This The Magicians review contains spoilers.
The Magicians Season 1 Episode 8
Those who have read the Lev Grossman trilogy upon which The Magicians is based likely got chills several times during “The Strangled Heart.” Although the show has developed its own separate identity from the books, sometimes skillfully and other times less so, the nods towards a larger story both for the Brakebills students and Julia was a wonderful thing to see for readers and non-readers alike. With character shifts bringing new life to the story in previous weeks, now the overall story is starting to do likewise.
Of particular note was the reference to magic being the tools of creation the gods left behind. This eye-opening concept fits well with the danger and potential for hubris involved in the art of spellcasting and gives Julia a nice avenue towards a new chapter in her pursuit of learning. It was nice to hear the head of the support group communicate the drug dealer aspects of the safehouse system Julia had been dealing with. The prayer to a local harvest deity brought more majesty to what had been a very unpalatable quest for Julia.
Fillory similarly brings more depth to the mythology of the series, and it’s exciting to see the tendrils of that other world reaching into the increasingly less complacent center of academia. The realization that spells rely on circumstances like star position adds a level of complexity to the learning of magic, which would have been enough for an earlier episode. The addition of an attempt on Quentin’s life at the behest of the Beast expertly wove several disparate storylines together.
For example, the awkward fumblings of Quentin’s advances on Alice not only brought him into a study group with her and Penny; it also allowed Penny to voice his disdain for Quentin’s nerdy stalking while at the same time elevating the nobility of his saving Quentin from the cursed blade. Even Quentin’s disregard for Penny’s false hatred was charming in its way, and with Alice’s eventual reciprocation of Quentin’s affections, the relationships between these characters has really become a strength of The Magicians.
The interactions build on some great individual character development as well. The same close examination that came from the Trials in an earlier episode is now visited upon Eliot, who along with Margo has inhabited a more superficial sphere up until now. The unexpected level of insecurity in his relationship with Mike was clarified when he mentioned his farm boy upbringing, and the fact that the resulting intimacy led to his ultimate betrayal and even having to kill the object of his adoration was a hammer blow to this character’s lighthearted story thus far. Now only Margo’s depths remain unplumbed.
Even Penny’s feelings were laid bare as it was determined that his curse could only be lifted by sacrificing something equally as dear to him as his heart. Although he made clear his love for Kady during the Trials, its reaffirmation was a suitable contrast both to his gruffness with Quentin and to his attempted seduction of Professor Sunderland, who tried to stop him from practicing his traveling magic. And seeing the healing students learning from Quentin and Alice, the latter of whom has now read up on Fillory, was a good way to acknowledge the involvement of the storybook world.
Clearly Fillory is real, as Eliza (who it turns out is an older Jane Chatwin?) finally admits to Quentin. Her brutal death, as well as the gory beheading of the rabbit who brought Mike the cursed dagger, dispels the childhood fantasy including details like Honeyclaw, the talking bear, remembered from Quentin’s reading. And Dean Fogg’s powerlessness even with his healed hands is echoed by his pessimistic statements to Quentin about their chances of success against the Beast.
All of this creates not only a tightly-written episode, one of the best of the season; it also shows the amazing potential for a myriad of storylines for the future of The Magicians. Will Quentin and his friends eventually make it to Fillory, perhaps assisted by Penny’s traveling skills? It seems inevitable but still far outside their current abilities. The logical progression of learning, both for the Brakebills contingent and for Julia raises the stakes both for the final episodes of this season and for future seasons.
Which, thankfully, there will be.