This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 5 Episode 7
Penny brings up a good point in this week’s episode of The Magicians. He and his friends just saved our world; are they really on the hook for saving Fillory as well? We’ve certainly grown to love the world of Plover’s books, but it’s inarguably difficult to get audience buy-in to stop the Taker scourge, an enemy that pales in comparison to previous season villains and anything involving moving the Moon. The idea that the Dark King, a woefully underdeveloped character, is responsible for creating the very enemy he is lauded for vanquishing was predicted weeks ago by fans, making it even less impactful. So while “Acting Dean” was a fun episode, it felt a little deflated.
There are still some clever narrative tricks throughout the hour, however. For example, placing Julia’s breakup with Penny 23 in an episode containing a Dean Fogg from another timeline served as an effective reminder that these alternate versions of the characters we’ve come to know and love are not the same, despite all appearances. This Penny lost his Julia, and although it makes sense he’d want to protect this version of her, she’s not the same woman. She may be laser focused on honoring Quentin’s sacrifice by using her magic to save Fillory, but that’s her choice. Their conversation about this realization is among the best dialogue in the episode, and even if we might secretly agree with Penny, there would be no show without another attempt to save, if not the world, a world.
Why should “Psycho Fogg” be any different? He doesn’t care about this world. He only knows that he botched Timeline 17 and wants to make amends, especially to his daughter, by bringing Brakebills to his reality. Watching this storyline unfold was lots of fun: we knew something was off about the dean as soon as he showed up, but the mystery unfolded in a progression of enticingly strange details, like the burns on his hands or calling Todd Eliot. We’re left to wonder if the emergency button called to all versions of Dean Fogg, but the logic isn’t important. The Stoppard cube and the cinnabar were well established last season and even alluded to last week just to remind us that horomancy existed.
It was nice to see Alice return to her bookish personality as well this week, and it’s not surprising she’s the one that figures out the tweaks needed to compensate for the Moon’s new position and the resulting Circumstances. It seems like the new botany professor, Hamish Bax, who, like Plum, is inspired by a character from Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land, is being placed in an “opposites attract” scenario with Alice, but for now we’ll reserve judgment on that score. The interplay of spells and banter was welcome in a show that lately has eschewed flashy graphics for its magic.
Speaking of Plum, where has she gotten to? The signal she was hearing presumably is still part of the overall story even with the Earth apocalypse avoided, but it’s hard to tell with the focus shifted to Fillory. It’s nice to see Eliot and Margo back in their element, though, especially with Fen in the mix. The politics of Fillory have always been difficult to engage with, but the shortage of gold to pay the soldiers battling the Takers is something we can all relate to — which is why it’s so puzzling that the gold is not being used for salaries at all! To the surprise of no one (except perhaps Eliot), Seb is summoning the Takers himself in order to reap the acclaim from vanquishing them.
The predictable nature of that reveal was also sullied somewhat by the sheer weirdness of using gold as the catalyst and the strange misdirect of involving a prejudice against fairies and talking animals on the part of the king’s advisor, Bick. The troops still presumably aren’t being paid, and the mistreatment of the fae folk seems to be a separate problem altogether. Perhaps all will be made clear in time, but the climax of the episode stumbled a bit over these shortcomings, especially given how mind-blowing last week’s episode of The Magicians was.
Change isn’t bad, and the pivot for The Magicians season 5 at its midpoint is not unusual at all. However, Fillory has always been the weakest setting of the show over the years despite having strong characters like High King Margo to carry it along, and the story was missing a powerful hook this week. While confidence remains high that the series will build to a crescendo in the back half of the season, viewers will no doubt be leaning back in their seats to take it all in after being at the edge for so long. We’ll chalk this one up to a transitional episode and look forward to more fun in the adventure to come.
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