Tonight’s The Magicians had so much packed into it that I honestly couldn’t write this recap and review right away. In fact, I had to watch it twice all the way through and still had to let it settle before I could get started. I have started reading the books, and this one episode covered a HUGE amount from the story, so it was a little overwhelming. Everyone got a chance to show off their skills tonight, and the story line moved forward by leaps and bounds, so it was a pretty intense episode. This was such a massive episode that I’m going to add commentary into the recap, so it’s going to be long (ok, when is it not?), and spoilery and over-analyzed, and there is language, so again, come back later if you don’t have time for all that right now or if certain words give you the vapors and you need smelling salts (of course, if they did, I’m not sure why you would be watching this show).
Back from the Neitherlands
Now that Penny is home thanks to Quentin and Alice’s extremely awkward sex magic last week, the fivesome look through the research Penny brought back from the librarian in the Neitherlands. It seems that Martin Chatwin commissioned a special knife (similar to the Virgo Blade that stabbed Penny several weeks ago) to try to kill Plover/The Beast once he followed him into Fillory. However, Martin never took possession of it, so Quentin believes it’s still in Fillory, and that if they can find it, they can use the knife to take down The Beast. Margo suggests that rather than fighting the Beast, they just give him the button and he’ll leave them alone. They take a vote, and everyone except Quinton believes negotiating is the better option.
The next day, Alice and Quentin are arguing about the sensibility of just giving the Beast the button as they cross the campus on their way to PA class. However, when they arrive, they are greeted with the horrific scene from last week’s previews: bodies strewn across the destroyed classroom, Margo hysterically begging Eliot to wake up, then coughing up blood herself and collapsing onto his still body as Alice tries to find out from her what has happened, then Quentin and Alice hiding as the Beast blows off the locked door and enters the room whistling the tune to the Farmer in the Dell.
Which, creepily enough, has been associated with A-Hunting We Will Go, a British folk song sung to the same tune, with these lyrics in the first verse:
A-hunting we will go, a-hunting we will go
Heigh-ho, the derry-o, a-hunting we will go
A-hunting we will go, a-hunting we will go
We’ll catch a fox and put him in a box
And then we’ll let him go
Unfortunately, though, the Beast isn’t going to catch his Quentin and Alice foxes, put them in a box and let them go. Instead, Alice starts coughing up blood, and he breaks her neck. Then, doing that delicate finger movement similar to how he killed the German professor in Episode 1, the Beast chokes Quentin to death.
Mind you, this is all within the first 6 minutes of the episode. But we suddenly see them wake up, gasping and coughing, and reassuring one another that they are all alive and well. It was a probability spell, as they were trying out the different scenarios of giving the Beast the button versus fighting him as Quentin had suggested. Only once out of the 8 times they tried it did anything come up that didn’t involve dying, and that was when the spell gave them the Fillory scenario (it was still quite mysterious, so Eliot called that option inconclusive), but it is the best option they have, so they decide to take the fight with the Beast to Fillory.
Penny Can’t Catch a Break
Penny’s scenario during the probability spell is different from others’ experiences, however; the Beast rips his head off in the Neitherlands, and he leaves the group so as not to be a part of what he feels is this foolhardy trip to Fillory. But the Beast starts psychically talking to Penny again and won’t leave him alone-he demands that he deliver himself to the Beast now, or when he’s gone mad, since he’s going to make it very, very loud in Penny’s head. Penny’s also frustrated because he can still hear the girl from the dungeon, but can’t do anything to help her.
Back at the Cottage, the rest of the group realize that they will need to learn some battle magic (even though it’s illegal), as the mercenaries in the Neitherlands would probably kill them before they even got to Fillory. Eliot, coming in and noting his commitment to the cause because of its illegality, gives Alice a note from her mother to call home-apparently, Joe, the Sex Therapist Traveler from last week, has killed himself. Joe was hearing threatening voices as well, so it appears that the Beast is messing with all Travelers now, as they can get through to Fillory at will. When Alice tells Penny about Joe, he takes off to see Stanley, his mentor, for help, but Stanley is being targeted like the others-the Beast knows intimate details about him and his family. Stanley shows Penny how he’s going to make sure that the Beast doesn’t have any leverage…by sticking a rifle in his mouth and blowing his head off.
Seriously, the first two times I watched this through (alone and then with the family), the way the television was angled, I didn’t really see what happened. I just thought Stanley was being his usual gruff, non-helpful self. I actually didn’t even react when my husband and daughter both cursed and physically shrunk back the same way Penny did. Now, on this re-watch, pausing and rewinding to write this, my hands are shaking recapping that sentence above. No wonder Penny went in the direction he did after witnessing this.
OK, let’s go back to the rest of the gang.
Eliot finds an old book of battle magic (“I tripped and fell on it locked in a drawer in Sunderland’s office”-I love you, Eliot), with the first spell being Magic Missile, a classic Dungeons and Dragons spell. They all try to perform it, but don’t have much luck. Trying to figure out next steps, they talk about why the battle magic doesn’t work and have an awkward exchange with Eliot about how he killed Mike. Quentin realizes who they need to talk to for help-Kady, Penny’s ex who has experience with this type of magic.
Penny, now back at Brakebills and making some sort of potion, is told by the Beast that he needs to give himself over tonight or the girl in the dungeon dies. Quentin & Alice ask Penny for help finding Kady, and the three of them locate her using a mirror spell in the room where everything first happened with the Beast, the irony of which is not lost on Penny. When the spell locates Kady in Julia’s apartment, Alice wants Penny to come with them, but he leaves and heads back to his potion making, as he’s trying anything to get the Beast to shut up-potions of all sorts, magical and non-magical. It’s like he’s channeling Eliot, as least on the substance abuse front (not on the cravat and skinny-pants-with-pockets-you-can-hardly-fit-your-hands-into aspects). He tries super loud rock music, alcohol, crack – anything to get the Beast to shut up.
Meanwhile, Quentin, Alice, Eliot and Margo make their way to Julia’s apartment to find Kady. They learn from her that battle magic takes years of meditation to focus enough to do it, or they can use a hedge witch trick to help them, but it’s not recommended. The trick is to literally bottle up their emotions to provide a clear head for casting. The reason it’s not recommended is that when they return the emotions to their psyches, they are much more intense and harder to control than they were coming out to be initially bottled up. Before the group heads back to Brakebills, Kady and Quentin have a tender interaction where they check in with each other on Julia and Penny, but there’s a bit of irony too – as she’s asking if Penny’s ok, and Quentin tells her “he’s a little moodier than usual, but he’s Penny, he’s fireproof, he’s like cockroaches that’ll survive the nuclear winter,” Penny is so coked out of his mind and overdosing that he collapses, half yelling “shut the hell up!” to the voice telling him to end it all.
Last week, I talked about wanting more for Arjun Gupta to play against for Penny-that the stakes weren’t high enough in the Neitherlands. Well this week we got it. He is fucking insanely good in this episode –you literally watch Penny go off the deep end, out of increasing desperation. A lot of times in the past, when Penny was self-destructive, it seemed a bit juvenile, like that guy you went to high school with who always made it a point to show you what a badass he was by doing self-destructive things. This time, when he was self-destructive, you knew he was really trying to destroy himself and the Beast. Even when Eliot does it, it’s more of a cry for help – Penny’s was just dark and deadly and so well done by Gupta.
The Next Morning
Penny wakes up in the infirmary (seriously, he has spent as much time in there as he did banging Kady), as Alice found him the night before and brought him in, so he didn’t, you know…die. Professor Sunderland, his Traveler mentor/cougar crush shares with him that she did her slew of drugs “back in the day,” but really, she’s like in her 40s, so does she qualify to have a “back in the day” yet when she teaches 22 year olds? In any case, he tells her about the voices, and she gives him a patch to wear on the back of his neck; it’s not an approved treatment, however, and it wears down the mind’s ability to defend itself. It’s only temporary until they can put him back on a strict regiment, but he says he doesn’t have time for that. Sunderland then gives him a harsh lesson-she points out that his gifts will never let him have a real home or a real family, so when someone does care enough to reach out, don’t be an asshat.
Recognizing that he shouldn’t blow off the fact that right now, in the present, the rest of the group actually cares whether he lives or dies, he joins them on their quest to stop the Beast, provided they agree to rescue the girl in the dungeon while they are in Fillory. Now that everyone is committed, they bottle up their emotions (literally) to go practice some battle magic, and know that the bottling spell has worked when Penny compliments Quentin’s sweater without malice or real enthusiasm (heh).
After several hours of practice without their emotions, they are actually doing quite well at destroying empty wine bottles, and setting things on fire, but they can’t keep the emotions bottled up forever. Releasing them, it’s like they are suddenly at a middle school dance, with prepubescent melodrama spilling out amongst the couples. Alice is sobbing, telling Quentin how much she loves him, while Quentin is desperately talking about how great it is that she loves him, because he just feels so all alone. Penny is laughing maniacally to himself.
Margo and Eliot have the best exchange, because the interactions between these two continue to be amazing. Summer Bishil finally shows Margo letting go, while Hale Appleman still manages to keep Eliot’s emotions somewhat right below the surface, even though the anger is nearly crackling out of him. Margo is crying, asking Eliot why they aren’t friends anymore. He responds in a flat voice that they are best friends. She asks if they can be honest for five seconds, please, still weeping, but trying to keep it in check because she can tell he’s upset. With a deep breath that seems to curb him from saying something he will regret later, he curtly responds with “Honestly? I’d rather not” and starts fixing himself a drink. She responds with “you don’t care about me” and he lets out a very false laugh, telling her that that is stupid. He then follow up after a pause with “We’re going to Fillory to save everything. It’ll all be fine. Like before, except even better” while holding her shoulders. It’s obvious Margo can tell she is being patronized, and it just gets worse, when Eliot practically sneers at her, while shoving a drink in her hand and roughly kissing her on the cheek, “Now catch up…this is Daddy’s third drink…Bambi.” The two of them are masterful at portraying the deep bond Eliot and Margo have – they feel everything with each other, good and bad, fiercely and passionately, so when it is good, it’s the epitome of everything you would want in your closest friend, and when it’s bad, it’s really bad – usually the people you love the most are the ones you hurt the most, because you know they will forgive you, and it’s obvious even when they are trying to keep things in check that this is the type of relationship Eliot and Margo have. It’s really quite a lovely example of the human experience to watch, so kudos to the writers and to Appleman and Bishil for their work on this.
OK-enough gushing and more recap – the next morning, the gang is still feeling the after effects of the emotion bottles. Alice feels completely hung over, and Quentin hasn’t slept, neurotically pacing and talking about how he hates everything, including air. Quentin and Alice have a bit of a falling out at this point, as Alice notes that with Quentin’s diagnosed depression, maybe they shouldn’t have bottled up his emotions. Quentin fires back with a defensive response about the perception that perhaps bottling them up would make him kill himself or maybe Plover would do it for him. Alice suggests that they should try to do the battle magic without containing their emotions, but Quentin continues to be defensive, wondering if she hears how she sounds sometimes and that not everyone is as skilled as she is at keeping their emotions in check. Which is actually a pretty spot on assessment of someone with severe depression, so again, well done, writers, and well done, Jason Ralph. I feel like Ralph is really the best in this role when he is able to embrace Quentin with all of his emotional challenges; I have much greater empathy for this character when he does just accept his depression and make himself vulnerable.
Later that evening, Alice joins Penny to practice without bottling up their emotions, while Quentin, Eliot and Margo stay back at the Cottage to study the spells more first. Penny gets her to meditate, and they start to make some progress. After a while, Alice manages to shatter the wine bottle without bottling up her emotions. In her excitement, she hugs Penny and there is a very sweet, awkward moment between the two of them.
The others join them later on in the evening, using their emotion bottles while they perfect their techniques. However, they lose track of time and have been emotionless for far too long, so when they put the emotions back, they are completely fucked up and have to head back to the Cottage.
There is then a really quite touching scene between Eliot and Quentin when they are talking about the Fillory books by the fire – they are having a fairly philosophical conversation, but with a more practical underlying one where Eliot is trying to communicate his fears the way he does best – without really communicating. They are talking about how Rupert Chatwin’s broken leg was healed by a spring in the books, and Eliot asks Quentin if he thinks that the healing power was real. Quentin says he wants it to be true, as he has to believe that these books that meant so much to him from childhood can’t be all bad. When Quentin asks him why he asks, Eliot half jokes that he thinks he has liver damage. Quentin doesn’t laugh despite Eliot’s half smile, and then, Eliot, realizing that the conversation he wants to start, but doesn’t really want to start, might actually start, tries to get Quentin to go and get them some more wine. When he doesn’t take the bait, Eliot resigns himself to getting it, but he’s so piss drunk he just falls out of the chair.
With the two of them giggling and affectionately exasperated, Quentin and Margo half carry a very happy and wasted Eliot to his bedroom, where he is singing about going to Fillory, telling Quentin that he’s Toto, Margo is Dorothy, and he himself is flying Muppets.
Then he insists that he’s meerkats, then he’s not sure, and then passes out on the bed with Margo and Quentin beside him. Part of me really wants to know how much of that was improvised, because I wonder how you go from Toto to Dorothy to Flying Muppets in a writers’ brainstorming session…
In any case, Quentin and Margo start talking about how Eliot was asking about Rupert Chatwin being healed, and Margo points out that there’s a hell of a lot more wrong with Eliot than a broken leg. Quentin says that Rupert was completely healed though, implying heart and soul, and maybe that will also work for Eliot. Margo marvels at how he believes in magic – the rest of them know it’s real, but he really, truly believes. She hopes Fillory can fix Eliot, because he’s really not ok, and he just doesn’t care. Starting to cry, she curls up to Quentin for comfort, who promises her that that they will do whatever they can to help him. I think, here, finally, Quentin gets his head out of his own ass and realizes how serious things are with Eliot.
Of course, one could argue that Quentin has his head somewhere else that evening, when we see him wake up the next morning, looking to his right to see Eliot next to him with Margo spooning him.
He’s now fully awake, trying to remember the night before. Director Amanda Tapping does a beautiful job here reliving the night through Quentin’s eyes; my only complaint was that you have to slow down the playback or try to get screenshots to really get a sense of what’s happening in Quentin’s memories. Flashes of the night before start to go through Quentin’s mind-he and Margo doing things they shouldn’t be doing.
The camera then pans down to show Eliot’s arm draped across Quentin’s waist, followed by a memory flash of he and Eliot discovering one another in a way they hadn’t before.
As the camera pans down again over their tangle of legs, a flash of the three of them crosses his mind, Margo straddling Eliot, her arm wrapped around his neck, with Eliot paying more attention to Quentin.
This memory I thought was particularly well done – in the books, when this threesome took place, Quentin remembers certain things like Margo’s character giving Eliot a hand job and crying. This particular set up, with Margo wanting attention from Eliot, and Eliot giving most of his attention instead to Quentin, showed that heartbreaking dynamic (at least for Margo) between Margo and Eliot in terms of their sexual relationship. Even the way they are laying in the bed is indicative of it-she’s on the outside, curled around Eliot, rather than the other way around. As much as she is his Bambi, when it comes down to it, that part of their relationship seems to be a bit superficial.
The camera finally pans all the way down to Alice sitting at the end of the bed, looking at all of them, devastated, and then just turning her back to the group with a look of silent fury. Olivia Taylor Dudley does beautifully here-we get to see the old, strong Alice come back, even if it is because of Quentin’s betrayal. I am looking forward to seeing more of this come out as we move into the battle in Fillory.
Julia, Kady and the Gang
Lest you think we have forgotten Julia back in New York, Richard picks up from last week, talking to Free Trader Beowulf about how people used to petition the gods for help and power, but no one knows where they are now. He believes that by reaching out to the gods’ non-human “mythical” children (such as vampires, lycans, pixies, lamia, that sort of thing), that reside on Earth, they might find some that are old enough to remember when humans and gods were on speaking terms. While they have been tracking creatures in NY for some time, their leads never pan out, but they now think Julia is the answer. When Richard first gave her the prayer in the rehab center, it proved she was goddess-touched, and they believe by sending her out on the hunt, they will be able to track down a goddess.
Julia and Kady make their way to a sleazy bar to meet Bjorn, a super old vampire with a penchant for blonde female escorts. While they are not what he was expecting, Julia offers him some of her blood in exchange for information on finding a god. He gives her some new age nonsense about how god is inside of you nowadays, but Julia demands the name of a creature like him to further their hunt. Offended, he points out that he is human-pixies are dicks, lycans are rapists (heh…note to self-do not go out with a lycan from Craigslist). Annoyed, Julia still demands a name before she will hand over the blood, so he directs her to a lamia, a high level psychic and servant of the goddess before the birth of fire, who creepily presents herself to Kady and Julia as Hannah, Kady’s dead mother. The lamia, poor and homeless and abandoned by the gods, tries to get in their heads by pointing out the issues Julia had when she first found out about magic, as well as Kady’s about the loss of her mother, but Julia points out they have knives of gold and silver dipped in sharks’ blood to defend themselves. Embittered, the lamia tells them that all the gods are dead, although that is not true – it is only from her experience with them.
Back at Julia’s apartment, Richard refuses to give up. That night, Julia takes one of the goddess statues to a fluffy stool in her room and kneels in front of it like an altar, telling the goddess that she’s listening and wants to do good.
Falling asleep, Julia hears someone call her name in a dream and wakes up on the stool. She sees light pouring into the kitchen window, and approaches it, placing her hands into the beams of light. It turns to water in her palms, then to silver coins, then the goddess herself appears, telling Julia that nothing she has learned has been wasted, and that everything has served to pull her closer to the goddess. She tells Julia that there is a man near the bridge who has served her for 1000 years –if she finds him and brings him 3 gifts, the goddess will come to her. Stella Maeve does an amazing job here with the goddess – her innocence and relief that all of this torment and suffering in learning magic meant something, is beautifully etched into her facial expressions as she listens to the goddess’s instructions.
Q & A & Thoughts about Q & A…& Everyone Else
- There were some great metaphors in tonight’s episode about “the bottle.” While it was at one point, in the very literal sense, referring to their emotion bottles (“you shouldn’t keep your emotions bottled up like that”), Eliot also made sure to slip in some double entendres –“Yeah, yeah, don’t lean on the bottle,” even though that’s exactly what he has been doing for weeks. His drinking was bad enough that he was passed out at 11 in the morning during their initial planning meeting when Penny first returned from the Neitherlands, so he’s definitely having issues with the bottle.
- That awkward conversation between Quentin, Alice and Eliot about battle magic really drove home the fact that Quentin might have talked to Eliot briefly about Mike, but Alice never came and tried to resolve anything, and how bitter Eliot was about it. Alice is ranting about the fact that the Magic Missile spell should have worked, and Eliot bitingly responds with “coulda, shoulda, woulda.” Now, to me, that wasn’t referring to the spell at all. It may have been thinly veiled as referring to the spell, but I think it referred to the fact that she could have come and talked to him, she should have come and talked to him, and he would have told her what happened, had she asked. This is even more evident when Alice starts to ask him about using battle magic to kill Mike, and then cuts herself off in mid-sentence, realizing the sensitivity of the question. Now why would she have done that if she had already discussed this with him? Eliot doesn’t let her off the hook, replying with “twisted Mike’s neck like a doll? Yeah. And it was shockingly easy. I don’t have an explainer for you.” His voice goes unnaturally high on the “yeah.” Quentin follows up with “yeah, and it just came puking out.” So perhaps he and Quentin talked about it briefly at some point (or Quentin was just making assumptions), but clearly he and Alice haven’t resolved much since he went off on her at Plover’s house.
- The consistency with Penny’s torment was outstanding-the Beast caused a loud ringing in his head, and every time we see Penny until he overdoses, that loud ringing is there even when he’s just talking to Alice or Stanley or walking through a hallway.
- Margo’s suggestion to take guns into Fillory, and Quentin’s reaction to it, is great-he’s horrified, as “Fillory is pristine.” Eliot’s response, though, gets right to the truth: “Oh yes, very pristine. It’s been taken over by a kiddie-diddling mutant.” But why couldn’t they take guns? And why couldn’t you enchant the guns in some way?
- Where was the Margolem this week? Just hanging out in Margo’s bedroom? Are we going to see her again before the end of the season?
- How did last week’s episode have a “viewer discretion is advised” marker after each commercial break, and this week, which had three on-screen murders (albeit in a spell induced sequence), significant drug use, one off-screen suicide, one on-screen suicide, and one almost-suicide-by-overdose, and a sexual three way, the network and the FCC didn’t feel the need to warn anyone about that? I’m not complaining, I’m more curious as to what the standards are that decide this sort of thing.
- One more thought on Stanley blowing his head off – maybe it’s just me and my weirdness with this TV trope, but this was probably the most disturbing part of the whole season for me. I don’t think I’ve had such a visceral reaction yet to something on this show; there have been moments that have come close, but not to the point that this one did. Although suicide by shoving a gun in one’s mouth has been used in shows before (24, Damages, Oz, Sherlock, as examples), it’s not always shown on screen, or it’s shown in such a way that it is implied. I think, really, my issue comes from the type of show The Magicians is, and the sheer brutality of the act. In shows like 24 or Damages, as a viewer, there is a part of you that expects that this sort of thing will happen due to the stressful nature of the show’s circumstances, or a character’s backstory – a secret agent might commit suicide, or face a life of torture, if he’s captured by an enemy; or a lawyer facing life in prison for fraud wants to end things on his own terms. But with The Magicians, I’m like Quentin – there’s a part of me that believes in magic, or that somehow magic would be able to fix things – I’m still where he was a few episodes back with his dad. And while they have had a lot of dark moments and circumstances throughout the season, this fictional television world is still fairly pristine at least among our main characters – hell, they barely even touched on battle magic till near the end of season 1, and when they did touch on murder, it was to show how it can rip someone’s psyche apart. So to watch Stanley blow his head off on a show about a group of young adult magicians trying to find their place in the world, and the part magic plays in that for them, that spark of hope that for some of them is all consuming, killed a little bit of the hope I had for the characters, which is why I think it was so disturbing to me. On a lighter note, since, sheesh, I just had an Eliot moment with that last thought, Sera Gamble and the other writers are to be commended for including information on the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at the end of the episode. Writers don’t always recognize the real impact their stories can have on people (as we saw recently with The 100 story line controversy), and it is good to see that Gamble and her team address the seriousness of the issue.
There is quite a bit of yelling, with Quentin accusing Margo & Eliot of ruining his life, which, nay, I call shenanigans, because no one forced him into a three way. Alice is slapping Quentin, saying it’s over, and Penny is the voice of reason, reminding them that all this Beast nonsense is going to go down in a couple of days so they need to get their shit together.
What I wish Penny would say to all of them (and this clip just makes me even more happy more given the actor who plays Margo…):
Quentin also goes to Julia and asks her to come to Fillory with them, so we will see even more crossover than we did this evening in the second to last episode of season 1.
Photo sources unless otherwise noted: Syfy.com
Special thanks to fellow Magicians fan @GojyoChan at http://exaggeratedspecificity.tumblr.com/ for her help with finding this week’s pictures.