This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 1 Episode 2
“Magic doesn’t come from talent; it comes from pain,” Eliot tells Quentin in a quote that perfectly encapsulates this week’s episode of The Magicians and perhaps the series at large. The damaged young men and women at Brakebills and in Julia’s fringe group seem perfectly poised to garner an audience of disillusioned twenty-somethings trying to find their own place in the world. The second hour of the premiere night sets the tone for what viewers can expect moving forward, and it effectively creates a foreboding hopelessness and a hunger for magic both for its characters and the audience.
Julia appears to be the only one able to remain somewhat aloof, although it appears she is unaccustomed to the rejection Brakebills visited upon her and views her introduction to the so-called “hedge witches,” with a certain calm disdain. The hazing ritual she endured was entertainingly disgusting, and the fact that the door was unlocked was as welcome a twist as the true status of her newbie-in-disguise companion, Marina. It also makes a certain amount of nerdy sense that non-institutionalized magic would use star-tattoo “levels” to rank their magic users, like in a role playing game.
Having Marina reveal a connection to Kady was also pleasantly unexpected and certainly a departure from the Lev Grossman novels. Kady’s motivation for helping the hedge witches is still a mystery, but her use of offensive magic during the battle with the moth-faced beast shows there’s more to her than meets the eye. The crystal she was meant to steal also proved useful to both Penny and Quentin, the latter of whom mysteriously acquired the shielding item, perhaps in a similar fashion with which he telekinetically grabbed the dean’s watch to unfreeze time.
In fact, the dean’s co-conspirator, Eliza, the supposed specialist who was meant to wipe Quentin’s memory, perhaps unfairly characterizes Quentin as “not very remarkable.” Although it’s refreshing to think of the story’s supposed hero as just a regular guy, his telekinesis and his replicating Kady’s battle spell from memory seems worth noting. However, it’s nice to be reminded that, “There is no destiny, no born heroes.” Quentin is unlikely to be treated as a chosen one anytime soon.
That being said, the conversations between Eliza and the dean, both in the premiere and in the second installment, seem to indicate that Quentin and perhaps one or more of his friends are the only hope that Brakebills has against the beast, who it appears was expected, just not so soon. The voice in Penny’s head having been hijacked is a good enough explanation for that, and Fillory is certainly involved somehow. With a myriad of subtle nuances like these, The Magicians has a richly complex underlying tale that’s full of interesting detail to mull over between episodes.
Eliot and Margo are a bit more successful as characters in the second episode as well. Initially having been introduced as aimless partiers, they provide a nice contrast to the darkness when they welcome Quentin to the barbecue at the end. On the flip side, Eliot’s dark tale of having killed a childhood tormentor early in his discovery of magic gave him a bit more connection to the rest of the damaged cast. And Alice is probably right about Margo questioning her with some sort of ulterior motive to use what she learns against those with whom she’s sympathizing.
What to make of Alice? She’s clearly the most powerful but marginalized magic user, just like Hermione in Harry Potter. It was she who perpetrated the summoning, yet something Penny confessed targeted Quentin and completely left out Alice’s involvement. What appears to be a weak spot in the Brakebills investigation may actually be a tale not yet told, but it is a big question mark for now.
There definitely is an audience for a dark fantasy like The Magicians, and hopefully it will find its mark. Sufficiently convoluted conspiracies and foreshadowing of powerful enemies about to attack is enough to make this show a compelling drama. With science fiction comprising a majority of Syfy’s programming, it’s nice to see magic holding its own in the wake of other departing fantasies in their final season, such as Lost Girl and Bitten. Once this series successfully shakes the Harry Potter comparisons, it may just be one of the greats.