The Magicians: All That Josh

"I think we found hell."

The Magicians puts on a musical(-ish) episode! With burlesque numbers and musical numbers performed across multiple worlds (four, to be exact), what more could you ask for?

So everyone’s “fucked in [their] own way.” Margo and Eliot are detained monarchs. They choose execution by infinite waterfall, which is supposed to be a clue to Pick Wick to get them out of the situation. But he doesn’t because he’s fed up with Earth rulers.

Things also suck for Julia. She tries to use her magic to prove to a fairy slave (Skye) that Skye has magic. Eventually, it works, but Skye’s necklace makes her bleed out. So Julia’s gotta pause time and find a way to fix it.

While this is happening, Quentin, Kady, and Alice find themselves in a pocket-world where magic is back (but only for party tricks) and they have to keep having fun and giving off good vibes or else the creepy dancers will beat them to death. Josh and Todd seem to be running the place (Todd more so). At first, it’s all a good time. Until they start to figure the place out. What’s up with the sucky magic, what’s up with the dancers, that they aren’t at the real Brakebills? But the real danger is that Josh is in denial of all this.

We don’t know a whole lot about Josh. We know that he loves parties, magic drugs, and sleeping with various people and creatures. We know that we almost never see him even though he’s one of the questers. And now we learn he loves parties and drugs and sleeping with people and general fun distractions because he’s always felt left out, like the other questers are doing to him now. So he’d be willing to live in a fake reality if it meant he didn’t have to feel left out. That all works well, narratively speaking. Plus, Josh is a fun character, but this makes him feel so much more real.

So the other pocket-world questers find the next key: a unity key meant for the quester who always feels left behind. Quentin realizes this means they need to all work together—all of them, including Josh. So he magics up “Under Pressure” by Bowie and Queen for all the questers to sing. And it’s amazing.

Here’s why I loved the “Under Pressure” cover more than any of the other musical numbers this episode: (1) the lyrics and (2) the way they were sung fit the characters singing them.

So, Eliot sings “splits a family in two…” and he struggled a lot with family this season; becoming a father, confronting an illusion of his father, finding out Fen miscarried. Julia sings “the terror of knowing what this world is about…” and she’s spent the season struggling with her trauma, learning what that means, and then trying (and struggling) to help out others who are being harmed by the world. And this goes on.

Hale Appleman (Eliot) and Jade Tailor (Kady) obviously have the best voices of the cast. And they do an amazing job. But I also loved how Stella Maeve (Julia) put so much emotion into her second verse; it really seemed like a cathartic moment for Julia. And I felt like Olivia Taylor Dudley’s (Alice) calculated, almost manufactured-sounding voice fit Alice well; like she was trying to get the notes just right, because that’s how Alice would approach singing. Maybe this is just a case of the actors trying their best to sound okay, but I felt like it really worked and enhanced the number.

Overall, the performance was just so moving. Seeing the characters lose themselves in the song, singing about their problems while they solve them (the Muntjac flying away, saving Margo and Eliot while they sing about second chances; Julia saves Skye, leveling up, while singing about knowing the world; Josh comes together with his friends while singing about caring about people), it’s easy to get lost in the song as a viewer along with them. “Under Pressure”, to me, seems to be about daring to care about something or someone in a terrifying world. Julia does this with Skye, Margo and Eliot with Fillory, and Josh learns to dare to love his friends, even at the risk of rejection. And isn’t that what the show’s about, to some extent? Life can suck, it can be hard and seem impossible and draining, but that’s no reason to stop loving people, caring about people; and caring about people can even help save you.

Bits and Pieces

-- This might be a controversial opinion, but I really think Pick Wick had a point. I’d be pissed if only aliens could rule on my planet, and those aliens always sucked at their job and made everything worse. And Pick Wick does know a lot about Fillory; he’s been a lot of help to Margo and Eliot. Maybe he would’ve made a good ruler. But he also could have told them his grievances instead of leaving them to die by bleeding out, drowning, or starvation (if they’re lucky). Always room for improvement.

-- I also loved the Margo and Eliot moment where they rejoice in their (literal) one perfect minute of ruling Fillory and declare their love for each other before their assumed deaths. Margo and Eliot’s friendship is so much stronger and deeper than it was in season one, and this is a nice showcase of that.

-- I felt like Josh’s opening number had a Disney Channel vibe to it. Maybe that’s just me.

-- This week in Kady can do anything the writers need a character to do, they’re human swiss-army knife: Kady knows all about ancient music and how to do a burlesque number because her mom was a burlesque dancer (I think that’s what the show was hinting at? My knowledge of burlesque vs stripping vs exotic dancing is limited).

Margo: “Hey, we didn't make the world. It was baked by fucking goat-meat nut-jobs, so of course it's insane. And of course we're insane for thinking we can make it better. But you know what?
Eliot: “What?”
Margo: “We did. For a hot minute, we did.”
Eliot: “When?”
Margo: “Right after you and Idri sealed that deal.”
Eliot: “And he turned into a rat?”
Margo: “I said ‘one hot minute.’ I meant, literally one perfect minute on this god-fucked rock.”

Penny: “Wait, who's that?”
Josh: “Perfect, thank you Penny.”

Julia: “Josh. You never called me back.”
Josh: “The old me was a dick that way.”

Three and a half out of four sentient ships who are Bowie fans.

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

I'm a Bowie fan and I absolutely loved that number for basically all the reasons you mentioned, Ariel. Musical numbers work best when they're expressing what the characters are thinking and feeling, and wow, did it. And I had a feeling that Margo's consideration for and kindness toward the Muntjac would save them, and it did. A lesson for all of us.