In which we fall down the rabbit hole -- and land in a romantic, action-packed Once Upon a Time spinoff
Alice OUAT
Credit: Jeff Weddell/ABC

A new, fantastic point of view! No one to tell us no, or where to go, or that it’s crazy to mash together Aladdin and Alice in Wonderland!

That’s the basic idea behind Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, ABC’s new Once Upon a Time spinoff. Originally, Wonderland was planned to be a “limited series” lasting 13 episodes — stoking speculation that the Once team might be planning an anthology series that would take place in a different magical realm every season. (Once Upon a Time in Black and White Steampunk Gothic Horror Land, anyone?)

But in June, ABC decided to order extra installments of Wonderland — and if all goes well, Wonderland could potentially return for a second season next fall. (The story that began in tonight’s pilot, though, should be all wrapped up by Wonderland‘s series/season finale: “This is not meant to be a 22-episode season,” series co-creator Adam Horowitz told EW’s James Hibberd this summer. “Whatever it ends up being, we’ll have told a complete story, with a beginning, middle and end.”)

Translation: We’re going to be spending a lot of time with these people. Perhaps it’s best, then, to simply begin with a rundown of Wonderland‘s major players — starting, of course, with:


Evidently, young Alice’s adventures in Wonderland happened much as they do in, well, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Our story begins with Alice as a little girl, racing home after falling down the rabbit hole and eager to tell her father all about her travels. Unfortunately, neither her father nor his glorious mustache is amused; after she disappeared, he thought she was dead. Victorian living, everyone!

Father of Alice also isn’t too pleased when he hears Alice’s tall tales. Luckily, he has apparently watched Return to Oz — which is why the next time we see Alice, she’s aged at least 10 years and is sitting in a dreary insane asylum, being questioned by three stern psychiatrists in white coats. One of them — let’s just call him Dr. Evil — seems especially put out by her tales of Wonderland. Throughout Alice’s interview with Evil and a series of flashbacks, we learn that our heroine returned to the fantasy land as a young lady looking for proof of its existence to bring back home. During this later visit, Alice had a chance encounter that would change her life forever, with:


Meet the Westley to Alice’s Buttercup, the Richard Burton to her Elizabeth Taylor, the Gnomeo to her Juliet: Hot genie Cyrus, trapped within a magical lamp. Within moments of their first encounter, sparks fly; the genie even subtly finds a way to ask whether Alice is single. (“Proof for… your husband?” Cyrus, you dog!) Soon enough, Alice has freed Cyrus from his plush prison, and the two begin hopping between worlds having fabulous adventures — ones we’ll certainly learn more about in future flashbacks, though they’re only referenced here. Their exploits come to a screeching halt, however, when the couple has an unfortunate encounter with:

NEXT: The Queen of Hearts! Wait, wrong show.

The Red Queen

Confused? Understandable: The Red Queen is not the same person as Cora, mother of Once Upon a Time‘s own Evil Queen Regina. Cora is the Queen of Hearts, a character who first appeared in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; the Red Queen is an entirely different evil monarch, one who first appeared in Alice‘s sequel, Through the Looking-Glass. Yes, there are a lot of queens in play; no, I am not going to make a Drag Race joke. (Too late.)

Anyhow! The Red Queen is a stone-cold bitch with icy blonde hair, pillowy lips, and a neat chess-piece castle. I imagine she’s what Betty Draper would become if she were somehow gifted magical powers. (We’ll pretend Emma Frost never happened.) She’s got some kind of beef with Alice and Cyrus, though details so far are scarce — but their enmity is strong enough that after Wonderland‘s first major fight scene, the Queen carelessly waves Cyrus off a cliff with a flick of her manicured hand. Cue big no from Alice.

With Cyrus apparently dead, Alice had no reason to stay in Wonderland; that’s why she’s currently institutionalized. Lucky for her — and for us; I had no desire to watch a televised remake of Sucker Punch — help is on the way. The day after Alice’s interview with Evil, she’s rescued from her padded cell by:

The White Rabbit and the Knave of Hearts

As you’d expect, the rabbit is a foppish little guy with a thing for watches and the voice of John Lithgow. Hello, John Lithgow! I’ve so missed seeing you on my television each week. The Knave is Wonderland‘s answer to Once‘s Captain Hook — a swarthy, pouty rogue who’s quick with a quip and has apparently been hiding in Storybrooke for quite some time. I can already feel ship tension building between those who want Alice with Cyrus and those will push for her and the Knave — though at least according to series stars Sophie Lowe and Michael Socha, a Knave/Alice relationship would feel “like incest.” Let’s leave that to Game of Thrones, and just enjoy a platonic heterosexual relationship for once, hmm?

NEXT: The return of Jafar

After kicking ass and taking names at the asylum, our fearless trio hops a portal from Victorian England to the realm that gives this show its name — and lands straight in the sticky, icky Mallow Marsh, a punny location that actually has no origin in Lewis Carroll. A fire-breathing dragonfly helps them escape the muck, even though that’s not really what happens when you toast marshmallows. Poetic license!

Alice wants to head straight off to the Tulgey Wood, where the Mad Hatter once made his home — and where, according to the Rabbit (who heard it from the Dormouse), Alice’s true love Cyrus has been hiding. She manages to convince the reluctant Knave to come along by offering him a prize more precious than rubies: a ruby. Wait, no — it’s a ruby that represents a wish. Uh oh — I’m hoping that while the Knave was in our world, he happened to read “The Monkey’s Paw.”

They’re unconcerned that the third member of their little band is missing. But they should be, because while they’re trekking off to HatHouse, the Rabbit is having a secret meeting with the Red Queen.

Turns out he’s been in cahoots with her this whole time. Damnit! I knew that Lithgow seemed shifty. He’s spying on Alice for reasons that remain unknown, though evidently he owes the Queen a favor. What the Rabbit doesn’t know — hoo boy, all these revelations are starting to make me a bit dizzy — is that the Queen herself is also collaborating with yet another baddie:


As in, Jafar-Jafar. “Patience, Iago” Jafar. Jafar, Jafar, he’s our man, if he can’t do it — GREAT! That guy. From Aladdin. And… The Return of Jafar.

Seeing a genie in Wonderland is typical Once-style mashup shenanigans. Seeing Jafar there, wearing Naveen Andrews’ face, is just plain weird. Granted, he doesn’t have a wise-talking parrot, and his beard isn’t quite so… twisted. But even so, it’s going to take awhile before I can accept this guy as a flesh-and-blood character, especially if he keeps speaking in that goofy accent and using The Force to strangle people.

So okay, these two are teaming up for… reasons. Whatever they want “can’t be accomplished until we have the genie’s bottle and the girl’s made all her wishes,” Jafar helpfully exposits. Clearly, it’ll be awhile before we know the meat of their eeevil plan. In the meantime, just keep in mind that Jafar has a magic carpet — one that he used to catch Cyrus when the Queen pushed him off that cliff lo those many minutes ago.

NEXT: A serving of Breadcrumbs — with a twist

The good news, then: Cyrus really is alive! The bad news: He’s being held captive far from Alice, who fights off a surprisingly feral Cheshire Cat and travels all the way to the Hatter’s home only to find no sign of her beloved. Well, almost no sign — she spies Cyrus’s glowing amulet on the grass outside the house. And if the necklace survived the fall from the cliff — not to mention into the Boiling Sea — that means Cyrus must have survived as well.

And thus Alice’s rescue mission begins in earnest. Can she save her genie? Can she even figure out where he is? Can I learn to take Jafar seriously? Find out this season on Once Upon a Time in Wonderland! In the meantime, let’s discuss extras in a little section I like to call…

Wonder Breadcrumbs

– Best Exposition Award goes to the Rabbit, addressing the Knave: “You’re the Knave of Hearts!”

– Here’s an easy way to tell the Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen apart, courtesy of one Lewis Carroll: “I pictured to myself the Queen of Hearts as a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion — a blind and aimless Fury. The Red Queen I pictured as a Fury, but of another type; her passion must be cold and calm — she must be formal and strict, yet not unkindly; pedantic to the 10th degree, the concentrated essence of all governesses!”

– Keep your ears peeled, because Wonderland has lined up some awesome voice actors — including Iggy Pop as the Caterpillar and Keith David as the Cheshire Cat.

– Nice of this show to give Cinderella a bit of precious screen time in that brief Storybrooke crossover scene. Was the pink sneaker on her keychain a reference to the glass slipper?

– The Knave’s first name? Will. The Knave’s last name? I’ll tell you, if you don’t mind being spoiled.

– The Knave and Alice have encountered one another before; “once long ago,” she helped him retrieve his missing heart. Maybe we’ll see Cora pop up in Wonderland after all…

– Wondering why that sea was boiling hot? Because “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” that’s why.

– British-born Indian actor Naveen Andrews has played an Iraqi interrogator on Lost, a Pakistani doctor with Afghan ancestry in the upcoming film Diana, and now an evil sorcerer of vaguely Arabic origin in Wonderland. There’s definitely an ethnic studies paper in there somewhere.

– What is it about living in a fantasy land that gives you excellent martial arts skills?

– When Cyrus appeared in that cage at the end of the episode, did anyone else have a serious “diamond in the rough” moment?

– This is determined, slightly dangerous Alice in a nutshell: She’d love to know why the Red Queen threw Cyrus into the sea, “and see the look on her face when she realizes I’m not the forgiving sort. Particularly when said face meets this branch. Repeatedly.”

– How many times, exactly, has Alice been to Wonderland? Clearly, years and years passed between her initial visit and the one in which she met Cyrus — but were there more drop-bys during those years?

Were you captivated by Wonderland — or was the show’s pilot less frabjous than you were hoping?

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland
Alice steps through the Looking Glass and sees a ton of freaky things.
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