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Closing Up the Rabbit Hole: Once Upon a Time in Wonderland’s Cancellation

Though I write here primarily as a film contributor, I am also an avid television watcher. It’s with a flush of embarrassment that I admit sometimes I only remember what day of the week it is based upon what TV show I watched the night before. This year in primetime TV, I found a new love in a little spin-off called Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.

Once_Upon_A_Time_in_Wonderland_Cast_ShotNow, while I know there are other fans who’ve taken to writing petitions and the like for Wonderland to continue, I’m not that sort. But I am genuinely disappointed that it isn’t getting a second season. I understand the ratings weren’t overwhelmingly great, but exactly how much of that is the fault of the show itself versus the network? ABC originally planned to air Wonderland in the 8pm Sunday slot while the main OUAT was on break. But the network changed their minds and decided to air both series concurrently, relegating Wonderland to Thursday, 8pm. You may be familiar with TV term ‘Friday Night Death Slot’? ABC has its own special version of that for Thursdays. Seriously, it’s like the cursed teaching position at Hogwarts – ever since Ugly Betty vacated the slot after the 2008-2009 season, a whopping seven brand-new shows tried and failed to fill its shoes.

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Wonderland makes eight.

Now, I watched the original Once Upon a Time from its very first air date in 2011. My college roommates and I at the time began a weekly tradition of watching it together, something we’ve continued every Sunday even though we graduated. Two of us began watching Wonderland in our own time, but I was the only one who kept up with it (because I clearly have no life).

When Wonderland was first announced, I was skeptical because I knew how unlikely it was that the Mad Hatter character would be featured, and it seemed that that was primarily what the OUaT fandom wanted – Hatter and Alice.  But Sebastian Stan was in the middle of filming Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

However, once the preview footage was released last May, I was much more open to the concept. Alice, rather than a child, was a young woman residing in a Victorian mental institution, tormented by memories of a lost love. Despite being true events, no one believed her about her departed Cyrus, because he was a genie she encountered in Wonderland, an imaginative place she’s been talking about since she was a child. (So basically everyone thinks Alice is cray-cray and she made up an imaginary boyfriend).

I’ll spare you the boring details and give you the highlights of my first impression – an Alice who was more of a fighter and explorer rather than a victim of curious (and curiouser!) circumstances, on a mission to save her love once she gets wind that he’s alive. I was a bit judgmental of some of the costumes, though.

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THANK GOODNESS they re-shot the pilot and changed the Red Queen’s wardrobe. And about a week before the first airing, I got wind that Jafar was joining the series as a villain, which left me briefly WTF-ing. Mostly over his hair. Naveen Andrews, Prince just called – he wants his 1980s hair back!

Fast-forward the actual broadcast of the series. Honestly, the OUATIW pilot simply is not as strong or attention-grabbing as the original OUAT’s was. The first few minutes had me geeking out, and then by the end I was like “Well, not bad, I guess. It’s something to watch.”

The Red Queen (not to be confused with the Queen of Hearts) came off as very much a cookie-cutter villainess, and probably one who didn’t know she was getting in over her head by teaming up with Jafar. She seemed more like a pawn in Jafar’s game of getting Alice to return to Wonderland. Alice herself seemed a bit of a temperamental heroine to get behind, vacillating between bouts of determination and doubt over her search for Cyrus. The true breakout character of the pilot is, without a doubt, the Knave of Hearts.

whatmorecouldyouCharmingly played by Michael Socha, the Knave is a former associate of Alice’s who brings her news that Cyrus is alive. Because he owes her a debt for retrieving his heart many years ago, he begrudgingly agrees to help her in her quest.

Whether it was out of loyalty to the main series or the lack of anything to watch on Thursdays at 8pm, I kept tuning in to Wonderland. The pilot wasn’t mind-blowing, and the next couple of episodes were still a bit slow overall, but one by one they began to build upon each other the way a series ought to. The CGI didn’t improve much, but unlike on the main series, that didn’t bother me. Others on Tumblr complained about it often, at which point I wanted to reach through the computer and shout at people “IT’S WONDERLAND, PEOPLE! IT’S SUPPOSED TO LOOK WEIRD AND UNREAL.”

OUATIW soon became one of those shows I got so excited about and invested in that I was disappointed more of my friends weren’t watching it. Slowly we got more personality and intelligence to the Red Queen, angsty motivations for Jafar, and loads of intertwining backstories. Plus, Alice and Cyrus evolved to be more than just a reversal of the damsel-in-distress trope.

While Alice was obviously the heroine off to rescue her love, Cyrus didn’t sit idly by and wait for his girlfriend to rescue him. Despite being held prisoner by Jafar, he managed to send a note of warning to Alice, mislead Jafar and the Red Queen into sending a beast after Alice that they believed she couldn’t conquer (spoiler alert: she does and Cyrus TOTALLY knew she would), and trick an ignorant guard into giving him a tool to help him escape.  This was a welcome change compared Snow and Charming on the main series (I still love them, don’t get me wrong!) who frequently get separated and one has to find their way back to the other. Cyrus and Alice actually met each other halfway for their reunion, which is pretty much a metaphor for their whole relationship for the rest of the series.

OUATIW got so good, so character-driven that you lost your mind when twists were revealed. You know those moments in a TV show or movie where a realization clicks in your mind and you go “OH! OH SNAP!” – that was me every other week with Wonderland.

My joy in it was so strong that a secondary canon relationship actually became my primary OTP, rather than the CyrusxAlice ship that’s been promoted from the beginning. And that queen I thought was a ‘cookie cutter villainness’? She shot up to becoming one of my absolute favorite characters.  So it was with a heavy heart that I realized last week promoted the next episode as not a season finale, but a “series finale”. I was among many who took to Twitter and Tumblr going “whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat whyyyyyyy” and desperately hoping that it was a mistake, that it was simply because they hadn’t been officially picked up for a season two.

Alas, it was not to be.

The next day came the official announcement that Wonderland was finished. Some fellow fans claimed that we were freaking out needlessly. They alleged that:

  1. Wonderland was always supposed to be one season
  2. There was always the possibility for the Wonderland characters to cross over into Storybrooke in the main series.

These responses didn’t satisfy me. 1) Quite probable I admit, but everyone was acting like it was supposedly common knowledge yet refused to cite an official source. While it may have been stated at the first announcement of the series, it certainly wasn’t anything that had been repeated over the last eight months. 2) While I would ADORE to see characters like Will, Anastasia, Cyrus, and Alice in Storybrooke, Once Upon a Time has a tendency to let my favorite characters drift into the background or be forgotten entirely in favor of the more popular fan favorites.

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So while I think seeing the OUATIW characters in Storybrooke would be great, (and will likely come to pass, since the announcement of Michael Socha crossing over to the main series hasn’t been deemed an April Fools’ joke) I have concerns about exactly how much attention they’ll be given. I’ve probably been spoiled with Wonderland, as its main cast is really only four to five people. OUaT used to be more of an ensemble show, but it’s really been narrowed to focus on approximately seven or eight people. And it doesn’t always excel at that.

I really do think this spin-off had quite a bit of potential for another season of stories, even if it was only another set of thirteen episode. There’s still a lingering question I have regarding genies in Wonderland versus OUaT that hasn’t been addressed, and I highly doubt it’ll be wrapped up in the finale that I’ve DVR’d.

So I bid you adieu, dear readers, as I prepare to delve down the rabbit hole for the last time.

rabbithole

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