Aldous Huxley defined the essay as “One damned thing after another — but in a sequence that in some almost miraculous way develops a central theme and relates it to the rest of human experience.” This is also a good definition of Emerald City, which encompasses as many themes as it can in its ten episode run in a kind of picto-fictional essay. As I set out to review the January 6th premiere, I found the two episodes to be a deep vein for commentary, and consequently my review of Emerald City has become an ongoing project, the first installment of which I have for you below.
A Traveler’s Guide to Emerald City, Part I: Welcome to WesterOz
Emerald City has a few hurdles in its quest to find an audience, the main one being that its audience is overly conditioned by the 1939 film interpretation, which most accept as more authoritative than the fourteen novels written by Baum which inspired it. This is unfortunately because there remain hundreds of millions of viewers that have laid eyes on the movie, while only a small fraction of those people have laid eyes on the 1900 novel, and an even smaller percentage of those go on to read the equally excellent sequels.
Critics in 2017 reach out to points of comparison that are familiar to them, which in this case are the 1939 The Wizard of Oz, on the one hand, and HBO’s Game of Thrones, on the other. By this point, Google and Metacritic are rife with critics humorously referring to an Oz peopled by Wildling-like Munja-kins, and witches that are either brothel-masters or orphan-masters, not unlike Kings Landing’s Littlefinger and Varys. The thin comparison between the two shows doesn’t hold up once you move from tone and atmosphere to character and plot; Emerald City doesn’t have a Jon Snow or an Arya, and Game of Thrones doesn’t have a Tip or a Jack. And, each show has its own distinctive threats, so that the White Walkers and the Dragons do not resemble The Beast Forever and the stone giants. In Emerald City, magic is more ubiquitous, and even crueler than the blood-baby that crawls out of Melisandre; the magic of Oz creates a Prison of the Abject and sends women into ritual suicide.
However, jokes gain currency with repetition in the echo chamber of the internet, so by now the conflation of Westeros and Oz—let’s call the meme WesterOz (though that’s also claimed by Western Australia)–has become a thought so common that each person that thinks it believes it original. And, considering how many different critics made the Game of Thrones / Emerald City connection, you can expect that nearly all future commentary on the show will be tarred by this presumption that Emerald City takes place in the dark domain of WesterOz. So if you’re a fan of the show, you should probably learn to recognize this reductive assumption; on the other hand, if you like the taste of low-hanging fruit, you could learn how to play this fun and dishonest game very easily. For instance, I could say that Glinda is a cross between Varys and Annie’s Miss Hannigan; or, that the Wizard’s only crime is being a boy at heart—but unfortunately, that boy is King Joffrey. These are very easy comparisons to make, because there are only so many different character types in fiction, and both TV shows share the fantasy genre.