From the writers of LOST and Once Upon A Time (Eddy Kitsis, Adam Horowitz) and The River (Zach Estrin) comes Spin off in the same vein as Once Upon A Time, but primarily set in another Parallel Universe, Wonderland.
Sophie Lowe plays the iconic Alice, whom in this version, originates from a parallel Victorian Universe, rather than in "our" Victorian past. The same as Once Upon A Time, Once Upon A Time in Wonderland tells it's story through both current events and flashbacks to past events.
Our story is set up that Alice had been going back and forth to Wonderland since she was a little girl, but once she reached young adulthood had become institutionalized after believing she lost the love of her life, a Genie named Cyrus (Peter Gadiot), and where she finally comes to deny all of her Wonderland experiences in which Dr. Lydgate (Jonny Coyne) intends to further help her by preforming a lobotomy! Curiously the White Rabbit (John Lithglow), who has been sent by The Red Queen (Emma Rigby), is able to find The Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) whom has been hanging out in The Land Without Magic's Storybrooke! From there they reality travel through the White Rabbit's portal (reminiscent to a worm hole) and go and save Alice from the institution and reveal to her that Cyrus is alive and she can save him by going back to Wonderland!
We see the Red Queen has come to turn many characters against Alice including the Cheshire Cat, White Rabbit, and there is surely something going on with The Knave of Hearts, as he admitted earlier in the episode that he left Wonderland on "bad terms." The Knave strikes me as a freelance anti-hero kind of character and although I love the brother and sister-like dynamic going on between him and Alice, I suspect that their relationship might be under the tag of unrequited love, but it's clear that he owes her, despite his dubious behavior, as he does come back and do the right thing and save Alice's life from the starving Cheshire Cat.
Obviously, Cyrus was not at the Mad Hatter's house, but PROOF of his existence is left behind when Alice finds his magic necklace glowing red, suggesting that their hearts are still entwined and that he is in fact alive.
The final scenes solidify that fact, as we see Jafar hold him prisoner somewhere in cave or volcano like dwellings below Wonderland.
In some ways this Pilot episode does come off a little predictable, but it's not because it isn't a good first episode, but rather the viewers have seen most of the episode through promos, sneak peeks, and early 20 minute preview. Setting that aside the episode has great execution, which might be credited to director Ralph Hemeker, who has directed some of the better Once Upon A Time episodes such as "The Millers Daughter" & "The Queen of Hearts". I was glad that not all of Wonderland looks too cartoonish and there are some parts that are more forest-like and even parts that look majestic. Over all they were able to make this a romantic love story, but also retain an adventurous feel.
I also really like the idea of adding A Thousand and One Arabian Nights mythology and philosophy in contrast to psychedelic and backwards logic of Wonderland. We are introduced to both to a Genie named Cyrus (Peter Gadiot) and a sorcerer named Jafar (Navine Andrews) who come from Agrabah. Philosophically I'm curious how Wonderland might challenge Agrabahn ways/beliefs, let alone the touches of both Victorian and Medieval British culture we might also see woven in.
Just a little fun coincidence: Over the summer I had listened briefly to a cooking show on NPR (News Public Radio). A women had called in asked what she could use rose water with. The cook had made this great analogy that in Iran, stemming back to their Persian cultural roots, that Iranians love to cook with rose water the way American's love to use vanilla abstract. So the writers might be onto something here with Persian-like Cyrus and his English Rose, Alice.
To start off we obviously have seen Wonderland ("Hate Trick") and characters who have ventured to Wonderland before. We have also already met the hookah-smoking-caterpillar (But The Who's Roger Daltry's voice has been replaced with Iggy Pops). Then there is also The Knave of Hearts. In "Hat Trick" The Queen of Hearts/Cora has an elder Knave of Hearts. Clearly these characters are not the same, well at least in terms of age, so we might ask ourselves if Knave of Hearts is a position and title and/or if it gets passed down to father and son? Are these characters related and/or ever knew each other???
Note: Knave is another word for "Jack" and in the episode "Tiny" we met Jack the Giant Killer, whom had say slayed Wonderland's Jobberwocky and stole a magic Mushroom. I'm hopeful we might get flashback featuring this adventure! And speaking of "Tiny" this episode also played with size, as Alice became small fitting into Cyrus bottle while the soldiers become giants to her and as the Cheshire Cat was transformed into more of a kitten!
Later in the episode he also mentions that he knows Jefferson/The Mad Hatter resides in Storybrooke as well. I hope very very much that Sebastian Stan (Jefferson/Mad Hatter) will be able to find some time before the season ends to make an appearance and/or solidify his part of his Wonderland story through flashbacks. I also hope we learn more about how The Knave ended up in Storybrook....If he was apart of FTL's curse or if he got there by other means??
Emma Swans Favorite Book when she was little was Alice Adventures in Wonderlnad (one of the few books she was able to read), but also because Emma's name means "all encompassing", does season one and slaying Maleficent (in dragon form) parallel some renditions where Alice slays a Jabberwocky, suggesting that Emma and her Savior role might parallel Alice from time to time. Even in season 3 of OUAT we see that Emma is separated possibly from her 'True Love', but opposite to Alice's story, it is Neal who is trying to find his way back to Emma. And there have been many times where Charming and Snow where separated as well.
The Genie mythology also makes me wonder if Genie philosophy goes hand in hand with Transcendentalism? Cyrus comments to Alice that, "When you really love a person, you don't need proof, you can feel them.", but clearly Alice in the back story sets out in finding proof (The White Rabbit) to show her father and also again in going back to Wonderland to save Cyrus, is doing a lot of proving (physical display of love). So given that transcendentalism states that there is existence before essence, and that Genies are kinds of oppressed slaves that can not really have an identity until they are freed, may have Cyrus eventually value "proving" in the long run, but looking back at Sydney Glass, perhaps freedom and an ability to love is what could make you very corruptible, implying that Genie's are "pure" of heart?????
As stated above, it runs just like OUAT with current story and flashbacks. The story itself is reminiscent to the kind of romantic adventure story we have seen most notably with Snow White and Charming in there Fairy Tale Land flash backs, but by allowing Alice to return to Wonderland, as apposed to Storybrooke/The Land Without Magic, the writers are more able to keep the adventure alive in most time periods, as Alice isn't struggling with a completely new identity the way most of the OUAT gang is, but that's not say that we don't see her in a moment of denial, which is very similar to what we do continually see from characters in OUAT.
And speaking of insane asylums or mental institutions, Amy Acker's character "Root", who also plays "Astrid/Nova" in OUAT, also escaped a mental institution on this week's Person of Interest during the episode "Lady Killer". (Notice the black and white checkered floor! Plus "Our Mutual Friend" is also referenced in "Lady Killer" - see below for Charles Dickens references).
Additionally OUAT's Belle, Jefferson, and more recently Sydney Glass have all been locked away in Storybrook's equivalent to an underground mental institution. But also other Bad Robot works seem to feature instances of characters in mental institutions such with characters Hugo Reyes and Walt Loyd (LOST), Walter Bishop, Nick Lane (Fringe), and Sydney Bristow (Alias) making a for a strong theme.
Other things include Red Converse Sneakers ironically associated with LOST and Time Travel in the episode "Flashes Before Your Eyes". This is the episode in which we learn what happened to Desmond when he turned the fail safe key to stop the Swan Station implosion. Desmond physically time traveled back to the day the in which he he breaks up with Penny and where they take their iconic photo and where Mrs Hawking (a reference to Stephen Hawking) is introduced along with her future-seeing abilities, explaining to Desmond that he can not change the future...This may be a clue that The Knave Hearts may be character associated with time/reality travel, future-seeing abilities, a great love story, and/or is a kind of "fail safe" to Wonderland....
The Red Converse may also extend itself to allusions to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as in LOST the red converse was a parody to Oz's the red ruby slippers and the iconic death scene of the Wicked Witch of the East.. In OUAT Jefferson also has an association with red ruby slippers ("The Docter") and in this episode of OUAT in Wonderlnad, there may be allusions to Oz too, as Alice and The Knave of Hearts walk along an almost yellow [and brown] road and there is a hedge shaped into a LION!!
Also would like to make note that The Insane Asylum was something reminiscent to a Charles Dickens novel, but also that the Bethlam Asylm is named for the Bethlam/Bedlam Hospital in London which Charles Dickens had visited and inspired his work "A Curious Dance Around A Curious Tree". Charles Dickens is also associated with Desmond on LOST ("Our Mutual Friend") but also Juliet, Naomi Dorrit, James "Sawyer" Ford, and Jacob ("A Tale of Two Cities", "Little Dorrit", and "A Christmas Carol") It might have been also been referenced on Alcatraz (Jimmy "Dickens" - Character, "Edwin James" played by Jonny Coyne - Character may have been a reference to "The Mystery of Edwin Drood"). "A Christmas Carol" is also referenced on Fringe ("In Which We Meet Mr. Jones"). Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowtich also wrote with J.J. Abrams (and Matt Reeves) for Felicity. Felicity too also referenced and presented a theme of Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations", which is where the first written phrase "Puprle Haze" appears in history and therefor could also be a reference in Once Upon A Time, but also that OUAT shares in that theme, since it relies on what our parents expect of us.
And one last association with Desmond also comes with the concept of a catch 22 in which Alice explains there is a catch in using wishes, as they are "unpredictable" due to one not being specific enough when making a wish...
And lastly Alice Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There tends to be popular literary references in Bad Robot works. The Following is a list of references:
LOST: White Rabbit - Episode title and theme of chasing "the unknown". Literal white rabbits used in time travel experiments (The Orchid Station: Casimir Effect). Jack read TTLAWAFT to David when he was little (Flash Sideways). Black and white themes/motifs including Chess playing. And the cover art of Lost's fictionalized band Geronimo Jackson also features Alice and Wonderland references. Additionally a Dharma station was named The Looking Glass in which season 3's final episodes were titled, "Through The Looking Glass". In those episodes Lana Parilla gets a stint as a Dharma member working for Ben named "Greta" (which Greta is a derivative from the name Margret, which is not only part of Snow's Storybrook counterpart, Mary Margret, but also the name of Alice's older sister in Lewis Carroll's novels. This would mark 2 instances where Lana Parrilla's characters are connected to Wonderland references, as Regina's mother is also the Queen of Hearts and has worked with Jefferson/The Mad Hatter. There is also the character Gretel in Once's "True North" that not only makes a deal with Regina, but also seems to resemble and reflect Emma.)
ALIAS: Sydney Bristow dressed as Alice for her Halloween Party. It was something she associated with her mother, as one of the books she gave her as a child, which in a later season Eric Weiss buys her a third addition copy to make up for the one she lost in a previous house fire. Vaughn's girlfriend during the course of season one was named Alice. Vaughn is also directed to "Through the Looking Glass" in a Library during an episode of season 4.
FRINGE: Season 2 Promotional Art features allusions to Alice in Wonderland as Olivia looks down 'the rabbit hole' (which implied a way to get to a parallel universe) and William Bell is suggested to be "The White Rabbit". A fictionalized band in Fringe: Violet Sedan Chair (their name possibly playing to a time machine) has song referencing Olivia Dunham as Alice titled, "She's Doing Fine". And a final season episode is titled "Through The Looking Glass and What Walter Found There" in which revealed that Walter and Donald had hidden the child Observer (Michael) into a pocket universe!
SUPER 8: Character Alice Dainard (Dainard is old English for "Blonde Dane") has an allusion to Alice as she has been taken through a hole underground by extra terrestrial Argus.
Ultimately Once Upon A Time in Wonderland comes off with a lot of fun and a direct set up with mostly likable characters in it's first episode!
I give it a 7/10 for effort and for a good time.