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Once Upon a Time in Wonderland - Episode 1.01 - Down The Rabbit Hole - Review

This series literally begins with a bang as a very young Alice, recognizable by her traditional sky blue dress, is catapulted from a portal in the ground. She identifies her surroundings as “home” and sprints off in search of her father. When he finds her on his doorstep, however, he looks as if he’s seen a ghost, which for him is rather close to the truth as Alice has been gone for a long time, longer than she imagined. This raises some interesting implications with how time passes in other realms, particularly in the mothership, Once Upon A Time. Will a similar time displacement occur when Emma Swan and the rest of Team Henry return to Storybrooke? But that is a question for another review. We then see Alice’s father talking to another gentleman. Alice’s father believes her to be a liar and in need of a cure for her fanciful thoughts. As Alice spies through a keyhole, a nice nod to the traditional tales, she vows to prove her adventures in Wonderland were real.

Jump to present day, we see a young man stroll down Storybrooke’s main strip, while a storm rumbles in the distance. He is almost sideswiped by that infamous yellow bug and continues to head toward Granny’s as Cinderella and Grumpy lock up for the night. Or rather Ashley and Leroy, as they address each other by their curse names. The pair warn the young man that a storm is coming and he should seek shelter, but this guy is invested only in himself and brushes the them off, not before lifting the diner keys from Cinderella’s pocket. He enters Granny's, helps himself to a cup of joe, and thinks twice before leaving a few bills in the till. No avocado for you then. With just a few actions we already learn that this character sees to himself first and has a distinct disdain for the rules.

It’s interesting to note that the actual episode dropped the wraith footage seen in the 20 minute preview at D23 and SDCC, an event that was a distinct marker to where this adventure in Wonderland stood in the Once Upon a Time timeline. It causes one to wonder when this series’s events take place as Emma was obviously speeding somewhere in her bug and Cinderella was no longer pregnant, but both she and Grumpy were under the effects of the curse. The young man’s cool demeanor is only shaken when a portal quite literally erupts in the diner floor and the White Rabbit makes his first appearance. The Rabbit's entrance forcibly reminds this reviewer of that Bugs Bunny "left turn at Albuquerque" joke. The Rabbit identifies the young man as the Knave of Hearts and requests he follow as someone is in dire need of his help, that someone being Alice.

Cut to the dankest asylum this side of a Dickens’ novel. The location sets the mood to be drab, dire, and despondent. Think Return to Oz, though this setting would make even Fairuza Balk, well, baulk. Here, an older Alice is being interviewed by her doctors, quintessential in their disapproving and Victorian demeanors. She seems to be in her own world and it takes a minute for the doctors to get her attention, questioning Alice if she remembers why she is even in the asylum. She insists she doesn’t, so the doctor rattles off a few Wonderland essentials to jog her memory; hookah smoking caterpillars, food and drink that cause you to change size, the like. This also serves as a way for the audience to re-acclimate themselves with the weird and wonderful Wonderland of our stories.

Jump to the Caterpillar, puffing away at his hookah, while Alice stealthily takes a few pieces of his mushroom. She runs through the landscape of Wonderland, which is very psychedelic and groovy, as to be expected. Alice is in the Queen of Hearts’s hedge maze, last seen in the OUaT episode "Hat Trick", being pursued by the queen's guards. To escape, she takes a bite of the mushroom, shrinking down in a bit of a trippy sequence, and hides in an abandoned bottle to avoid the guards.

The doctor calls Alice back to reality, banging on the table to get her attention. Contrary to that flashback, Alice insists that Wonderland and her adventures there did not happen. She's either very smart or very traumatized by whatever brought her back to Victorian London because her expression during the flashbacks is one of excitement and joy, completely opposite of her current state. That Alice was having an adventure, while the Alice present in front of the doctors is subdued and broken. The doctor demands to know the real Alice; was it the one who engaged in tea parties and fought "barbaric queens" (another sly nod to Once Upon a Time) or the one sitting next to comatose before them.

Back in Wonderland, Alice is confronted by the bottle’s occupant, a genie named Cyrus, whose pad has one up on I Dream of Jeannie with its many rugs and lavish cushions. Alice threatens to blow the top off the thing, literally and figuratively, brandishing a "Drink Me" bottle, though how this would harm a genie with magical powers is beyond me. Perhaps a genie has a closer bond to his bottle than just that of real estate.

Alice’s doctor raises an interesting point; if Alice wasn't in Wonderland then where was she during her time away? Alice answers she was with "a friend". Continue on with the flashback, where Alice and Cyrus seem to hit it off over tea and their thoughts on Wonderland, including an coy adjective exchange that would be right at home in a perfume commercial. We find Alice returned to Wonderland to gain proof in the form of the White Rabbit, currently stuffed in her satchel. That's called kidnapping in any realm, dear. Curiouser and curiouser is this timeline, as one is must wonder what Alice was up to between her initial jaunt in Wonderland and her return. One would guess her "proof" doesn't pan out as she did end up in the asylum. We get a bit of foreshadowing with a side of flirtation on the genie’s part as Cyrus questions why Alice would risk her life for someone who doesn’t care for her. He mentions true love doesn’t require proof, you can feel it. He also mentions that to be separated from one’s love would be a terrible fate.

Back at the asylum, we really start to get some life back into Alice at the mention of her genie. Alice insists she did not wish for anything. It might be that to take wishes from Cyrus would put him in a position of servitude and obviously their relationship is and was much more. In fact, the doctor mentions that Alice set the genie free and they had all sorts of OUaT-esque adventures involving mermaids and pirates. They seem to really be setting up the fact that this story is going to take place over many realms, not just Wonderland, and these implications would serve as perfect points to engage in Once Upon A Time and Wonderland crossovers.

Cut to a gorgeous, sweeping introduction of another world. We see an undulating ocean of what appears to be smoke or fog with floating islands and an epic sunset. It looks like a cross between a Lisa Frank poster and something you'd see painted on the side of a van. The juxtaposition of color, with the asylum being washed in cold blues and blacks and the other realm portrayed like an eternal fiery sunset do well to show the romanticism Alice has for this place. Bucolic and beautiful, the scenery does well to highlight the differences between Alice's reality, one of loneliness and loss, and that of the time she spent with her True Love in Wonderland, a time of excitement and adventure.

Alice and Cyrus stand at the edge of a cliff (not a good place to be since we know one half of the pair is thought to be lost) in a shot silhouetting them in the eternal sunset. That is something I noticed that was prevalent throughout this episode, the number of shots from behind the character, almost forcing the viewer to take in the surroundings as that character would. This may be a way of making the land itself a presence, of making Wonderland a character emphasizing its importance to the quests ahead.

The couple express their amorous feelings for one another and Cyrus awkwardly takes a knee, but before he can propose, Alice immediately says yes. Not one to mince words at this point, Alice pulls Cyrus into a kiss and twinkly happy fairytale music plays. Cyrus shows Alice a plot point, I mean pendant that knows when true love is near. It signifies that their hearts are entwined. Apparently when you truly love someone, your jewelry feels it too. Since this is a Once Upon a Time affiliated show this happiness is guaranteed to be short-lived and sure enough the other shoe, or rather red stiletto heel, courtesy of the Red Queen, drops as she shows up with a cadre of guards.

Asylum, where Alice cries the Single Tear of Sorrow and the doctor is awful at doctoring. He is very callous and reminds Alice that as a girl she sought love and Wonderland is a way for her to live out her fantasies as a brave heroine. If his speech is any indication as to how Alice was treated, no wonder she was screaming to escape this world. This does raise the point of how she found the rabbit hole in the first place since they seem to be portals under the control of the White Rabbit. Did he seek out Alice intentionally for that first trip to Wonderland? The doctor then makes a statement that raised my eyebrows at least. He claims Alice was not the first child to project themselves on to an adventure like this, just the first to grow up and still believe it. Could this be foreshadowing for future spin-offs or allies to be discovered over the course of the season?

The reason the doctor dragged out his Victorian Inquisition is unclear since he knows Alice is lying about not longer believing. She has been calling out in her sleep for Cyrus. A flashback to Wonderland reveals why as we see the Red Queen, for reasons yet unknown, try to capture Cyrus. He and Alice fight the guards off with much sword twirling and face kicking, but as fancy as their fighting skills are, it's no match for the Red Queen's magic. If she can’t have him, no one can and with a flick of her wrist she sends Cyrus tumbling off the cliff and into the ever-tumultuous boiling sea below. The doctor, however, has a solution to rid Alice of these painful memories. He offers her a chance to try a new procedure, something that will erase Wonderland from her mind. All she has to do is sign on the dotted line, which she does after only a few moments of hesitation.

As Alice sleeps in the most austere room this side of the Chateau d'If, she still calls for Cyrus in her sleep while the doctor prepares for the most bombastic lobotomy ever. I swear, BP probably uses smaller drills. Alice is roused by her door being unlocked from the outside. However, it isn't orderlies come to fetch her for the procedure, but the Knave, dressed in modern clothes. It appears the timeline of present day Storybrooke and Alice's Victorian home run concurrent, meaning Alice's "real world" isn't the real world. That would explain the caricature of mental “healthcare” the audience had to endure. Before the Knave can deliver anymore sass he is tackled by orderlies. Alice is content to stay flown over the cuckoo’s nest until the mention of Cyrus being alive causes her to go full Amazon. She deftly dishes out punishment of the physical variety to the orderlies, going so far as to put one in a headlock with her legs. I like this idea of a heroine who isn’t afraid to get physical and I also enjoy the aspect of the female lead being the pursuer and the male as the captured party.

As the Knave and Alice escape down the corridor, the doctor stops Alice and implores her to go through with the procedure, though his pleads are cut short when he sees the White Rabbit, leaving the doctor in stunned silence. Outside the asylum, the trio dodge more orderlies and use one of the Rabbit’s portals to escape, not before the Knave expresses some reservations about returning to Wonderland. He’s made quite a few enemies, but as Alice helped him retrieve his heart, he owes her help with recovering her’s. The Knave is an interesting fellow, definitely one of the more grey characters morally, and I greatly desire to see his back story, particularly if that means seeing more of the Queen of Hearts. I predict that it was he who kidnapped Regina’s father and brought him to Wonderland in the OUaT episode “Hat Trick”.

The rest of the episode takes place exclusively in Wonderland. After their leap through the portal, Alice and the Knave land in a lake made of marshmallow. Wonderland whimsy at its finest, though even marshmallow proves to be dangerous in this version of Wonderland and the pair begin to sink as if in quicksand. It reminds me of the 1985 horror movie The Stuff, though I’m sure this substance is much more tasty, though just as malevolent. Using the Knave’s knowledge of fine Storybrooke cuisine, aka s’mores, the two escape on a brulee’d bridge, courtesy of the local dragonflies. With fire-breathing insects, this version of Wonderland is proving to be more hostile by the minute.

We also discover that the Rabbit wasn’t as truthful as he first appeared to be. He in fact did not see Cyrus, only heard the genie had been spotted near the Mad Hatter’s old place in the Tugly Woods. I love the references to Sebastian Stan’s character, particularly the Knave knowing that the Hatter is much happier in Storybrooke. It would be interesting to see if the two had any interaction before the Knave set off to help Alice. The Knave, now knowing that finding Cyrus isn’t a sure bet, is itching to leave Wonderland and return to our world. Alice resorts to a bribe and presents her three unused wishes from Cyrus, hidden, James Bond style, in heel of her shoe. She warns the Knave that wishes can be dangerous. It seems the trope of Be Careful What You Wish For is well and alive in Wonderland and I look forward to seeing the results of wishes gone awry.

Elsewhere in Wonderland, the White Rabbit hopped off to find help during the marshmallow mess, only to run into the Red Queen’s guard. The White Rabbit, true to tradition, is actually on a queen’s payroll. I’m mildly surprised since the Rabbit was presented as an ally and is usually established as part of the Queen of Hearts’s court. Anything for a woman in red it seems. The Queen holds counsel with the White Rabbit in her castle comprised of chess pieces. It’s interesting that the pieces are white. I sense she usurped the White Queen’s throne in an effective checkmate. And the chess puns keep flowing as the Red Queen reminds the Rabbit that he shall be her eyes and ears, keeping tabs on Alice. After meeting with the White Rabbit, Player 2 enters the game in the form of a dark figure perched on the queen’s balcony. It’s none other than Jafar of Agrabah, who tells the Red Queen that since Alice is present in Wonderland, he has no use of his former ally and summons the Force to choke the life out of her. However, as the queen smugly reminds him, Jafar has no clue where Alice is and he is forced to spare her. The two remain begrudging allies. While these two villains’ motives are aligned, they are not a team so much as a tolerance of each other. I look forward to what backstabbery may be present for the future.

In the Tugly Woods, the Knave and Alice are hopelessly lost, so Alice, to get a better vantage point, spidermonkeys up a tree after first removing her boots. You know, the ones full of priceless wishes. True to his rapscallion nature, the Knave steals the boots and disappears. Alice calls for the Knave, using the name “Will” to address him interestingly enough. His background is already being established and if you’ve read the press release for episode three you’ll know why this is significant. This noise attracts the unwanted attention of none other than the most essential of Wonderland staples, the Cheshire Cat. The cat has seen better days, presented as a huge, matted, and definitely mad beast. He’s not as suave and coy as his previous incarnations, though he still talks in riddles and remarks that with all the change in Wonderland, he and Alice are no longer friendly. He then proceeds to try and eat her. To turn such a benevolent trickster into a ravenous beast, the influence the Red Queen has had on Wonderland must have been a far reaching and powerful.

As the Alice is pinned and primed for feline snacking, the Knave returns and saves Alice with a well-placed mushroom down the gullet, shrinking the cat down to a more manageable size. Alice, irritated that the Knave would betray her, reminds him that wishes can only be granted, not stolen. The implications for wishes gone haywire is so strong, I do hope they follow through with this vein of foreshadowing.

Finally, Alice and the Knave arrive at the Hatter’s cottage, full to the hat brim with millinery, but unfortunately Cyrus is not among the chapeaus. The White Rabbit finally shows up and the Knave seems slightly suspicious of his absence. You would have thought as someone living in Storybrooke he would have rented The Matrix at one point and known to follow the white rabbit. Alice, out in the Hatter’s front yard, finds the pendant Cyrus was wearing at the boiling seas. The Knave, convinced more than ever that the genie is a lost cause, protests that there is no proof he’s still alive, but Alice counters with the pendant and makes a callback to the beginning of the episode saying she can feel it.

And feel it Cyrus canas well, for we see the genie calling out to Alice in his sleep. He is being held captive by Jafar in a cage suspended somewhere hidden in Wonderland. Jafar, we see, used his magic carpet to catch Cyrus as he was tossed off the edge of the cliff by the Red Queen. I’m still in the dark about whatever they are planning, as their grand scheme requires the presence of Alice, the genie, and her wishes, but Alice was allowed to escape back to her world. Curiouser and curiouser. The final shot of the episode is of the Knave, Alice and the White Rabbit, traveling down a road of yellow brick, perhaps a sly hint at other realms to be visited, in search of Alice’s lost love.

I felt this was a strong start to the series. It balanced the elements of action and romance well and did not reduce the character of Alice to either a weepy damsel in distress or a full-blown action girl. She is a believer, a brand of character in the Once Upon A Time franchise that is destined to make things happen and play a world-altering role.
The Knave and the White Rabbit not being all that they seem is intriguing for both characters. I want to know why the White Rabbit jumped ship from playing cards to chess pieces. Was it the absence of the Queen of Hearts or was it something more? The same for the Knave; he had to have stolen more than tarts to get wanted posters requesting his beheading strewn about Wonderland.

Without knowing the villains’ motivations I feel I am less invested in them. I’m sure we will get to see the why of their mustache-twirling endeavors since back stories are key in this franchise, so I’m content to wait it out and see.

The most intriguing twist on Wonderland in its entirety is the fact that all is not as it seems because no ally is who or what they seem. Everyone has their own agenda and does not seem to be terribly concerned with that of their neighbor. So it’s hard to pinpoint who will remain loyal and who will stab their companions in the back to get ahead. Things not being as they seem also apply to the very landscape of Wonderland, proven to be hostile, and since it has been established that time passes differently, how much has changed since Alice’s last visit?

I look forward to delving deeper into each character’s back story as the show continues and experiencing just how strange this journey can become. What did you think of the premiere episode of Once Upon A Time in Wonderland? Did it meet your expectations or like taking a swig out of a “Drink Me” bottle, did the show grow to exceed them? I’m enjoying the ride so far and would recommend viewers to keep tuning in to see just how deep this rabbit hole goes.

Ashley B
is as serious as a sleeping curse when she says television is her life. Professional event planner, avid movie viewer, convention attendee, and resident sass master, Ashley also writes reviews for ABC's Once Upon a Time over at GottaWatchIt.com. She looks forward each week to the weird and wonderful world her favorite television programs provide.

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