This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 3 Episode 2
After such a stellar premiere for The Magicians season 3, it was painful to see the missteps in the latest episode, “Heroes and Morons.” Although the story moved forward and the quest was still enticing, the execution was haphazard and choppy, dramatically different from the tightly written premiere. The search for Mayakovsky’s battery and the first part of Eliot’s quest on After Island were particularly messy, overshadowing some more interesting elements, such as the lamprey’s pursuit or the always fun pop culture references from Eliot and Margo.
The Magicians is best, it seems, when it’s gracefully subtle or gloriously over the top. Just as it was last week, the idea that Alice is being pursued by the lamprey was wonderfully understated. When Alice acquires a kitten, we assume it’s part of her early warning system; we don’t need to be told. Although exploding kittens aren’t often seen outside of tabletop games, the passing construction worker tells us all we need to know, and ending the episode with Quentin being taken over by the lamprey was admirably unexpected. If only the rest of the episode had unfolded similarly.
Sadly, the introduction of the long-awaited Muntjac fizzled, and even seeing the omnipresent Roger Cross as its captain couldn’t jazz it up (in fact, Cross felt uncharacteristically out of place here). Making Bingle the swordsman almost an afterthought must have horrified the readers of The Magicians novels, even though his character will surely see more development later. The fact that Tick thinks the sentient ship is a bit of an asshole was the one bright spot, since it’s almost certain Eliot will both identify with and run afoul of the Heartwood at some point.
The fact that the High King would be accompanied by his wife and suddenly full-grown daughter was a bit more intriguing, even though separating Eliot and Margo is troubling to say the least. Kudos to the writers for acknowledging that the magical aging of a recently newborn baby is a well-worn trope; it makes Eliot’s suspicions that “Frail Human” a.k.a. Fray might not actually be his daughter seem like something to hope for. Bonus points for the Buffy/Angel references, but hopefully the show won’t be returning to that well too often.
The journey to After Island and the subsequent drama that unfolded with the beleaguered citizens felt a bit like a monster-of-the-week plot with Father Poe lying about the shadow bat that was supposedly terrorizing the populace. It was clever to involve Fray’s knowledge of fairy beasts and to allow Eliot to expose the power monger for the cruel opportunist that he was, but the resulting acquisition of the first of the seven keys felt very… introductory. Perhaps that’s intentional, but the sudden appearance of the words for Chapter 2 in Quentin’s book was actually more exciting than the preceding adventure.
Quentin and the others had moderately more success with their investigations, and with earlier hints that Mayakovsky’s preparations for the magical blackout imply his complicit foreknowledge, it was logical to include Emily Greenstreet, his former student lover, in the search for his batteries. The mystery got a bit muddled with the question as to who turned him into a bear, and Professor Lipson’s involvement seemed completely out of character for her, but with the battery in Kady’s hands, the first step has been taken towards helping Penny, if not bringing back magic altogether.
Professor Lipson’s trail was a strange distraction as well: a dinosaur in a children’s hospital and a monumentally un-sexy orgy in Central Park were billed as her attempt to bring a little happiness with the magic she had left. Are we to believe that unrequited love for Mayakovsky, the unrepentant asshole, would make a Brakebills professor waste magic and try to commit suicide, ignoring the fact that the school, not to mention the rest of the magical world, is in dire straits if the blackout doesn’t end? Perhaps more information on this is coming, but it seems wrong somehow.
The set-up was good: get a battery from Mayakovsky so that they can power the Fillory clock to go help Eliot. Even Kady’s betrayal makes sense since she’s still mad at Julia, and she wants to save Penny who could in turn help them with the overall quest. And the whole idea of gathering keys to unlock a door at the end of the world has an epic flavor to it. That means each step along the way should also feel important, and that just wasn’t the case this week.
This is nothing new for The Magicians or for these reviews going back to season 1. Despite the show’s occasional stumbles, things always get back on track. A fantasy series like this carries high expectations, both from readers of the Lev Grossman novels and from those who see The Magicians as the television heir to the Harry Potter phenomenon, and when it doesn’t meet those expectations, disappointment results even though faith remains. Hopefully, this final qualification will only be made once this season: maybe the next key will be better.