Friday, November 22, 2013

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (1x6)

Of all the possible questions in the world, I believe that the hardest to answer is "who are you?" How exactly do you answer such a question? What defines us as person? Who we love? Who we hate? What we do for a living? A random slew of adjectives: short, tall, skinny, heavy? Do we negotiate our identity based on family and society and a peaceful but false happiness? Or is it something deeper, something that can only be discovered by trial and tribulation? Do we ever really know who we are? On this weeks episode of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, "Who's Alice?" Alice must choose between a fraudulent happiness or taking the hard path and being true to herself and her quest to find Cyrus. And in the past, Alice is presented with a chance to move on from her genie love, as her family puts pressure on her to conform to their societal expectations and give up her dreams of Wonderland. As was inscribed at Delphi: γνῶθι σεαυτόν. It really is the hardest task of all. 

Welcome Home, Alice. We Totally Forgot You Existed 

Our flashback this episode deals with the fallout of loosing Cyrus at the Boiling Sea. Alice finds herself back home in London, deeply shaken from loosing her fiancee. It has been years since Alice was last at home, having set out to Wonderland to find evidence for her father that she was not insane. Yes, Alice has daddy issues. Are you surprised? Everyone in the ONCEiverse has daddy issues, apparently. I'm not shocked that this episode comes on the heels of ONCE proper 308, "Think Lovely Thoughts." Alice and her father have a complicated history, he was sad and neglectful of Alice as a child. Alice has told us twice now that her mother died early in Alice's life. Sidenote: Doubtful. If characters keep bringing up dead characters, especially if the death of that character had some sort of psychological impact on the lead, then they aren't really dead. My current theory is that Alice's mother was from another world--The Enchanted Forest, Oz, Wonderland itself--and left Alice and her father when Alice was young for some as yet to be disclosed reason, but is also having trouble finding her way back to Alice, probably because of the Curse. Anyway, Alice arrives back home after years away only to find that her father has moved on not only from her mother but from Alice herself. He has remarried a woman named Sarah and had a daughter, Millie. Bit of a twist that now Alice is the elder sister in this tale; traditionally Alice herself is the younger sister. 

 Did you notice how similar Millie was to Young Alice? The costume designers even put young Millie in a dress that is very similar to young Alice's classic blue dress; but they went to the opposite end of the color wheel, and made it a soft pink. I believe they are trying to draw the contrast between the two girls. Alice, with her blue dress and messy blonde hair, was loud and excitable and prone to wild storytelling. Millie, with her perfectly plaited hair and delicate blush dress, is a respectable Victorian child, exactly the daughter Alice's father would have wished Alice could be. Of course, this doesn't stop Alice and Millie from bonding as Millie is a sweet little girl.

Alice's father, who is more or less under the control of his new wife (a Victorian prig of a woman if ever there was one,) insists that Alice needs to "be better" if she is going to stay with them. No more talk of Wonderland, no talk of Cyrus the genie, no more fantastical tales of adventures because Millie is impressionable. In other words, don't make my new daughter into what you've become; she's my second chance with a family and it's working out really well so far. It was heartbreaking when Alice actually had to ask her father if he was happy to have her home and her father could barely muster up a lie that of course he was happy to see her, barely touching her hand with his fingertips. He's not happy of course. From what we know of Alice's father prior to Alice's disappearance, the loss of his first wife deeply affected him. He spent most of Alice's childhood in mourning and not being a father to Alice. Alice, then, is a reminder of all that pain and darkness he faced. Having her back is like having a giant neon sign that reminds him of what he lost years ago. With Sarah and Millie, he can forget everything of the past, drug his mind with the false reality that he loves his new wife and is perfectly happy. (Drugs were an important motif this episode as were drugged induced realities). Sarah and Alice's father try to force this drugged out reality onto Alice, insisting that she meet her familial and societal obligations, which in Victorian England means marriage to a gentleman from a good family. And so Sarah presents Mr. Darcy to Alice. Yes, this is a thing that happened. I almost fell off the couch while watching the episode. First, that young man, charming though I'm sure he is, is NOT Mr. Darcy. That is not Colin Firth. Do not give me a Darcy if you aren't going to give me Colin Firth. Second, way to confuse your audience if they don't understand that this is *fictional* London and not *real* London. If you don't know that this is Fictional London and not London of the past, I bet this little interlude into Austen was confusing. 
Alice runs from Darcy, wanting nothing to do with him and more to the point, wanting nothing to do with Sarah's designs of marriage and becoming a proper lady. And heaven's above, why would she? In the past few years, she has seen exotic worlds, fought monsters, worn pants. In other words, she's completely broken out of the Victorian mold for women which could be rather suffocating. Look at Alice's clothes from Wonderland, loose and free; and now compare them to the clothes Sarah put her in, high choking collars and devoid of all personality. Alice is expected to become a wallflower when she has been a heroine up until her arrival home. And to top it all off, her whole family thinks she is insane and that Cyrus is a fictional person. And so, when it becomes clear that Alice will not be bending to conformity and will never believe that Cyrus isn't real, her father gives her a choice: if you stay here, then you will do as Sarah says. If you choose not to do this, then you will go to the Bethlem Asylum to be treated. Alice could stay in her father's own drugged out universe full of false happiness or she could continue to believe in her delusions but do it elsewhere. Of course what ends up happening is that Alice will enter her own drugged out world in the Asylum when the Curse hits and she's frozen for 28 years and then, as we saw in the pilot, Alice will break enough to accept treatment for her delusions, another drugged out world. 

Don't Go Into the Light, Alice!

In present day Wonderland, Alice begins her journey toward Cyrus, now that the magic dust has shown her where he is. This part of the episode dragged on quite a bit, moving from Alice in the psychedelic woods of doom, to Cyrus running from the Red Queen, and to the Knave's search for Alice. A lot of the themes I've already touched on, like drugged out universes of false happiness were again touched upon. Let's stick with the major one, though: the Borrow Grove Perfume Bottle of Death (ok, it was just called the Borrow Grove but in the words of the Knave, "it's like a bloody perfume bottle.") Part of Alice's adventure to find Cyrus involves going into the Black Forest, which was actually pitch black (it's a metaphor, guys). But then, just when Alice gets to the darkest part of the forest, a light appears and Alice believes she has found her way out of the darkness. But, it's a false light. The light is coming from the Grove, full of trees and flowers, and wonderful purple smoke that make all that enter want to stay because it induces a false contentment. And as it slowly takes your will to leave the Grove, you forget who you are. Another drugged out reality. There in the Grove, Alice meets the Carpenter--sadly missing his Walrus. So, Alice is an oyster. In the long poem in the Alice in Wonderland books, the Walrus and the Carpenter lure Oysters out of the ocean with promises of fun and happiness, only to consume them, the oysters forgetting that man and beast are their natural enemies. Alice is lured into this false reality by the purple smoke but also because part of her does want to stay. The magic of the Grove doesn't work if at least part of you doesn't want to stay. 

So why would Alice want to stay? Well, like I said, it's another drugged out reality, something Alice is familiar enough with to know that there is a certain level of comfort to be found there. Her father found a false happiness with Sarah and his new more well mannered daughter; Alice almost found an equal happiness in the Asylum when she agreed to undergo surgery to rid herself of the memories of Wonderland and Cyrus. This grove is the equivalent to those experiences. But it's a false happiness. Alice could never really be happy there. But luckily she has a cunning best friend in Will Scarlett. The Knave, thinking Alice freed him from his stone prison, goes looking for Alice and eventually waltzes into the Grove. It's interesting that the Knave isn't affected by the magic perfume (more on that in a bit). And there he finds Alice, sad lost girl Alice who had dropped her necklace and is determined to stay in her false paradise. The Knave discovers that all who stay in the Grove eventually become part of its surroundings, morphing into trees. He and Alice fight and it is only when he manages to get the necklace back to Alice just when Cyrus is trying to find Alice, does she remember who she is. Alice, like Cyrus, carries the most powerful weapon of all: true love. Yeah, that's gag worthy but that's ONCE for you in all honesty. True love is the most powerful magic of all, powerful enough to break any curse and transcend realms. Having woken out of her drugged induced coma, Alice and the Knave flee from the Grove. Once outside the Grove, all the hurt and pain Alice had forgotten while inside the Grove comes flooding back all at once. Pain is part of our identity. It's part of what makes us who we are. As the good dwarf Grumpy said to Snow White, "I need my pain. It's what makes me Grumpy." Alice needs the loss of mother, the neglect of her father, and the loss of Cyrus to be Alice. But she also needs her courage, her best friend Will, and her undying love for Cyrus to make her the whole package. So why was Will unaffected by the Grove? We know that Will had his heart ripped out at one point and that Alice helped him get his heart back but it turns out that Will never put his heart back in his chest. Will is choosing his false reality, his own drugged out universe, instead of facing the broken heart that was left in the wake of Ana leaving him to be a Queen. Who ripped out Will's heart? If it is anyone but Cora, Queen of Hearts, I'll eat the Rabbit's hat. I guess part of this adventure now will be trying to find Will's heart. 

Miscellaneous Notes on Who's Alice?

--A few other subplots in this weeks episode, the most signifciant one being Jafar's arrival in London to speak to the Doctor. He manages to get information out of the Doctor about who Alice cares for and then goes to pay a visit to Alice's father. Wanna bet Alice's father ends up in Wonderland? 

--Another drugged out reality: the Doctor was seen taking laudanum, a *highly* addictive substance, in an effort to forget that he saw a talking White Rabbit. 

--Cyrus spent the episode on the run from the Red Queen, only to wind up back at the same cliff from which he fell the first time. This time, however, Cyrus takes his destiny into his own hands, took a magnificant swan dive off the cliff to the ocean below. I really need Cyrus and Alice to find each other now. They are dragging it out a bit too much. At least with ONCE proper David and Mary Margaret were having an affair and together that way, even if they didn't know they were Snow and Charming

--Not enough Bunny Rabbit for my taste; poor thing spent the entire episode inside Jafar's bag. Oh speaking of Jafar, he got himself a nifty little hat!

--No Wonderland next week, but when we get back I'd really like to see more of Will's story. Especially if it deals with Cora.

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