Emerald City Episode 1 and 2: Finally a Trans Ozma on American TV

It’s been six months since my last blog post, where I talked about my excitement and trepidation wondering how NBC was going to handle the character of Tip in their mini-series, “Emerald City,” and now I have my answer.

Overall I’m rather pleased with the way they took the character. Though I do have some qualms.

I , was quite convinced they were going to go with the Tip/Ozma narrative from the casting, but that only intensified when they name dropped King Pastoria in advance of Tip’s actual appearance. It’s not long after that we meet Tip shut in Mombi’s house which is surrounded by magic brambles (hence the Rose of Versailles-esc poster released six months ago), which Mombi uses to keep the teen locked up ostensibly because of a medical condition which needs shielding from the outside world.

The minute Mombi’s back is turn Tip’s non-gourd-headed friend Jack tries to come to the rescue, to chop his way into the house, but he is prevented in doing so by the arrival of Dorothy, and Lucas (the Scarecrow analog).

The more we see of Tip, the more we realize what a dismal life the youth leads; something Mombi acknowledges, but says “at least [this way] you’re still alive.”

Eventually Dorothy discovers Tip’s plight and frees him, Tip runs off but only has a little bit of the apparently life saving medicine that Mombi administered every day. At the end of the episode without the medicine Tip transforms into the Princess Ozma (not yet named).

tip

Jordan Loughran as “Tip” (Left) and Ozma “right”

From a transgender perspective I really like the dynamic between this version of Ozma and Mombi; Mombi almost literally keeps her stuck in a closet for what she views as her own good. This is something well meaning friends, and family can often do to trans women (and to queer people in general). Mombi tells Dorothy that she lives in constant fear that Tip will be taken away (presumably by the Wizard’s guard). What I find most powerful is that one line, “at least [this way] you’re still alive.” But, as I heard quoted on another network’s fairy tale series, “surviving isn’t living.”

What I don’t care for is the abruptness with which the transformation happens. In the book, Tip is freed, eventually ends up on a quest to find Ozma, and discovers herself, and even though it’s a scary discovery that Tip at first rejects, ultimately Ozma chooses it for herself. It really reminds me of a rather awkward Legion of Superheroes story, that also deals with a character suddenly transitioning because of the lack of a drug. There is no agency here in the ultimate transition, but symbolically the choice to leave an oppressive household could be considered a metaphor for transition.

Oh, and what do I think of the rest of the episode? I enjoyed it for the most part, it’s quite rough around the edges, but it seems to be building a decent mythology of it’s own, and using some good elements of Baum. It’s not as soulless as some other Dark Oz stories, and it’s well acted, and directed. I’ll be tuning in next week. And maybe this will open the gates for other versions of Ozma.

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