This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 5 Episode 8
Is everyone ready to roll back that smug conviction we had last week about the Dark King’s duplicity? We should know by now that The Magicians likes to play with our expectations, and the Fillory storyline not only gave us a great Freaky Friday sequence between Margo and Eliot; it also had us questioning whether assassinating Sebastian, impermanent though it was, was the right move. Plus plans are being laid for Alice and Quentin’s world-building seed, a glorious reference from the final entry in Lev Grossman’s book trilogy, The Magician’s Land, which builds enticingly on the nod to a character from that book in the form of Hamish Bax, who is quickly growing on us.
Fortunately, the condescending Hamish quote from the book, “I’m going to say a word you don’t know,” is attributed to a spore-possessed taxonomist here in the show, fitting quite nicely with The Magicians’ penchant for tackling mansplaining head-on. No one should go head-to-head with Alice in academic knowledge anyway, but the fact that her instincts paid off in attaching great importance to Quentin’s unfinished work gives her a wonderful new quest in the back half of the season that has all the marks of eventually being relevant in any fight against the end of a world.
The spores think the plant drawing is important, so it must be, and although that’s all we really need to know, “Garden Variety Homicide” added in a fun body-snatching adventure for good measure. Involving Fogg 17 in the investigation was a nice touch, too, and The Magicians is able to plant (so to speak) the expectation that we were about to see a zombie plague at Brakebills. Alice’s epiphany during the conversation with Hamish, therefore, had a dual purpose: it gave us more bonding between these two over their grief and the idea that “it gets quieter” leads to the spore dilution idea. A nicely constructed setup!
Similar narrative acrobatics are on display in Fillory where Eliot’s misgivings about using his inside man status to take out the Dark King lead to a promise from Margo that she’ll keep his hands clean. Not only does it obliquely address the “bury your gays” trope that Eliot is in danger of embodying several times over in The Magicians; it also provides a magnificent opportunity to see each actor’s impression of the other’s character in a body-swapping plot that adds to the drama by threatening a permanent switch if they tell anyone who they really are. This became particularly satisfying when Josh quickly realized that Margo wasn’t acting like herself and then turned tragic when Eliot-in-Margo was forced to offend the poor guy in order to finish the quest.
Meanwhile, seeing Sebastian’s self-sacrificing manner through Margo-in-Eliot’s eyes forced a new perspective on the audience that the characters themselves haven’t yet acknowledged: the possibility that the Dark King’s part in summoning the Takers is more complex than a 300-year long con to remain in power that we all thought was in play. The surprise ending of the episode in which Seb springs back to life after being impaled by Julia’s sword could mean a lot of things, but the seeds of doubt have been sown concerning where the evil truly lies.
Bonus points go to the excellent use of Charlton as conscience and counselor, first to Eliot and now to Margo, who thankfully is now aware of the arrangement. The apparition’s advice to Margo as she used Eliot’s body to try to get close to the Dark King was invaluable, and the resulting “softer touch” mirrored nicely with Eliot’s deference to Josh as they discussed Margo leaving him in the past. The Magicians reminded us in these moments that these two bosom buddies have opposite but complementary personalities, and they both clearly still have a lot to learn from and about each other. However, they’re each uniquely suited to understand how heavy lies the crown on Seb’s head.
As for Julia’s pregnancy (presumably via Penny), the verdict is still out, but kudos to The Magicians for dropping that into the mix while still allowing the ex-goddess to be the one to vanquish the enemy, however temporarily. It was also the perfect way to involve Fen, who is uniquely suited to offer advice on troubled motherhood. There’s likely still some trauma for Julia associated with having a child, and now she also has to deal with the fact that Penny 23 and she just broke up. Horrible timing, but something tells me Julia will come to a decision that has her getting through this life-changing event even stronger.
And so The Magicians redeems last week’s more predictable episode with new storylines and a foiling of audience expectations. Whether the seed that Alice will no doubt be seeking will be a means to replacing Fillory after its demise or a catalyst for saving the magical world remains to be seen, but the transition to the new quest has been successfully navigated in this enjoyable episode. Although we’re still wondering how Kady and the hedges, as well as Plum and her mysterious signal, play into all this (not to mention who this mysterious “The Couple” is), faith has been restored in the ability of this series to weave all of the various threads together into an artistic tapestry.