Once Upon a Time in Wonderland curiously buried its perfect pilot two episodes into the season. Like, what a
relatively great episode! Sure, at first it was the usual routine: me shaking my head at those CGI backgrounds, and I got only angrier when the Knave of Hearts (or as we shall call him now, WILL SCARLET) pulled Alice from the CGI path—lined with its copy-paste grass and copy-paste trees—into a Steam Punk Underland and over to a whole full-size CGI character. Sigh. OUATW you should know what you’re up against: a limited ability to 3-D render, apparently.
But then just as I was priming my coal heart for a snark session, this jolly little head on a platter of Jell-O woke me up by SCREAMING AT ME!
At last! Something weird and unsettling and sinister! Boy, if I wanted weird and unsettling and sinister I had come to the right place, right Grendl?
So began a veritable horror movie plot: In order to get the Forget-Me-Knot noose and figure out who had filched the genie bottle that would retrieve Cyrus, Alice and Will would have to invade the house of the Grendl, a beasty creature in desperate need of a Clarisonic who spent his days reminiscing over his long-lost wife and stripping human flesh off bones. Everything from the moment Will and Alice fell into his Buffalo Bill pit was delightfully horror-movie-esque. I was smiling like a dizzy schoolgirl at them waking up in a house alongside human remains, the Grendl’s half-trashpile/half-untouched home, the skeleton in the corner, the enchanted noose hanging over the table. It was the first time the feverish dream logic of Wonderland was actually a plus: What was all this leading up to?
Meanwhile the Red Queen and Jafar were poring over a humongous grimmoire and eating Turkish Delight while mocking Cyrus about how soon Alice was going to use one of her wishes—bringing him just that much closer to being under Jafar’s complete power. Yeah no that’s at least not going to happen until the mid-season finale. Even Cyrus was like "In Episode 3? Fat chance, dudes."
The third strand in this elaborate French Braid updo of a plot was the flashbacks to Fairy Tale Land/the Enchanted Forest, and the story of Will Scarlet’s initiation into the Merrie Men (LOL), which involved becoming blood brothers with Robin Hood. Very unsanitary, not up to OSHA standards. It also meant getting a lecture in communism?
Robin Hood has this cool trick for rationalizing the straight-up stealing of riches: If you steal and give the booty to someone else, it’s not really stealing. in common parlance we call this using a "fence." Then we learned that Will Scarlet was actually a double agent within the Merrie Men and was just pulling a long con at the behest of his sweetie Anastasia. Yes, he was convincing the Merrie Men to help him break into some kind of Europe-y hybrid of Neuschwanstein Castle and Notre Dame to take Kristen Bauer’s mirror! (Her voice gave me CHILLS.)
The show concealed the face of Will's sweetheart when she first appeared snoozing in bed, but I think we all immediately knew this was the Red Queen before she got all... Red. When she was still the Pink Queen, basically.
They made it this huge "DUN DUN DUN" reveal at the end of the episode, but there was literally no other female on this show besides Alice, so I think we all put that together pretty quick: Will and Red Queen got HISTORY. DRAMA. SEXY MEMORIES. BEDTIME STORIES THEY TOLD WITH THEIR BODDDAAAAYS. Okay well not quite that lascivious but they used to be in love.
With that one little twist this show is suddenly 300 percent better. The Red Queen is suddenly one-million times more intriguing. THIS SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED IN THE PILOT!! I would have rated the pilot so much higher if it had included the last scene of this episode in the first act: How touching was it to see a fresh-faced, flower-haired Red Queen, clearly smitten with the Knave of Hearts, as they jumped "through the looking glass" out of Fairy Tale Land and into Wonderland? Just a fantastic writing decision, it complicates the characters, it complicates the situation. Now I am looking forward to a future episode where they see each other again for the first time: the first atom of excitement I’ve felt for this show.
Anyway, stealing the mirror got him in hella trouble with Robin Hood and the Merrie Men (a.k.a. Robin let him go after telling him he wasn’t mad, just disappointed) but it also gave Will just the level of understanding of what it's like to lose the woman you love so that he could relate, Dr. Phil-style, to Grendl. For about five minutes. And then Grendl, as he is wont, got unreasonable and hungry and Alice threw open the door and there was the Bandercooch!
I mean Bandersnatch. Boy, what a horrifying, piglike piece of CGI this was! In it came and bucked and rendered all over the place, until Alice managed to fool it into charging at the noose and then she kind of hung it from the ceiling? It was a little disturbing. I don’t like to see any kind of creature, CGI or else-wise, tortured and hung from a ceiling, but at least the scene was making me think and feel something, another first for the show. Eventually the Bandervagine died and immediately blew apart like cigarette ash (convenient), and Grendl let them take the rope and go, because they had basically taped over his interactions with his wife in the Forget-Me-Knot rope loop. Awww.
The rope loop allowed them to discover that John Lithgow was a turncoat and had retrieved the genie bottle for the Red Queen, great. Will then made the decision to burn the rope rather than return it to the caterpillar, who would certainly use it for evil and whose interactions involved a lot of CGI rendering. As an audience we knew Will’s good karma for this act had already paid off, as Jafar was currently in Underland, sneering at the Firefly cosplayers while waiting for the Knave to return.
Cyrus had also had a hand in helping our heroes this week, by making excellent facial expressions! When they suggested that the Banderpoon was Alice’s worst nightmare, he did a restrained look of concern that made them send the Bandercrotch after her—when he knew full well she had no problem fighting Bandergroins. Haha, Cyrus you’re clever as a mime!
So, lots of great developments this week: They’ve found out the Rabbit is a double agent and that the Red Queen is in possession of Cyrus’s bottle. We know the Red Queen and Will were lovers at one point. Alice has been tested and she is NOT about to use those wishes—even, apparently, when her life depends on it. These are all very cool things! Well done, Wonderland. But please put all the good stuff you can upfront—I can’t believe we had to wade through two weeks of buildup to get to the heart of the matter here. The KNAVE of the heart of the matter! Sorry, that was bad. Banderchocha. Okay I’m done.
... Do you think the show successfully gave at least 100 kids nightmares with this episode?
... How soon did you predict the Red Queen and Knave had a history (before this episode even?)
... Jafar’s hair: Should it get its own billing and title credit?
... Should this show always be scary?
... How annoying is ABC’s spiderweb logo takin’ up three inches of lower lefthand corner real estate? Just me or is that crazy intrusive?
... How are you feeling about this show right now?
AIRED ON 4/3/2014
Season 1 : Episode 13