(Caution: Some spoilers about Emerald City ahead)
Emerald City's "Science and Magic" couldn't have come at a more relevant moment. No matter where one's political allegiances lie at this moment in America, there's no dispute that we're, uh, caught in a tornado of fundamentally opposing beliefs; science vs magic is one of the oldest ideological duels on the books. And while writers would have to be witches to know this episode would air with this president in this climate on on Inauguration Day 2017, its relevance here and now is hard to ignore.
Obviously, the action-packed and frequently violent travails of Dorothy (Adria Arjona) are at the center of the series. But it's the people of Oz - especially the women - whose stories are the most relevant in this particular block of the story.
Tip (Jordan Loughran), struggling mightily with her newfound womanhood, is delivered to the orphanage run by the "good" witch Glinda (Joely Richardson) — whose manipulative ways are masqueraded by her all-white get-up, pristine air and marble lair that's home to young ladies. Tip, herself looking for some magic to undue her transition to female, is caught between Glinda and her sister, the West Witch (Ana Ularu). The latter is a realist and hedonist, really, and essentially encourages Tip to "use what she's got to get what she wants," hint hint. Tip shoots off a perfect, piercing quip that disrupts their tug-of-war. "So you're saying my only choice as a girl is nun or whore?" Well!
That's one of the first big bops upside head that show how women are subjugated in Oz. As the episode fleshes out, it's clear that the force Wizard (Vincent D'Onofrio ) wants to suppress - magic - is mastered and owned by women. Despite being guardians of an amazing gift that can take life, bring it back and summon nature, Oz's women are subject to the inconsistent, ego-driven whims of the head guy in charge. They're kept in control through coercion, money, fear and even physical violence, as we saw when Dorothy was backhanded with a closed fist by one of Wizard's henchmen. If you're unclear on what that has to do with America today, fire up your magic mobile device and read the posts of the many women headed to Washington to march right now.
In our real, albeit increasingly nonsensical world, we're witnessing the battle between science and magic play out again, as it has for centuries. Somehow, decades of consistent research from the world's leading experts on topics including climate change, human sexuality, reproductive rights, gender, criminal justice, income disparities and on and on can be legitimately refuted by people who...just don't believe that. Back in the day, before Enlightenment turned science into a discipline grounded in facts, observation and study, everything could be explained through magic — or religion. But here were are, again. In Emerald City, the Wizard is a proponent of science, as long as the science helps him hide his powerlessness, maintain control and furthers his greed and lust. Magic, in Oz, belongs to the people; magic connects them to their culture and their understanding of the world. That's not beneficial for the leader, so it must be suppressed.
To be sure, the story gets a bit muddled and then positively ridiculous when Dorothy and Lucas (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) are in the forest, sharing a tender moment. She whips out an iPhone, which we've never seen before, never see again and apparently gets very good reception so far away from home. Whatever. Lucas asks if it's science or magic. "Both," she tells him, before playing Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine." If you didn't change the channel right then, or perhaps after you finished groaning, maybe you realized that there was a germ of a sensible idea worth respecting there. Science and faith - not to mention technology and religion, the common folk and the high class - can co-exist peacefully; in fact, we need those contrasting forces to push life forward. No one POV is inherently more "right" than the other. That's something we need to hear now more than ever.
Emerald City airs Fridays, at 9/8 c on NBC.