On Friday night (Jan. 13), “Emerald City” left us gasping with heartache in its final scene.
Even though the title of the episode, “Mistress New-Mistress” refers to Dorothy (Adria Arjona), the most compelling character in all of Oz right now is Tip (Jordan Loughran). The beautiful young woman is struggling to deal with the fact that she will never be a boy again, discovering the news that she was only a boy because her guardian was feeding her illegal hormone medicine her entire life, and oh my — what are these two lumps of fat on her chest? Apparently, she needs to keep them covered up.
Learning that the writers made Tip out to be the series’ modern reinvention of the Cowardly Lion was genius. It’s even more moving to learn that the obstacles they must overcome aren’t related to magic at all. Tip’s gender identity crises is not Oz specific, and weighs heavy with its real life relevance — and Loughran’s performance of Tip’s ailing confusion packs quite the punch.
Showrunner David Schulner reminded us that many people may be unaware of Tip’s origins: She’s straight from L. Frank Baum’s original “Wizard of Oz” book series.
“She is the lead character in Book 2,” Schulner says. “Dorothy is not in [it]. There’s no Tin Man, no Lion. In the second book, it’s about a boy who realizes she’s not a boy at all. And she transforms into a girl.” Then mirroring our exact thoughts, fellow producer Shaun Cassidy said, “Seems timely, right? And this book is over 100 years old.”
Currently, in “Emerald City,” Tip literally doesn’t recognize himself anymore. He feels as if he’s been living a lie his entire life and after running away from home, is craving any sense of normalcy. Waking up with a voluptuous female figure, everyone staring at him when he used to fade into the background as a boy, and lifelong best friend Jack (Gerran Howell) now showing romantic impulses — it’s all too much.
When Jack leans in for a kiss, it’s the last straw — all that thwarted fury becomes momentary violence. Tip doesn’t mean for Jack to fall off the balcony, but that’s unfortunately what happens.
The entire situation is devastating. As Tip is figuring out what in the world is happening to his body, Jack, clearly in the throes of puberty, is also struggling with the new shades within his love for his best friend — a lot of raw bewilderment to go around. When Tip demands to know why he would even go there, Jack can’t answer. He’s dumbfounded by his body’s yearnings and impulse.
Now, on top of everything Tip is already trying to come to terms with, Jack’s murder — when he was only trying to show affection and comfort a terrified and ashamed friend — will be agonizing. While it’s clear to us Tip will now fully retreat into a Cowardly Lion persona, it’s also so evident there’s a fire inside that just needs to be lit.
Whether that’s going to come from an evolving gender self-identification, a reconciliation of both sides of himself and herself, or a willingness to seize control of the whole Kingdom — our preference would be all three — we have yet to see.
But it would be nice to know the show isn’t going somewhere weird with this: As it stands, Tip calls himself a boy regardless of what his body is telling us. That’s nothing to sneeze at or ignore, and we hope in future episodes we get some clarity on exactly how far the show is willing to take this 100-year-old plotpoint. Reconciling Tip to her birth-assigned gender is not exactly a huge step forward, and often used as a weapon in our real world to help reinforce the hatred and violence that transgender citizens are confronted with every day.
Right now, Tip is nothing more than a scared naive cub, who sparks with potential to one day do great things. But first our tiny hero must learn to forgive, to grieve, and to separate from the past. And then also figure out how to grow that courage, that lion’s bravery, as a young adult. All these things are much easier said than done — they’re things we all have to do, every day — but even the strongest person can’t do it on their own.
Maybe with Dorothy’s help, we will see the “hear me roar” version of Tip running down the Yellow Brick Road. As it stands, we’re just hoping for the best. What the show has created here speaks to us on many levels, and the continuing power of the story they’re telling us is evident by the fact that we grieve so much for Tip, and Jack, after having only known them for such a short time. Bodes well for the future.
“Emerald City” airs on Friday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.