This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 5 Episode 3
For an episode that didn’t actually push the story forward very much, “The Mountain of Ghosts” sure did deliver plenty of compelling action and emotional dialogue. Eliot and Alice may have marked time by doing some proper grieving, but they still met the Dark King in the end. Margo had a troubled reunion with Josh and Fen, but presumably her banishment marks have been removed. And Penny and Julia got nowhere but were presented with confirmation of an upcoming apocalyptic surge. Incremental progress isn’t a bad thing in this show because the characters themselves can carry the show just by experiencing shit; it’s the magic of The Magicians.
What’s amazing about the continuing process of saying goodbye to Quentin is that on the surface, the journey to the top of the titular mountain of ghosts appears to be about Alice giving back the piece of Q’s soul that she borrowed to make the golem. But it’s actually about her mistake being corrected so that Eliot can have his moment of release. Thank goodness he didn’t actually send the letter we saw at the end of last week’s episode, but although we’ll never know what the note said, it became the perfect vehicle to show Eliot’s willingness to let go of his guilt and acknowledge that his lack of closure is about not always being in control.
The hurdles he surmounted along the way amounted to much more than a battle with a Taker. The way he dealt with Alice making it all about herself gave us some of the best dialogue of the series, and the guilt they both feel for their part in Quentin’s death creates a very raw emotional scene when Eliot finally tells Alice about the lifetime he spent with Q. Plus the gentle advice that Sebastian gave to Eliot not only proved to be welcome and insightful, it even illustrated that Eliot can love again given time. Perhaps he should have noticed that the traveler mentioned Quentin’s name and the secret letter without having been told about either.
The surprise of Sebastian being the Dark King not only pleasantly confuses us about his role in Fillory; it also bridges the guilt that Alice and Eliot feel with the fresh punishment that Margo unleashes upon herself when she tells Josh and Fen that she’s not a good person, that she didn’t send the letter saving their lives, and Janet Pluchinsky (nice nod to the novels!) did intend to stab Fencicle Walburger through the heart. Lycanthropy notwithstanding, Margo was ready to use magic or do whatever else it took to win the tournament of champions so that her banishment could be rescinded and her throne eventually regained.
So the lack of forward progress in the story served a purpose in both cases: saying goodbye to Quentin is complete (presumably) and Margo is ready to fight for her kingdom. But Julia’s search for answers to the mysterious surges hits a different kind of dead end. Although she and Penny encounter difficulties reaching Daniella Markus, the circumstance prognosticator, the Markus sisters’ avoidance raises an interesting point this late in The Magicians’ run: when you save the world, do you get to sit out of preventing future apocalypses? When is it enough to say that someone else will take care of it?
Not to mention it brings up the neglected fact that Penny 23 was in love with his Julia and would love to make a life with this one. The Magicians make the interesting choice (and arguably the correct one) to show that Penny is okay with Julia’s reluctance, even though she says she wants the same thing. In the meantime, Daniella seemingly offers the pair no hope of predicting the harmonic convergence or preventing it. However, among the impossible choices she presented them with was the possibility, however remote, of getting every to not do magic when the time came. Perhaps it’s overstating it, but didn’t it seem like Daniella emphasized that specific solution?
Whatever the case may be, again, there was no actionable information in this third story arc, just like there wasn’t any meaningful progress with the other main plotlines, but it didn’t matter. The emotional journeys alone were worth tuning in for, and that’s a testament to the wonderful character development The Magicians has been able to achieve in the past four seasons. No one is wasted! Penny’s not just a taxi, Fen’s not just an Earth-corrupted Fillorian, and the Dark King isn’t just an evil despot. There’s complexity here, and we can’t wait to see how it all unfolds as the season continues.