This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 2 Episode 5: “Cheat Day”
Having settled into a new post-Beast, sans-Alice reality, this week’s episode of The Magicians was very exploratory, allowing the viewer to figure out what might happen to the remaining characters given the stresses they are now under. In that sense, although the episode overall was fairly subdued, the magicians are basically shifting and adjusting to the new way of things, and the results are at once horrifying, gratifying, and lamentable in equal measure. Along with a dash of masturbation humor, that’s a recipe for a typical but strong episode of The Magicians.
The “cheat day” referred to in the episode title had Quentin’s self-pity reaching new heights as he shunned magic but immediately couldn’t do without it. As Emily Greenstreet, his ex-magician companion and coincidentally the one responsible for Alice’s brother becoming a niffin, says, “No one gives up magic because everything is peachy.” This could have easily been a self-indulgent storyline for Quentin, especially given the fact that he could have used his White Lady wish to help Julia or something useful instead of wasting it on a trip to New York, wallowing in despair, but interestingly enough it was just the mournful interlude the character needed.
Everything from the apology letter to Alice’s parents (although surely Brakebills has informed them, haven’t they?) to the horse-shaped smoke enchantment (created by Charlie, imitated by Alice) had exactly the right touch of melancholy. And as painful as it must have been for Q to see Alice’s likeness in the shower, what a sweet torture it must have been! Quentin, never one to have a way with words, expressed beautifully how it was just what he needed but that it made him feel worse than before. It’s likely the same for Emily, who still pines for Mayakovsky, the professor who inspired the infatuation that caused all of the tragedy in her life.
What a nice tie-in to Penny’s arc in Brakebills South, where the brilliant Mayakovsky is confined by an incorporate bond due to his dalliances with students like Emily. Although the hand problems may have been the main motivation for all that Penny did, the professor’s big reveal after his student had un-knotted hundreds of ropes and sanded a table to sawdust with a rasp was an excellent reminder that magic is sputtering, both from Martin’s greed and Ember’s befouling at the Wellspring. Surely Mayakovsky’s battery will become an important resource in the season to come. A nicely woven series of threads!
The fact that Quentin and Penny are both drawn to magic to ease their suffering as Mayakovsky asserts makes it all the more ironic that magic cannot help Julia rid herself of her newly discovered pregnancy, nor can it speed up her search with Kady for the woman who banished Reynard. And by the way, where the hell did they get actual newspapers in this Internet age? The abortion prospects could have readily become a preachy political message that would derail Julia’s quest both narratively and practically, but the moral dilemma was handled quite expertly, especially with Kady’s tender understanding in the mix.
Although the horror of the situation was only heightened by the casual manipulation (by the fetus?) of the clinic’s receptionist and the gruesome fate of the doctor performing the procedure, it puts forward the obvious question: is Julia’s child a demigod, protecting itself from harm with powerful forces even from within the womb? Or has Reynard placed a ward on his progeny, either indirectly or willfully? Either way, it spells more bad news for Julia, a character that has had more than her fair share of it.
But triumph is surely in her future somewhere, just as Eliot’s kingship continues to inspire hope that he may find happiness through royal action. It’s not really fun to see Margo counsel her best friend to execute a freedom fighter that tried to assassinate him, but Eliot’s mercy is certainly a new direction for the previously selfish and despondent character. But should we be worried about his wife’s affiliation with the so-called “foo fighters,” or should we appreciate that her pregnancy inspired an admirable action from the child of Earth, which she in turn will acknowledge?
Whether with the opposing pregnancies of Fen and Julia, wanted and unwanted, or with the common thread of Mayakovsky’s influence on both Penny and Quentin, this week’s The Magicians felt tightly crafted even as it established a very different tone from what we’ve seen so far this season. With tension mounting in the quest to replenish Fillory’s magic as well as the pursuit of Reynard, there’s a clear path being set for all of the magicians whose lives will become wrapped up in these missions. As long as this strong storytelling continues, fans will willingly walk the same path, no matter how tragic or dangerous, with enthusiasm for the story ahead.