This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 4 Episode 5
If there’s one thing that “Escape from the Happy Place” proves, it’s that The Magicians knows how to do tragedy. It puts its audience in a heart wrenching quandary by playing the story of Eliot’s escape against the recapture of the Monster, both desirable results on their own, and then showing how one makes the other maddeningly impossible. Adding Alice’s failed attempt at reconciliation and Eliot’s exploration of regrets creates a powerfully painful but poignant mixture of emotions that makes us want to either begin our own bare-breasted laments or join Margo in her Ambien sleep of solitude.
Speaking of Margo, Summer Bishil continues to excel at portraying her character as simultaneously regal enough to please even the Fairy Queen and fragile enough to the point where the audience is ready to cry on her behalf at the mere mention of Eliot’s name. It didn’t matter that her story with the birthright box didn’t reach a resolution this week. Just posing the mystery of the talking animals losing their voices was enough to pique our interest. Adding in some over-the-top Fillorian mourning customs only accentuated Margo’s tenuous composure. It should be no surprise that MVP of the season so far definitely goes to Margo.
Alice was no slouch either, though. Whereas we likely all cheered her on as she lured Christopher Plover to the poison world, her decision to punish him as sole judge, jury, and executioner reminds us of how she always thinks she knows best. The Magicians should be applauded for holding its characters accountable for their flaws, and Quentin’s distant demeanor is the appropriate response for his interaction with Alice. Even though she’s not technically seeking forgiveness, her hand was forced by trying to save Quentin, whose book said his death was two days away. Quentin wasn’t outright nasty to her because that’s not his way, but even Julia flipping Alice the bird displayed the perfect amount of understated anger considering the price for Alice’s betrayal last season was Julia’s godhood.
However, Alice’s skills were clearly needed to speed up the process of getting blood from a stone, and Quentin definitely wasn’t going to let Julia die at Iris’ hands simply to save his own skin. She may want to “fix the mountain of shit I’ve created,” but it’s clear she realizes that forgiveness will have to wait, if it ever comes at all. Quentin is still a gracious guy, but it’s like he says, “You can save my life 50 times; it’s not going to change anything between us.” We’ll see about that, but for now, his statement makes total sense. The real question arises from Shoshana’s poor opinion of Iris. Is it possible that the goddess would have spelled trouble even if they had splashed the blood on the Monster and imprisoned him back in Blackspire again?
Obviously it’s a moot point, but in the process of making the attempt, we learned a lot about the Monster’s predicament. Although the field trip to Brakebills was supposed to be a distraction, it yielded knowledge about the parts of the Monster’s body hidden inside the gods, portending a much more dangerous version of last season’s key quest. It’s possible that Eliot wouldn’t have wanted his friends to miss their chance at defeating the Monster for the sake of rescuing him, but the fact that the group is willing to sacrifice what may have been their only opportunity (not to mention the life of a maenad) for their friend is a universally accepted decision. As with the Beast in season 2 of The Magicians, we’re used to having to play along with an ultra-powerful villain until a weakness presents itself.
As for the actual “Escape from the Happy Place” referred to in the episode title, Eliot’s internal world was a wonderfully constructed conglomeration of memories, nightmares, and highlights from previous seasons of The Magicians. With Charlton as his guide, we got to see moments from Eliot’s life that were hilarious, awkward, and tragic all at once, including illustrative moments of bullying and a reminder of his betrayal of Margo. Tracking down the door in his subconscious that allows him to retake his body for a brief moment gave us a believably small vulnerability to exploit — just enough to change the entire direction of the season. And revisiting the #Queliot moment from last season’s “A Life in the Day” was perfection, giving shippers more tears, flailing, and squeeing than they can handle.
It’s the sweet pain of tragic but poignant moments like that that make this episode of The Magicians so great. The fact that Margo still doesn’t know that Eliot is actually still alive makes her fruitless quest to uncover her birthright that much more heartbreaking. Fen and Rafe act as stand-ins for how Margo really feels inside, but their somewhat ridiculous customs, such as the “last lay” under the fallen king’s garments, only make Margo’s measured restraint more sharply felt. Whatever the presence of the talking lizard means for Margo moving forward, we can only hope that her royal demeanor will continue to carry her through as majestically as it has so far.
The only quibble with this season of The Magicians so far is a minor one: it inexplicably leaves out Kady or Josh or whomever the production needed to leave out to save money that week. Obviously not every actor can be in every episode, but sometimes it doesn’t make much sense that they wouldn’t be there, especially for the important events of this episode. However, the story stands strong on its own merits, and the characters who were present gave us a beautiful, sad, and entertaining adventure. Now let’s all go read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian like the Monster and go full nihilist as we try to figure out who kidnapped Penny 23.
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Michael Ahr is a writer, reviewer, and podcaster here at Den of Geek; you can check out his work here or follow him on Twitter (@mikescifi). He co-hosts our Sci Fi Fidelity podcast and voices much of our video content.