Friday, November 8, 2013

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time in Wonderland (1x4)

The snake is one of the more recognizable symbols. It appears often enough in literature or television because people automatically know to associate the snake with certain themes: evil, malice, trickery, the Devil, ect. Snakes are seen as duplicitous because they can easily shed their skin; they can become a new thing. A lot of this is more or less rooted in our Judeo-Christian history and the story of Genesis, in which a cunning and sly serpent tricks Eve into eating of the tree of knowledge and thus the fall from paradise and life has sucked ever since. In this weeks episode of Once Upon A Time in Wonderland, "The Serpent," we learn a bit more about Jafar and what everyone's true essence is. 

Snake in the Grass 

Young Jafar had a rough start to life. Does this surprise anyone? That is the reoccurring theme for every villain ONCE (both iterations) comes up with: Rumple and Hook were abandoned by their fathers, the former to be raised by spinsters in poverty; Regina was emotionally and physically abused by her mother; Cora was the daughter of a drunk. It's how the writers of both shows envision their villains; they do not write evil for the sake of evil, but rather the theme that "evil isn't born, it's made" is stressed again and again. So it is with Jafar. He grew up poor, a gutter rat, the apprentice to a nasty and cruel master. But despite this, he seems rather fearless. When Amara, a powerful sorceress, comes to the marketplace, Jafar is the only one who is not scared to look upon her. He sees his way out. One of the biggest twists in Jafar's story is that, on top of being poor and abused, he is a bastard son. The Sultan of Agrabah cast him out, wanting nothing to do with him. I wonder who is mother is. Chances are his mother was a lowly peasant who found herself in the Sultan's bed just for his pleasure and then was cast aside when she was no longer desired. I would be willing to bet that Jafar's mother died very early on in his life. Does this sad history play into Jafar's ultimate plan? Does he was to bring his mother back from the dead, thus rewriting his own history? And take the Sultan down at the same time? He claims that he wants to learn magic from Amara so he can get revenge, but that's too "evil for the sake of evil" for ONCE. There is something more here.

Years pass and Jafar grows up learning tricks and trades from Amara, though she never ages. At some point their relationship stopped being master and apprentice and turned into lovers, which is a bit disturbing seeing as she practically raised him from his teenage years.  There are hints of a Cora/Rumple type relationship here except with the gender roles reversed. Amara is adamant that Jafar cannot learn all she has to offer until he sheds his own skin and reveals his own true essence. Amara surrounds herself with serpent images to remind herself that snakes, when they need to, shed their skin and are reborn. Can Jafar do the same? If he can kill an innocent friend, then he can learn more magic. Otherwise he is still just the rage filled little gutter rat who showed up at Amara's door. By not saving an innocent man, Jafar takes that all important first step to being our villain. Eventually, Amara reveals the ultimate plan to Jafar. In her possession is a book, the same book Jafar was seen levitating several episodes back. Amara calls it a book with all the worlds wisdom about genies. Inside the book is a powerful spell that requires three genies: the genie of the lamp, the urn, and the bottle. If you have all three genies, and two powerful magic doers, you can become the most powerful wizard in all the lands and be able to break the laws of magic. Amara wishes to share this with Jafar and together they could do anything! Like I said, there is more going on here than just world domination. Amara, no doubt, wanted to just be powerful but for Jafar it's revenge but it has to be something else as well. This is not to say that he doesn't relish the evil-doings. I think that becomes abundantly clear. Finding the lamp, the urn, and bottle prove difficult but the two persevere.

They eventually find the urn; it belongs currently to a barkeep who has no desire to give up the urn so quickly. Jafar, of course, has no qualms about torturing the man. There are some parallels to another scene in the present day, so let's discuss it here. Jafar cannot kill the owner of the wishes. If you kill the owner of the wishes before they've spent all their wishes, the wishes stay with them even after death. What does this mean now? It means Jafar cannot kill Alice, so much as he may want to. Alice has three wishes and if Jafar were just to kill her, the wishes would remain Alice's and Jafar could never own Cyrus's bottle. He must get her to spend her wishes instead. More on that in a bit.

Like so many people do, Amara became blind by love. Again, this is really just Rumple and Cora with the gender roles reversed. Rumple, blinded by his love for Cora, didn't see that all she ever wanted was unending power and believed that love was weakness. Amara, blinded by her love for Jafar and her belief that they wanted the same thing, does not see that she has created her own worst enemy. Amara once asked how far Jafar would be willing to go to get what he wanted. The answer is that he'll go as far as he needs to. Unlike Amara, Jafar isn't willing to share the power that comes with owning three genies. And in a very cool and surprising twist, Jafar poisons Amara, stealing her magical essence and then turns her into his favorite villain prop: his serpent staff. This scene was a cool bit of magic and pretty unexpected. Disney's Jafar is never without his serpent staff but the staff itself is never elucidated upon. It is simply his villain weapon. But here, the staff becomes an old lover, an older teacher, and to a certain extent, his mother figure. He will carry Amara with him always but not in a loving way of someone who was nurtured, cared for, and loved. I thought this scene played really well, due in large part to Naveen Andrews who is just a great actor all around. It was twisted and deranged but totally logical once you thought about it.

So how does this fit into the present day dealings with the Red Queen? Why would Jafar ever take on another partner when he clearly doesn't want one for the end result? Did Jafar really need the Red Queen to get Alice to Wonderland? Why couldn't he do that himself? I'm fairly confident that the Red Queen has the White Rabbit's wife and family captive and that's how she bribed the Rabbit to bring Alice back to Wonderland, but surely Jafar could have done that too. I think the Red Queen senses the power imbalance and thus why she went out of her way to make sure she had Cyrus's bottle and not Jafar. Speaking of the bottle, is it the vessels themselves or the genies inside that are important? And please tell me that the genie of the lamp is a big and blue. And sings.

Have the Wish I Wish Tonight 

The Knave and Alice are still on the move, trying to stay out of the Caterpillar's henchman who have been sent after the Knave to collect his debts or the Forget me Knot, which was burned in the last episode. Having learned of the White Rabbit's treachery, Alice is all for hanging him over a cliff until he makes a full confession, but Will urges that bluffing is really the best way to go. They are interrupted by a fight and the Alice and the Knave split up. Bad idea, guys. That's how the bad guys find you! Of course Will is captured by the Red Queen who has been ordered by Jafar to bring in the Knave. Will is thrown in prison and we get to see a bit more of his current relationship with the Red Queen, Anastasia. It's hard to tell if Will still loves her and has buried those feelings under hostility or if he has removed her from his heart altogether. Ana, at any rate, seems to still having feelings for Will. But is it love or is it guilt? Despite her efforts to bust Will out of jail, an offer he doesn't take, she does send him to the chopping block, prepared to give Jafar what he wants--Will's head on a spike.

With Will having been captured, Alice finds herself alone, looking for a way to free him. And then she is approached by a woman in black leathers who is also hoping to save the Knave. Her name is Elizabeth but you can call her Lizard. She's cute, feisty, loyal, and totally and obviously in love with Will. Who is Lizard? If I had to guess, I would say she is a Lost Princess. Jafar refers to the Red Queen's crown as stolen. Did Ana take over her realm by killing the previous rulers? And if so, was Lizard spirited away for safe keeping? Lizard mentions that when she met Will some time ago, she was homeless and friendless, but Will gave her a place to sleep and taught her all he knew about thieving. Together, Alice and Lizard, go after Will and save him from a very nasty beheading. And then the fun happens.

During the escape, Will and Alice are trapped by both Jafar and the Red Queen. It's our first real show down! And it played wonderfully. Jafar knows he cannot kill Alice, like I mentioned previously, but that doesn't mean he can't kill her friends. Pulling a very Darth Vadar move, Jafar beings to choke the life from Will, telling Alice that if she wants to save her companion, all she has to do is make a wish. One wish and Will can be free. Poor Alice. Of course she makes a wish, but not exactly the one Jafar was hoping for--Alice wishes that if the Knave of Hearts dies, so does Alice. Not quite what Jafar was going for, but it's one wish down. Jafar is obviously not happy with this arrangement but gets a little bit of his own back by cursing Will to a fate worse than death (gee, where have we heard that before?) and turns Will into a stone statue. He then turns his magic on Alice, floating her above the air and stretching out her bones and muscles.
Just one more wish Alice, just make one more wish to make the pain stop. And of course that would put Cyrus even closer into Jafar's grasp. But Alice has quite a will of her own (pun intended). She says she'll never give into Jafar and never put Cyrus into his hands. She'll die first. And that would ruin all of Jafar's plans. But Alice has given Jafar a big insight into her true essence: she has a heart and that makes her weak (Cora alert!)

One wish down. Two to go. Will Alice spend her other wishes?

Miscellaneous Notes on The Serpent 

--20 cookies says the old man in the cage next to Cyrus is the Sultan, Jafar's father.

--This episode was quite enjoyable. It had the potential I had expected from ONCE all along. Much better CGI this round

--The Knave gets some of the best lines:
"We need to work on your poker face"
"We could die or we could run"
"I'm clearly not attracted to nice normal women"

--Alice did have her very own fun line though: "Excuse me, pardon me, I have a blade."

-- Looks like Cyrus has found a way out! About time. He's been sitting in that cage for all 4 episodes now and given very little to do. The wishbone ploy was cute if really overly sentimental.


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