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The Magicians: The Source of Magic

Pictured: Julia taking it like a champ.
"Magic doesn’t come from power. It comes from pain."

In the first episode of The Magicians, magic seemed like this fun new adventure for everyone involved. It means that Quentin no longer needs to worry about his mental health (according to Dean Fogg, at least) and he can make his playing cards levitate and form into a castle. Sure, there’s a malevolent monster looking to kill everyone and there’s a freakishly high mortality rate at the school, but that’s all good for a thrill. In this episode, however, Quentin learns that there’s a darker edge to magic.

First off, magic comes from pain. Eliot discovered this when he first learned of his powers. As a kid he accidentally crashed a bus into his bully with his thoughts. He figured that he was telekinetic and it was his fear and anger that drove his powers. In hindsight, this makes sense with what we’ve seen so far. Quentin was only able to levitate his cards after Dean Fogg screamed at him that his failure would force him to return to his old life, where he was a “depressed super nerd”. Julia was barely able to make sparks with her magic until she feared someone was trying to rape her in a bathroom. Magic doesn’t appear to be fueled by childish wonder, but by anger, fear, desperation, and deep despair. It creates an interesting balance for the characters. They can use magic to do super cool things, like creating animated glass horses, summoning ghosts, or flinging people across the room, but in order to do any of this they have to channel their most painful feelings. This should also help the show in its commentary on the mental health of its characters.

Next, we learn that magic is pretty controlling and that each character is trapped in one way or another because of it. In Quentin’s case, he fears that losing magic and the ability to learn it at Brakebills would be the end of him. After the unintentional summoning and altercation with the beast, which isn’t nearly as deadly as expected, Quentin is faced with the possibility of a mind-wipe and expulsion. Even though the beast is obviously super dangerous—Quentin has been having trippy dreams warning him of such—and the school officials might be the only people he could turn to for help, he finds the threat of expulsion more terrifying. He can’t believe he survived this long without knowing he was a magician so he doesn’t see much hope for a magic-less future. So he lies to the school, attacks Penny with battle magic for ratting him out, and uses a protective alloy against the mind-wipe specialist. Because, if that’s true, he needs magic and Brakebills to survive, and he’ll do anything to keep it. Using Quentin’s depression to explain his hesitance to come forward also helps to keep him from seeming completely stupid, reckless, and selfish. It’s often frustrating when TV characters keep things from the authorities that could protect them, but this lessens that.

Then we have Julia, who attends her first lesson with the hedge witches this episode. The hedge witches step up their creepiness by locking her in a meat locker (at least that’s what I think that was) with Marina, who turns out to be “top bitch of New York”. To get out of the meat locker and beat their test Julia fights off a reanimated dead guy, carves into said reanimated dead guy, and risks frost bite. It’s all pretty badass but also kind of gross (which seems to be par for the course for Julia’s story). In the end, we find Julia leveling up, still determined to learn magic by any means necessary. To her, magic is everything. After finding out it’s real she can’t go back to her old life. So, if she has to talk to corpses and beat a million stupid tests to learn spells, she’ll do it.

Penny, Kady, and Alice are also trapped by magic for various reasons. Penny needs to stick around Brakebills for protection. The beast is in his head and Brakebills is Penny’s only source of magical items to fend him off. Kady is attending Brakebills as a spy because the hedge witches have something on her. Alice needs to be at Brakebills so she can find out what happened to her brother. While at first it seemed that everyone was excited to learn magic just for the fun of it, it turns out that they don’t really have much of a choice in the matter.

Speaking of a lack of choice, we also get a nice philosophical discussion about fate and destiny. Well, not so much a discussion as Eliza, the lady from the alumni meeting with a dead guy now acting as a memory wipe specialist, telling Quentin that he’s been chosen by the beast for no particular reason so he better step it up to keep everyone from dying. With all this talk about randomness and pain, this episode really helps separate The Magicians from past fantasy series. While in most stories the hero is insanely strong, or smart, or brave, or pure and magic usually comes from love or power, here we just have an average, if slightly dull, super nerd attempting to learn magic by channeling his debilitating depression in hope that he can defeat the monster, which no one thinks he can.

Bits and Pieces

— Kady knows battle magic and stuff about alloys and protection spells.

— There are wards up around Brakebills to keep the rest of the world(s) out.

— I feel like if you want to investigate how an evil being made it onto your warded campus it would be better not to tell your students right away that those responsible will be expelled. You know, if you actually want any answers.

— Alice wasn’t invited to the Brakebills Entrance Exam. She stole her parents’ alumni key to get onto campus. That’s pretty cool.

— Quentin thinks Fillory is real and the beast is from there.

— The kids from the Fillory books were based on real people, who apparently disappeared. Weren’t the books supposed to be for children? What the hell?

— Eliot bonds fast because time is an illusion.

— Quentin calls Julia, apologizes, and asks for help so he won’t forget about magic. He doesn’t send the message and he doesn’t seem to try to apologize again when he doesn’t need her help. Way to be a friend, Quentin.

Julia to Pete as animated dead guy: “That’s definitely a good look for you. An improvement.”

Julia: “That’s the thing. Magic is real and once you know that you can’t—”
Marina: “Nothing else matters.”
Julia: “Exactly. It’s like, I know it’s there. It’s everywhere, all around me. The whole world. Power and beauty.”

Quentin: “I go back there and I’m, I’m a depressed super nerd.”
Elliot: “How about I find you and I don’t tell you magic is real but I do seduce you and so lift your spirits that life retains a sparkle for decades.”
Quentin: “Yeah, that sounds nice. Thank you.”

Eliza: “You’re not very remarkable. You’re smart, but no genius. You do magic, nothing special. And the worst is you’re so eager to belong you even forget why you’re here.”

Eliza: “There is no destiny. No born heroes. I can’t tell you why, why the beast came sniffing for you. There’s no reason it should be you. You can either step up to it or not. It’s up to you. We’ll just hope for the best.”

Three out of four animated dead guys (sorry for the reminder)

1 comment:

  1. Ahhh, Eliot. That line about seducing Q and helping him to keep life spark is... poetry.


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