This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 3 Episode 9
As the third musical episode of The Magicians in as many seasons (which implies that this might be an annual occurrence), “All That Josh” had an obligation not to hit any sour notes. Fortunately, the musical unity of the cast was accompanied by some satisfyingly triumphant moments, the combination of which was gloriously entertaining. As a result the quest for the fifth key, no matter now ridiculous the premise, was the best one since Quentin and Eliot’s alternate life in Fillory.
The idea of a happiness-eating demon was aided somewhat by the introduction of Bacchus and his party worshippers earlier in the season, and Josh’s desperation to be included provides the perfect context for the test that Quentin, Alice, and Kady must undergo. Even the audience could feel the seductive power of the temporary return of magic as Quentin’s smoke-ship sailed over the revelers in the Physical Kids’ house. The sad thing is we all, viewers and classmates alike, kind of forgot about Josh, and his arguments in favor of indulging in his fantasy produced some of the best character-building dialogue in the episode.
In fact, the Unity key couldn’t have come at a better time. Trust between Quentin and Alice is at an all time low; Penny’s stuck in the underworld; Julia and Fen don’t see eye to eye on fairies; and Margo and Eliot have discovered their most trusted advisor has staged a coup of sorts. Having everyone’s minds suddenly unified at such a precarious moment, especially for the condemned High King and Queen, set the stage for everyone to overcome their difficulties together, and oddly the acquisition of the key didn’t even provide the most dangerous obstacle.
That’s what made the “Under Pressure” sequence so masterful. Thanks to Quentin’s quick thinking and everyone’s cooperation, the song they sang together turned the Muntjac away from the Infinite Waterfall and kept Skye the fairy-slave from dying. The song choice was well-suited to the varying levels of vocal expertise among the cast, and the soaring moments of the music matched perfectly with the ship taking flight and the sudden healing of the fairy’s hemorrhaging. Even Penny got in on the action with a well-delivered verse from the stacks!
The group performance also made up for some of the more lacking musical numbers, such as Josh’s “hustle,” which caused some initial worry that this would be another Les Miserables, the inferior wartime musical from last season’s “Lesser Evils.” Jade Tailor clearly possesses the lion’s share of the vocal skill in the cast, and her burlesque as Kady was the perfect distraction, allowing the questers to get the full story from Josh. It wasn’t entirely clear to whom the demon was referring when he told Quentin, “He said you’d ace it,” but in the end it really didn’t matter because the whole sequence was just so damn fun, down to the last snap.
One of the other more successful elements that is gaining audience attention in enticingly small increments is Julia’s god-like powers. Her careful tutoring of Skye, both through human finger magic and the quite different fairy powers, was endearing enough on its own, but her characterization of the glowing eyes which allowed her to freeze time as “leveling up” was even more precious. Anticipation is high for what Julia will eventually be able to do when she’s reached her full potential and secondarily what the fairies will do once they realize they’ve been duped by McAllistair.
A similar sense of impending justice surrounds the fate of Margo and Eliot. While it does make sense for Fillorians to be tired of putting up with the Children of Earth rulers imposed upon them by Ember and Umber, the High King and Queen have never really been given a fair shake since they first took over. It will be interesting to see how The Magicians handles these deposed rulers now that they’ve cheated death.
Even Quentin’s mistrust of Alice as she grabs the Seven Keys book leaves us wondering what the consequences will be in the aftermath of this most triumphant part of their quest. The Magicians seems poised to deliver plenty of comeuppance both to those who deserve our contempt and perhaps to those who don’t. There’s just something about musical storytelling that really strengthens the viewers’ emotional investment in a narrative, and if that was the goal of this episode, it succeeded magnificently.