Saturday, November 23, 2013

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, Season 1, Episode 5: Heart of Stone

Starting flashback – the Knave and Red Queen (or Will and Anastasia at this point) all prepared to run off together when Anastasia’s mother arrives disapproving most strongly of her match with a “loser”. She spent her whole life working to help Anastasia climb the social ladder (by marrying well – a nobleman, she doesn’t think Anastasia is princess material) and now she’s going to marry a thief. Her mother tells her that she can’t live on love and if she comes back it will be as a servant.

In the present the Red Queen is messing around near the edge of a precipice and Alice is concerned about the new Statue Knave getting cold and puts a blanket on him. She mopes about not knowing what to do or even where Cyrus is – and the Red Queen appears; she knows where Cyrus is. Alice rejects her help but the Red Queen knows where the genie is and tells Alice to get down off her high horse so they can make a deal. They have a shared problem – Jafar; the Red Queen calls him a means to an end but she needs a way to protect herself from him once she reaches that end.

The Red Queen wants some dust that will protect her from dark magic – a near suicidal quest. Alice gets her that and the Red Queen will show Alice Jafar’s hidden tower – which is shrouded by magic and impossible to find otherwise.

In the Tower, Cyrus’s fellow prisoner is returned to his cell after being forced to drag giant rocks up a staircase (hi, Sisyphus!) who also has something Jafar wants, though he says Jafar will never get it. Cyrus shows the hole in the bottom of his cell he’s carved – today’s the day they escape. The old man is worried about the guards and Jafar’s craftiness but Cyrus is all optimistic and hopeful and no-one deserves to be a prisoner! (What about murderers?). He escapes – and kicks the guard into the pit the cages are suspended over

Flashback to Will and Anastasia, struggling to find food and make a life for themselves in Wonderland. They hear from a passing baker that there’s a ball at the palace – Anastasia wants to go; a bit of fun gatecrashing. Once they “borrow” Anastasia a new dress.

To the present with the Red Queen giving Alice a lift in her carriage to the place the dust is and Alice threatening the Queen. Alice wants to know exactly what the Queen wants but they just go round in circles of wealth not buying everything and everyone comes to Wonderland looking for something (and she snarks at Alice wanting her father’s love)

The Red Queen isn’t the only one who can plot –  Jafar has one of his minions deliver the White Rabbit to him, curious as to why the Rabbit would betray Alice. He’ll sort out the Rabbit’s debt to the Queen if the Rabbit spills everything about Alice and everyone she’s ever loved so Jafar can force her to use more wishes.

The Queen leads Alice to an abyss, a huge chasm. And the dust is on the other side. Alice asks the Queen if she has magic to help her cross and the Queen points out that if she could have got it herself, she wouldn’t really need Alice. On the lip of the chasm is the words “the pure of heart will make the leap” and the Queen fancies Alice’s chances better than her own – at least she has a sensible view of her own personhood.

Flashback! Will and Anastasia attend the party where Will is both very out of place and hones in on the food. But Anastasia mingles – practicing the upper class accent she hears and shares a drink with the king who is very witty indeed. Unfortunately while she and the king are making witty small talk, Will’s invitation is exposed as a forgery and her dress as stolen. They’re kicked out, she very despondent but Will considers it a success – he stole a week’s worth of food and they don’t have to deal with posh people any more. Anastasia isn’t nearly so happy

Back to the present and Alice wonders if it’s a trick – she jumps then has to use a wish not to fall to her death. The Queen points out she could just push Alice. Alice has a lot of doubts and tries to figure out any riddle behind the words, eventually settling on having faith in her love for Cyrus, the purest thing in her heart. The Queen, not being a complete fool, doesn’t really follow that but Alice drops a sappy “when two people love each other they can accomplish anything” into the conversation and when someone gets that drippy all you can really do is beat them about the head with a snow shovel.

Alice steps out – and is suspended in mid-air by a blue light. Love conquers all – and provides ease of access over difficult terrain features. Well for 4 steps anyway – then Alice falls. Love can get you far – but gravity > infatuation.

She doesn’t die though (unsurprising) she doesn’t even appear to be injured when she wakes up at the bottom. Amazing how people can plummet far enough to be knocked unconscious then wake up without a bruise (or concussion). She’s surrounded by the skeletons of people who weren’t so lucky or wearing plot armour.

The Red Queen seems quite shocked and saddened by this application of physics and believes Alice failed – which cases a flashback to her telling Will they’ve failed and it’s time to crawl back to her mother and beg forgiveness. But to try and scrape up some dignity, she wants to go back after stealing the crown jewels (hey mum, we may be thieves but we’re damn good thieves!) She uses the Robin Hood logic against Will – it’s ok to steal from the rich to give to the poor; well they’re poor and no-one’s giving them anything! (Heh I kind of like that she’s poked the same hole in Robin’s logic that I did). Will has misgivings, he thought they were done with thieving and he thought she had (rather misplaced) faith in him not one big heist – but her enthusiasm is convincing.

Back in Agrabah prison, Cyrus throws the keys to the old man in his cage – he catches them, then drops them, on purpose. He doesn’t want to slow Cyrus down – and he assures Cyrus that Jafar will not kill him, he knows he won’t. Cyrus has to leave to avoid the guards.

Elsewhere in the palace, the Rabbit gives Jafar the wonderful insight that Alice likes teaparties. He gets tired of the Rabbit stalling and smacks him with his staff and cuts off the Rabbit’s foot. He will restore it – but only if the Rabbit tells Jafar who Alice cares about so he can exploit that.

At the bottom of the ravine Alice is confronted by a little girl – who looks a lot like a young Alice with a disturbing echo-reverb voice. Young!Alice says that Alice hasn’t earned the dust yet and talks about her dreams – Alice thinks of the dreams of Cyrus but young!Alice is thinking about Alice’s dreams of revenge; revenge against the people who took Cyrus from her. Against the Red Queen. Young!Alice stamps her foot, causing the whole ravine to shake, staggering the Red Queen at the top of the ravine. She falls in next to Alice and Young!Alice (the fall doesn’t even muss up her hair). Young!Alice urges Alice to get her revenge.

Alice isn’t entirely a fool and points out that the Red Queen knows where Cyrus is –but Young!Alice is in everyone’s head and promises to tell Alice where Cyrus is, if she kills the Queen (and if you haven’t figured out that this is part of the “pure in heart” test by now…). The Queen raises her hand – but her magic doesn’t work. Alice says “sorry, someone needs to make you pay for what you’ve done” while the Queen begs – and swings her sword. To dramatically put it down “that person won’t be me”.  (Killing your enemies is totally not a good guy thing. Unless they’re guards or henchmen. They totally don’t count).

Young!Alice confirms she passed the pure in heart test. (Or she’s squeamish). Young!Alice turns into the magic dust they need (does she also have stairs for getting out the ravine?) The Red Queen wants to know why she’s not dead and Alice gives the predictable “I’m not like you” answer.

Flashback to Anastasia stealing the crown jewels, including the coronet she always wears. And the king catches her

Back to the present and the Red Queen steals the dust – and doesn’t tell Alice about Cyrus. Alice protests that she gave the queen her life and she angrily objects “no-one ever gave me anything. Everything I have, I’ve had to take.” Alice asks about the things she’s lost – which pauses the Red Queen briefly before she leaves. But Alice has kept some of the dust.

Back in Agrabah, Cyrus dodges the guards, and the Rabbit has his foot back having told Jafar about someone Alice cares about who isn’t in Wonderland. He demands the Rabbit start digging to take him where he wants, but the Rabbit is worried the Queen will realise if he just leaves – and makes a run for it. The Rabbit runs into Cyrus and Cyrus begs him not to give him away. The Rabbit tells him to go and he stays to distract Jafar (Jafar makes ominous comments about what is beyond the tower). The Rabbit opens the portal for Jafar.

Flashback again and the King asks why Anastasia wishes to steal. She says she needs it more and he asks why a peasant needs jewels – she counters asking why a king needs them (good counter). He says that’s the way of things –Kings get wealth, peasants get longing. But he is intrigued by her, he says she doesn’t belong to her life and he offers her a life where the jewels belong to her: if she marries him. He’s attracted by both her beauty and her drive to be more than she is. She mentions she loves another and he asks her how far that will get her

Outside the castle, Will waits when the King comes on to his balcony and introduces his new queen. Heartbreak time.

Back in the present, the Red Queen goes to the statue of the Knave and says sorry – then sprinkles the anti-magic dust over him. She leaves before he can see who did it. Alice uses the dust to break the hidden spell on Jafar’s tower – showing her where it is. And Cyrus emerges from the tower

I do like the attention to Anastasia’s accent – how differently she spoke in the past, the accents of a commoner – and her studied, careful speech when she is the Red Queen. Anastasia’s entire journey is a pretty excellent one as she tries to seek advantage and confronts many of the hard truths of reality that are so often missing from fairy tales. Love doesn’t ensure happiness – or enough to eat or a roof over your heads. Love will not avert poverty or the harshness she is living under. Fairy tale endings don’t land on most people – and taking what she wanted was the only path she saw open to her. It’s all right for fairy tales to talk about believing in your dreams and wishing for them – but Anastasia had to reach out and take hers. It adds a lot of wonderful context to her character.