This Emerald City review contains spoilers.
Emerald City Season 1, Episode 10
So ends the first (and possible only?) season of Emerald City, that weird, wonderful NBC show that both is like nothing else on TV and is thoroughly mediocre. As I mentioned in last week’s review, whatever you may think of Emerald City, you have to respect it for the way it boldly told one full, serialized story over the course of its first season. The story itself wasn’t particularly bold, but the ambition inherent in the structure kept me going when I cared less about particular storylines.
Which brings us to the breakdown of where all of these disparate (because they didn’t converge as intensely as I’d hoped) storylines ended up…
Tip takes Emerald City, but loses himself.
Let’s start with what ended up being my favorite storyline overall in season 1: the story of Tip and West, outcast rulers. Following Tip’s rise to power amongst the witches last episode, he led his small, but mighty army of magicians into Emerald City. It was a bitter victory, as Tip both struggled with what kind of ruler he wanted to be — a benevolent one, a malevolent one, or something in-between — and also ultimately made the decision to leave his true person of Tip behind in favor of ruling as Ozma.
Tip was also faced with punishing (or not) his parents’ killer: the weirdly underdeveloped Eamonn, now donning lion’s head. Because Cowardly Lion. Eamonn obviously has had some time to think about the time he slaughtered his king and queen and he regrets it, laying his sword at Tip’s feet to do with him what he pleases. Ultimately, Tip chooses the path of vengeance. (Perhaps you saw this differently because he spared Eamonn’s life, but making his family forget him seemed almost crueler.)
It’s hard not to see Tip’s decision heavily influenced by what came before, when he and West entered the city. Tip granted one of the Wizard’s Guards his life, only for the guard to try to kill him. West put him down, seemingly proven what she had been telling Tip all along: you must strive for fear rather than respectful allegiance from your citizens. I hope Emerald City gets a second season, if only to see how Tip chooses to rule and if he will ever get to live again in his chosen form.
I was also looking forward to seeing Tip and Jack reunite again — something that never came. Jack ended the episode injured on the battlefield after trying (and failing) to kill the Wizard.
Dorothy v. The Wizard v. Glinda
This final episode of the season did a better job articulating Dorothy’s motivations than any other. It’s a shame that it had to come so late in the game.
The episode began with Dorothy in a pretty good position of power, with the stone giants on her side. However, as Dorothy has always been the new kid in town, she doesn’t truly understand the powers of Oz. When Glinda arrives with her army of child witches, she uses Sylvie to destroy the stone giants, instigating the Wizard to shoot Sylvie. (Have I mentioned that The Wizard is The Worst? Because he is.)
Sylie’s death is part of a massacre of all of the witches, something that The Wizard fearfully and mercilessly orders. However, Dorothy doesn’t care why he does it. She wants him to die for what he’s done for Sylvie. It is only Sylvie — and the rest of the witches’ surprise resurrection (“Only a witch can kill another witch.” Shouldn’t the Wizard already know this?) — that stays her hand. Instead, she grabs The Wizard and makes for Emerald City… and her way home.
Dorothy returns home… or does she?
At this point, Dorothy has had it with Oz, which is perhaps the most relatable she has ever been. (Though she has always said she wishes to return home, you didn’t feel her tangible desperation until now.) She drags The Wizard to his machine and makes him start the process, intent on sending him home first to prevent war and keep Oz safe from him. But the man continues to try to manipulate the situation in his favor. He begins to tell Dorothy the truth: Karen Chapman isn’t her mother. Jane is.
This was a true surprise twist for me, and one I enjoyed immensely. Jane has always been one of the most interesting characters in this tale, albeit one subjugated to the back of the story. As a scientist who was brought to Oz against her will, she still managed to find a way to live in this world. She has demonstrated herself as a character with a strong moral code, working to help both Jack and Lady Ev and refusing to make guns for The Wizard. The reveal that she is Dorothy’s biological mother is a great one.
Jane shows up on the scene, shoots The Wizard, and promises to go back with Dorothy through the tornado. In other words: Jane gets stuff done. Ultimately, she tricks Dorothy into going back by herself. It’s weirdly unclear why. Can the machine only support one person? Did Jane intend to follow, but was held back by the Wizard? Does someone need to stay behind in order to operate the machine? I would have enjoyed a little more clarity on this point.
The episode ends with Dorothy back in a calm Kansas. Karen Chapman somehow survived that bullet wound and is in the hospital. Dorothy has stayed quiet about what happened to her when she was swept up by that tornado. Auntie Em is so weirdly calm about it that I began to wonder if Dorothy was in some kind of drug-induced slumber.
Then… Roan/Lucas and Toto show up to deliver a message: You need to come back. Apparently, Jane has been imprisoned and sent Lucas to get Dorothy. It all has a very Lost “Kate, we need to go back!” vibe to it, though with much less meticulously drawn context. It’s also a pretty great way to end the first season.
The cliffhaner also served to make me wonder if Emerald City shouldn’t have done more of this: tangible comparisons between real-life Kansas and the world of Oz. It might have been helpful to have Kansas as a frame tale from the beginning — or perhaps flashbacks to Dorothy’s life before coming to Oz to not only give us more of an understanding of her character, but also to remind us just how special Oz is.
Emerald City leaned into its fantastical elements — perhaps especially because it had Tarsem Singh as a director — but one of the reasons Singh’s glorious film The Fall works so well is because it juxtaposes the fantastical images from its made-up story with the everyday realities of a 1920s L.A. hospital and the tragedies of the real world in general. Something to think about if Emerald City makes it to a season two.
Emerald City Season 1: a brief review.
Ultimately, Emerald City had some fleeting ambition that, while fun to watch, never really amounted to more than the sum of its parts. The season was filled with cool ideas and images, but without enough thought or intention behind them. Take the flying monkeys, for example, which we saw featured in the beginning of the season and again in this final installment.
The flying monkeys reimagined as drone-like devices were really neat, but we only saw them a few times and we never saw the citizens’ reactions to them. If these are supposed to be weaponized drones like the ones used by the U.S. military today, why aren’t people more afraid of them? If they are meant to be a representation of a real-world surveillance state, show us that claustrophobia.
Another glaring problem Emerald City season 1 never really got past was The Wizard as central antagonist. This season never did a good job of showing us why Oz was afraid of The Wizard in the first place. (Glinda was much scarier.) Sure, he carried out some terrible murders, but why did his men follow him? Why didn’t anyone rebel against him? Most especially, why did Glinda or West not simply kill him? Furthermore, why did Dorothy trust him to send her home? Past that, why did people perceive Dorothy as having sided with the Wizard? As season one drew to an end, I was left with lots of questions that were never thoroughly addressed, leaving some distracting plot holes.
All in all, however, I have enjoyed watching and reviewing this first season of Emerald City if only because it really wasn’t like much else on TV. We don’t have nearly enough fantasy TV shows that choose weirdness and imagination over procedural elements. Tarsem Singh infused this lackluster story with some stunning images and Emerald City really committed to its storylines. If only there was a larger idea behind that commitment.