This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 2 Episode 8
What’s the best way to emphasize the devotion Quentin has for Alice, Penny has for Kady, and Margo has for Eliot in The Magicians? Simply contrast their willingness to do anything for those they love with the emotionless actions of Julia, her shade now cut. In an episode that moves forward with the Lorian war, the rescue of Alice, the pursuit of Reynard, and the repair of Penny’s hands, the skillful writing involved in keeping so many stories smoothly afloat without feeling jumbled becomes increasingly apparent.
This skill is illustrated best by Julia jumping from a reckless confrontation with Reynard to a ruthless encounter with a dryad in Fillory. The path from one to the other could easily have been a bumpy mess, but instead her lack of a shade thanks to magical abortion complications not only ties the disparate plots together, it calls back nicely to Martin’s suggestion that she remove that pesky part of her soul wherein lies empathy and suffering. Like Kady, we’re not used to seeing Julia smiling, so it’s unsettling to watch her blithely go after the fox god with no magical protection. Conversely, her fearlessness was refreshing as was Quentin’s surprising rescue via the Fillory button.
The transition could have been jolting, but instead Julia working with Margo created an unforeseen synergy. Margo hates Julia, but she respects this new Fillory-savvy “ambassador” who advises her to speak to the dryad, as the Chatwins did in the books, to allow access to the One Way Forest that the Lorians might exploit to their advantage in the coming war. How interesting that Julia thought it helpful to Margo’s cause to firebomb the forest, insisting, “Those trees were dicks!” Her laughter as she was taken to the dungeon illustrates perfectly her lack of emotional connection to anything or anyone.
It’s a shame she ran afoul of Margo again, who has embarked on a new quest for royal female empowerment; they made a great team for a minute there. But interestingly, Margo’s vulnerability in telling the comatose Eliot (what a great carryover from the golem death in the last episode!) how she feels is equally as endearing as her vehemently promising Fen, “I know the high king has the power, but I will hunt Ember to the ends of the world to have that stupid rule re-written.” We love seeing Margo in charge, but like she tells Eliiot when he awakes, it wouldn’t be as fun without him.
Meanwhile, we might have likened Julia’s shade-ectomy to Alice’s niffin infusion of emotionless strength, but instead The Magicians chose to play with audience expectations with amazing results. Viewers may have thought, as Quentin likely did, that Alice would use her hour in control of Q’s body for nefarious purposes. Quentin’s line of thinking upon examining the illuminated texts was that Alice wanted to undo her niffin state, but that presumes that she has human motivations. Maybe it was fear of boxing that actually drove her seek help from the unboxable Friar Joseph, but is a remnant of love for Quentin keeping her “boxed” inside the cacodemon tattoo? Tragic and wonderful!
Penny and Kady also have a taste of tragedy and wonder, and it was a joy to see Penny discard his cloak of sarcasm and admit both his love for Kady and his pain at her sudden departure in season 1. Thankfully, the couple didn’t draw out the pretending not to care routine, despite the relevance of Kady’s leftover damage. Was it worth an eternity of servitude to the Neitherlands library for Penny to retrieve the name “John Spencer Gaines” from Dana’s medical records? Hopefully! If nothing else, for readers of the Lev Grossman trilogy, it was nice to see his character converge a bit with the source material in this regard.
So with Penny’s inception of Quentin, the secret of the Alice niffin is revealed, and the discovery of the name of Dana’s child likewise furthers the Reynard story arc. With the impending war in Fillory, each of the plotlines have achieved forward momentum in expert fashion. In that sense, The Magicians has been on its game for several weeks now, highlighting what it does best: juggling wonderful character moments, suspenseful encounters, flirtations with danger, and skillful crossovers between plots. The end result is a hooked audience that can’t wait for next week’s installment.