The Magicians: The Seam

“Always gotta be a f—cking twist.”

Welp, that was sad.

Before we get into it, there’s the whole monster-library-God stuff to go through. So, fairly quickly, Eliot, Alice, and Penny 23 take down Monster-Julia, freeing Julia of the possession. Then, a little slower but still fairly easily, they expel Monster-Eliot. Quentin, Alice, and Penny 23 go to take the monsters out for good and—of course—their plan seems foiled, once again by a librarian, this time Everett. But even then, they take down Everett pretty quickly and save the day. Which brings us to the sad.

If I were a person who was more interested in plot than characters these fairly quick fixes would bother me more than they do. Objectively, it’s a pretty anticlimactic take-down of the big bads the whole season was building up. But I’m not. And the show’s never been that way, either. Sure, we get dragons and big twists and worlds within worlds, but all that is to service the characters and their emotional journey with their varying mental health issues. And that’s why I love The Magicians; I imagine that’s why many others love it as well.

So The Magicians season finale doesn’t spend a ton of time on its battle with the big bads, instead choosing to focus on Quentin, who dies. Like, really dies. Not coming back dies. A permanent character death is a pretty common (though risky) television trope as well. But Quentin’s death isn’t about its permanency, it's about how he died and how he lived, and how the two intertwine. In an already heart-breaking scene, Quentin makes it so much harder when he asks Penny 40, “Did I do something brave to save my friends? Or did I finally find a way to kill myself?” And it’s a good question. Quentin’s history is full of hospital beds, suicide notes, knowing the tallest buildings around him. And even after he got to Brakebills that wasn’t over. This very season he became more and more depleted in his grief and helplessness over Eliot’s situation and the loss of his father. So of course he’d need to ask. And of course The Magicians doesn’t give an unambiguous answer.

Instead Penny 40 and The Magicians tell Quentin a story. One of a group of questers singing the most depressing and beautiful version of “Take on Me” ever sung, grieving for the man who not only “saved their lives” but “changed their lives.” Quentin brought everyone together, touched everyone in various ways, sparked them up when it was needed. And they did the same for him, and that made the whole group stronger and better for it. Did Quentin want to die? Was there some selfishness in his sacrifice? Maybe. But the story Penny 40 told was still a true one. Quentin is the reason the story went the way it did, and the reason it’s still going. Quentin’s strength in making it through the mental hospitals and suicide notes allowed him to help save the world and his friends multiple times over. This was his big heroic ending. Not choosing to die to save the world, but choosing to live—saving his friends in the process. And that’s an important story The Magicians told.


Bits and Pieces

-- Gotta appreciate that the show is always on it with the suicide hotline notices. But seriously, not every show is and I definitely appreciate that.

-- I’m not sure if this would fall under the “kill your gays” trope. I’m genuinely asking. Yes, Quentin was gay and he never actually got to have his romantic relationship with Eliot. But he was also the main character and one of many LGBTQ characters in The Magicians. And his death wasn’t executed as just a big, unexpected twist and it wasn’t mined for gratuitous sorrow. Instead it was warm and complicated, much like the show itself. Does that mean the show didn’t choose to fulfill that ugly trope? I’m not sure.

-- In other news, what’s going on with Fillory? They’re in the future? Fen and Josh are dead? What?

-- Also, Eliot and his amazing voice are back!!

-- Also, Julia’s back! As exciting as that is, it may have been nice to see more of Monster-Julia. She was pretty interesting.

-- In other Julia news, she’s human again. But she didn’t get to choose that for herself (will this prove problematic given what OLU said about the importance of Julia making the choice?). I don’t understand why Penny 23 couldn’t astral project into her mind to ask her what he wanted (because she was half-goddess, maybe?) and I wish the show had finally allowed her to have some agency. In a terribly depressing twist (another one) she gets her powers back through the pain of losing Quentin, her best friend since childhood. Magic is really harsh.

-- While I’m happy for Alice’s new job offer as the head librarian, I was kind of hoping Zelda was talking about Harriet when she brought it up. I don’t know, I guess I just want her back.

-- I will never listen to “Take on Me” the same way again.

-- This season, while not perfect (what ever happened to the McAllisters?), was definitely worth it. They explored some interesting topics (fascism, obedience, forgiveness). Had some amazing episodes (“The Side Effect,” “Home Improvement” for hilarity reasons). And the season MVP has to be whoever made the episode descriptions; they alone made the season worthwhile.

-- To end on a less depressing note, it was really nice seeing Margo and Eliot back together. I look forward to seeing more of those two in season five!!

Josh: “Guys, I think I have some special fish magics.”

Old-ish God: “Why are nickels bigger than dimes?”
Josh: "Why are nickels bigger than dimes?”

Margo: “You can’t get that many people to cooperate. This isn’t Sesame Street.”

Penny 40: “All that stuff that we think protects us or motivates us or scares us, up there here it just all falls away. You’re finally just you.”

Three and a half out of four... I don’t know, I don’t even know... incredibly bleak, depressing plot twists?

9 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I thought this episode was amazing. I often feel like I'm becoming jaded about television, but then -- a funeral set to "Take on Me," and I was sobbing. And I never even liked Quentin that much.

It was his expression that got to me. He was watching his friends mourn him and the look on his face said, "These people really loved me. They really did. I was important to them." It was like he was seeing the truth for the first time. And as you said, Ariel, I never really absorbed the lyrics of "Take on Me." I don't know who on this show decided to go with musical numbers, but they should get a raise. Every single one of them has not only worked for me, they've elevated this show.

Finally, Ariel, you joined us in October to review The Magicians, and since then you've reviewed ALL FOUR SEASONS. This is a hard thing to do. Thank you so much for joining us and for doing such a spectacular job.

Ariel Williams said...

Thanks Billie! And thanks again for the opportunity to write the reviews!

I am someone who never really cries at movies or TV shows or books (in most cases). Admittedly, I didn't cry during the episode, but I did feel it in my throat, especially during "Take on Me." Somehow, my second rewatch was even worse. And now I have it stuck in my head and I'm just forever depressed. They did it too well. And this is also coming from someone who needed time to warm up to Quentin (although I did get there by the end).

sunbunny said...

I don't watch this show but I heard what happened and now I'm really glad I never got into it. Sorry to be so negative, it just...as a mentally ill person, I really don't appreciate seeing mentally ill characters commit suicide or attempt to (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). It's a damaging and, i feel, irresponsible message. It may be "realistic" but I'm drawn to stories to ESCAPE reality. Again, sorry to be negative I know a lot of people love this show.

Billie Doux said...

sunbunny, as someone who has lost a close loved one to suicide, I don't think it was portrayed on this show in a damaging or irresponsible way. In fact, quite the opposite.

No disrespect to how you feel about the issue, may I add. I have strong feelings about how mental illness is stigmatized, too.

sunbunny said...

Obviously you know the show better than I do. I started it, didn't love it and then Mark told me they killed a puppy so I STOPPED. I just prefer stories where the mentally ill person deals with their mental illness and recovers (Buffy season six, which I will defend with my very life) vs. stories where the mentally ill person dies by their own hand. It's a really personal, touchy subject and I totally respect your opinion.

Nathan Grace said...

Quentin got a lot better ever since like middle of the last season. He finally started to do something with his life, he took it into his own hands. And in the last season he was dealing with all that pressure in relatively healthy way. I think he had beaten his ilness and got his own path. Yes, it is a shame it had to end so soon, but it ended not because he was mentally ill. It ended like that because it suited the man he was without the illness.
And when he asked "did I finally found a way to kill myself?" It was because he was afraid that he didn't get rid of this condition he lived his whole life with. Anyone with mental illness knows it doesn't really goes away ever. But he was as close to that as he could be.

Anonymous said...

Dean Fogg: “Don’t Todd it up.”

Sam Smith said...

A truly beautiful episode. I’m always in awe of how this show manages to have a really good storyline that would always result in a good show, but then completely dwarfs the strength of its premise with its fantastic characters.

Anonymous said...

A lot of fans found no beauty here. Only sadness and showrunners thinking they were being oh so clever. Cleolinda Jones broke a long silence to write about why.

https://cleolinda.dreamwidth.org/1062004.html#cutid1

I agree with her. Thanks for your fair and balanced review. No disrespect to anyone who does not agree.
mazephoenix