Silence, Snow, and Spells: The Magicians, “The Mayakovsky Circumstance”

The seventh episode of The Magicians is absolutely jam-packed, bringing a third location to the usual Brakebills/Brooklyn balance. At the end of “Impractical Applications,” Quentin, Alice, Penny, Kady and a handful of other students turned into geese, and were last seen flying away from campus. Where they went, and what everyone did while they were away, fills up this hour with mischief, hard work, and, yes, kind of a lot of sex.

Spoilers follow!

The first-year foursome were off to Brakebills South, where, as usual, only Alice knows what’s going on. They’re there to study with Mayakovsky, who watches the geese fly in while pounding vodka and smacking himself upside the head in order to psych himself up for a new class of idiot children. Brilliant, slightly bonkers, impatient, and prone to unorthodox teaching methods, Mayakovsky is a delight. I wouldn’t want to be in his class; he’s absolutely dedicated to being a hard-ass to get results. But it works on Quentin, who needs someone to be harder on him than he is on himself.

Magicians 107 BrakebillsSnow

Penny and Kady, who revealed some unfortunately mismatched secrets at the end of last week, do an awkward dance around each other. She clearly wants him to know something else, but he’s understandably self-protective. Mayakovsky calls her “Sultry but damaged,” which, like the rest of his observations, is obnoxious but basically true. When he finds Alice and Quentin staring at each other across a hallway, distracted from practicing a tedious spell, he spits, “Why don’t you two just fuck?” When he discovers Penny is a traveler, he insists on removing that stupid tattoo and setting Penny to practicing his talent. If Brian F. O’Byrne weren’t so great as Mayakovsky, the character might be a little too clearly present to push everyone’s buttons. But O’Byrne’s gruff, crass, intolerant, insightful Mayakovsky was just what the characters—and the show—needed.

Isolation and magical transformations are bound to have some effects on a person’s love life. The less said about Alice and Quentin’s true-to-the-book-but-still-ugh foxy romp in the snow, the better; their relationship still feels more narrative convenience than actual connection. The forgiveness between Penny and Kady is much more interesting. After a near-death traveling mishap, Penny comes to Kady, wanting to know the whole story, lest he transport himself into a volcano again tomorrow. Kady, subdued and regretful, drops her mental wards and lets him see everything. This has the accidental effect of also letting Mayakovsky see everything, because he is far more powerful than he’s really letting on. Kady’s secret, last week, was true on the surface, and enough to slip her ropes; the complicated version, she kept hidden.

Magicians 107 Penny-Kady

Penny tries to help her, but is too late: Mayakovsky has put her secrets together with news from Brakebills. He tells her, without softening the blow, that her mother is dead. Brakebills knows everything. They would punish her, harshly, but Mayakovsky understands her much better than those uptight, warm-weather professors. “You deserve better,” he says. And then he leaves the choice of what to do in Kady’s hands.

Kady has rapidly become the most complicated, curious character on this show, and she’s certainly not gone for good. But where will she go? Will she blame Julia for her mom’s death, or pair up with her in hopes they can jointly take on Marina? Can she please not die? I really don’t want her to die. Sultry but damaged has so much potential.

Magicians 107 Eliot-Mike

At sunny, shiny Brakebills North, Eliot and Margo take a break from packing for some sort of magical spring break to terrify a new kid, Todd, with a horror story about what happened to a previous, unprepared young magician. Their laughter, when he scuttles off, is both terribly cruel, and entirely true to these characters, who have put a lot of prickly love into building their own little world. They need to bring a magical gift to their host, which involves—ugh, says Margo, incredibly dramatically—research in the library, where a handsome blond lad named Mike appears and offers his help.

No one asks where Mike came from, or who he is, or why he’s on campus, though he references acing Arabic there a few years ago. To be fair, I’m not sure Eliot’s the question-asking type; why ask questions when you can flirt? When Margo gets tired of Eliot and Mike’s meaningful glances, she repeats what Mayakovsky said earlier, but even more bluntly—“Just bang! Now!”—and then, offscreen, does all the work on their magical gin. Or rather, magical djinn. Pronunciation is so tricky!

Magicians 107 Magic Gin

And so are wishes. This djinn is very literal, very quick, and very tied to Margo, since she let him out of the bottle. Like Mike and Todd, he serves to create a space between Margo and Eliot, a manifestation of the cracks in their insular, loving, and screwed up relationship. They can make each other mad, and they can forgive. Eventually. Appleman’s ability to balance Eliot’s hurt with his love for Margo in their last scene of the episode shows so many layers—especially when she shows that she, too, can accept (or at least tolerate) another person now and then.

Julia’s story this week is a quiet one, but Stella Maeve continues to be one of the best actors on this show, displaying a grief Julia doesn’t fully understand over Hannah’s death. Julia’s sister takes her home and is horrified by the state of her apartment, which seems a little dramatic, but their conversation reveals all kinds of things about where the Wickers come from. Their fancy-pants upper-class mother can’t tolerate embarrassing behavior, such as her daughter getting arrested (though I’m not sure why Julia would be arrested after calling 911, as she clearly didn’t kill Hannah herself). Only certain narratives are available to her children, and the family is not above sending Julia to rehab. Whether she likes it or not.

Magicians 107 Wickers

An underlying theme this week sneaks out in each storyline: the way women display and conceal their power. Alice masters Mayakovsky’s assignment first, elegantly, with no fanfare, whereas Quentin’s solution is forceful, showy (and creatively cocky, a minute later). There’s no fuss in Alice’s power; it’s just part of her. Kady has her own kind of strength, but her mother has left her no way to use it. The revelation of Julia’s family, her carefully dressed sister and intolerant mother, shows another side to her desperation: she wants to distinguish herself from them in her own way. And Margo, doing all the work, maybe slightly abusing the powerful results out of jealousy—her face when she pets the bottle, at the end!—says so much about a character who says so little about herself. Margo likes to hide her strength behind a playful cruelty—to everyone but Eliot. When he’s not paying attention to her, she lets both out.

Magicians 107 Mayakovsky

Quentin and Alice’s last scene with Mayakovsky is a bit heavy on the exposition, but it’s so enjoyable that it’s ok. “I give you your lives’ purpose: go, and live to prove me wrong,” he says, telling them to go and be happy. And Quentin, for the first time, is happy, at least for now. He found something of himself in the quiet and the cold, and now he just has to take it back to Brakebills, nurture it, and not let it go.

Which is going to be difficult, with what looks like a minion of the Beast standing, shirtless, in Eliot’s kitchen. Oh, Eliot, you know how to choose ‘em.

RANDOM BITS

  • Todd: “You uncorked him. He can read your thoughts.” Margo: “That is fucking rude.”
  • The one book-thing I really missed this week was Quentin and Alice’s final test at Brakebills South, when they have to travel, naked, through the snowy wastes to get to the portal to Brakebills. The isolation goes a long way to cement what Quentin has discovered under Mayakovsky’s teaching—that he’s capable; that he has things within himself that he didn’t understand—and the simple fact that only he and Alice are bonkers, confident, competitive, and self-punishing enough to take the totally optional test says so much about their characters.
  • Do we think Mike was always working for the Beast, or was he just a hot guy on campus until the glowing moth at the end?
  • “This magic gin better make us see unicorns that fart rainbows.”

Molly Templeton is beginning to wonder if Marina is this season’s (moderately) big bad, with the Beast sticking around for season two. She will enthusiastically debate this with you on Twitter.

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