This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 5 Episode 4
The Magicians doesn’t do anything halfway, but unfortunately that principle also applies to its missteps, of which “Magicians Anonymous” is one. Where the series is usually able to weave together disparate storylines to create a cohesive thematic tapestry, this episode felt oddly disjointed. It was almost as if the narrative itself was akin to the brown bunny in the Etheric Realm, jumping from story to story with dizzying disorientation while admittedly charming us along the way. The installment was redeemed somewhat by significant insights into the apocalypse problem, Penny’s mysterious signal, and the troubles in Fillory, but fans are used to cleaner storytelling in this show.
That’s not to say it wasn’t a fun ride, though. It makes a certain amount of sense that Kady and Fogg would end up at the same Magicians Anonymous meeting, for example, and the journey they undertake together to the Etheric Realm was appropriately trippy. Putting aside the uncharacteristically goofy chuckling from Kady, Dean Fogg’s overly correct speech never fails to get a laugh in ridiculous situations like this one. In fact, if this is the character’s swan song, doomed (blessed?) with an eternity of being high, it’s quite a way to go out. Although there may be consequences for Kady to pay for her relapse of sorts, being pointed towards Hell’s Kitchen, however helpful, felt like a rather flat conclusion to this pleasantly nonsensical romp.
With Julia, Alice, and Penny, it was the opposite problem; they each had merely adequate storylines which led to a bombshell ending in which Zelda explained the simple but impossible task needed to avoid harmonic convergence: just move the moon. That impactful conclusion is assisted along the way by the appearances of guest stars Matt Frewer, who wonderfully reprises his role as The Binder, and David Anders, whose sophisticated swagger was perfect for the well-spoken Visigoth Overlord Terrence, but their actual involvement in the plot felt secondary in spite of their stellar acting.
As for the goddess Clarion, she was clearly meant to be annoying so we won’t hold it against her for succeeding in that task, but the involvement of The Binder could have been confusing for those who didn’t have perfect recall of how he helped Julia regain her humanity last season. Nevertheless, the bargain that Julia had to make to save Penny perfectly mirrored the decision he had to make on her behalf in The Magicians season 4 finale, and that fact was not lost on the audience or on Penny himself. In fact, he displayed a certain amount calm acceptance in having lost the ability to Travel, perhaps because his mind was quiet for the first time in his life.
The return of Mageina Tovah as Zelda was another welcome appearance, and the scenes between her and Alice, especially as they spoke about sacrifice and loss, were among the most emotionally powerful of the episode. Just as with Kady’s relapse, the consequences of the burning of the stacks — including the books of everyone — are unknown, but perhaps Penny’s optimistic view that free will can now take over is the best perspective here. Regardless, the big reveal is of course that Penny’s student, who first heard the signal that threatened her professor’s life, is actually a descendant of the Chatwins! Color us intrigued!
That, along with the idea of moving the moon, become the pleasant surprises that save the episode, and the action in Fillory follows the same pattern. The mission to save the map-makers may have elicited a bit of head-scratching and shrugging from viewers, but the somewhat mundane tale unfolded with plenty of entertainment along the way, including some great zingers from Eliot (Fuck Netflix!). And while the Dark King’s exhaustion from fighting off the Takers with suspicious ease time and time again may be a small twist on our expectations, it’s the fairy under the floor that really caught our attention. What could it mean?
Each storyline on its own really wasn’t that bad all told. The problem may have been the abrupt edits, leaving and rejoining storylines with little to justify some shifts, that made the choppiness of the narrative more obvious, but the deficiencies of this episode of The Magicians can’t be blamed entirely on technicalities. The mysterious signal and the curious powers of the Dark King, however divided those plots are now, may eventually relate to the coming apocalypse, but meanwhile “Magicians Anonymous” dropped some serious acid, and despite some explosive moments, it left us waiting for things to go back to normal.