Review: “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland”-“Heart of Stone”

It’s become something of a foregone conclusion that ABC’s series Once Upon a Time in Wonderland will not be renewed for a second season.  In my view, this is something of a tragedy, as the series continues to hold onto some strongly grounded storylines, as evidenced in the most recent outing, “Heart of Stone.”  In it, we saw heartbreaking glimpses of the past romance between the Knave and the Red Queen (Anastasia), Jafar seemingly managed to sink his fangs into the White Rabbit, Cyrus finally managed to escape from Jafar’s tower, and Alice found out that she was purer at heart than she had imagined.

I have to confess that I have never been much of a fan of the Red Queen, especially when I compare her to the sinister and seemingly inscrutable Queen of Hearts (before the revelation that she was, in fact, Cora from the original Once Upon a Time).  Her performance is almost too affected and simpering to be truly believable or tolerable.  However, tonight part of the changed as we got a glimpse of the complexity that simmers beneath that poisonously sugary exterior.  In fact, we learned that she is a woman who is accustomed to taking what she wants, though she is not without cognizance of what it costs her.  In fact, when Alice asks her that very question, the look on her face reveals that she knows quite well how much she has given up to gain the power that she has.  The question is:  will she be willing to give all of that up, if it means reuniting with the Knave?  (After all, it’s more than obvious that she still loves him).

A particularly compelling part of tonight’s episode was Alice’s confrontation with the demonic and villainous younger version of herself, which attempted to convince her to murder the Red Queen.  This was actually a chillingly sublime moment in a series that often skirts around the more disturbing aspects of the Lewis Carroll mythology upon which it is based.  Just as importantly, we got to see a glimpse of what Alice might have been like (and might still be like) should she give in to the powerful desire to gain revenge against those who have arrayed themselves against her and tortured and imprisoned the man that she loves.

One of the strongest parts of the episode, and indeed of the series as a whole, is the enigma posed by the White Rabbit.  We are constantly left guessing as to his motivations:  does he truly care about Alice, or is he only out to save his own skin?  What has he done that puts him in the power of the Red Queen?  What will happen now that he has seemingly switched allegiances to Jafar?  We simply do not know the answer to any of these questions as of yet, but we can hope that the series will manage to answer them before it reaches its end.

Lastly, we cannot forget to mention what is far and away the best part of the series, Jafar (played so capably by Naveen Andrews).  There is still a great deal that we do not know about him, but he still manages to steal the show whenever he appears onscreen.  In tonight’s episode, he once again managed to show just how ruthless he can be by slicing off the White Rabbit’s foot and then giving him exactly one minute in which to tell him what he wants to know (namely, who else Alice loves or cares for).  Although we learned some of what motivates this most deliciously evil of Disney villains—and it is worth pointing out that Andrews has done a magnificent job of translating the original animated villain to life in this new context—there is still much to be explained.  Who is the man that he has hanging in his tower (my secret suspicion is that it is his father).  What will he do when he finally has the power that he so desperately craves?  For that matter, what will he do with the Red Queen (since he obviously has no qualms about suborning her followers to his own cause).  All I can say for sure is that I will continue tuning in, if only to see what nefarious scheme Jafar will manage to hatch next (wouldn’t it be too divine if he managed to have a showdown with Cora?)

All in all, this episode continues the trend (started in “The Serpent”) of explaining why it is that the villains of this series act in the way that they do.  Just as importantly, however, it also freed Cyrus, thus moving the storyline forward in a refreshing way.  Most excitingly, there is a strong suggestion that the White Rabbit and Jafar will be making a voyage to Storybrooke, and there is no telling what sort of mayhem will ensue when they do.

Grade:  A-

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