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The Magicians: All That Hard, Glossy Armor

“Oh my God I’m tripping on lizard.”

The Magicians uses its fourth musical episode (assuming season one’s “Shake it Off” episode and season two’s Les Mis episode counts as musicals) to break Margo’s “hard, glossy armor” through the power of 80s music. And it works.

Margo is such a beloved character that it’s hard to remember that we know so little about her. She was introduced as comic relief (to her hilarious dissatisfaction), a very fashionable and gossipy upperclassman. Then the show forced her to gain some depth (once again, to her hilarious dissatisfaction) when she took on a leadership role at Fillory. But we still couldn’t really know Margo because Margo is not someone who wants to be known. She operates under layers of protective walls. How do you force an emotional revelation with a character so walled up? Have her lick a lizard, creating walking, talking versions of her inner self often expressed through songs from the 80s.

Some of this is done subtly, like when the desert lady tells Margo the story of the sand demons and she responds with “some brave dudes” while her inner self/guide/Eliot responds with “some awfully compliant women.” Sometimes this is done less subtlety, like when she discusses the origin of her sex/getting stuff done song (“Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake) and then she has sex to her inner selves singing it. Or when she discusses her relationship with her father and herself with her inner self/guide/Eliot. About how she sees herself as the king of manipulation, giving up, how she thinks befriending Eliot is the only good thing she’s done, and how she uses her armor to keep from getting hurt but it doesn’t work. In the length of a single episode, Margo becomes a much clearer character. The fact that the show managed that while also making it so natural and engaging is a real feat. The Magicians excels at using narrative devices and tropes to look at things from new angles, and it does a great job of that here.

While Margo’s on her spiritual quest in the desert under the influence of lizard, she also uncovers a conspiracy. The desert leaders have been using the sand demons to suppress the desert people. This suppression is echoed throughout the episode. First, when we learn about Margo’s relationship with her dad, about how the relationship crumbled when Margo grew too strong and loud to control. Then, when Zelda finally starts to see the way Everett lies to suppress the hedges. In the desert, Margo is able to solve and break down the conspiracy all on her own. But it seems that her relationship with her father was never mended and breaking down Everett’s tyranny doesn’t seem like it will be so easy. Unlike with Margo in the desert, Margo and Zelda are much closer to the conspiracy, both involving their father-figures, which might play a big part in making it harder to overcome them.

The musical aspect of the musical episode was of course great. None of the performances hit me quite as strongly as “Under Pressure” did last season. But, as someone not super familiar with 80s music, I might not have been the right audience to fully appreciate the performances (which isn’t a failure of the show, but maybe a failure of me as a person). Still, the dances and the singing were all amazing, as always. Who could be dissatisfied while listening to Hale Appleman sing … anything? I especially found the final performance of “Beautiful Dreamer” incredibly beautiful and moving. I appreciate any episode that tries so hard to take risks in hope of outcomes that could never be made by ordinary episodes, and, once again, The Magicians nailed it.

Bits and Pieces

-- This should go without saying, but Summer Bishil did an amazing job this episode.

-- A huge red flag for Zelda should be finding out Everett put Phyllis (Kaylee Frye the Librarian) in charge of the hedge terrorist problem. Just last episode Phyllis was asking why the library should do anything about it at all. This reminds me of some real world political decisions...

-- Shout out costume director for the incredible desert clothes. Except Julia’s desert outfit; she looked kind of like a pilgrim. Does that mean Margo thinks Julia dresses like a pilgrim?

-- Some major developments were also made. The Monster has everything he needs to build his sister’s body. Margo has the axes that are supposed to help with de-possession. Julia has the binder and seems to be focused on transitioning herself back into a god.

-- I like how the show always seems to remember its past. Like, when Quentin realized Enyalius was a trickster god he looked at Julia nervously. And Julia figured out Enyalius was really Aengus through her previous research with the Free Traders.

-- After seeing how much of a... jerk all the gods are, Julia asks Quentin to help her remember what it’s like to “give a shit” about people. It’s really interesting that gods, who are connected to all of humanity and live long enough to see all of humanity, are so distanced from ordinary people. I’m sure that’s partly to protect them from becoming overwhelmed by it all, but it would certainly be interesting to explore further in season five.

Margo, waking up to find Not Eliot led her to the desert people: “I can’t believe that psychotropic douche got me here.”

Not Eliot: “Wow, Desert Dynasty. Think we’re gonna get a girl fight?”

Not Fen, mid Whitesnake cover: “Hey Margo, thanks for inviting me.”
Margo: “I invited her?”

Four out of four hits of lizard LSD.

1 comment:

  1. They're spoiling me. I'm going to expect terrific musical numbers all the time now.


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