The Magicians: Do Something Crazy

Margo: “We’re going to Endgame this shit.”
Eliot: “When did you have time to see Endgame?”

So The Magicians is back.

I know that many fans probably won’t be returning. I said in my last review that the ending worked for me, which I still stand by. For me this was true for a few reasons: first, although I did become a real Quentin fan, it took me some time to warm up to him; second, last season did a good job of propping up the show’s ensemble and shifting its perspective so that a show without Quentin felt like (to me) it could work; and finally, I just felt the farewell to Quentin was really beautiful and appropriately affecting.

All that said, I completely understand why some have decided to quit. I myself stopped watching Angel after season four because of what they did with Cordelia’s character and have tried to forget all of season four ever since. I can understand feeling turned off of The Magicians after Quentin’s death if you were a huge fan. The ending was also very controversial due to the mental health and LGBT perspective of it. The Magicians is no stranger to problematic decisions; in season one two sexual assault survivors became the villain or teamed up with the villain and betrayed the other characters. But The Magicians also has greater representation than a lot of TV out there. Does that make it okay for it to make less than stellar decisions? I don’t know.

All this is to say that it’s very complicated and I believe both stances (to keep watching and to stop watching) are valid. With that said, to the review!

So The Magicians is in a pretty tough place. They just killed off their main protagonist and now they have to start a new season while showing the viewers what to expect in a show without Quentin. Does it stick the landing? I don’t really think so. I came away feeling kind of lukewarm about the episode. The premiere didn’t hit me as deep emotionally as the show has in the past, some of it felt repetitive, and the plotlines seemed very loosely connected.

The closest the episode came to making me feel the feels was during the intro. Part of that felt a bit like a cop-out; of course if you show flashbacks of a recently deceased character it’s going to hurt. But I thought the way they visually showed Julia getting ready for her date while putting on a mask to hide her grief was very effective. After that scene, though, the characters’ grief didn’t hit me as strongly as it should have. This is the first episode after Quentin passed so it should have been pretty easy to elicit emotion, but after seasons of watching these characters hide from their feelings, jump into some distracting project, and just let themselves go, their grief felt very everyday.

A lot of the plotlines felt like more of the same, too. Margo and Eliot aren’t communicating, again. Margo wants to have real conversations but Eliot can’t because he’s once again drowning his sorrows in alcohol and drugs. Another Fillorian creature (an old timey pig) is wildly sexist, telling a female protagonist (Julia) she can’t be the hero, and that female protagonist (Julia) is going to be the hero anyway. Characters (Alice) are making stupid, emotional decisions that are going to seriously mess up everyone else. On some level I get it. People make the same mistakes over and over again before they change; they don’t just face consequences and automatically figure out how to do better. And no way was Fillory suddenly going to become progressive. I just hope in time they manage to do something new and interesting with it, or manage to say something new. For now it just left me feeling deflated.

And then there’s the disjointedness of all the current plotlines. The Magicians has always been a little disjointed, with various characters on separate quests or revenge plots or journeys of self-discovery and I can’t pinpoint the exact reason this episode felt especially disconnected except the lack of Quentin. There are a couple through lines in the episode. Everyone’s grieving Quentin: Julia’s trying to figure out how to use her new magic to honor him which sends her on this gender-defying quest, Margo is focused on trying to save Fillory to channel her emotions while Eliot drinks and pisses off Margo with his communication issues, Alice is a shut in and trying to revive Quentin via Gollum (what could go wrong?). Penny 23 doesn’t seem super upset but he barely knew Quentin and Kady seems unaffected by it for some reason, but otherwise everyone’s got their own way of grieving and (according to Alice’s mom) they’re all valid despite many being minorly or majorly self-destructive.

Through line two: there’s too much magic. The Magicians managed to weave this throughout everyone’s storyline, some more subtly than others to make the problem appear graver and more universal. Alice’s mom can’t grow her flowers properly; a hedgewitch accidentally blew his arm off trying to remove his reed’s mark, giving Kady a new cause: figuring out a safe removal process; the influx in magic caused Fillory (with Margo and Eliot) to jump forward 300 years; Brakebills has become overcrowded so Penny’s got a class of travelers to reluctantly teach.

It’s also possible the feeling of disconnection is purposeful. Quentin was everyone’s link, without him they separate, isolate physically and/or emotionally. And maybe by making the plots feel more disjointed the audience feels that same level of disconnection. Or maybe not.

Regardless, I’m willing to cut the episode some slack. There was a lot working against it coming in. And there was a lot I liked, too. The sexist pig and future Fillory’s mocking play was seriously funny. And I know I said the episode did a bad job of making me feel things, but I did feel really bad for that poor clock dwarf. The guy’s living off of special mushrooms and can’t leave without messing up the multiverse. Can’t someone get him a sandwich?

Bits and Pieces

-- I also really really liked Julia’s shirt when she met the sexist pig.

-- Speaking of fashion choices, what were Penny’s students wearing? Not to sound judgmental, but I would automatically assume they were stupid and obnoxious if I saw them wearing that. There were like four of them total and two of them were wearing sunglasses indoors.

-- I knew immediately when Margo and Eliot split up that one of them would get taken. I get how Eliot made the mistake given his alcohol and drug-induced state, but Margo? She’s smarter than to split up in a castle taken over by an authoritarian regime that obviously hates its former rulers.

-- Speaking of stupid choices, who tells a magician to grieve however they need to, even if it involves doing something crazy? Alice is a magician, of course she was going to blow stuff up. But I guess her mom’s never been great at advice.

-- Fillory’s play gave me some serious Avatar the Last Airbender vibes.

-- The Dean’s sober now! Congrats on his sobriety. Still, even without the alcohol he’s still pretty callous and shady. Tricking Penny into signing a work contract? He’s kinda shaky on consent. This is also a good PSA on the importance of reading over anything you sign, or else you might find yourself professor to a bunch of travelers.

-- Whoever makes the episode descriptions deserves a raise. This week's episode: "Penny and Julia go stargazing; Eliot and Margo forget a sandwich."

Sir Effingham: “Perhaps you can pour me a draft of medicinal cocaine.”
Julia: “Oh that is not a thing we do.”
Sir Effingham: “Do you not have modern medicine in this gods-forsaken world?”

Actor: “I am Queen Alice and I died, sort of, it’s complicated.”

Margo: “Although Dark King is a little generic as far as villain names go, wouldn’t you say?”
Eliot: “I have notes.”
Margo: “Look, we get it. You’re a despot, you’re the fucking Dark King.”

Two and a half out of four literal sexist pigs.

4 comments:

percysowner said...

I too felt the episode had issues, but the show has never let me down, so I'm giving them time to find their footing with this new dynamic.

Billie Doux said...

I actually loved it. The cosplay catch-up, the slide to the center of the earth, the chauvinist pig, Effing Ham, lol, this show just isn't like anything else. So it was a little slow and expositiony. I'm okay with that.

Although I wasn't okay with the library scene where all the books were scattered and on the wrong shelves. As a librarian, I found that disturbing.

Ariel Williams said...

I agree that the show might need a few episodes to find find itself again, percysowner. And I'm glad you enjoyed the episode, Billie. Hopefully Alice joins the library soon so she can re-shelve all the books!

Josie Kafka said...

I agree with everything you said here, Ariel! I'm still really happy The Magicians is back and I'm excited to see where they go with it.

Fun Fact: the Clock Dwarf is played by Jack Kehler, who played Manny, the neutral totem, on the Season Four episode of Angel "Long Day's Journey." I recognized him by his voice. :-)