You have to wonder what was going on in The Magicians writing room this week when they were composing The Writing Room. Because it was dark. So very, very dark. But Julia and Richard’s story runs parallel to Quentin’s, and its story of redemption helps to curb the bleakness of the episode. Not a lot, but enough. As usual, spoilers ahead, so if you aren’t ready to experience the darkness, come back later. And, as usual, typically longer recap and analysis, so tuck in or come back when you have a few minutes to overanalyze the show and characters with me.
The Brakebills Kids
The group bears witness to unexpected horrors as they search for a button given to Martin Chatwin by his sister Jane during a trip to Fillory. The button serves as a key to one of the many entrances to Fillory, and Jane’s quest to get the button is outlined in Fillory and Further Book 6, which Quentin manages to extract from Penny’s memory (since he did actually take the book in Episode 1, despite his denials). I say extract like it was some sort of spell, when really he just bugged the shit out of Penny until he told him what he remembered about it.
The button, which has never been found, may still be in the home of Christopher Plover, author of the Fillory book series, so Quentin, Alice, Penny and Eliot head to England to search for it in hopes of stopping The Beast from potentially using it to gain access to them through another door from Fillory.
After a tour of the house that was all too reminiscent of my own experiences at every Harry Potter exhibit I have ever been to, (Quentin’s selfies in Plover’s writing room hit a little too close to home to the geeky selfies I took in front of the Hogwarts Express), the gang breaks in later in the evening to search for the button.
A series of dark, dark, and darker events follows, with various separations among the group. Before they are separated, however, they are confronted by their tour guide from earlier in the day. When they try to coerce him into telling them more about Plover’s past, however, the lights flicker, he disappears, and they find him in the hall with his throat slashed and his mouth sewn shut. Sooo… not quite like any Harry Potter experience anymore.
Based on this, they decide to abandon their quest for the button for the time being, but Alice and Eliot disappear, and Penny and Quentin are guided by a young ghost boy named George through a time slip, which is a continuous loop of events that has happened in the past. George is Plover’s housekeeper’s son, and has a sister named Beatrix, who Plover and his sister Prudence provided for by paying for their education.
We also find out that they provided for them in other ways, as we find Eliot and Alice tied to chairs around a tea party in a little girl’s room. They bide their time appeasing the little girl, Beatrix, by having tea, until Prudence, Plover’s sister, shows up and also ties her to a chair, despite Alice’s protests. Prudence demands that Beatrix, Alice and Eliot drink their tea and stay quiet so as not to disturb her brother while he writes, or she will send them “to the quiet place.” Eliot, however, has seen the liquid Prudence has slipped into the drinks and does not partake, although he pretends that he is enjoying it.
Meanwhile, Quentin and Penny are watching as Jane and Martin Chatwin head towards Fillory through a closet in Plover’s home. Martin, however, keeps getting denied access to Fillory for some reason, and Plover tries to appease him with tea and cookies. While they are talking, he shares with Martin how he’s almost figured out how he too can get to Fillory to join the children, but the magic he’s learning is wild, and he’ll need an extra finger on each hand to do the spell work properly. Well, that’s not ominous at all. Because The Beast in the first episode certainly didn’t kill that German professor with a six fingered spell or anything…
Before this can get too uncomfortable, Jane returns with the button she has procured for Martin-this way he will be able to get to Fillory whenever he wants. She wants to show Plover, but he begs her to keep it a secret. Seeing George spying on them, Martin gives the button to George for safe keeping.
While Quentin is watching all of this, Penny has been whisked away by Prudence for being insolent, and chained up in her storm cellar, which was a little bit pointless other than simply for exposition purposes, since he can poof away any time he wants. She threatens to sew his mouth shut too, but, as expected, he travels out of his chains to escape. So…yeah. Kind of a useless scene, other than to show us Prudence is a really nasty bitch (in case we didn’t get that concept already), and to set up the storm cellar for later in the story.
Quentin and George continue watching as Jane and Martin have tea and cookies with Plover. Prudence, however, has drugged Jane into sleep, so that she doesn’t witness the fact that Plover forces Martin to strip naked while he takes nude pictures of him with an old timey camera.
Yes…let me point that out again. Christopher Plover, the writer of the Fillory book series who Quentin has worshipped all of these years, was sexually abusing Martin Chatwin. Dark…and in a totally different way than before. Like nauseatingly dark. Like where the line “trousers off too, darling,” just makes your skin crawl.
Then, it gets darker. When George points out to Quentin that they do that all the time, and there are lots of naughty pictures hidden in the dictionary in the library, Prudence overhears and grabs him. In his struggle to get away from her as she tries to take him to the storm cellar to punish him, she smacks him hard into the wall, killing him.
Again, this was a new level of dark. You really have to smack someone hard into a wall to kill them, so the sheer brutality of the act to a child, coupled with the fact that Plover was still taking sexual pictures of Martin in the next room was killing me. I actually had to turn the show off for a bit and come back later.
On a slightly lighter note (maybe?), Eliot has managed to stay awake, although Beatrix and Alice are both drugged into sleep. He frees himself from the ropes and wakes up Alice. They try to ask Beatrix if she knows where the button is, but she complains that her stomach hurts and then begins gasping and coughing. So they watch her die in front of them from the poisoned tea. Eliot moves past it and tries to get Alice to leave, but Alice is shaken, realizing that Beatrix keeps repeating the same dying moments over and over again.
When the four do finally meet up again outside the house, and Quentin shares with them what has happened, and what he has witnessed, and that they now know who The Beast is, they make a plan to get the button out of George’s body’s pocket, which is in the storm cellar (hence Penny’s pointless kidnapping by Prudence). Quentin spreads the pictures of Martin throughout the house, then taunts Prudence into going into the house to destroy them, buying them time to find George and the button.
After they find it and make their escape, which seems all too easy, Alice insists that they have to go back and help the children who are trapped by their circumstances. After some arguing about how it can’t be done, the shell shocked students make their way back to Brakebills to examine the button and decide what to do next. Alcohol, unsurprisingly helps them to dull their horrifying experience (well, at least for Eliot), while Penny wants to examine the button to see if the magic surrounding it is real. Despite Quentin’s warnings, he gets pulled away immediately to somewhere unknown (most likely Fillory) the moment he touches it.
Julia and Richard
Julia had an interesting and redemptive parallel arc this week with Richard that was mostly self-contained, save for a brief moment when she flashes back to a time when she and Quentin used to read the Fillory books together as children and drew a map of the land on the underside of her dining room table. She and Richard help free magical equations from a brilliant but completely paralyzed magician Keira using the mental projection spell Julia had initially used with Marina to torture Quentin. Rather than being used to harm someone, this time it was being used to help Keira share her knowledge, since she could no longer move or communicate.
In the end, Julia fulfilled Keira’s wish to help her die, both as her own redemption and as a gift to Keira. Keira helps Julia realize that magic doesn’t have to amount to some great ending-it can be just a simple beautiful small experience, like a party trick. She says that magic is science, which has some truth to it. There’s joy in simply doing experiments, but not having them amount to anything – not every hypothesis is meant to save the world. Keira also gives Julia some of the best advice ever, and I feel like every girl should have this on their wall somewhere: “Smart girls scare the shit out of the world. If they come after you, take it as a compliment.” Sadly, Keira gets killed off at her own request before we really get to know more about her, but hopefully, Julia will meet more magicians like her now that she’s under Richard’s tutelage, rather than Marina’s.
A Little Literomancy
OK, so while this episode gave us a better picture of who The Beast really was, the way that the characters are dealing with the situation and each other was what I found far more interesting. This isn’t quite literomancy, but it’s close, and I needed to fit in a magical reference here somewhere.
It’s hard to relate what’s going on with Julia to the Brakebills kids, but she and Quentin are trying tentatively to mend their friendship, which I suspect will help bring the stories closer together down the line. Her relationship with Richard is refreshing in that it is easy to believe that for once, she’s hanging out with someone not trying to take advantage of her. Yes, he takes advantage of her gifts, but only if they benefit her as well. I’m tentatively hopeful that working with Richard will keep Julia on a path where we will actually get to see more of who she is, and why Quentin was so in love with her in high school.
I still can’t quite figure Quentin out; the small twitches, eye rolls, and sullen behaviors Jason Ralph does as Quentin make the character so incredibly introverted and unsure of himself that it is difficult to see what’s really going on with him. But I think we are supposed to be slightly removed from Quentin-I think Quentin, to a certain extent, is removed from Quentin. Though, before all the dark, horrible back story we learned about Plover, there was one beautiful, honest moment Quentin has with Alice as he sits at Plover’s desk that Jason Ralph executes perfectly. He blurts out that he was hospitalized for the first time when he was 16, that he couldn’t get out of bed. He tells Alice, “my brain breaks sometimes, and my dad brought me the books, and I felt enough like me to at least try to get back in the game.” When she asks him if he still feels broken, he tells her that yes, his brain does feel broken, but that it’s working now in its own screwed up way. This is the Quentin I actually like and can see as a sympathetic character -honest about who he is, what’s going on with him, unashamed.
It is obvious that Alice is becoming the only part of his life he cares about, outside of Fillory. He’s only concerned about her safety when she and Eliot are missing. He only tries to comfort her when they get back to Brakebills. OK, yes, he’s her boyfriend, but still – even Penny tells him to chill at one point because she can handle herself.
He is starting to be more courageous, but with the bravado of someone who has never had to do something truly horrible. When he talks about knowing who The Beast is now, he says he wants to follow Jane through the clock, find The Beast, wring his neck, and kill him. OK, but really, Quentin? Do you have really have the emotional strength to do that? His previous life challenges have never had any significant consequences – can he handle things like killing, maiming, and destruction in the name of a greater good?
And is he really able to give up on Plover, even after all of the unspeakable acts? This was, after all, the man who saved his life in troubled times with the Fillory books – hero worship for most of your life is a huge thing to have to let go of, and I don’t think it will be as easy as Quentin thinks it is.
I felt like Alice was really losing her innocence in this episode – her hope and faith in humanity was being torn away seeing the children having to relive the trauma over and over, learning about Plover’s crimes, and being the target of Eliot’s venomous rant (which we will get to in a minute). However, like Quentin, I think she’s very much in her own little world with him and not very aware of the needs of those around her, despite her impassioned speeches and desires to want to help. It’s a little disappointing, given that she was a much stronger character before she started dating Quentin.
The sibling vibe that was starting to develop between her and Eliot is fractured for the time being, unfortunately. Hopefully she will be able to see past her own hurt and look at the bigger picture to let Eliot try to repair their relationship.
Penny didn’t seem very surprised by anything that happened in tonight’s episode, which makes me wonder what went on his background that made him so jaded about the whole situation. We know he puts up a pretty tough exterior to begin with, but his arrogance was off the charts in this episode – was he hiding his own issues and fear of this type of situation (i.e. abuse and intimidation) behind cockiness and exasperation and insults to the rest of the group? Or could he hear things in Plover’s head that the rest of them couldn’t, which is always a huge burden for the psychic magician? Maybe not because Plover was theoretically dead, but if he’s The Beast, then technically, he should still be able to be heard, but maybe not in the time loop…
He also didn’t listen to anyone regarding the button, so I will curious as to how he handles his unexpected jump to what I can only imagine was Fillory next week. He’s going to have to ask Quentin for help, mostly likely in a similar fashion to how Quentin reached out to him earlier this season, so it will be interesting to see if they can put away their snarking and actually start being allies.
I’ve left Eliot for last, because I still think that of all of them, Eliot is the most richly developed character on the show, and is given much more to work with than the other characters. Either that, or Hale Appleman takes everything he’s given, and manages to exude so much back story through his facial expressions, inflections, and tone that it’s ridiculous how good it is – I think it’s a combination of both. That’s not to say that Stella Maeve (Julia), Jason Ralph (Quentin), Olivia Taylor Dudley (Alice), or Arjun Gupta (Penny) don’t do a good job – they do. It’s more that we only get glimpses of that deeper part of their characters, whereas with Eliot, it feels like you peel back a layer each week a little at a time. Maeve’s desperate desire for magic as Julia in the first episode was heart breaking, but since then, her character has just made bad choices that don’t always seem driven by logical motivation. Ralph did an amazing job in showing Quentin’s struggle with mental illness in “The World in the Walls,” but he hasn’t had a chance to shine much since then. Dudley got to show Alice’s need for control when trying to save her brother, and before she and Quentin let go and give into their desires at Brakebills South, but again, it’s only small moments. And we saw it somewhat with Gupta during his relationship with Kady, but just as they let us see some of him, the writers pull it back.
But with Eliot, we keep getting more, and it is glorious to behold. I realize I sing the character’s and Appleman’s praises every week, but every so often you are struck by a character, and an actor’s portrayal of that character, and every small choice they make pops out at you as demonstrative of the character. For example, when Eliot wants to join them on their trip to Plover’s home, he’s sitting in a dark alcove with a younger student whose name he doesn’t even know. His hair is messy, and his eyes are glazed over with detachment. When Quentin hesitantly tells him he seems to be doing well, Eliot simply goes for another drink and asks them where they are going. After he invites himself along after making some sex jokes about the student he was just with that fall flat, and how he is bored, he takes a hard swallow of his drink, and Appleman has to be commended for telling everything with his eyes and facial expression. The tightness of his jaw when he takes a drink and the slightly desperate look in his eyes that says how much he cannot stand to be alone with himself at that moment, and how much he is holding inside is crazy good. He’s literally swallowing the pain.
Just as an aside – I was a theatre director before I did the whole family thing, and have a degree in theatre, so I utterly geek out over performances like Appleman’s. Like Quentin-in-Fillory geek out over it. Because like magic, theatre is a drug, and you have to get your fix somewhere when you aren’t practicing it every day. So this is my fix-critical commentary on performances like Appleman’s, the ones my actors would enchant me with (heh), that was so magical (sorry, I couldn’t resist) it would bring me to tears. Plus my husband just absolutely does not care about why an actor makes a specific choice for his or her character, so I have to do that somewhere else, and that’s here.
Anyhoo, this particular episode allowed for appreciation of those enchanting moments in the performance. Appleman commits to all those tiny touches of pain Eliot is feeling throughout the episode, from the odd reaction he has when Quentin starts to tell them about Plover, to his manic rant at Alice near the end. His question to Quentin about what Plover has done to Martin is hesitant and slightly fearful, as if he already knows the answer, but doesn’t want to hear the truth of it. You get the sense that something similar happened to Eliot-maybe not sexual abuse, but some encounter that he found shameful or humiliating. Or he’s recognizing the fact that The Beast toyed with him through Mike the same way he toyed with Martin as Plover. Eliot is horrified about Plover, unlike when they watched Beatrix die, where he seems mildly bothered, but moves on rather quickly.
Much of what Eliot has been holding in since Mike’s death comes spilling out, though, before the end of the episode. However, there are two caveats to that – a) I think Alice and Quentin both should have expected some sort of freak out from him at some point had they actually been concerned about his mental health and well being; however, they’ve been too absorbed with each other to give a shit, which given Quentin’s own mental health problems, I find a little inconsistent, and b) I think a lot of what Eliot spewed at Alice was really what he has been saying to himself in his own head since he had to kill Mike, and really was never directed at Alice at all.
When she insists that they have to go back and help the children, Eliot tries to explain to her that nothing can be done. She then protests that it isn’t fair, and we finally lose the mask Eliot has had up the whole time as he gets increasingly upset and disgusted:
Life ain’t fair
Why in the high holy fuck should death be any different?
Thinking that you can change anything, it’s such an act of monumental ego
I mean, who the fuck do you really think you are?
I mean, you’re just some arrogant little twat, so suck it up
His voice is breaking as it has gotten increasingly frenetic, and there are tears in his eyes, before Quentin cuts him off and tells him to shut the fuck up, and he storms off to the Physical Kids house, leaving Alice and Quentin alone.
Now, as an Eliot groupie, I take huge issue with Quentin and Alice here – yes, Eliot was out of line, but seriously, if your friend, your fun, exuberant friend who worries about the best mixes of alcohol and experiences the greatest joie de vivre over tiny sandwiches and matching vests, who woke you just hours earlier from a drugged state and untied you and made sure a psychotic ghost didn’t kill you, is suddenly on the verge of tears and viciously cutting you down through philosophical rants about death and playing God, I might think something was wrong once I got past the initial shock of said friend yelling at me.
But back in the Physical Kids house, Alice and Quentin did nothing except sit on the couch and wallow in how they weren’t ok. Eliot quietly poured himself a drink (the fact that he’s drinking a hell of a lot more, particularly with his never emptying flask, might be something too, but given Eliot’s normal drinking habits, maybe it’s nothing), and raised it gently towards Alice in silence. To me, that said that Eliot knew he was in the wrong, but recognized that Alice wasn’t ready to hear his apology. Again, the sadness in Appleman’s eyes is heartbreaking. As a regular viewer, I just want to make Eliot the most indulgent dessert ever, and drink and smoke and laugh with him until the pain starts to go away; as a critical viewer, I want Eliot to keep suffering and eventually break so that I get a chance to see all of those little nuances Appleman does so well. Of course, if we did take away the pain, Eliot would probably be the worst magician ever, so maybe we could just get it down to a dull ache, rather than a soul crushing torment.
Q & A & Thoughts about Q & A…& Everyone Else
- Where the hell is Margo? She’s been in Ibiza for two episodes now with Todd. Can the show not pay Summer Bishil? Is she working on another project? Are they setting up a storyline for some friction between her and Eliot when she gets back, given that I’m assuming he has not told her he had to murder Mike? If he had, she would have been home in a second to be with him, but Eliot’s too selfless to do that to her, and I would imagine she is not going to be happy with him for keeping that from her when she returns.
- Can’t Alice do some research on what to do to help the children trapped in the Plover house and go back and try to free them? It’s not like the house or the ghosts are disappearing anytime soon.
- Why the random references to Popper as a magician? This would have been a little less confusing had we ever heard of Popper before tonight’s episode, and they acknowledged that she was a famous magician before they started putting spell numbers behind her name every time she was mentioned.
- At one point, Quentin calls Alice “Vix” as a term of endearment. Careful, Q, she might give you a similar species of nickname and Margo’s lapdog Todd will come running instead
We finally get to see Fillory (yay)! It apparently has a lot of fountains, a trapped Penny, and Quentin with his hair slicked back as if he cared about how it looked. Perhaps he finally checked in on Eliot and the two had a good chat over styling tips? And Margo joined them to truly make over Quentin? Team Quemeliot for the win!
OK, wait, no, that sounds like a venereal disease that gets treated with a drug with a plethora of potential side effects that a soft spoken woman warns you about on television. Maybe not Quemeliot.
In any case, hopefully we get Margo back next week, Alice and Quentin stop being self-absorbed assholes, Eliot keeps breaking down or gets a chance to let out some of the emotion, and Penny makes his way back from Fillory. With Episode 10 being “Homecoming,” some of that might actually be the case.