Once Upon a Time in Wonderland Series Finale Review: And They Lived... On, in Once Upon a Time, If They Possibly Could
To be blunt, I’m relieved that Once Upon a Time Wonderland never found the loyal audience and lasting success of its predecessor. It would have said some disturbing things about the viewing public and the collective unconscious if it had been embraced en masse. Whether read as pure whimsical fantasy or a collection of deep ideas that'd been over-simplified into incoherent psychological symbols, Wonderland was a hot mess. It was an Irish stew of tongue-in-cheek puns, laughable CGI, and campy melodrama not seen on television since the days of Flash Gordon. It was big, beautiful ideas dumbed down into baffling platitudes. It was terrible! But it had the courage, at least, to be terrible. The world has an overabundance of mediocre television—shows that play it safe by sticking to a formula and presenting us with absolutely nothing new, shows that are created by a committee that grinds out 30-minute chunks of uneventful brain Velveeta with the aim of providing a restful soundtrack for fans making dinner after a long day of work. Wonderland is innocent at least of the dishonor of playing it safe.
At least Wonderland was a spectacular failure in the literal sense of the word spectacular: a glittering, glamorous, larger-than-life showcase of failure. It was bravely bad. Heroically horrible. Ambitiously awful. Terrifically terrible. And as someone who once got through a truly difficult week by watching a solid 24 hours' worth of Paradise Hotel 2, I can say with confidence there will always be hearts and minds that need terrible entertainment. Terrible entertainment is the most entertaining kind, next to good entertainment. One day, some struggling person is going to lay flat on their bed and watch all 13 episodes of Wonderland on a laptop, screaming with hysterical laughter and rolling their eyes and weeping a little at the unblushing sentimentality of it all, and they're going to feel a lot better. And even though the series must end, Michael Socha is joining OUAT! So it’s even sort of a happy ending.
The finale was as slapdash, needlessly complicated, and confounding as the rest of the season. Alice donned golden armor to give a five-minute battle speech and was captured 30 seconds into the first fight. Jafar killed the Jabberwocky because why not? Jafar tantalizingly promised to destroy Alice’s memories of Cyrus (perhaps they thought they would get a Season 2; this was intended as a game-changing cliffhanger), but she sort of mad-dogged him out of it. The white rabbit was hilariously drop-kicked into the jungle. Jafar was enslaved as a genie by the high/low pitch-shifted Lady of the Lake. A gigantic purple pulse, because why not? The Red Queen was brought back to life because the Well of Wonders Lady of the Lake bought her a shot. Sure. I like happy endings, so why not?
Thanks to this finale, Wonderland's future fans will have an emotionally satisfying, classic happy ending to look forward to at the end of the rusty laser-tag game that was the season—an ending so complete and composed that I’m sure the production team had a big heads-up they wouldn't be getting a second season well before they wrote the finale script. No storylines were left unsewn, there was no signature Kitsis & Horowitz cliffhanger; instead, we saw a very All’s Well That End’s Well, every-character-reunited wedding, presided over by a CGI rabbit, no less.
John Lithgow later imparted the lesson of what Wonderland is all about (finding yourself, which you can’t do on Earth. There aren't nearly enough close calls with father-obsessed magicians in this dimension).
Weirdly, the finale’s wedding, which seemed like a consolatory gift to the cast from the writers, finally had the element that perhaps kept Wonderland from ever connecting to OUAT: Original’s wider audience: naturalism. Just as OUAT finds favor with its viewers by exploring what Snow White would be like as a roommate, or what the Evil Queen would be like as a girlfriend, so too was it highly enjoyable to see what the Red Queen would really be like as a friend when we saw her as a guest at the wedding (awesome, hilarious, would always bring her own wine) and how much Alice and the Knave sort of depended on each other. The characters’ relationships were better illustrated in the last five minutes of the series than in the several spotlight episodes devoted to making the same points, because they simply got to stand around and breathe together.
And we even got a sort of epilogue, Alice’s wrapping up or the story with a literal bow after reading it to her future daughter and concretely putting a pin in that universe. So for the untold thousands who stumble upon Wonderland while seeking an escape hatch from sorrow in future years, you can look forward to a supremely satisfying ending.
... Are you psyched for Socha to arrive on OUAT?
... What other Wonderland alumni would you like to see cross over?
... What other OUAT spin-offs would you like to see pursued?
... What lessons can future OUAT spin-offs take from Wonderland?
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