This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 4 Episode 12
When The Magicians gets something right, it really nails it. Here, what really works is the thematic concept that growing and evolving doesn’t mean shedding the past, and this idea appears across multiple storylines in “The Secret Sea” with impressive universality. Margo doesn’t have to give up her bitch persona just because she cares for Josh, and Quentin doesn’t have stop loving Fillory just because he’s seen its dark side. Even Christopher Plover, despite what he thinks about his own persecution, illustrates the idea to Zelda that the past remains a part of someone no matter how they change. Perhaps this will also hold true for Julia and Eliot who are both trapped but very much a part of their hijacked bodies! It’s all very literary.
The takeover of Julia’s body was a bit troublesome at first with the cryptic and uncharacteristically flustered Lady Underground insisting that Julia still has a choice, but perhaps if she chooses humanity, that will undo the possession somehow. In the meantime, the change in Stella Maeve’s performance is actually quite welcome as her new character’s disdain for humanity is even more palpable than her brother’s. The twin gods’ need for an ancient scroll to access the realm of the old gods combined with Sheila’s timely warning perfectly set up the confrontation between the powered-up, axe-wielding Quentin and Alice and the murderous pair, no matter how “adorable” the Monster’s sister thinks their opposition is.
The manner in which Quentin accessed the reservoir of power was a wonderful excuse for a Jason Ralph soliloquy, finally giving him something to do. The whole story of Martin Chatwin cursing the secret sea of the thirteenth king added necessary depth to the idea that only someone who truly loved Fillory could access the hidden magic. Not only was Quentin’s heartbreaking admission that the storybook world was a lifesaving escape for people like him as beautiful as it was painful, but his ability to make the flower bloom marks yet another memorable moment from the Lev Grossman novels come to life recently this season.
The emotional moments continue for Quentin as he’s finally able to admit that he doesn’t want to give up on Alice, perhaps because of his understanding that, like with Fillory, just because something or someone that you love reveals their flaws doesn’t mean you stop caring for them. The Magicians should be commended for not depicting their reconciliation as a passionate surge of emotion but rather as a tender acknowledgement that there’s still a bond there that can’t be denied. Jason Ralph and Olivia Taylor-Dudley played this to perfection.
The theme of past and identity also brilliantly applies to the Library when Kady and Zelda disagree about what to do about Everett’s corruption of the Order’s power. Kady wants to burn the whole organization to the ground, but when Zelda counsels reform, Plover reminds her, “People will always see you for what you’ve done, not for who you are.” Everett tries to justify the power grab by saying its needed to defeat the Monster, but his promise to make Zelda head of the Library after he becomes a god rings hollow. Between Fogg’s reluctant (but totally kick-ass) assistance and Zelda’s misgivings, hopefully an overthrow is imminent in the season finale next week.
It’s hard to decide what to make of Margo’s role in all of this. On the one hand, it was nice to see her admitting to having deeper feelings for Josh than she admitted at first, and the innovative use of her fairy eye to keep the fish alive without her having to be within sight of the bowl was a nice trick. On the other hand, Margo is “the bitch with the ice axes,” and she had to relinquish that honor first to Penny and then to Quentin and Alice, which didn’t seem right. So while Margo’s mini-story in this episode was fun, staying behind to fix Josh seemed like a step down for a character who has been tackling life head on lately.
Speaking of characters who are changed by their experience, The Magicians has done a great job of showing how the Monster could grow from his time among humans outside of Castle Blackspire. When his sister is reconstituted, he wonders if she knows his name, not just because of Starbucks, but because he seemingly has taken on a human sense of curiosity. Despite the fact that Eliot and Julia go on a killing spree inside the Library, we can’t help but wonder if something fundamental (perhaps the real Eliot’s conscience) has shifted inside the Monster, making him more sympathetic to his host.
Regardless of the outcome, it has been encouraging to see The Magicians come together into a more cohesive whole, both thematically and narratively. It’s a testament to the overall storytelling that we are unable to predict how the series will wrap things up next week or what threads will lead into season 5, which has already been assured. Looking back at the season, we can see its ups and downs, but the stellar acting and the converging plots gives us hope that, as with every season before, the ending will make up for any unevenness that precedes it.