Summary : Once Upon a Time in Wonderland's ending is slightly too easy, but emotionally satisfying, the opposite of the miniseries' rocky start.
It seems a little strange that the series finale of ABC’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland is called “And They Lived…” Do the writers mean to imply that the characters merely survived the final showdown? Because that’s not the case. They triumph and basically get everything they want, just like any true fairy tale (though not necessarily any television show) should close. So why not finish “…Happily Ever After”?
“And They Lived…” is a good conclusion to the 13-episode miniseries. It has action and adventure, a couple of twists, the deaths of some minor players, and a wedding at the end. Those who have romantic partners find them again. The villain is defeated, the heroes go home, and it all wraps up pretty neatly. This from a series with a very rocky start.
Many would-be viewers gave up on Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, including fans of the mother ship Once Upon a Time early in its run. It’s a shame, given how the story continued to get better and better as the weeks went on, but it’s not a surprise. Mostly filmed on green screen, with very little reality to latch on to, the characters seem to have an alien frame of reference, and are slow to add depth to the players.
Part of this is because Once Upon a Time in Wonderland begins very mission-focused, rather than character-driven. We know Alice (Sophie Lowe) wants to rescue the love her life, genie Cyrus (Peter Gadiot), but rather than going through personal growth to get to Cyrus, she instead must overcome external challenges tossed in her way by a couple of bad guys.
A few episodes in, though, this begins to shift. True, Alice stays pretty single-minded, but The Red Queen’s (Emma Rigby) back story is one of broken hearts and missed opportunities (which is a little like the Evil Queen in OUAT, but it feels different enough to be OK). Her arc is all about getting back with The Knave (Michael Socha), which becomes more complicated when he takes Cyrus’ place in the bottle, thus shifting the thrust of the story entirely.
Which brings us to “And They Lived…” Jafar (Naveen Andrews) resurrects the dead Red Queen, then forces her to love him, as he has broken the rules of magic. This is not only the most interesting thing going on as Alice, Cyrus, his mother, Amara (Zuleikha Robinson), The White Rabbit (John Lithgow), and their friends try to save everyone, but also where the most tension lies. After all, even if Jafar is stopped, The Knave cannot have his happy ending without The Red Queen. Would she stay in the land of the living if Jafar’s powers, which resurrect her, are stripped away?
It’s great that Jafar’s own hubris is what brings him down. He thinks he has the situation under control, so gets rids of his henchwoman, the Jabberwocky (Peta Sergeant). But then, he’s being hit from too many sides, and his own spell over The Red Queen fails when true love’s kiss proves to be too powerful. He is soundly defeated by the very woman he forced into the mix.
My one real complaint about “And They Lived…” is the specific way in which Jafar loses. Couldn’t Jafar just give the water back to the well, freeing himself fro the genie curse? And are we supposed to believe that the water witch is more powerful than Jafar, even after he has broken all the rules of magic? I feel like this climax needed to be a little smarter than it is. Ditto how the water witch decided to let the Red Queen live, just because.
Still, between the terrific character moment in which Jafar kills his own father (Brian George), and an Alice / Cyrus wedding that residents from both worlds attend, courtesy of The White Rabbit’s portal skills, there is much to praise. There are dramatic moments, earned and well-wrought, as well as a general a feeling of satisfaction as the protagonists get their happy ending.
News of The Knave’s imminent transfer to Once Upon a Time next fall does raise some questions, though. Will he get to take The Red Queen with him back to Storybrooke? If not, how can the writers separate them without ruining their lovely story? Might others be included? Alice and Cyrus surely will not, but there are plenty of other good candidates, including The White Rabbit, who would be most useful.
I do hope Once Upon a Time in Wonderland‘s ratings failure doesn’t ruin any other OUAT spin-off opportunities. It may have taken a little bit of time to make it work, but in the end, it does. More stand-alone, short-form tales like this would be most welcome indeed. Oz, in particular, seems a ripe vein to mine.
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