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Once Upon A Time In Wonderland - 1.04 "The Serpent" - Review - Desert Loving In Your Eyes

"The Serpent" is written by Jan Nash (Without A Trace, Fairly Legal) and directed by Ralph Hemecker (Once Upon A Time, Blue Bloods). Ralph Hemecker also directed the Pilot, "Down the Rabbit Hole".

Our story this week unfolds to reveal the beginnings of Jafar's origins with flashbacks revealing he was the abandoned child of an adulterous Sultan. His peasant life was reminiscent to Anakin Skywalker's in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, except Jafar seems to skip the Jedi altogether and go straight to the Sith. We are introduced to a beautiful, seductive, and much feared sorceress, Amara. Young Jafar, however, does not seem to be scared of her, as he brazenly goes to her home and demands she teach him her ways. At first Amara is playfully dismissive, but Jafar is able to convince her with his rage and lust for revenge!

Many years later we see Jafar grow into a seemingly kind young man and the lover of Amara, but she teaches him quickly that he must be willing to sacrifice to achieve what he wants, as he unknowingly just poisoned a friendly innocent acquaintance out on the street. Amara tells him he can either save the man, or let him die and take his liver for the new spell she wishes to teach him. Jafar is hesitant, but wants to learn to use the magic in Armara's book and ultimately chooses to let the man die.

In present Wonderland Alice and The Knave are chased by a group of bounty hunters on behalf of the Caterpillar called "The Collectors". In a desperate need to escape them, the Knave suggests that they split up, but before Alice can even debate the prospect, the Knave takes off and leads them astray.

Jafar approaches The Red Queen in a conversation about eliminating The Knave, but viewers can see that she is hesitant, but agrees with his demands. She quickly finds Will and saves him from "The Collectors", but takes him back to her spiral stair case prison. The two briefly converse about their past relationship, as the Queen offers him a way out by allowing the White Rabbit to take him back to the land from which he came (The Land Without Magic/Storybrooke), but showing some pride, he denies her of her offer and even dares her to kill him. The Queen also mentions in passing that she feels Wonderland is a prison.

Alice's journey leads her to meet another thief and former friend of the Knave's nicknamed "Lizard". Lizard explains that Will owes her a debt and insists on helping Alice after just learning from a group of deliriously happy townspeople, that Will will be executed by beheading!

In the meantime, Cyrus has been able to convince a guard into giving him a wish bone from his dinner. And although it takes a few scenes through out the episode, Cyrus proves just how strong a broken wish bone can be, as he kinetically uses both halves to burn lines through the bottom of his silver cage.

At the execution, which kicks off with catapulting a watermelon, Jafar and The Red Queen watch from the balcony of The Queen's Palace. Alice is able to disguise herself as the axe-bearing executioner and free Will. Together they use the catapult and leap over the palace walls and into the garden maze.

They are first joined by Lizard, but also Jafar and the Red Queen. Lizard is quickly tossed aside, as Jafar and Alice come face to face for the first time. Jafar insists that he will make Alice use her wishes, as he begins to suffocate the Knave, who in turn cries out to Anastasia for help. Alice, in a panic and realizing the useless Queen is Anastasia, caves into making a wish. She wishes that The Knave/Will can not be killed, unless she is killed and Jafar is forced to stop. Jafar, however, is a clever man and he proceeds to torture Alice, but it is no use. Her love for Cyrus is unwavering in this scene. Whether momentarily touched, scared, or of an epiphany is hard to say, but Jafar stops. Then in a fate worse than death, Jafar turns the Knave to stone.

Jafar leaves the scene vowing to cause pain to everyone Alice loves. Alice begs The Red Queen for help and is surprised when the Queen does not take her prisoner. Instead the Red Queen leaves Alice alone with the Knave made of stone and with cold words that everything is only about to get harder...

In a final flashback we learn what happened to Amara. Remembering his lessons well and knowing he has to keep Amara alive in order to preform the three-Genie-spell, Jafar transforms Amara into a serpent and then into his serpent staff.

Some Additional Thoughts:

To be an adult is to not be afraid of taking what you want (at any cost)
One of the things that made the episode beautiful to me was the way that some of Amara's words, although with slight variation, had been echoed through Jafar to The Red Queen, from the Red Queen to Alice, and the haunting way the final flashback had Jafar repeat those words with proof of conviction back onto Amara. Obviously, I think we can see the problem with Amara's philosophy, as always the lack of specifics allow there to be ways to trump others and/or put people at great odds...

The Great Reptilian: Karma Chameleon
The episode also used this nice snake skin-shedding equals "rebirth" analogy coming also from Amara, which Jafar creates his own literal interpretation to transform his teacher from human to snake to a living-snake like object. Although we can surely argue that Jafar's motivation resides in being able to enact the great spell, as it is said to take more than one person to perform it, it seems likely as dark as Jafar appears, that there is still someone decent inside himself, much like the Red Queen. It seems neither want to fully destroy the thing they once loved...

The episode also introduced us to Elizabeth, better known as "Lizard", who although also denies possible feelings for Will, insisting that she simply owes him a debt (Karma), contrasts The Red Queen in being dark in appearance, but agile and with a friendly disposition, although I suspect her nickname relates to having "sticky fingers". (And well, Lizard's hair cut and some of the townsfolk's clothes during the execution scene reminds me of Boy George and his unique fashion sense and of Link from The Legend of Zelda) Lizards themselves, like many reptiles, have many meanings in many mythologies or Theologies. Some, like early Christianity, equivocated the lizard with Satin (deception), where as others such as Ancient Egyptian associate the lizard with good fortune and divine wisdom and/or Ancient Rome and Greece signified them with death and Resurrection. Serpents and/or snakes also relate to many myths and/or Theological imagery, perhaps none so well known as the devil depicted as a serpent that helps in corrupting Eve in The Garden of Eden (Book of Genesis).

The scene where Lizard watches Ana stand alone with [a] Will made of stone, touching his heart in her garden maze reminds me a bit of such imagery (really all of the garden scenes in this episode do). It also may point out that the show is also playing with fate verses free will, as characters are forced by other characters to make decisions (Alice using a wish) and be put in compromising positions against their wills, and also with Jafar seeking a way to change the laws of magic, which plays to a microcosmic limitation and/or type of imprisonment in terms of his own personal pursuits.

Note: "Lizard" is also likely a spin of known Wonderland character Bill the Lizard. Bill is known in the novels as a character running around "maintaining" Wonderland and has an association with The White Rabbit. Additionally the music video for Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon" features a thief or "pick pocket" wondering through the crowds and taking things from unsuspecting people.

The Power of Three
The significance of "3" has been made aware from needing 3 Genies (which would comprise of 3 "cubed" or aptly 9 wishes) in order for Jafar to use the spell and "change" the quantum mechanics of Magic. It also can be seen from 3 stages of Amara's transformation. It is the 3 in 1 concept (actually revealing 4 identities) that resonates as divinity and supreme power in many Theologies (Paganism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism) Philosophies (Buddhism, Taoism) and a number of strength in physics & mathematics (triangles pyramids). It makes me wonder though, if the spell will actually rely on 3 sorcerers as well? Another fun twist, which I touched on a bit in the previous paragraph, is the inevitable exploration of love triangles that could even morph into squares!!!

General Public (Where's the tenderness?)
Another interesting thing the episode touched on was the reaction of Public Execution and Wonderland's public being almost celebratory in relation to it. Obviously, it's hard to really examine with out knowing if the public is in any way justifiable in wanting Will Scarlet dead, but it seemed more like that of ignorant group of sheep mindlessly happy to see anyone get the ax at any time. I think in some ways it relates not only to perhaps what tend to think about Medieval culture, but even first world modern culture in the way many feel the need to criticize and press gang others into our sometimes irrational beliefs. Even writers of TV shows tend to be at the expense of a twitter-happy public that seems to lack rhyme or reason in rejecting someone else's freedom of expression. ;)

The Once Upon A Time Factor:
Each review I will bring this section to mention things like crossovers, riffs, similar themes, contrasts, and tie-backs, which may also span into Bad Robot works as well, since OUAT already clearly references them. I watch a lot of TV with mythology however, and if any of you see something I missed, then please share with us in the comments below!

Orphaned Children
In this episode we see how Jafar is able to grow into the sorcerer we see before us and possibly his reason's behind doing so. It turns out Jafar is the bastard child of the Sultan abandoned and left to a life of emotional abuse and hard labor. Children that are bereaved or abandoned by their parents is a strong reoccurring theme in Once Upon A Time. Most notably with characters Emma Swan, Rumpelstiltskin, Baelfire, Pinocchio, and Henry Mills Jr..

LOST and Felicity also feature such characters with the likes of John Locke, James "Sawyer" Ford (LOST), and Julie Emerick (Felicity).

Statue of Limitations
Will Scarlet is not the only character turned into a statue in the Once Upon A Time parallel universes. The character Frederick was turned into a statue made of gold, in which Prince Charming helps Princess Abigail in retreating magical water that will undo Frederick's state ("What Happened to Frederick"). Although not a statue, Amara is human being that is turned into a golden staff.

Note: Greyson Holt played Frederick/Jim, who also played young Emerson Hauser on Alcatraz (And he guest stared on Fringe in the episode "Os"). Lost's Island, Alcatraz's Island, Neverland's Island, and all of Wonderland have been deemed prisons.

He's Our You
When I first heard that Naveen Andrews was cast as Jafar I was rather excited, as I was hoping that one reason for the cast might be in line with the duality and span of emotions Andrews was able to capture with his LOST character Sayid Jarrah. Although I have enjoyed Jafar, it wasn't until this episode where my hopes and wishes materialized.

Additionally other LOST actors relating to Sayid also have roles in this episode. Anthony Keyvan played to Andrew's counter part young Sayid Jarrah and Zuliekah Robinson played Ilana Verbansky, a bounty hunter summoned by Jacob to bring Sayid back to the Island on Ajira Flight 316 ("He's our You").

Sayid also paralleled Mr. Eko by being a character that had to do deplorable things in order to attempt to spare his brother from a horrible fate. This past week on Once Upon A Time ("Good Form")  Hook's journey with his brother was featured, which contrasts both Charming (and by extension Victor Frankenstein) and also included a possible shout out to LOST with the "Echoe Caves". Sayid, Charming, and Liam (Hook's brother) are all characters put into life extending "magical" water, but with very different results, as Charming becomes either Jack and/or MIB-esque in not being able to leave the Neverland Island, Sayid looses his sense of feeling altogether after being revived from death , and Liam's and Sayid's life extension is only prolonged to die again anyways.

I Like Sad Men
Amara and Ilana seem to be dark and have seductive qualities to them. Little is known about Ilana, except to assume she may have been an orphaned child, as she referred to Jacob as the closet thing she had to a father. As mentioned, Ilana claimed to Sayid to be a bounty hunter. The character Lizard might be a reflection to that aspect of Ilana along with the concept of "The Collectors" resembling the task of Ilana and Bram in collecting Sayid and Miles Straume, which is furthered by instructions to protect Jacob's candidates.

Ilana and Sayid returned to the Island on Ajira flight 316, which crash landed on the Hydra Island. The Hydra Dharma Station is named for the Grecian mythological creature, Lernaeen Hydra, a serpent-like water monster with reptilian traits and many heads. The Hydra is were the Dharma Imitative experimented with animals, including genetically engineered animals such as the Hy-Bird also known as "The Hurley Bird".

And lastly, as mentioned in the "Down the Rabbit Hole" review, serpents and/or snakes have been featured in Once Upon A Time with Regina killing Snow White's father and Henry's code name for saving Storybrook from the curse: "Operation Cobra". Rumpelstiltskin is also referred to as 'The Crocodile' by Captain Hook.

So what did you guys think of "The Serpent"? Do you think Jafar or The Red Queen still have hearts? Did you like the introduction of Lizard? Do you think Cyrus and Alice will reunite soon? Let us know in the comment section below!

LAURA BECKER (DARTHLOCKE4) is a long time commentator, TV addict, and aspiring writer participating with other fans on SpoilerTV. She writes reviews and analytic type articles. Some of her other interests include philosophy, cultural anthropology, reading, drawing, and working with animals, as she grew up and continues to work on her family's horse farm.

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