This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 5 Episode 12
The Magicians should be applauded for its commitment to including a musical episode each season, and the fact that “The Balls” comes just before the end of the series makes this one particularly poignant. In that sense, centering the songs around emotions, bottled or otherwise, was an appropriate choice. However, combining the musical elements with a heist, another tried and true narrative in this show, may have had a diluting effect on both fan favorite formats rather than doubling the enhancement. Nevertheless, with the world seed in hand (or in… you know), the finale is bound to be legitimately world changing.
The setup for the heist was, as usual, a high point of the episode. The Magicians is good at making sure everyone has something to contribute. Here, for example, we had Marina describing her failed attempt at stealing the world seed while Fen chimed in with her knowledge of Fillorian script, Margo used her knowledge of fashion, and Zelda came up with the conductor spell idea in order to establish communications in a no-cell-phone environment and to provide a context for the spontaneous singing. Even Sir Effingham, wonderfully played by Sean Maguire (the same actor portraying the Dark King, in case readers weren’t aware), got in on the action with a wonderful lead vocal in “Cruel to be Kind.”
The Nave hotel was also well conceived, although the rules seemed a bit arbitrary in their restrictions (no cell phones, but revolvers work?). The empathic golems were an especially nice touch given that they forced the team to bottle their feelings while paradoxically allowing them to use them as weapons in some version of a Michael Jackson dance video. Kudos to The Magicians, in fact, for reserving the killer voice of Jade Tailor’s Kady for the triumphant “I Wanna Be Sedated” in the final moments of the heist rather than having her overshadow the other vocalists as in previous seasons.
This allowed Olivia Taylor Dudley as Alice and Hale Appleman as Eliot to shine in the more heartfelt moments highlighted by the ballads, “Afraid” by David Bowie and “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel. The lyrics of these two songs heightened the already strong thematic journeys of these two characters, not only in their mourning of Quentin, but also in their efforts to move on, whether with the Dark King or the world seed. In fact, Eliot singing about having friends that believe in you could be a refrain that speaks to The Magicians as a series overall.
The mistakes made during the heist and the overly simplistic fixes for those errors, however, tempered the effectiveness of the caper involving the Couple. Marina billed the theft as near impossible without a harmonic convergence, but the group broke into the Ball’s suite and found the incubator handbag with hardly an issue. Pete’s failed delay tactics and the presence of Psycho Fogg should have been the end of them, yet a flask of Archie-laced scotch lay conveniently at hand. The scene in which Anna catches Marina betraying her once again end with the catastrophic breaking of the conductor’s baton, but it’s simply taped together and the heist goes on. Not exactly edge of the seat action.
Initially, the Julia and Penny side plot also seemed to be a distraction from the fun being had elsewhere in the episode, but it ended up being a beautiful self-contained story in its own right, partly because it foiled our expectations. Penny’s mother being a nurse rather than a mental patient at the hospital was the first surprise, and the subsequent realization that Penny’s presence in her life would only cause her to regress was even more painful once we understood what it would mean for Julia. But just as we were rooting for Julia’s success as she explained to Penny’s mom that magic was real, we’re hit with the unexpected rejection despite what’s been learned. The overall effect is one of suspense and worry.
At least there’s hope for the overall mission now that the world seed has been obtained, but how The Magicians series finale will conclude the story is anyone’s guess, especially with Santa involved. In the meantime, The Magicians season 5 has fulfilled its promise of continuing the annual musical episode tradition in style if not entirely in substance, and the fact that there was emotional depth and poignancy along with the fun and frivolity smooths over many of the bumps in the narrative. We may not want the show to end, but at least we know a satisfying finale is likely in store.