Everything is always a thousand times worse by the end of any season finale of The Magicians, and although this may seem to indicate that the events of “Will You Play With Me?” were predictable, they were anything but. While magic is back, it might as well not be for Quentin and company, and the upending of all of their successes has become a familiar yet no less effective refrain from season to season. The visually captivating, sometimes confusing, but undeniably compelling conclusion to the quest caps off what must be called the best season yet for the series.
The confusing elements are thankfully diluted by the excitement, but kudos to anyone who could follow the talk of door-swallowing keys, paradoxes, fathers and daughters, and the role of the jailer in the castle at the end of the world, despite another gorgeous animation sequence. Equally disconcerting is the adults’ complete disregard for the creature that might get loose in a blind desire to gain control of magic once it’s turned back on. For an organization that speaks of protecting magicians from themselves, the Order sure does a nice job of ignoring the unconquered and now completely unguarded entity that scares even gods. Their incompetence is just narratively bothersome sometimes – a minor nitpick.
Once again, it must be mentioned that Julia has gone from most improved character of the series to the MVP of The Magicians’ third season, and although it was nice to see her reach the pinnacle of godhood as Our Lady of the Tree, her fall from power was achieved in a believable and self-sacrificial manner. No one thought she was going to sit in Iris’ lab creating fjords all day like Slartibartfast, did they? Referring to the key creation process as “horcruxing,” both with Julia and Prometheus, was a nice touch for Harry Potter fans as well.
As for Prometheus’ friend, Calypso, was it perhaps a bit too easy to find “the Architect” (hello, Matrix fans) simply by stumbling upon Callie, the CEO at a company named after her island home, Ogygia? Perhaps, but Michaela McManus did a wonderfully convincing job telling the story of the origin of the quest which tied in nicely with the Prometheus myth in which he loved humans and gave them fire… or perhaps magic itself. The mention of back doors, fountains, and jailers got a bit muddled, but the result was still awe-inspiring: the sight of Blackspire.
The drama that unfolded on the other side of Fillory was fittingly terrifying and nicely reflected by the shocked faces of those on board the Muntjac as it flew to the dark underbelly where Castle Blackspire rose above (below?) a fiery landscape. The Magicians has suffered in the past when its low budget becomes apparent in its visual effects or minimalist sets, but such was not the case here. Even when Ora was playing hide and seek with the child-like monster, the menace felt real, and the turning of the seven keys to unlock magic had an appropriate amount of gravitas for the end of an epic quest.
Alice’s betrayal during the final scenes made it even more grave, but what’s so surprising is that we never saw it coming. Even as she asked Dean Fogg for the potion to replace her memories, it was assumed she was trying to remove the temptation and influence of magic she endures because of her time as a niffin, an addiction of sorts that made her initially cooperate with the Library. After the touching scene in which she tells Quentin, “You’re the one that I love,” and he assures her, “I’ll remember for the both of us,” how could anyone have guessed she would melt the keys to prevent magic’s return?
The fact that Julia undid the damage by giving up her divine nature only makes Alice’s deed more heinous through its ineffectiveness. The parallels between the sacrifices of Prometheus and Julia are mirrored darkly by the irony of Alice’s intent to forget her guilt using Fogg’s potion and the manner in which he actually ends up using it on her peers. For Alice to be the only one who remembers her life as a magician and apparently the only one who saw the monster take over Ora’s body is both tragically deserved and utterly disconcerting as Fogg and the Library ignore the fact that the creature is on the loose.
For some reason, the evil force’s choice of Eliot as its first vessel is as enticing as it is troubling. Hale Appleman had the most triumphant moment of the season in his life with Quentin in “A Life in the Day,” but he also had some of the weaker plotlines in Fillory. Seeing the actor smile playfully at Quentin, even though it’s because he “can’t wait to get started on all the people who really deserve our wrath,” just increases anticipation for how this story will continue in season four.
Might Irene, Dean Fogg, and the Library be among those who deserve punishment? Leave it to the adults to make magic a boring administrative affair with forms filled out in triplicate, especially after the Fairy Queen made the ultimate sacrifice to save her people from further exploitation. The siphon is a deliciously devious device and one that places Mageina Tovah’s Head Librarian at the center of power, a delightful development for the actor and a horrifying one for the character. Can we look forward to seeing her as an antagonist in season four?
If nothing else, we can anticipate learning more about Quentin as Brian, Josh as Isaac, Margo as Janet (a wink to her original name in The Magicians novels), and all the others in their new guises, including drug dealer Kady, DJ Penny, and architect Julia (well done, show). The Magicians certainly knows how to upset the apple cart to leave viewers salivating for the next season, and while it wasn’t the perfect finale, it hit all the right notes with the over-arching quest as well as several character arcs that culminated here in the finale. Meanwhile, shall we all hail High King Fen?