This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 4 Episode 6
In the comments for our previous review, one reader pointed out that this season of The Magicians was a slower burn than season 3, and that’s starting to become noticeable. The tight writing, the excellent character development (especially for Margo), and the new structure of magic have all been excellent, but this week there was the distinct impression that all of that innovation is expected and thus less exciting. The sense of adventure that should come from the fight against the Monster has taken on the qualities of a scavenger hunt rather than an epic quest. Horomancy and queromancy spiced things up this week, however, and the insights we gained were welcome and entertaining in their carefully paced way.
Plus, c’mon, Camryn f-ing Manheim? How perfect! Modesto insults aside (did you spot the celebrity candles?), Alice’s self-banishment from Quentin’s life gave her some much-needed positivity in a believable way. The story of Sheila and her gift for finding things to help others allowed her attempt at redemption to mirror what Alice needed in her own life. And what better teacher of magic could any of us have than Alice? Sheila makes some great points about magic, like any powerful force in our lives, being what we make of it, and we want to believe that removing the lead from the city’s pipes was a truly good use of the extra energy that came from the leaky pipe she found.
But of course, the local hedge witches, to no one’s surprise, had other ideas involving revenge against the Library. Again, the understated way in which the convenience store owner called his fellow magician to carry out the sabotage has become standard modus operandi for The Magicians, indicative of its skillful writing. Was the explosion at the Modesto Valley College Library, clearly an annex of the Order, a tad blasé? Perhaps, as was the muted confrontation between the Librarians and Sheila upon her presumed capture. However, the measured pace still leads us down a compelling path towards learning more about the Library and what Alice’s life holds in store for her.
The storyline involving Penny and Marina being captured by a horomancer who sought to return them to Timeline 23 held the most interest in this week’s episode. The steampunk feel of the Stoppard Cube, the Fringe-like dimensional screen, and the watches that staved off “clockwork Alzheimers” was a welcome change from the norm, and the differences in morality between Penny and Marina provided a humorously stark contrast. The most intriguing developments came from good ol’ Penny 40, still stuck in the Underworld. We can’t help but wonder who he means when he tells Penny 23 to, when it comes time, “Do what he says,” and don’t think we didn’t notice he kept the Stoppard Cube manual or that Penny 23 took on a hefty dose of cinnabar.
Elsewhere, Julia illustrates The Magicians’ pacing issue with her admission that she’s currently little more than a bulletproof vest, and “Indestructress” is currently in a holding pattern. Granted there’s plenty of entertainment infusing the investigation into the hieroglyphs on the Monster’s body-part stones, but even Quentin holds more power than Julia when he admirably and successfully threatens to quit unless the Monster treats Eliot’s body less destructively. Fortunately, upon learning that Heka, god of magic, has the next stone in his resting place under the temple of Esna, Julia gives us the best moment of the episode when she awkwardly says goodbye to the Monster-awakened mummy leaving him to glance around the museum halls aimlessly as she and Quentin shuffle off stage right.
But the real reason the slow burn bears mentioning is because of the situation in Fillory which gives us more internal politics that have historically come across as silly inconveniences, dating back to when the fantasy world was more center stage in previous seasons. Margo’s hard-edged personality has been on brilliant display this season, and perhaps we needed reminding that her diplomacy skills are lacking, even when the mission to cure the mute animals overlaps with her own desire to learn more about her birthright box. But talking about beet juice, West Loria, and alpacas only serves to frustrate the audience as much as it does Margo.
And let’s be honest: the whole Cyrano de Bergerac routine with Josh coaching Margo through a state dinner with Lady Pike is really just a framework to show us the aftermath of their Quickening sex with Josh hoping for a blossoming relationship or at least a stronger friendship. The fact that Margo lashes out at him for telling her she “out Elioted Eliot” fits with her female empowerment vibe as well as her barely-checked grief, and calling Josh a “brown-nosed sweater boy desperate to matter at all to anyone” is certainly harsh but not exactly out of character. So while the Margo story arc was as strong as ever, there wasn’t much progress.
Is this slow pacing a problem, or is it simply the calculated rhythm of this season of The Magicians? The quiet burn only seems to be noticeable when the storylines aren’t as tightly woven together, so as long as the action continues to be compelling, we don’t need non-stop shocks and explosions, terrorist attacks on the Library notwithstanding. The mystery posed by the two Pennys and the unknowable consequences of the Monster’s continuing quest keep our interest piqued, just as the enigma of Julia’s invulnerability and the irony of Alice’s optimism foreshadow future drama to come.