This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 3 Episode 10
Amazingly, The Magicians this week was able to reframe a compelling side story, the rescue of the fairy slaves, as the main plot while still addressing the more important quest for the sixth key with an enticingly incomplete narrative. Even Penny’s subplot presents some interesting new wrinkles (not unusual for the Traveler) while Margo and Eliot’s stubborn grip on the Fillory throne unfortunately continues to be the weakest storyline. Nevertheless, all eyes are focused on the fairy realm key and what fate is in store for the greatly transformed fairy race.
Presumably, the key that Quentin, Alice, and Josh are looking for is the one the Fairy Queen says sustains their world, but that connection is left purposely vague with Josh simply declaring he knows where the sixth key, which fails to be revealed by the double-half-moonbeams, is hiding. Josh’s oblique references to “cookie moons” and the “previously on” clips reminding us of his recipe for seeing into other worlds is all we have to connect the dots. We’re left hanging with his discovery as well as with what Kady is up to with the fifth key, but oddly, these dangling threads tantalize rather than frustrate, leaving us hoping for answers in the next episode.
In a more conventional sense, the fate of Penny is up in the air even though his journey in this episode is relatively complete. Every aspect of his tale had its own sense of closure, whether it was giving up his stolen Metro card to Sylvia (a generous and emotional gesture, especially from Penny) or joining Howard’s book club to show he’s following Hades’ advice to become a part of something in his new existence. In fact, eating the cupcake before the credits seals the deal because, as we learned in classical mythology, eating anything in the Underworld binds you to the place irrevocably.
Speaking of Hades, what a wonderful performance from Michael Luwoye, who brought an immediate sense of authority and omnipotence to the role of the god! When the scale of time is infinite (or even as long as the billion years of Penny’s contract), it’s easy to say, “Spoiler alert: magic always comes back,” but it’s true. The quest for the keys is obviously very important for those who worry about the return of magic in their own lifetimes, but it’s not to the gods who use magic as a carrot to keep humans in check. No wonder Penny was persuaded to go in a new direction!
If only it were so easy for the McAllistairs (nice seeing Battlestar Galactica’s Michael Hogan again), who seek to keep the power they’ve gained over the centuries through the subjugation of the fairy race. The scale of time in the story of fairy enslavement has the opposite effect to that of Hades; rather than the 400 years the fairy known as Dust has been with the magician family being a blink of an eye, they carry the weight of generations of oppression. After all, as the Fairy Queen says, “Short memory is a privilege of the oppressor.” If even Fen can be persuaded to fight for those she sees as enemies in the face of such evil, then the audience must feel it tenfold. Quite a powerful storyline!
Julia’s selflessness, even in simply taking Quentin’s headache away, is notable for what it implies about her growing power. It’s clear that she doesn’t merely seek to harness more powerful magic by being falsely altruistic; she genuinely seeks to become what she is by doing good. Julia’s kindness combined with the sacrifice that the Fairy Queen makes in breaking the deal that long ago ensured her kind’s escape to Fillory and their slavery on Earth was a potent mixture of emotion. The fairies have been cruel, but how can anyone ask them to give up the key now? Conversely, how can they not?
Margo and Eliot would be furious if they knew the deal that was made, but sadly they’re still embroiled in the least interesting part of the story. As nice as it was to see Eliot back together with Idri of Loria, the power struggle between the kingdoms seems somehow petty next to the plight of the fairies. The promises Eliot makes to Loria about giving them magic don’t ring true, nor do Margo’s threats to the queen of the Floaters. Presumably, the payoff to these maneuvers is coming in a future episode, but as a C-story this week, this game of thrones falls flat.
Nevertheless, “The Art of the Deal” is another successful episode of The Magicians overall. Although there are plenty of questions left unanswered about Alice and the Library, about Josh’s unfulfilled discovery, about Penny’s role in the quest, and about what Kady is up to, the mysteries pull us along in our desire to see their solutions unfold. There’s always hope that Margo and Eliot will have something more interesting to do (and soon), but in the meantime, there’s plenty else to keep us entertained.