Was that really a regular-sized episode? Because it felt like a million and one things happened. Some important questions were answered and storylines were resolved, and we were left with a magnificently promising cliffhanger. Thank goodness there will be a season 3 of The Magicians in 2018.
The season finale showed us the essence of each of the main players revealed in its purest form.
Quentin killed Ember, the co-creator of what he loved the most – Fillory, the stories of which kept him mostly sane in a world before magic – to save his oldest friend. Because, more than Fillory, Quentin believes in friendship. Quentin is nothing if not the “after-school special” personified as an angsty magician, and you have to love him for it. But it raises the question of which Fillory is more important to Quentin – the Fillory in his books, or the Fillory in reality?
Penny wanted to spend his last fleeting moments before he’s taken by magic cancer with Kady, damn it all if it speeds his demise.
Kady entered into yet another questionable deal that compromises her relationship with her loved ones, albeit but for their sake. She did it with Marina for the sake of her mother in season 1, now she’s doing it with Harriet for the sake of Penny. But at least this time it’s more of a free-will proposition.
Alice’s tendency to miss the forest for the trees has only been exacerbated by her time spent as a feral near-god. A callback to her being lectured by Mayakovsky last episode: what good is power to an all-powerful being? What good is knowledge to the all-knowing? The rediscovery of “discovery” itself – in the form of bacon and sex – may have again catalyzed that part of her that’s human.
Eliot, who maybe has grown the most throughout the series, again showed even more growth. First, with a reasonable plan of attack that catered to his strengths and utilized those of his friends. Second, in his change in attitude about Julia – he invites her along on his quest to save Fillory as much to pull her out of her emotional quagmire as to help him. She wants to know why he cares. “I just do.” No hint of Eliot’s usual explaining away, no backhanded compliments, no couching his support in a sarcastic framework. Open, honest. A matured Eliot. Perhaps amid it all, that’s why he can finally get an honest kiss.
Margo backed up her bluster, sacrificed an eye in a gambit to save Fillory and by extension her friends. She carried heroically on under horrific circumstances by catering to her strengths: humor, style, and party planning.
And Julia? We’ll get to her below.
What is magic? According to the show, magic is a force powered by a mystical Wellspring in a fantastic land, the “pipes” of which, presumably carrying this force to other realms, can be shut off by cosmic plumbers at the behest of elder gods. It is also something exceedingly complex and technical, with ancient languages and complicated formulas that requires institutes of higher learning, such as Brakebills, to begin to understand it.
But maybe that’s all bull. Maybe they’ve misunderstood magic all along.
Magic, in the world of The Magicians, is largely an earned thing – through study, through blood and sweat and time and precision. Fairies, those creepily washed-out, eyebrowless terrors living in shared space of Castle Whitespire, don’t seem bound by these rules. They’re unaffected when the Plumber of the Elder Gods turns off the Wellspring. Niffins, however, do seem limited by access to the Wellspring, as expressed by Friar Joseph to non-Niffin Alice. He’s fading away. Is this because Niffins are a direct result of a human mainlining the Wellspring that they are inextricably bound to it? Perhaps. But we know that Fairies are not, nor is this “Lamprey” that seems to have it in for Alice. Perhaps “magic” as interpreted by the Brakebills crowd needs to be redefined.
Does magic lose some of its wondrous qualities when it’s presented as more of a STEM affair than, say, something more akin to the liberal arts or even innate talent? Well, yeah, of course. Anything that’s overquantified will lose some of its mystery, some of its appeal. Nobody really enjoys knowing how the sausage is made, but if you want to make sausage, it’s something you have to learn. Watching the final minutes of the episode, back at Brakebills, where the study of magic has become theoretical, something confined to books, shows just how dull the study of magic really is when there’s no corresponding manipulation of the laws of reality. Similarly, Fillory is dullsville for its rulers when it’s a realm of drudgery rather than possibility. Not to mention dangerous, even without considering the fairy threat. The Magicians without magic is even worse than that clinical fantasy world created by Umber.
If Quentin is the heart of this series, Julia is its soul. Julia started this series off on the outside looking in, going to terrible lengths to become a part of the world of magic. Her silly “spark” spell from season 1 opened the door to worlds of terror and wonder, pathetic as it was. And now, her “sparks” are what signal that magic may not be dead, that magic may be something other than what they thought it was, may be wondrous and mysterious all over again. We’re back at square one, but this time Julia is the key rather than the one banging at the door. A welcome change of roles.
The final episode of a season should not only be judged on its own merits, but to an extent on the episodes that led up to it. On both criteria, we’re happy to give it top marks: the few missteps couldn’t derail what was an engrossing, sexy, fantastic, emotional adventure with complex, epic and disgusting villains, growing protagonists, big ideas, and an increasingly fleshed-out world(s).
A fantasy show that makes you think. Looking forward to season 3.
GEEK Grade: A
Director: Chris Fisher
Writer: Sera Gamble, John McNamara