Emerald City premiere recap: 'The Beast Forever' / 'Prison of the Abject'
The flying monkeys are now drones that constantly record the goings-on in every corner of Oz. The yellow brick road is actually a stone path covered in a thick layer of dusty yellow opium. And the Good Witch of the North? Well, based on first impressions alone, good old Glinda may not be as kind and gentle as we remembered.
In other words, this is Emerald City. And while I hate to be so cliché, we’re most certainly not in Kansas anymore. In fact, I’m not even sure we’re in Oz — at least, not the version from 1939 we all know and love.
NBC’s dark, violent twist on L. Frank Baum’s classic Wizard of Oz series stars Puerto Rico-born actress Adria Arjona as Dorothy Gale, a 20-year-old nurse who ventures out in a storm to seek answers from her estranged biological mother. While seeking shelter — from both a tornado and a gun-wielding cop she encounters at the crime scene that is her mother’s trailer — Dorothy is suddenly transported to the land of Oz.
Upon arrival, Dorothy realizes she accidentally killed the Wicked Witch of the East — oops, I mean the Mistress of the Eastern Wood — but quickly sets off into the woods with Toto, a German shepherd K9 who unwittingly came along for the trip, in search of help.
The pair is soon surrounded by what I assume to be Munchkins, but instead of singing about lollipops and giving Dorothy a warm welcome to Munchkinland, the non-English-speaking feral-like children lead her into a village, where men of the “tribal freelands” are performing some kind of ritual around the aforementioned dead Mistress. (Say what?)
As it turns out, killing the Mistress of the Eastern Wood is a big no-no in these parts, so the tribesmen decide to banish Dorothy from the freelands and send her to the Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio) to make her apologies. She’s escorted to the border by Ojo, a stern man who voted to kill Dorothy but who also gives the impression he may become an ally for her later. During their walk, Ojo tells Dorothy about The Beast Forever, an evil mythical force that can take many forms but is pretty much guaranteed to unleash hell on earth (er, Oz).
Defeating The Beast Forever the last time it came for a visit is how the not-so-wonderful Wizard first rose to power. We also learn the Wizard has outlawed all magic throughout Oz, presumably in an attempt to subjugate women more powerful than he who might present a threat to his rule. (Hmm, what real-life man-child does that sound like?)
Anyway, all this spells bad news for our girl Dorothy, whose unexpected arrival is seen as the first “true sign” of The Beast Forever’s return. Though she thinks the Wizard will help her get home safely, he actually wants her dead and sends his trusted guard Eamonn to do the deed. And no, he doesn’t want his High Council to examine “the sign,” whatever it may be: “Go east and find out who or what fell from the sky. Make sure it stays fallen. If it’s alive, kill it; if it’s dead, bury it. Whatever it is, it doesn’t come back here… It doesn’t come back to Emerald City.” Them’s straight-up fightin’ words.
With her life unknowingly in danger, Dorothy sets off for Emerald City — but not before Ojo escorts her through the Prison of the Abject, where citizens who violate the Wizard’s law against magic are sent by the Mistress of the Eastern Wood as punishment for their crimes. The prison itself seems magical, though, so perhaps the Wizard is okay with using magic so long as it reinforces his power? Either way, said prison feels like a warning, something else designed to let viewers know this is no ordinary Oz.
NEXT: She’s off to see the Wizard
The rest of the two-hour series premiere introduces us to some of the other major players and mythology that make up this alternative steampunk version of Oz:
The Scarecrow/Lucas: Early in her journey down the yellow opium road, Dorothy stumbles across a man (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) strung up on a cross, covered in straw and unable to remember who he is. We later learn he might be a member of the Wizard’s guard — who may or may not have killed a bunch of villagers and who may or may not have enjoyed it. Because he has no memory, he asks Dorothy to name him, so she bestows upon him the moniker of her Kansas hometown (population 393).
There’s also some serious chemistry between Lucas and Dorothy, which is definitely new territory as far as the original Wizard of Oz goes. In one loaded scene, Lucas asks Dorothy what he looks like. “You’re very h…,” she says before trailing off. I’m pretty sure she was going to say handsome, but instead she averts her eyes, smiles, and takes a bite of the apple they’re sharing. If that’s not some solid high-school-level flirting, I don’t know what is.
Wicked Witch of the East/Mistress of the Eastern Wood: I know, we met East earlier, but it didn’t really count — considering she was unconscious and all. Portrayed by Florence Kasumba, East is certainly a sight to behold, beautifully shrouded in a red dress that billows magnificently behind her. As it turns out, East wasn’t really dead after being run over by Dorothy’s police cruiser; she’s back and out for blood. A few flicks of her fingers are all it takes to inflict some serious pain on Dorothy and Lucas, but luckily, East has never seen a gun before.
After finding the weapon among Dorothy’s belongings, East forces Dorothy to tell her how it works, and our heroine tricks her into pointing the gun at her own head and squeezing the trigger. Ding, dong, the witch is dead…for real this time! But instead of stealing the legendary ruby slippers, Dorothy seems to have acquired East’s bejeweled gloves…and maybe some of her magical talents? As news of East’s death spreads throughout Oz, we learn a rule that feels important enough for me to repeat here: Only a witch can kill another witch. Let’s file that bit away for later, shall we?
Wicked Witch of the West/West: Like Kasumba, Ana Ularu stuns as West, an opium-addicted witch who runs a brothel now that magic is forbidden. She reminds me of Fairuza Balk from The Craft, albeit a bit more redemptive and not nearly as annoying. West screams at the exact moment of her sister’s death, revealing that even though they weren’t allowed to practice magic (at least, not without the Wizard’s permission), the sisters were still magically linked. West barely hides her disdain for the Wizard and doesn’t seem to get along with her sole surviving sister, which brings us to…
Good Witch of the North/Glinda: Clad in white from head to toe, Joely Richardson’s Glinda isn’t nearly as charming as Billie Burke’s 1939 film version. She, too, clearly hates the Wizard, though she seems to have struck a bargain with him to make it seem like she’s on his side: Glinda sends him members of his High Council, women who appear to be oracles of some sort and who are supposed to remain chaste as they serve the Wizard. Anyway, Glinda comes to Emerald City to lay East to rest with the help of her junkie/witchy sister. I’m not exactly sure what goes down in the sacred temple, but it looks like West accomplishes what Glinda wants — the preservation of East’s spells. Look for Glinda to try to bring Dorothy over to her side in the coming battle against the Wizard… That is where Emerald City is heading, right?
The premiere also introduces us to Mombi, Tip, and Jack. Mombi might look like an unassuming villager at first, but she’s definitely got some magical powers, which makes me think she’ll later be revealed as the very much not-dead Witch of the South (not entirely sure whether she’s wicked or good yet). Perhaps she faked her own death to evade the Wizard’s rule? Currently, Mombi’s keeping captive/protecting a little boy named Tip, who desperately tries to escape with Jack’s help while Mombi is out at the butcher’s. Of course, they’re unsuccessful — until Dorothy and Lucas come along.
Shortly after being freed and spending his first night in the forest, Tip magically turns into a girl. A quick Google search tells me Tip might turn out to be Princess Ozma, an apparently pivotal character from the original books. A maybe-transgender-but-definitely-gender-confused princess? Color me intrigued. Since that’s where the episode leaves off, I’m assuming Tip/the future Princess Ozma will be a major storyline moving forward.
That’s it for week 1! What are your thoughts on Emerald City? Will you be sticking around for the miniseries’ entirety? Hit me up in the comments!