This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 2 Episode 2
Sometimes the humor in The Magicians delights and at other times it annoys, and unfortunately the return to Earth for much of “Hotel Spa Potions” conjures up the weaker parts of season 1. Although the choppy narrative had sparks of interest here and there, the best parts got lost in all the skipping around. Hopes of a great season to come aren’t dashed, but hopefully more cohesive storytelling is right around the corner.
Let’s start with what worked. Eliot being left alone in Fillory to tend to matters of state really brings home not only the character’s loneliness but also the danger a magical land faces when the Wellspring runs dry. It would have been enough to see the king’s subjects depending on royal intervention to encourage Eliot to grow into his role as High King, but to also tie it to Eliot’s shunned past as a farm kid was the perfect touch. Surely a compelling journey of discovery is forthcoming.
Eliot probably honestly believes that being king just means commanding servants and scheduling royal balls. His proposed orgy (that knowing glance from one of the guards was priceless) would have felt right at home in the Physical Kids’ cottage at Brakebills, but Eliot’s new wife really clarified — not only for her betrothed but likely for the audience as well — the realities of ruling Fillory. If “sprinkling shit” is Eliot’s first legacy, there certainly could be worse things to be remembered for.
A less admirable legacy was left by the 500-year-old pixie named Bixby, who was fired from Brakebills for disagreeing with the established policy against learning battle magic. Between the absurdly simplistic riddles (anagrams? really?) and the completely awkward reunion between the pixie and Dean Fogg, it was difficult to enjoy the journey towards finding the Rhinemann Ultra spell that Rupert used in the Battle of the Bulge.
And what a shame because the story is clearly leading somewhere fun! Even with Alice’s most cursory attempts at casting the spell, the resulting pyrotechnics were quite impressive. Together with Dean Fogg’s personalized fire demons embedded in the students’ backs, the battle is sure to be intense when it comes, and those who have read the Lev Grossman trilogy probably leapt for joy at this recognizable element from the books.
The explosive nature of the defensive demons and Rhinemann Ultra also gave Quentin the opportunity to warn Julia, which introduced one of the strongest emotional conflicts so far: is Julia justified in asking her friends to wait until Martin helps her kill Reynard before taking out the Beast? With Alice’s waning god-power, the clock is ticking, but Julia’s ordeal can’t simply be ignored for the sake of expedience, can it? A great dilemma for both the characters and the audience to struggle with.
Unfortunately, Julia’s powerful assistant isn’t just annoying the hell out of the hedge witch by constantly singing, “If Love Were All;” he’s also threatening to dismantle any hope we have for Julia’s success. Although that might be the point, using a joke that’s genuinely more abrasive than funny doesn’t help garner interest, especially since all we get from Julia is some Sharpie symbols on chart paper.
The Julia storyline is redeemed somewhat by the reluctant involvement of Marina, who was so reviled last season until she helped Julia forget her rape. This season, she becomes even more sympathetic by appealing to and being denied assistance by Dean Fogg, not to mention by discovering further victims of Reynard as he mutilates her fellow hedges. This both forces Marina into an alliance with Julia and Martin and gives the audience a broader scope of the hedge witch community that’s in great danger.
Although Penny’s interlude with Professor Sunderland was enjoyable, especially from the standpoint of possibly curing his cursed hands, his tiny narrative was a bit shoehorned in and illustrates the stuttering nature of this week’s episode of The Magicians. The jump to Brakebills and Florida and Rhode Island and the Neitherlands… it all felt as jumbled as the letters in “Last Hope Options.”