Everybody’s hiding something, missing something, or otherwise in need of a reveal on this week’s The Magicians. Also, there’s a bunny!
This week opens on Eliot, painstakingly mixing up cocktails while Amanda Palmer’s “Leeds United” (“Who needs love at all?”) plays on the soundtrack. Mike would rather have a beer, which is just one more strike against him in my book. They’re interrupted by Quentin and Alice, just back from Brakebills South and doing very revealing things with their faces. Eliot being Eliot, he starts to tease them, but Alice is not at all into talking about it or joking about it or even really admitting what happened at all. She doesn’t know how much was them and how much was fox, and tells Quentin to back off for a bit. She also asks him, again, if he’s in love with her, and I love the way Alice asks this: It’s not that she needs the answer to be yes. It’s that she just needs to know if Quentin knows what he feels. Which, because he’s Quentin, he doesn’t. (Also maybe because they were so recently foxes.)
Quentin is not very good at respecting people’s wishes, as usual, and when the class gets broken into study groups, he bribes someone to switch with him, putting him, Alice, and Penny on a team together, much to Penny’s chagrin. (Penny, do your shirts just not come with all their buttons?) No one is having much fun this week except Eliot, who is quite delighted with Mike. Over a lovely flammable dessert, Mike confesses that he worries he’s not sophisticated enough for Eliot, which leads to Eliot explaining one of my favorite things about Eliot: His parents are farmers. He doesn’t come from a sophisticated land of cufflinks and cocktails. He invented himself. And only Margo knew this, until now.
Mike, on the other hand, is very shortly … not himself. If we weren’t already deeply suspicious of him, the moment in which he crushes a poor magic bunny and pulls a knife from its insides would probably be a giveaway. When he attacks, it’s Quentin he’s aiming for—but Q squirms out of the way. Penny, being exactly the kind of person who would do this, tries to take out Mike—and gets a magic knife in the gut for it.
Much of this week’s plot is about Penny’s cursed wound and its Fillorian backstory—the same thing happened to Jane Chatwin, and the cure is hidden in the books, between the lines. What’s more interesting, though, is how it pushes the characters, revealing their secrets and nudging them closer together. Alice admits that she read the Fillory books “for research,” and she and Quentin can’t help but try to fix things, to make it all better. Quentin has guilt; Alice is just Alice: very smart and very powerful. They can’t help but work together, because they’ve all become a group, whether they like it or not.
Penny, though he stepped between Quentin and not-Mike, still wants to stab Quentin himself. Penny doesn’t want to need help, and being stuck in a hospital bed forces him to admit to too many things, like that there is no one he wants them to call for him, and that he has to self-medicate to handle the voices constantly in his head. When Quentin discovers the secret to the cure (thanks to Eliza), it’s another one of Penny’s secrets out in the open: he’s far more attached to Kady than he wants to let on.
While all of this goes down at Brakebills, Julia is in rehab, which has the sort of dreary green lighting common to everywhere that’s not Brakebills. Marina shows up briefly, having uppped her goth witch fashion game, and acts almost friendly for a minute. But she’s really there to tell Julia that if Julia gets in her way again, Marina will kill her and everyone she cares about. She couldn’t be any more manipulative, but Julia mostly just lets her talk; her buttons aren’t as pushable as they once were.
In a meeting, Julia is prickly and honest, resistant to the notion of higher powers and crutches, and she definitely catches the interest of the chaplain (played by ‘80s heartthrob Mackenzie Astin). He reveals that he’s a Brakebills alum and gives her a spell that calls upon a local harvest deity—a whole new kind of magic, nothing like what Julia has seen so far. Is it more like religion? I think we’ll find out.
And then there’s Eliot. Eliot, who found something to care about, only to have it all turn out to be a lie. For a minute, it seems like the hardest thing Eliot will have to face is the fact that Mike was never Mike, not even when they first met. There are layers upon layers of horror to this, and one of them is that it’s such a cliché for the gay characters to have the fucked-up, doomed relationship. (See also: Bury Your Gays.) Mike had no consent; Mike wasn’t even Mike. Eliot has so much to deal with—and without Margo!—and then, to make it all that much worse, when the Beast reveals himself, kills Eliza, and escapes, Eliot is there. Eliot and Fogg, whose hands aren’t fully healed.
On the good side, Eliot is an incredible magician. On the terrible side … well, everything else. “The Strangled Heart” is a tense, well-paced episode, but did it need to drop so much of the horror squarely on Eliot? I keep trying to look at this episode sideways and see if it’s doing this on purpose: using a cliché to say something about that cliché. It’s been smart about using Quentin and Julia’s storylines to look at privilege and opportunity, and having Penny call out Quentin on his biases, but this slice of plot is a little harder to view in a positive light. It does give us so much more of Eliot—and of Penny, who spends so much of the hour deeply vulnerable—but does it serve anything but the plot?
- At the very beginning of this week’s “previously on,” someone that sounds like the Beast said something like “Let’s just nip this all in the bud,” which I do not remember happening the first time. Anyone else?
- “Why is your face making that face?”
- Eliot is from OREGON, show, not Indiana. Eastern Oregon, no less. Why change that?
- Professor Sunderland continues to be excellent, not least in her unflappability around Penny—even soaking wet Penny, traveler-ing himself right into her classroom.
- It was a nice touch giving Eliza the same sort of cape little Jane Chatwin is always wearing.
- “Hell is real, and it smells like Axe body spray.”
- Eliza’s not going to stay dead, right? For reasons! Book reasons!
Molly Templeton would like Margo to come back so Eliot has someone to talk to, at least, while Alice and Quentin are busy making out.