I wanted to write about the Tangled series (now called Rapunzel's tangled adventure) at some point, and considering season two comes out later this month, why not now?
I hadn't seen the series until quite recently, but this show is good. I'll admit I expected it to be more of a casual spin off than an engaging continuation, but considering the cast and crew from the movie returned to create this, I should have realised there was a bigger story here. You won't have been this invested in rocks since Steven Universe. Considering there's only one season so far, there's only so much I can put into perspective and speculate on, so I'll mostly be gushing about characters and plot points, so that means spoilers. Lots.
The series (starting with Tangled before ever after) picks up 6 months after the end of the film and takes place "between the kisses", so after the movie, but before Rapunzel and Eugene get married. So why does she have long hair again? Basically, Casandra, Rapunzel's lady in waiting, sneaks Rapunzel out of the castle to where the sundrop flower used to be. They find some mysterious unbreakable rocks growing in its place that begin to glow as Rapunzel approaches. She touches one, sending out a shock wave as her hair begins to return, now indestructible. More spiky rocks begin to grow from the ground, seeming to follow her...
(Can't blame her for wanting to touch them.)
One thing I like about this show is that it feels like a natural progression. At the end of the film, Eugene says that Rapunzel agreed to marry him after years of asking, which allowed the writers to explore that space of time, all while bringing back the signature hair. Another example of this is with Rapunzel herself. Though the idea of a princess getting accustomed to her role and the presence of an overprotective father seem pretty standard, with Rapunzel this kind of set up makes perfect sense. The show doesn't shy away from the fact that Rapunzel is still getting over being locked in a tower for eighteen years of her life. From not understanding certain interactions to having nightmares about being locked away again, literally or figuratively. She doesn't want her freedom taken away from her, we even see her return to the tower and how difficult she finds it just to step inside.
This works from King Frederic's perspective too. He's finally reunited with his missing child and doesn't want to lose her a second time, and what's more is it's implied that he feels personally responsible for Rapunzel having been stolen away in the first place. When Rapunzel tells him about her hair, he says he wants it to be the last they speak about mystical rocks or magic of any kind to anyone. So, basically there's a conspiracy going on here. And secretive dads are a reoccurring thing in this show, believe me.
There's lots of lore and world building in the show with a deeper connection between the sundrop, the rocks, and Rapunzel. I'm kind of going into theory territory here, but I can't help but feel there's almost a Yin and Yang situation going on, or at least there may be a bigger connection between Rapunzel and another of the show's characters. Varian is a young alchemist who decides to help Rapunzel find out more about her hair. He initially discovers her hair no longer has healing powers, but he becomes a more prominent character later on. What's interesting about Varian is how he's introduced.
(A new compound, Flynolium!)
Casandra tells Rapunzel that what little is known about him isn't good and that he's considered to be dangerous. This is kind of disputed later on when we see he's just a kid inventor with a love for alchemy, but it's not entirely inaccurate. Not only does he perform dangerous experiments on Rapunzel's hair, he almost destroys his entire village with one of his inventions. He has good intent, but is reckless and overlooks safety and reason if it means the possibility of impressing people, especially his father, Quirin (secretive dad number 2). It becomes evident that Varian has done this kind of thing before, earning him his reputation and giving people a reason to keep their distance. It seems like Rapunzel, Casandra and Eugene are Varian's only friends. He even names some inventions after them, they clearly mean a lot to him. Together they agree to figure out the mystery behind the rocks as they begin to spread throughout the Kingdom of Corona.
Let's skip to a big episode in the series, "Queen for a day". The situation with the rocks is getting worse, with Varian's village slowly being destroyed. While Varian is determined to experiment on the rocks, Quirin is set on pushing him away from the idea, he even lies to King Frederic about the state of the village. Unbeknown to both of their parents, Varian tells Rapunzel the truth and she promises to help him. Varian continues his experiments in secret before he is confronted by his father, causing him to accidentally pour an entire beaker of an alchemic mixture onto the rocks. Crystals begin to form as he asks Quirin why he wont tell him what he knows. Quirin removes a glove, revealing a circular symbol on his hand. He observes it woefully and says he isn't ready. The crystals begin to grow rapidly from the rocks, trapping Quirin as he pushes Varian out of their reach. Varian rushes to find Rapunzel for help.
(I'm sure he'll be fine...)
As Varian reaches Corona, a storm has enveloped the kingdom, leaving Rapunzel in charge as her parents are trapped out in the snow. Varian begs her for help, believing her connection to the rocks can help free Quirin, but with Corona in a sate of emergency she has no choice but to turn him away. Not only was this clearly a difficult decision for her to make knowing she'd broken her promise, but she had to watch as her guards dragged Varian out of the castle when she would have done anything to help otherwise. Varian returns home and finds his father, now completely encased by the crystals. In this moment Varian is at his lowest, completely alone without his friends or only family, leading him to seek vengeance.
It may seem drastic, but remember his tendency not to think things through, it's completely in line with his character. What's more is Varian's obsession with making his father proud, he even has a song about it! Quirin's dismissal of his experiments must have been rooted in wanting to keep him safe, but as far as Varian was concerned Quirin was ashamed of him, pressuring him even more to gain his father's approval. There's so much going on and more we have yet to find out, but Varian knows his father being trapped is a direct result of his experiment. He's not just driven by a need for acknowledgement anymore, he's driven by guilt. Saving his father is his last attempt at making him proud and he'll do it by any means necessary, including shifting blame and taking revenge. He really loves his dad, even if they had a bit of a rocky relationship.
(Okay, not great timing, but different room different circumstances that would've killed.)
In later episodes we see how guilty Rapunzel feels about not helping Varian and she finds out that nobody had been to his village in her stead. She also finds out that the royal adviser is convinced that Varian attacked her during the storm, something King Frederic quickly interjects. This seems to be an idea that was spread throughout Corona as a cover up. If people don't know about Quirin, they won't know about the threat of the rocks. The King lies to her, saying that the rocks in the village have been taken care of, citing the importance of not drawing attention or causing a panic in the kingdom.
Rapunzel inevitably finds out that the king lied, receiving information about a scroll from Varian depicting ancient text and glyphs, not just of the sundrop, but a moondrop as well. The scroll is damaged, the moondrop half partially missing. There must be more to it than just the rocks otherwise there would be no reason for the scroll to appear this way in the show. Whether it's another flower or some kind of crystal, there is some kind of opposite to the sundrop and its power. Though the sundrop had been secretly kept in the castle, it is later revealed that it no longer holds its power, Rapunzel does. Somebody may hold the power of the moondrop, and I think it could be Varian.
(What's on the missing piece?)
Back in "Queen for a Day", We see Quirin observing a secret chest marked with the same symbol found on his hand. Inside the chest is a sword and a damaged helmet, also bearing the symbol. It's revealed that the night Rapunzel was born, Quirin warned King Frederic about taking the sundrop, telling him that it would release a darkness across the kingdom. He seems to have been part of an organisation that served the purpose of protecting Corona from the rocks and whatever evil would have come with them. The King not only knew about the rocks the whole time, he is responsible for their presence. Both Quirin and King Frederic kept this secret from everyone, all for the sake of keeping everybody calm in ignorance. The captain of the royal guard, Casandra's father, is also briefly involved at one point. That's 3 whole secretive dads!
(Complete with battle scar.)
Also in "Queen for a day", Quirin laments as he views the rocks from his window, and then a portrait of himself, his wife and Varian a a baby. Varian's mother isn't present in the show. In typical Disney fashion it's likely that's she dead, but either way it seems that the rocks and the organisation have a connection to her absence, and possibly even Varian. If the sundrop had the power to heal and give life, what if the moondrop had the power to take or exchange it? Suppose that Varian's mother had to use the moondrop to save her son's life in exchange for her own. It sounds almost like a philosophers stone, fitting considering Varian is an alchemist. I don't know how this would affect Varian, but if the moondrop is associated with darkness, it could explain his natural tendency for destruction, intentional or otherwise.
(That is one smiley baby.)
The character writing in this show really is amazing. There's so much nuance and conflict that even when characters make bad decisions, you understand where they are coming from even if it isn't justified.There's lots of blame to throw around and no sole person to attribute it to. Varian is an incredibly interesting anti hero, depending on what the writers do with him I think he could be up there with Prince Zuko. He's become bitter and hateful, but he's better than this. When an attempt at using Rapunzel's hair to free Quirin fails, his first response is "I wasn't wrong, it's not my fault". I'm in no way excusing his actions, considering he actually ends up trying to kill people, but it's clear he's still just a scared kid consumed by guilt and desperation to make his father proud. If he's at the point where he thinks princess murder will do that, he needs help. I'd say he needs a hug, but no, he needs therapy. I'm certain there'll be a redemption arc, I don't think he would've been introduced as a good guy otherwise, though it will be interesting to see how that happens.
Direct or otherwise, Rapunzel and Varian are both connected to the rock conspiracy, and I think they'll end up working together again to fight a greater evil. Their actions make them opposites, but there are a lot of parallels between them. Both of their fathers are involved with the rocks somehow, they're both pressured by the need to meet expectations, they both have guilt to overcome, and they even both have animal sidekicks. Even if it it turns out Varian isn't the moondrop, these connections are still relevant.
At one point in the show we hear the legend of Zhan Tiri, an evil Warlock who summoned a storm to destroy Corona. Zhan Tiri was defeated by an ancient engineer and inventor, Lord Demanitus, after he used a combination of magic and science to create a machine to redirect the storm out to the sea. A combination of magic and science? Sounds like Rapunzel and Varian to me. I do think Varian will get worse before he gets better though. With the mention of trapped spirits loyal to Zhan Tiri and a separatist group intent on destroying Corona, I have the impression Varian may be swayed to the dark side more before coming back around. It's possible he may have links to Lord Demanitus too.
(Demanitus looks pretty chill, right?)
At the end of the season we see Rapunzel leaving the kingdom, following a new path of black rocks to places unknown. She is followed by a mysterious warrior carrying a large sword. The sword isn't just forged from the unbreakable rocks, it can cut though them. Her hand bares the same circular symbol that Quirin has, meaning she can probably help him. It looks like she's going to be important to the plot. From promo footage of season 2 she appears to be friendly, but we'll just have to wait and see what more the show has in store.
More family drama and angst interwoven with whimsical adventure? Most likely, and I can't wait!
(They cut just like butter.)