar knocks Lizard out with his magic then chokes Knave, relying on the fact Alice will do anything to help a friend. She begs Jafar not to hurt Knave but he says she doesn’t have to beg – just wish. The Red Queen, also worried about the Knave half-begs Alice to wish.
She wishes – tat if the Knave dies, she dies (Cyrus, in the prison senses it and has a despair moment). She reminds Jafar he can’t kill her, he reminds her he can torture her. He does but she refuses to let Cyrus fall into his hands. In retaliation for her defiance, she turns the Knave to stone – the Red Queen looking very upset by this as well
Jafar threatens to destroy all of Alice’s friends, all the people she loves until she is forced to use her wishes – her heart is her weakness. Jafar leaves – but Alice noticed the Red Queen’s emotion and demands she help the Knave – she knows she’s Anastasia, the Knave’s lost love. Alice tries to hit the Queen but she stops her with magic. She tells Alice if she wants to save the Knave she has to use a wish – and turns to leave. Alice is surprised she isn’t imprisoned but the Queen counters that wonderland is a prison.
Flashback – Jafar brings his mentor wine to celebrate hearing of the location of the third genie. She notices he’s started saying “I” not “we” and she starts feeling off from the wine – yes, he’s spiked her drink – with a potion to steal her magical essence. This is what he’s willing to do to get what he wants as she once urged him. She gasps that he can’t possibly cast the spell alone – but he won’t have to, he’ll have her. He turns her, Amara, into the serpent staff he always carries around
To the present, and Cyrus still has the other half of the wishbone (and reveals that genies started the myth of the wishing bone in the first place). A wishbone wants to be joined to its other half (images of Alice and clumsy metaphor ahoy) as he presses the wishbone to the floor of his cage – pulling the other half up from the depths and using the magic of the two separated halves to carve into the bottom of the cage.
Where is the Red Queen’s magic when Jafar is around? I thought we were beginning to see some more spine form her but she is continually bullied by Jafar, making her look weak and abused and adding to his stereotyped portrayal. I’d much rather see them equals – or some power from her
Other than that, things continue apace with all the weirdness and excitement I really appreciate in this show.