“Emerald City,” NBC’s dark reimagining of L. Frank Baum’s books has thus far been a fantastically entertaining ride — it’s been crystal clear from its premiere exactly how it would be updating the stories and ideas, and making them their own.
Friday night’s (Feb. 17) “Lions in Winter” gives us a look at the underbelly of Oz for the first time — pulling aside the beautiful curtain to show the roots and underbelly of a supernatural world that is swiftly falling apart. And the oppression of its witches — a battle between science and magic — is heading toward full-fledged war.
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Dorothy (Adria Arjona) is going to wish she had a pair of those ruby slippers to click — though those iconic shoes won’t ever actually make an appearance, as MGM keeps a tight hold on those ownership rights, she need to get home, and she needs to do it quick. Other than Toto, Dorothy has nobody on her side: Not only is the uncanny child Sylvie (Rebeka Rea) assimilating with her witchy tween peers and leaving her behind, but… Trusted guardian and lover Lucas (Oliver Jackson Cohen) has his memory back — and it turns out he’s Glinda’s husband, real name “Roan.”
Dorothy’s presence, and her obvious chemistry with Roan, obviously riles the Witch of the North. Glinda (Joely Richardson) fairly writhes with jealousy — after all, this is her husband and a major part of her plot to save Oz — but though Lucas/Roan claims to be letting Dorothy go as quickly as he can, pledging himself to Glinda, it’s not enough: Glinda won’t be satisfied until Dorothy’s removed altogether: She orders Lucas/Roan to to murder Dorothy. The Scarecrow will most likely help Dorothy escape, maybe even assist her in getting back home to Kansas, but he will never kill her. His lingering feelings for her would never allow that to happen, not to mention gratitude for all the times she’s saved him.
But keeping her safe until they can figure out how to get her back home won’t be easy: Dorothy’s a flight risk — and aside from Glinda’s wrath, once The Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio) discovers she hasn’t killed Glinda, he’ll join the hunt… And he’s still got her gun. Not to mention, losing Sylvia to the witches means Dorothy doesn’t have her creepy powers to protect her either.
Could Dorothy find help from the Princess — now Queen — of Ev (Stetani Martini)? She certainly wasn’t joking around with her promise to destroy the Wizard, and Emerald City. She’s manufactured an arsenal of guns for the upcoming war — and not against the witches, but the governing power of Oz itself. This puts the leader of Oz in a very precarious position — and not just with guns pointed at his head, come episode’s end — but leverage over Langwidere will be hard to come by, if he wants to entire her into a partnership once he’s neutralized her as a threat.
Langwidere’s one tough lady, who confidently took on her new post as Ev’s ruler after her father died. (She’s also a child molester, and we which the show would stop playing that as a joke, but whatever.) On the other hand Tip (Jordan Loughran) is not prepared to find out that he’s the the rightful ruler of Oz, and wants nothing to do with being a Princess.
That’s right: As in the books, Tip’s parents were the benevolent rulers of Oz before The Wizard defeated the last Beast Forever — until, to solidify his power, ordered his right-hand man, Eamonn (Mido Hamada), to murder the entire royal family in a coup. Wearing a very elaborate lion’s head mask, he gutted them all, leaving only their baby girl.
We don’t know if Eamonn helped hide Ozma, or how he kept it a secret from the Wizard, but if either party figures out what he did, he’ll be in big trouble: He saved Ozma’s life, and possibly handed her over to a mad witch to raise — but thanks to some magic courtesy of the Witch of the West (Ana Ularu) — Tip also gets to watch him murder the royal parents in cold blood. Eamonn’s in a tough spot: The Wizard will see treason, Tip will be looking for revenge, and now Eamonn’s got a family of his own. He and Dorothy currently have a fair amount in common!
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West explains that to keep Ozma hidden, she must have been transformed into a boy. Between being in possession of the royal dagger, and being Ozma’s exact age, West encourages Tip to embrace this “true” self — but still, Tip wants to be a boy again, which is kind of up to Tip.
Though it may mean death, Tip drinks from the chalice that holds the Witch of the East’s power, dying (and resurrected in the episode’s final moments): But is this a rebirth into a more magical form, or a movement toward eventually becoming Ozma, the magical princess witch? Or is Tip once again proving that he’d do anything at all, even risk his life, to become the person that he really knows he is? It’s a tricky storyline that still could go either way, but the idea of Tip embracing and accepting his birth-assigned gender after living as a boy and repeatedly claiming his identity — risking harm and worse… Well, it’s more than a little worrisome.
Tip’s struggle to accept — or get acceptance — for their identity is the largest battle any of these folks face, but it’s also a constant theme throughout Oz: Lucas/Roan is having a more magical identity crisis, dealing with two different sets of memory and desire and fate. All Dorothy wants is to get back to Kansas and forget all about this — although a nighttime attack on Glinda, using the powers she’s inherited, shows a distinct desire to wield them that could complicate matters soon… And both Lagwidere and Eamonn wear actual masks to protect themselves from anyone seeing who they truly are, while The Wizard plops on his wig and hides behind a large army of soldiers.
War is near. And as Glinda tells Roan, whichever side you pick will decide your fate: The people of Oz need to dig deep, and be honest with themselves about who they are and what they really want — and most importantly, work through or shut down the noise of everyone else’s ideas about that — before it’s too late. A house divided can’t stand long in wartime, but a soul divided can’t make it through the day.
“Emerald City” airs on Friday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
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