Jafar has some justified daddy issues. In “Who’s Alice?” we learned all about Alice’s father and realized why she felt so heartbroken and betrayed. In last Thursday’s “Bad Blood,” we discovered something surprising, Jafar and Alice actually have something in common. They have bad dads. Both characters were driven into a different kind of madness. Alice entered Bethlem Asylum because she couldn’t live the superficial life her father demanded from her. Although she knew she wasn’t really crazy, she withdrew from the world and descended into a world of darkness. Jafar was also rejected by his father, but his situation turns out to be much worse. Alice’s father may not have believed her, but at least he never resorted to murder.
‘Once Upon A Time’s’ Jane Espenson penned this heavy episode filled with Shakespearian undertones. As Jafar forces Alice to make another wish, we learn just how good her heart is and realize why the serpent toting sorcerer is such a vicious villain.
Agrabah: “I am not your father and you are not my son.”
On her deathbed, Jafar’s mother (a healer) reveals his father’s identity. The boy is very surprised to learn his father is the sultan. She hands Jafar the sultan’s ring and instructs the boy to visit him after her death, assuring him that when the sultan sees the ring he will not turn the boy away.
Jafar steals a guard’s dagger to get hauled into the palace. He stands before the sultan, prepared to pay the price, which is getting his hand chopped off. Jafar raises the hand with the sultan’s ring and he puts the pieces together. The sultan says his son Mirza is the rightful heir to the throne. Jafar says he does not want to be a prince, he only wants to be accepted as the sultan’s son. The sultan allows young Jafar to stay in the palace as a servant, but he assures the boy: “I am not your father and you are not my son.” Ouch.
When Jafar makes Prince Mirza look bad during a meeting, the child pulls Jafar aside and slaps him, repeatedly. The sultan walks in on this disturbing scene and encourages Mirza to put Jafar in his place as a lowly servant. The sultan’s lesson: “True power comes with fear.” Well, I guess Jafar ended up learning something from his abusive father after all. But wait, it gets worse.
Jafar goes to apologize to the sultan for his behavior. The sultan drowns the boy in his face-washing basin and tells the guards to get rid of his body. Miraculously, Jafar doesn’t die from the frightening event. He returns to the palace as a grown man and confronts the sultan.
Jafar says his anger kept him alive and he unleashes his wrath by taking what the sultan treasures most. He kills prince Mirza. Jafar then bares his soul to the sultan: “I would have died for you father…Call me your son.” The sultan will never acknowledge Jafar as his son and continues to call him a “bastard.” Jafar does not understand how the sultan has led his life. He ponders, “What is love and respect if it has to be stolen?” (This is a very interesting observation given that Jafar has stolen all the power and authority he has acquired over the years.)
Oh. My. God. Jafar may have come from a Disney fairytale, but his backstory is more Grimm than magical fantasy. He has suffered some intense psychological and physical trauma. If I’m disturbed by the events in this emotional episode, then I can’t even imagine how young audiences feel while watching this. Espenson flushed out a meaty history Wonderland’s fearsome villain. Quite frankly, his past turned out to be even worse than I imagined. But does it condone his behavior? Is Jafar justified in perpetuating his father’s brutal principals? Can anything change Jafar’s feelings towards the sultan? Will there ever be forgiveness in his future? Jafar may be holding onto his grudges, but at least Alice’s actions in the present day offer a sense of hope and happiness.
Wonderland: “You never treated me like a daughter. You treated me like an obligation. Like a part of your life you had no choice but to tolerate.”
Jafar brings Alice’s father, Edwin, to Wonderland in an elaborate plot to compel Alice to make a second wish. Jafar says that Edwin can win back Alice’s affections by rescuing her from the evils in Wonderland. Surprisingly, Edwin admits his huge failings as a father. He does not blame Alice for hating him because he deserves it. I suppose that’s progress. The last time we saw Edwin, he washed his hands of Alice and her “tall tales.” The sorcerer uses Edwin’s blood to create a potion that allows Jafar to transform into Edwin and approach Alice. While, Jafar sets his plan into motion, Alice and Will track down Cyrus.
They spot Jafar’s floating island from a distance and Alice comes up with a clever plan. She hears chirping and finds a Bird Bark tree. They begin crafting a hot air balloon using the magical floating bark. As they work away, faux Edwin (let’s call him “Jed”) mysteriously appears out of the woods. He asks Alice for her forgiveness. He explains that he thought her disappearance seemed strange, just like her stories. So he tracked down an antique store and climbed through the looking glass to search for Alice in Wonderland. Will says he and Anastasia came through a mirror, so they figure his story could make sense. Jed claims to have been wandering around for a few days and is happy to have found her.
Alice skips the formalities and gets straight to the point. She says he treated her like an obligation rather than a daughter and she cannot even see how he could ever make it up to her. All she wanted was for him to believe in her and all he did was ignore her. Sure, she said she didn’t want him to visit her, but she wanted him to at least try. At least that would’ve shown he still cared about her. Now it is too late.
Jed asks Will how he can get back into her good graces and he says it takes more than just time to heal. Jed can start by stepping up and helping Alice find her beloved Cyrus. Will also explains that it is in Alice’s nature to help people, especially those who are hurting, so Jafar gets a nasty idea.
The sorcerer summons a dragon to attack the three of them. As they run away, Jed keeps putting himself in danger, hoping Alice will use a wish to save his life. As the dragon attacks, Jafar learns that wishes are not necessary because Alice fights the beast off with her sword. Jed thanks Alice for the rescue and apologizes for his behavior in the past. He admits he fell apart after her mother died and fears he is a horrible man, just like Jafar. Alice assures Jed that he is nowhere near as terrible as Jafar. While the three of them set up camp, we see what’s happening to Alice’s real father.
Edwin is stuck in a cage next to the Old Man. Before he eats he says Grace and tells the man that all of his prayers are for Alice. Then he hears some wonderful news, Cyrus escaped from the cage, so there is still hope for Alice. Edwin is delighted to know that his daughter still has a chance at a happy ending.
Back in the woods, Alice, Will and Jed dig in to their dinner. Alice pulls Will aside and says her father always say Grace no matter what, so she knows this is an imposter. Jafar realizes the jig is up and falls back on Plan B. He conjures up the real Edwin and reveals himself to Alice. He suspends Edwin on his magic carpet over the ocean. Will Alice use her second wish to save his life? Can she ever forgive her father?
Edwin makes amends as he looms over the turbulent waters. He says he never treated Alice the way a real father should. He blamed Alice for her mother’s death and his unhappiness and then he doubted her when she was telling the truth. Edwin says he doesn’t deserve her forgiveness, mercy or compassion. All he can give her now is hope. Edwin reveals that Cyrus has escaped. Jafar pulls the magic carpet out from under him and Edwin rapidly falls. Alice quickly wishes her father back home. She does not regret using her second wish on her father. His confession fulfilled two holes in her heart: she has forgiven her father and knows that Cyrus is free. Edwin acknowledged his wrongdoings, accepted responsibility for the pain he caused and gave his daughter hope.
Meanwhile, Edwin returns to his living room in England and tells his wife that Alice saved his life. Naturally, she shrugs it off as a dream. It looks like Edwin will get a taste of his own medicine while Alice continues her adventures.
Back in Wonderland, Jafar visits the Old Man and removes him from the cage. His identity is finally revealed and it is as we suspected, the Old Man is Jafar’s father. Once again, all Jafar wants is for the sultan to admit the truth. But the sultan refuses to acknowledge Jafar as his son. The sultan simply reveals his sole regret: that he didn’t hold Jafar under the water long enough. (Whoa!) Jafar refuses to kill the sultan because that would only put him out of his misery. He wants his father to suffer. But the sultan is desperate, so he takes a step back off the edge of the cliff, hoping to end his life. As he falls, the magic carpet catches him. The sorcerer has won again. Clearly, he has no intention of releasing his father until he gets what he wants. As Jafar places the sultan back in his cage, he menacingly teases: “The real fun is about to begin. I’d hate for you to miss it.”
As the episode ends, Cyrus wakes up and breathes a sigh of relief, knowing that he survived the fall. Now he can go after Alice and be reunited with his True Love.
Wow. This episode really digs deep into dysfunctional family drama. Talk about daddy issues. I thought Peter Pan was bad, but at least Pan trapped Rumple in Pandora’s Box instead of straight-up murdering him. The sultan not only rejected his son, he tried to kill him! Now the only power he seems to have is depriving Jafar of what he longs to hear most. Until the sultan accepts Jafar as his own flesh and blood, the sorcerer will never let go. This presented an interesting parallel to Alice’s relationship with her father. Edwin wronged Alice in many ways. He abandoned her, doubted her and blamed her for his unhappiness. He cannot take back the pain he has caused, but he was able to provide Alice with a brighter future. I think Edwin truly believed that he was going to die when he was suspended over the ocean. He used his last moments to atone for his failure as a father. He knew he hurt her so badly that he could not imagine receiving her forgiveness. Instead of being selfish and pleading for mercy, he apologized and put Alice’s needs first and told her about Cyrus. In that moment, Edwin redeemed himself in Alice’s eyes, so she used her second wish. In contrast, the sultan continues torturing Jafar with denial. Even as a captive, he lords over the powerful sorcerer by calling him a bastard unworthy of being identified as a sultan’s son. These two are locked in a vicious and evil cycle of hatred and revenge. What Jafar deems as “fun” will only lead to more destruction. Kudos to writer Jane Espenson, she did an artful job of juxtaposing juicy tales of two severely flawed patriarchs. Whether you enjoyed it or not, you have to admit that “Bad Blood” packed a punch.
What did you think of “Bad Blood”? Were you surprised by how dark this episode was? Can you believe the sultan’s cruelty? Do you think Edwin redeemed himself?
Alice only has one wish left. Will she be forced to use the last one? If she does, can there still be a way to save Cyrus?
Take a look at the embedded promo to see what in store for next week’s winter finale!
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‘Once Upon A Time in Wonderland’ airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.