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Late to the Party: The Magicians

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Feb 6, 2019

The Magicians premiered on SYFY all the way back in 2015, and from repeated accounts from raving friends of mine, contains pretty much everything I love in storytelling. And yet for some reason, I just never got around to actually watching it.

With its fourth season having just premiered on January 23, I decided that it was time for my magic drought to come to an end. I enlisted fellow FANGRRL and Magicians aficionado S.E. Fleenor to give me a list of five episodes that I had to watch. This is the result.

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Season 1, Episode 1: "Unauthorized Magic"

Summary: We’re introduced to Quentin and Julia, college undergrads who are prepping for a grad school interview by doing stuff like partying and spending a weekend at a mental health clinic. We learn that Quentin is obsessed with the Chronicles of Narn... er, Fillory and Further, a series of fantasy books with a rumored missing final volume. Both end up taking a secret exam to enter the Brakebills Magical University of Magic and Stuff, which Quentin passes and Julia fails. Rather than just send herself a text, Julia carves a weird clue into her arm like she’s in Looper so she can remember the magic and get depressed. This leads her to meet Pete, some sort of rogue wizard who decides the best way to see if Julia can do magic is to pretend to rape her. Don’t be like Pete. Quentin and his new gang of schoolmates, Penny and Kady, try to contact the dead brother of classmate slash love interest Alice but instead seem to summon some sort of pestilent big bad who loves smiley faces even more than an ‘80s shirt retailer. It attacks a teacher and the dean of students before we cut to black.

Reaction: I like the way the show plays on tropes I’d recognize from other magical fantasy stories, the opening scene with the dean of students and a woman we don’t know about yet feels reminiscent of Dumbledore meeting with McGonagall outside the house on Privet Lane. And the parallels to Narnia with the Fillory and Further books are pretty strong. Kady and Penny (a guy, though I've been told this show gets super queer) do it a lot which cements the idea this is a sexier, more adult version of those works. I feel like I’d keep watching if I wasn’t professionally obligated to, but so far I don’t care at all about any of the main characters.

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Season 2, Episode 5 "Word as Bond"

Summary: With such a huge jump forward in time, this feels like I’m watching an entirely different show. We start with Julia sleeping after some sort of procedure, which from later context clues indicated was a sort of magical abortion to remove the spawn of an evil demigod named Reynard, maybe? Apparently, the procedure also removed her Shade, which sucks for Julia if she plans on heading to any bars in my neighborhood. Instead, she heads to the metaphorical bar in my neighborhood, hiding out in Fillory, which we’ve now learned is an actual magical world that exists. She offers to help Margo, the High Queen of Fillory, negotiate with some Dryads which isn’t a euphemism, but she ends up just flat out burning their woods down because she’s like, bad now, and then gets thrown into the dungeon. Meanwhile, Quentin is sharing his body with Alice, which is also *not* a euphemism, she’s dead and he’s carrying her soul and they apparently hate each other now, which, I’ve hated people I’ve only shared a bathroom with so I get it. Meanwhile, Penny apparently can’t use magic right now and is working as an errand boy to earn that back. Instead, he sells his soul to the Librarians which I don’t think is a tie-in to that other show, to get his groove back.

Reaction: This is such a huge leap forward so it definitely took me a little time to get my sea legs for the show again. Having said that, there’s so much going on here and I definitely get the sense that a LOT has happened with these characters. I feel a little lost in the mythology but was still able to follow the actual conflicts in the story itself and enjoyed it even without knowing what is going on with the overall arc. More importantly, this episode makes me want to know what else is going on.

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Season 2, Episode 11 "The Rattening"

Summary: Julia and Quentin make a deal with a dragon, like you do, to head down into the underworld and pick up Julia’s Shade, which I now understand is her soul. While there they head to an underworld bowling alley and meet some folks they know including a guy named Richard, whose body the Trickster demigod Reynard apparently stole. They eventually make their way to the Shade daycare and find Julia’s, but also Alice’s, which Julia decides to flee back to the land of the living with her instead of her own. Meanwhile, Penny is already regretting signing up for his gig with the Librarians and starts scheming with Magical Meadow Soprano who helps him get the name of the Librarian who he signed up with. Over in Fillory, King Eliot is all flirty with King Idri when suddenly Idri and a bunch of others are turned into rats. While trying to solve this crime, Eliot learns that Margo betrayed him and he sends her to the dungeon, where she escapes via the cunning use of potion. We also spend some time with Reynard’s son, a senator who has his father’s godlike powers of persuasion and is convinced by his dad to use them for his ambitions, before deciding maybe he should instead make a move against his dad.

Reaction: There’s a sassy dragon, there’s yet another fantasy realm to explore, there’s absurd yet still appropriately bureaucratic afterlife stuff happening, and I finally got something explicitly queer in what has been insisted to me is a very, very queer show. I’m understanding what is happening less and less but I am so, so here for it all at this point. More please.

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Season 3, Episode 5 "A Life in the Day"

Summary: Many of the Magicians have lost their ability to use magic, and in Fillory much of the magic of the world is gone, causing catastrophes such as a floating mountain kingdom to descend down to the ocean below. Margo, once again High Queen of Fillory and now rocking a sweet eye patch, is being hounded by a pale white faerie queen who is pressuring her to marry the prince of this once floating kingdom in order to claim their army for herself. There’s just one catch: that prince is murdered by his younger brother who she is then forced to marry instead. Penny’s body seems to have died while he was astral projecting causing him to be stuck in spirit mode. Alice is back from the dead (shocker.) Julia learns that she was given a piece of Reynard’s magic. Most significantly, Quentin and Eliot are on a fetch quest for a series of keys, they travel to a time in Fillory’s past where they live out the rest of their lives attempting to solve a mosaic to unlock a time key. In that time they spend at least one night together before Quentin falls in love with and fathers a child with a local woman. Quentin finds the key but sacrifices himself to give it to Jane from the Fillory books. A dying old man, he sends a letter to Margo in the future, who then retrieves the key from Jane’s body and prevents Quentin and Eliot from going on their quest in the alternate timeline. The episode ends with Quentin and Eliot remembering their other life after reading the letter.

Reaction: This episode digs into one of my favorite weird tropes in genre stuff:  people living out an entire lifespan outside of time. It’s cropped up in Inception, in Torchwood, even on Futurama and it fascinates me every time. So frankly even if nothing else in this episode had drawn me in, this would have been enough. Plus the scene with Quentin and Jane feels like it might have been a big reveal from a previous season’s plot, so I look forward to going back and seeing how that might fit in.

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Season 3, Episode 9 "All That Josh"

Summary: There is a lot going on here with a pocket dimension party house, an execution of the High King and Queen in Fillory, Julia trying to teach a fairy that she can use magic, and another quest for another missing key of magic, and some guy named Josh. BUT NONE OF THAT MATTERS BECAUSE  THE CLIMAX OF THE EPISODE FEATURES ALL OF THE LEAD CHARACTERS (and Josh) SINGING ALONG TO “UNDER PRESSURE” ACROSS THE MULTIVERSE AND OH MY GOD HOW HAVE I BEEN SLEEPING ON THIS SHOW!?

Reaction: I dug it.

Overall Reaction: I really had no idea what this show was actually doing. There is much more expansive worldbuilding happening here than I was aware of from hearing people talk about it or glancing at the occasional promo. I've really enjoyed sneaking a glimpse at these random moments in the show but now I can't wait to back through and actually binge to catch up with the new season. 

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