‘Once Upon A Time in Wonderland’ recap: ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’

After watching “Once Upon A Time in Wonderland” (which we should just call “Wonderland” from now on, even if it reminds a few of you of that murdery 2003 Val Kilmer movie), I had an idea. if you’ve been reluctant to jump into “Once Upon A Time” because there are too many characters, or because you’ve missed the first season, or if you just don’t like whatever character has emerged as a focus this week (though it could easily change next week), this might be just the show for you. Even though it’s a spinoff of “Once Upon A Time,” think of it as the gateway drug. Drink me!

While still a fairytale mash-up (Alice! A genie! Go!), it’s a more focused story and less of an ensemble. If you like Alice, and more importantly, like the idea of an Alice who kicks ass, you’ll probably like this. You don’t have to worry about the story being derailed by some other fairytale character bounding in (at least, I don’t think you do; time will tell). And, if you like a little romance with your fairy tale (and, come on, that’s the focus of every princess story ever, right?), you’ll get some off the jump with “Wonderland.” And if you like rabbits and cats, even better!

We start off with a young Alice (wearing that familiar blue and white dress) bursting out of Wonderland to tell her dad and his very hipster-trendy mustache about all the lovely things she’s been doing while he stares at her as if she’s wearing the skin of the Queen of Hearts on her back. He thought she was dead! And, because he is a Bad Parent, he proceeds to leave the little girl he assumed to be dead in the hallway by himself while he yells at someone about his mess of a kid.

Meanwhile, the Knave of Hearts is bounding around Storybrooke, stealing coffee and generally making himself at home… until the White Rabbit (voiced by John Lithgow) pops out of the floor and demands he get hopping. Alice needs their help! The knave hems and haws, but ultimately, he’s all about Alice. And, even though I have a hard time remembering this, he is not a werewolf (remember the British version of “Being Human”? Michael Socha played Colin? Oh, never mind).

The White Rabbit isn’t lying, because a bunch of saggy bald guys who look vaguely like walruses are trying to talk Alice into a lobotomy. While they bully her, she remembers the good times in Wonderland. First, she accidentally walks into a genie’s bottle (what’s a genie’s bottle doing in Wonderland? Who knows!), which is one of the better meet-cute stories she’ll someday tell at cocktail parties (if she doesn’t get that lobotomy, that is). One inside, she discovers Cyrus, who has Jeannie from “I Dream of Jeannie” beat by a country mile. He’s adorable, charming, and seems utterly smitten by Alice the moment she walks into his bottle. Of all the bottles in all the fantasy lands in the world, why’d she have to walk into his? I don’t know the answer, but there’s a “Casablanca” feel to this scene and I couldn’t resist.

In any case, this scene is absolutely winning, in that it’s quiet. Not much is said, but so much is communicated. Sophie Lowe and Peter Gadiot have remarkable chemistry, and I’m tempted to watch this sequence again. Cyrus, as written, could easily become a one-note sap, but I think Gadiot is able to elevate the material.
After Alice explains to Cyrus that she’s ready to return to England, as she now has proof of Wonderland’s existence (she’s stuffed the White Rabbit in her bag), he suggests that maybe she might want to do something more fun than run home to her cranky dad to wave a rabbit in his face. “Anything is possible… tell me your wishes three.”

Instead, Alice frees Cyrus, and they take off to fight pirates and swim with mermaids and basically have a Sandals all-inclusive vacation, but better. Alice even gets a romantic marriage proposal, or it would be a romantic proposal if she didn’t cut him off the moment he took a knee. “Yes, yes!” she yelps, as he protests, “But I had a whole speech! It was charming and eloquent!” And now, because Alice is so jumpy, some staff writer doesn’t need to write it. Everybody wins!

But because this is too much happiness, the Red Queen has to show up with her well-dressed minions. I have to say, one of the things I’m always glad about watching “Once Upon A Time” and “Wonderland” is that, no matter what Ed Kitsis and Adam Horowitz do to upend our ideas about fairytales, they always keep those great,  gloriously, ridiculously formal gowns for our fairytale heroines and evil queens. I mean, mess with story all you like guys, but leave the fabulousness alone, I say.

For reasons we have yet to learn, the Red Queen does not care for Cyrus and flicks him into the boiling sea, which no human could survive. I’m thinking Cyrus didn’t pick the best place ever to propose to Alice, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered. Anyway, Alice is devastated, and she’s ready for her lobotomy. As the doctor says, “You still cry out in your sleep. You cry out for Cyrus,” so it’s not like she’s getting per him. Broken, she just wants the pain to stop, even if that means leaving her brain matter in a Jell-O like heap.

Thankfully, the Knave shows up just in time. But Alice doesn’t want to go! She wants her brains scrambled! “Why must you be so bloody stubborn?” the Knave asks as the orderlies pile up on him to drag him out of the mental ward. It’s only when he tells Alice that the White Rabbit has seen Cyrus alive that she snaps to attention. Suddenly, she’s Super Alice, breaking a guy’s neck with her thighs, punching guards and generally being more of a superhero than that cute little girl in the blue dress with an apron.

After the Knave and Alice collect the White Rabbit and wander to the exit, they just happen to pass the doctor winding up his brain liquifying screwdriver. The expression on his face as he sees the White Rabbit is, of course, priceless.

The operation a resounding success (with, I hope, a fairly low fatality rate), the White Rabbit opens a portal to Wonderland and it’s time for everyone to jump through. Except the Knave doesn’t want to go. Of course not! No, the Knave is reluctant, as people in Wonderland kind of want to kill him, and Alice has to remind him that she “got him his heart,” and it’s his turn to help her get hers. Oh, that sneaky Alice, playing the guilt card!

When they fall into Wonderland, they happen to hit a mallow marsh, which seems awfully fun until the Knave and Alice realize it’s really just sweet quicksand. “I’m gonna die like a  bloody s’more!” the Knave cries, in one of the better lines of the episode. Alice, inspired by the Knaves explanation of what a s’more is, grabs a dragon fly (now with real dragons!) and toasts the marshmallow so they can climb out. This solves one problem, but not another. The Knave really, really wants to go, and not just because he’s slightly gooey and probably tastes delicious. Alice offers to pay him, not with money, but the three wishes she still has from Cyrus. Even though Alice pretty much tells him using them is a bad idea, Cyrus is sure he can come up with a way to get what he wants without those tricky side effects. Oh, hope springs eternal!

Even though Alice eventually gets the Knave back on board, there are more problems to face. It turns out the Red Queen has the White Rabbit under her control, and she has him spying on Alice. Poor White Rabbit. That sneaky Red Queen also has a deal with Jafar. Yes, Jafar, so the whole genie storyline makes slightly (although only slightly) more sense. He wants Alice, too, and though he tries to kill the Red Queen after she tells him Alice is in town (as he points out, she’s outlived her usefulness to him), she’s tougher than she looks. No, they’re going to have to work together for a while. We now have two villains for the price of one, and that should make the seeming randomness of how they’ve come together forgivable.

Because Alice and the Knave haven’t had enough drama in this episode, the Knave briefly runs away with Alice’s three wishes while she’s climbing a tree. This, as luck would have it, would be the point at which the Cheshire Cat, who is the size of a large SUV, appears and decides Alice looks like a tasty treat. The Knave manages to have a change of heart and rescue Alice in the nick of time. That means there’s nothing standing between them and Cyrus, whom the White Rabbit says is staying at the Mad Hatter’s house.

But when they get there, all they find are hats. Alice is sure Cyrus has to be there, and starts turning the house upside down until she finally concedes defeat. “Rabbit, you made her lose Cyrus twice,” the Knave says, confused and aching for his friend (and even he can’t deny he’s Alice’s friend).

Alice’s faith is briefly restored when she sees Cyrus’  heart pendant in the yard. If that survived the boiling sea, so did he! Even though the Knave tries to introduce logic to this one-sided conversation (Uh, hello, the pendant is magic, the genie isn’t, Alice!), it’s a lost cause. As Alice explains her illogical devotion, “When you love someone, you don’t need proof.” Or logic, or a reason. So there.

And that’s actually true, because Jafar has Cyrus sitting in a giant bird cage, which is pretty cool even if it’s not the most convenient way to keep a hostage. I’ll say this about “Wonderland” — even when elements don’t entirely make sense, man, everything looks divine and really, it’s too much fun to hold a grudge, isn’t it?

Will you be watching “Wonderland”? Do you think it’s a good companion to “Once Upon A Time”? What do you think of the genie/Alice mash-up?

Follow Liane Bonin Starr on Twitter @HitFixLiane!