What person doesn’t know the film of Judy Garland as a bright little serial killer of witches, and her unlikely companions? Your parents’ Wizard of Oz has gotten a serious upgrade, with everything from an expanded-world story, to costumes that rival entire stage productions on their own. But how well does the upgrade stand up?
Way back when, Dorothy and her mom were on the run, from who knows what. Dorothy’s mom crashed a certain Gale residence during a bad storm, and after some story glossing, we gather Dorothy was more or less adopted by her Aunt while her mom was off doing we don’t know what yet. Current-tense twenty-something Dorothy (Adria Arjona) is a medical student, avoiding contact with her birth other, who’s now apparently trying to reconnect with her wayward daughter. One nasty tornado, worried daughter about her missing mother, and a police car with a trapped German Shepherd dog later, and Dorothy is spinning vertigo in a completely different land.
And of course, what’s the first thing that happens next? The cop car comes into contact with an exotic person in stripey orange, BAM. Dorothy and the dog get taken by some seriously not-so-friendly natives, not a Munchkin nor little person in sight. In fact, Ojo (Olafur Darri Olafsson), the man who ends up helping Dorothy on her way, towers over her in that Viking savage kind of way. No, these people are the folk of the Tribal Freelands, though of course at some point in the show they’re referred to as the “munjedkins”, so make of that what you will.
Despite his misgivings of Dorothy, for she apparently killed the “merciful and stern” Witch of the Eastern Woods, Ojo decides to lead Dorothy to a road that will take her to the Wizard if she follows it far enough, in the hopes that the Wizard can get her home. Getting to the road itself means going through the Prison of the Abject, a really unpleasant place that houses Ojo’s own wife, that the Witch of the East made. And then here we finally make it to the road, which is barely even brick, instead dusted yellow with poppy pollen. Poppy. You know, opium? Oh yes, the Lollipop Guild is far away now.
Dorothy is striding down the road and comes across a man being crucified in a field, who of course she has to help down and at least tend to his injuries. The man claims to suffer amnesia, not even remembering his own name, so Dorothy names him after the home town back in Kansas she misses fiercely, Lucas (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). And as Dorothy and the newly-named Lucas take back to the yellow poppy road, they discover the Witch of the East isn’t entirely dead.
I’d like to state for the record that, while I understand the Witch of the East Woods was a savage and stern woman, the manner in which she actually did die was seriously incongruous and unlikely for a Witch of her potential caliber. Anyway, the upshot is, those ruby-and-gold clawed gauntlets the East Witch was sporting transfer to Dorothy at the moment of her death, which is interesting, because the power players of the show spend a lot of the premiere stating “only a witch can kill another witch”.
Meanwhile elsewhere, news of the death of the East Witch (Florence Kasumba) has spread very fast, and the Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio) in the Emerald City is opening the sealed Witches’ Temple so her remaining sisters may give her a proper funeral. The Wizard also sent some of his personal Guard to check out the circumstances surrounding East’s death. But the opening of the Temple is a big deal, as it hasn’t been opened since the death of the Witch or Mother of the South was felled by this catch-all monster called the Beast Forever, and the Wizard ordered the place sealed up and outlawed magic entirely. Because somehow the Wizard did what no one else could, not even by magical means, and took out the Beast Forever himself.
Mother-Witch of the North, Glinda (Joely Richardson) of the chaste army of nun-like acolytes, and her opium-addicted whore of a sister, Witch of the West (Ana Ularu), converge with the Wizard to do a last “sing” for their sister of the East in the Temple, and also to pull off some kind of subterfuge right under everyone’s nose. Needless to say, the actual funeral of Sister East is rather unusual, even for Oz.
Elsewhere on the road, Dorothy’s concern for Lucas’ bleeding wounds lead her to the hovel of the Herb-Witch Mombi (Fiona Shaw), who happens to be keeping a young boy prisoner for some odd nefarious motives. And of course it turns out, this boy has a few peculiar secrets of his own.
We do Emerald City a disservice if we try to compare it to anything else, up to and including the original Wizard of Oz, or the current favorite catchphrase about the show, “Game of Thrones meets Wizard of Oz,” because the show obviously has its own mythos and backstories. They want rather desperately to give us a grand show and pack in as much of the world as possible, but its all for naught if we just don’t care about the characters.
I liked the interplay between the Wizard, (love me some D’Onofrio too) and the strikingly different Witches, their costumes, like everything from the original stories got polished or roughened elsewhere; the show has the potential to be something great. Give it a chance, and remember, Return to Oz was a very different take on the whole Oz world, but most of us loved that too. And a shoutout to L. Frank Baum too!
Transport yourself to Emerald City back episodes on NBC.com now!