Ana Ularu’s West is as unkempt and unruly as her hair, and she shines in a sea of glittering performances.
Was Ana Ularu a name unknown to you?
It was to us—and then she blasted onto our screens as the Wicked Witch of the West. With stiff competition from the leading lady Adria Arjona herself, the impeccable Vincent D’Onofrio, the steely Joely Richardson and the young star in Jordan Loughran, it’s safe to say that ‘Emerald City‘ was more of a team effort than anything. But one character and actress sprang out to say the least.
Ana Ularu’s surprisingly honest West was like a splash of cool water in your face on hot summer’s day. ‘Emerald City’ and Oz is full of deception at every corner. To have Ularu’s West a true depiction of herself—no matter how battered and childish she can be—is gut-wrenching.
It allows for us to truly sympathise with her in many scenes, and then do a double-take. ‘Did we really just…sympathise with the Wicked Witch of the West?’
There’s a cheeky name-slip she gives, in which she tells Tip:
West: “In some places, they even call me ‘wicked’.”
We won’t get confused. West isn’t some redeemed soul, and nor is she hoping to be. But Ularu’s unabashedly shameless and raw depiction of incredible power near implosion is utterly compelling. Her childish naivety and draw to Tip would be charming if it wasn’t so heart-breaking. And Ularu herself has embodied West so well that in an age of television where we see true humanity in souls on the screen, we truly, truly see it in West. And here’s how she does it so well.
Her growing, often petulant bond with Tip, entangled in her competitive relationship with her sister, was perhaps one of the first moments in which she won us over.
We always knew there was something up with the too-perfect, too-pristine Glinda. Nobody is that spotless and she proved it in the later episodes. But it was Ularu’s petty want for approval from her sister that made us pause. All her life she’s wanted to please Glinda; to unify with Glinda and the witches. Even in the finale, after all the hurt she’s been subjected to, she wants Glinda to be by her side. She wants to be surrounded by her own kind. To be protected—not to be hated.
It’s almost like a child holding onto their mother’s ankle. But Glinda’s cruelty and Tip’s intrigue opens up a catalogue of emotions within Ularu. She’s vulnerable around them both. And it’s because she loves them both. Perhaps it’s a foreign sensation to her, but West is—like any other person—capable of such an emotion. It will be interesting to see next season if she recognises it, and how she’ll deal with it—if at all.
Before Tip came into her life, she would absolve of her pain in a daze of opium. Nothing eased it better, but perhaps it was the pain of an unloved soul. With Tip alongside her, Ularu displayed an almost eccentric, baffled West. She looked as if she was discovering a new planet. The light finally flickered within her eyes as she saw Ozma, and all the anger, hatred and disappointment she had crushed within her chest exploded—because she let it. The longing for her dead sister East, and the brutal coup of Oz was West showing her true colours.
Ularu’s seamless transition from pitiful to fearsome was quick as it was brilliant. To see her storm Oz with Tip in front was quite the vision in the finale.
The rabid chemistry between all of the cast members and Ularu brought out the best in everyone. The world of Oz expanded so that nearly everyone had a chance to play off each other.
Ularu didn’t just mess around in Oz. She had her scenes with Adria Arjona and Oliver Jackson-Cohen (a personal highlight) as well as her fellow, resurrected witches by Ozma’s power. It goes without saying that Ularu’s chemistry with D’Onofrio is something spectacular to watch. It’s like watching two heavyweights slug it out on the battlefield. Neither is willing to give in, and both are just as brilliant as the other—in such different ways. D’Onofrio is subtle, but his presence is loud and booming. Ularu’s West is a reckless, hurricane of a mess—but her soul is quiet, immature, and deprived of love.
And they are both in supreme positions of power.
It is perhaps her chemistry with Joely Richardson and Jordan Loughran that are the shining pinnacles of this particular character, though. With Richardson’s Glinda, it’s obvious what West wants. She’s the younger sister: she just wants her older sister to love her. She wants that love she never had—and in Tip, she thinks she may find it.
Tip is her kindred spirit in many ways. If you’d asked us many weeks ago whether or not Tip was safe with West, we’d tell her to run. But messily, their anger ties them together and West, who only knows anger, encourages Tip to open her heart to it. Whilst Tip is headstrong and argumentative, it’s West who pleads with her, who stares at her as if she’s a miracle. West is the first to kneel before the rightful heir to the throne, and for a moment, it’s actually nice to think that maybe West and Tip have been each other’s salvation all along.
What’s next for the Wicked Witch of the West?
At the helm of Oz with Tip (or Princess Ozma) it’s probably right to say that West and Tip are the two most powerful beings in Oz right now. With Frank shamed and humiliated, and the entire kingdom of Ev potentially exiled for their hostility, Oz is returned to its former glory. But just like the Wizard had seized it via some sort of coup, the story may play out similarly. Magic won in the season finale, but for how long? Do they people trust in magic? Will they eventually come out of hiding? Or has the Wizard’s grip on power been too tight to escape from?
What’s even right for the people of Oz, and isn’t it time they get to decide? All this time, the war has been brewing against the superior officers of each kingdom and faction. Glinda has been plotting on her own end, as has West. The Wizard’s been scheming and so had Lady Ev. Yet when they all clashed, Tip and West remained as the dust cleared.
So what are the challenges? West is surely indebted to the Wizard somehow, for he was so adamant against magic yet kept West for himself. What if Jack is returned to Tip? What happens to West’s overly-protective love of her? Can the unstable relationships West has formed on a basis of hatred and vengeance be enough to protect them from a manipulator like the Wizard?
For every slouch, sneer, snicker, scream and terror: carry your applause all the way to season two.