Once Upon a Time in Wonderland is back from its mid-season hiatus and while it didn’t necessarily come back with a bang, there were some interesting sub-plots woven throughout the episode. My personal favorite was the scene between Jafar and his father (though the best quote goes to the Red Queen with this gem: “You two are even more insufferable together, do you know that?” Because let’s be real-we were all thinking that).
Neither Jafar nor his father are particularly sympathetic, though as the viewer, I felt like I should be rooting for one of them. The Sultan is not a good guy. He fails miserably as a father, he’s repeatedly cruel to young Jafar, and he eventually tries to kill his own child. This set-up isn’t unique or particularly clever, but it effectively explains why Jafar turns bad and serves to make the viewer sympathize with the villain.
That’s where it gets interesting. Unlike in Once Upon a Time where you feel sorry for and even start to like the Evil Queen after learning her backstory, Jafar never becomes a sympathetic character. He’s not just bad; he’s completely evil with no signs of remorse and no inner conflict over his actions. He’s out for power and doesn’t care how he gets it.
Jafar imprisons his own father in a futile attempt to prove his father’s harsh assessment of him wrong. As a prisoner, the Sultan ought to garner the viewer’s sympathy. Even in his cage, he stands up to Jafar, condemning the evil he’s done. But then you remember this is the same man who abused and tried to drown his own son and thus is partially responsible for the man Jafar has become.
In the end, the viewer can’t really root for either one, though the writers do a good job of walking that fine line between unsympathetic and unlikable-and that’s what makes this dynamic so interesting.