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Frank Beddor
John Drain
April 26, 2024

“Alice in Wonderland” in “The Way Home” and What to Expect from Season 3

“‘Who am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” Alice had just grown to the size of a giant, frightening the White Rabbit, which motivated her to ask this soul-searching question in Chapter Two of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s something we constantly ask ourselves throughout our lives, sometimes consciously, sometimes not. One of the primary reasons Alice in Wonderland continues to captivate audiences and inspire creators is because it deals with universal questions of identity and personhood. In most respects, characters in every story undertake a journey of self-discovery and Alice’s odyssey through Wonderland is a perfect model for artists. From The Matrix to Alice in Borderland to Poor Things, there is a long history of films and TV shows that have used elements of Alice in Wonderland to tell their stories.

One of the most recent series to use Alice as direct inspiration is the time-travel family drama, The Way Home. The Hallmark Channel original recently finished airing its second season in March and work is already underway on Season 3, slated to premiere in 2025. The Way Home follows three generations of strong and independent women (Andie MacDowell, Chyler Leigh, and Sadie Laflamme-Snow) who “embark on an enlightening journey none of them could have imagined as they learn how to find their way back to each other.” Season One begins with Kat (Leigh) and the aptly named Alice (Laflamme-Snow) returning to Kat’s hometown of Port Haven in rural Canada to live with her estranged mother Del (MacDowell). Alice’s adjustment to her new home takes an interesting turn when she falls into a pool on Del’s property and discovers it’s a portal for time travel.

A still image from the Hallmark Channel original series "The Way Home" featuring Sadie Laflamme-Snow as Alice staring into a pond.

Does that sound familiar? Maybe reminiscent of a young girl falling down a bunny’s burrow in a fantasy novel written under a pseudonym by an Oxford mathematician and photographer? Well, don’t worry, if you think it sounds a little like Alice in Wonderland, you haven’t eaten any “magic” mushrooms. The similarities are by design.

Speaking recently to Variety, co-showrunner Alexandra Clarke, who runs the series with her mother Heather Conkie, said, “As we started looking at this show and the concept, it became so much clearer to us how oddly echoing it all was to the book, and we sort of thought well, if it’s there, let’s use it. It’s a story about a girl that literally falls down the rabbit hole into a whole other world and is trying to make sense of what she’s seeing and of her adventures there.” Clarke and Conkie, along with creator Marly Reed, were reinforced in their choice of inspiration when the first books they saw on a trip to a discount bookstore were Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. “We thought, ‘OK, that’s a sign,’” said Conkie.

Clarke, Conkie, and Reed used the theme of self-discovery in Carroll’s novel to influence their Alice’s arc. In Season One, they send her down their rabbit hole to the Wonderland of 1999, where she encounters her mother and grandmother, learns about the trauma keeping them apart in the present, and explores the type of person she wants to be. Like Carroll’s Alice, The Way Home’s Alice finds herself in a strange world where previous norms are upended, requiring self-exploration as well as exploration of the environment in order to navigate this unfamiliar place.

A promotional image from the Hallmark Channel original series "The Way Home" featuring Chyler Leigh, Sadie Laflamme-Snow, and Andie MacDowell.

Using the past to jumpstart a coming-of-age story is an excellent mechanism that brings to mind another of Alice’s lines. After the “Drink Me”/”Eat Me” scene in which Alice dramatically shrinks and grows, she comments to the Caterpillar, “It’s no use going back to yesterday. I was a different person then.” This is an astute insight about the importance of moving forward and not being stuck in the past. Yet The Way Home shows it is useful to go back to yesterday if the person or people you’re observing are your mother and grandmother, discovering the different people they were in the past. In The Way Home, Alice’s insights into the issues that drove Kat and Del apart directly relate to her sense of identity and how she grows as a character.

For Season Two, Clarke, Conkie, and Reed looked at the second installment of Carroll’s Wonderland canon and based Alice’s journey on Through the Looking-Glass. Clarke said, “The way it begins is her looking through a mirror into this other world and wondering what’s there and hoping it’ll take her back to Wonderland. It does, but it’s a wonderland that’s upside down and reversed. Everything good is bad and everything up is down and if you actually look at Alice’s journey in particular through Season Two, that’s exactly what happened. We made a really big point throughout the season of having her be on the outside looking in, which is exactly how Alice who was in that book.”

A still image from the Hallmark Channel original series "The Way Home" featuring Sadie Laflamme-Snow as Alice reading a copy of the novel "Through the Looking-Glass" by Lewis Carroll.

Again, the creative team behind The Way Home identified one of the core themes of Alice’s experience in Carroll’s novel and transposed that onto their Alice. The feeling of being on the outside looking in is common to all teenagers and a large portion of adults. Even within the context of family, younger people often feel ostracized to a certain extent due to their ignorance of events and experiences before their time that still color the relationships between older family members. This unresolved trauma drives wedges between all generations and, if left untreated, can doom relationships. In The Way Home, time travel provides the mechanism through which Alice and Kat can learn from that trauma, allowing them to heal in the present.

Alice in Wonderland will also play a large role in the upcoming Season Three, though its influence may be more general than direct. “I think the thing we’re going to kind of try and do this season is looking at the two books as a whole as a set and what to sort of glean from the two of them and who owns them. And the themes of them will still be a huge part of our show,” said Clarke of their approach to next season. She went on to say, “…the trips that Alice takes, the trips that Kat takes, they’re always going to different wonderlands and different worlds for very different reasons.”

A still image from the Hallmark Channel original series "The Way Home" featuring Andie MacDowell as Del and Sadie Laflamme-Snow as Alice at a farmers market.

This idea of using “different wonderlands” to address certain aspects of a character’s development echoes Carroll, who tailored the Wonderlands Alice visits to reflect her emotional maturity. It’s a beautiful example of character-driven storytelling, where the character defines the world instead of vice versa. As The Way Home ages into its third season, it’s clear that the show’s creative brain trust has a firm grasp on how to continue the development of their characters they so wonderfully executed in the first two seasons. What is also clear is that 159 years after its initial publication, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland continues to directly influence storytelling, continually reaffirming its position as one of the most influential works of art ever made.

An itinerant storyteller, John Drain attended the University of Edinburgh before studying film at DePaul University in Chicago and later earned an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute Conservatory. John focuses on writing mysteries and thrillers featuring characters who are thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggle to just keep their heads above water. His work has been recognized by the Academy Nicholls Fellowship, the Austin Film Festival, ScreenCraft, Cinestory, and the Montreal Independent Film Festival. In a previous life, John created and produced theme park attractions across the globe for a wide variety of audiences. John keeps busy in his spare time with three Dungeons and Dragons campaigns and a seemingly never-ending stack of medieval history books.

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