This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 4 Episode 10
The best thing that can be said about this episode of The Magicians is that it showcased Summer Bishil’s MVP performance as Margo, which has been one of the most admirable aspects of season 4. Unfortunately, that’s about all that was great about “All That Hard, Glossy Armor,” the much-anticipated annual musical episode which, despite a few fun moments, mostly fell flat. The pursuit of Enyalius was surprisingly anti-climactic, and Zelda’s awakening to the Library’s betrayal was at best a set-up for future action. And whether you found Margo’s liberation of the women of the southern tribes inspiring or overly political, it’s unclear how her experience — and her newly acquired exorcising axes — will actually help with Eliot’s possession.
The fact that the organ stones were parts of the Monster’s sister rather than his own body certainly lends credence to the theory that the gods actually caused this all-powerful being’s malevolence, unless Penny is correct in thinking that the sister’s even worse. We did get an interesting scene fragment in which the Monster “acquired” a terminal patient, perhaps as a vessel for his reassembled sibling, and there’s little chance The Magicians would have brought on an actress like Magda Apanowicz of Continuum for a throwaway scene. But there wasn’t much to go on to ferret out the Monster’s increasingly mysterious motives. Has he been wronged by the gods, or is he just a leprechaun-beheading psychopath?
Meanwhile, the plot that had Quentin, Julia, and Penny tracking down Enyalius played like an afterthought. The escape room and the forgotten fallout shelter combination lock delayed their warning in a way that was designed to emphasize how Julia must avoid the complacency of immortality, but instead it just felt like the story itself was marking time. Even after Penny evacuates the group to safety, Julia mentions that they still have to figure out the Binder, an overly convenient plot device that holds zero mystery despite its purpose being completely unknown. Even Julia seems to understand how disconnected her mission is from the other storylines when she disinterestedly thanks Alice for the Binder by asking, “What are y’all doing?”
Alice, of course, casually answers, “Tracking the Library’s internal magical infrastructure to find weak points and start a rebellion,” a blithe remark which both highlights the disparate story arcs and makes us anxious for the hedge witch uprising to happen already. Although the discovery that the Library has lowered ambient magic even lower than they’ve been reporting appears to be the lie that finally convinces Zelda to defect to Team Brakebills, we sort of already knew she was headed in that direction, so her confirmation that her mentor Everett is complicit in The Serpent’s treachery didn’t really give us anything we didn’t already learn last week. It just emphasized her hedge witch roots, which will no doubt come into play.
So obviously the main thrust of the episode surrounded Margo’s journey into the Southern desert to find the culture that might be able to help expel Eliot’s demons, a focus that got lost in a tangential mission to save the nomads from themselves. Make no mistake, Margo’s journey of self-discovery in admitting that underneath the “hard, glossy armor” referred to in the title is a person plagued by insecurity was incredibly heartfelt, and the fact that her rage helps her rejoin the fight was inspiring in the extreme. She may tell hallucination-Eliot that “The only thing I ever did right was be your best friend,” but we know she’s stronger than perhaps even she knows.
The fact that Margo’s father treated her like a princess and told her she could be anything until he could no longer control her communicated a much more powerful message about male dominance and what makes Margo who she is than any heavy handed allegory that sprung from the oppressive existence of the women in the nomad village. It was admittedly a clever misdirect to make us believe the men were protecting emotional women from vengeful sand demons, but when Margo encouraged the wives to simply tell the demons to leave if they wanted to forgive their husbands or maybe even have them do the laundry like servant-spirits, it seemed like a betrayal of the reforms she just established. Calling the complicit nomadic leaders “Trump and Aunt Lydia,” although funny, felt like forced political commentary as a result.
And then there was the music, a lingering effect of licking the birthright lizard. The annual musical episode is a wonderful tradition that has improved in quality every season, but it sadly took a step backward this year. The Magicians is not overflowing with vocal talent, a fact it acknowledges with the “show-off” moment for Kady and Jade Tailor’s acrobatic runs, but we don’t mind the sweet, more subdued tones of the other actors as long as the music soars and reinforces the emotional turns of the story. Gnarls Barkley’s “Storm Coming” accomplished that task; The Pretenders’ “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” did not. The musical interludes were simply there out of an obligation to do a musical episode, and our joy at the fun of the idea is not enough to sustain its effectiveness as a narrative device.
As powerful as Margo’s character moments were in “All That Hard, Glossy Armor,” the flaws elsewhere in this week’s The Magicians make it an unfortunate misstep at a critical time in an uneven second half of the season. There is still little doubt that the show will deliver in its finale as it always does, but the path along the way has had a few bumps that often leave interesting story arcs at the wayside. Fans shouldn’t have time to wonder what happened to Victoria in mirror world or who Penny 40 saw in the elevator, but the fact that they’re even focusing on these minor details shows that the main storyline is having trouble keeping their attention. Bring on the final battle to erase all misgivings!