Previously on The Magicians: Everything is terrible. Currently on The Magicians: Everything is still—or possibly more—terrible, but at least we can burst into song!
“Lesser Evils” is an hour of heavy choices. What will you give up to save the world? To save a friend? To get revenge? What will you sing to fortify yourself before you go into battle?
Don’t we all consider that last question from time to time?
Spoilers for the show so far!
I’ve said it before and will doubtless say it again, but The Magicians is at its best when, like Buffy before it, the show depicts moments of connection and levity and absurdity in the darkest of times, and Margo’s singing spell absolutely fits that bill. Under the circumstances, it makes a reasonable amount of sense: a magically upgraded yet quietly terrified Eliot is going to fight a duel to the death, and there’s nothing Margo can do during that duel to help him. What she can do is help him prepare, inspired by stories of soldiers who sang to fortify themselves.
So she involves basically everyone in the castle in her precisely condensed version of Les Miserables’ “One Day More.”
I don’t really speak musical, yet I am 100% in for all the musical episodes. This will never get old—at least not with a cast this game. Eliot needed this moment, but Margo needed it too: She and El have been stumbling through their friendship, which is deeply complicated by the job they have to do. Remember her shaking chin last week when she needed him to wake up? She needed him back, and she needed them to be a team again, despite her rash decision having been the catalyst for this whole war situation in the first place.
And here they are, a team, with Fen in their orbit. The look on Fen’s face as she sings is priceless: She’s surprised to be singing, but also surprised at her place on equal footing with Margo and Eliot—a key part of the production, even if she’s the one left at the castle. Margo knows Fen’s there to stay, whether she likes it or not.
It’s what makes her betrayal so bitter.
When Margo says to the fairy ambassador, “I’m a manipulative cunt,” she means it. There’s such intense venom in her voice, and it’s all self-directed. She’s done what she feels she has to do: save Eliot. But she’s done it by manipulating Fen and offering something that isn’t hers to give. I think there are two reasons she doesn’t tell Fen what she’s really asking: Obviously, Margo wants Fen to give her a false sort of permission to make the deal. The Wellspring gets fixed and Eliot, presumably, survives the battle—things both of them want. But Margo, though prone to hasty decisions, is also canny as hell. Some part of her is already calculating whether there’s a way around the terms of the fairy deal. Some part of her is desperately hoping to never have to tell Fen—and Eliot—what she’s done. What she really, really didn’t want to do.
Eliot, likewise, really doesn’t want to kill the handsome King Idri—which he probably could have if he struck in that precise moment when the magic goes out. These two are an odd delight: Eliot up a tree, Idri in furs that seem like they’d be really hot for fighting, though this hardly seems like a challenging fight for him. Idri may have a snotty son, but he’s also beaten 14 opponents in duels and, presumably, has some actual experience ruling. But the realities of ruling are hardly as interesting, in this moment, as they are to each other:
Eliot:“I would age like a fine wine. And you are a total DILF.”
Idri: “Should I be offended?”
Eliot: “Let’s just say it’s too bad I have a wife.”
Idri: “I get it. My love for my late wife kept me from selecting a husband too.”
Eliot: “Um. Wait. What?”
Idri: “It is a shame I have to kill you. I actually find you very attractive.”
Eliot: “Goddammit. GODDAMMIT!”
Is this decision going to turn out to be as rash as Margo’s declaration of war? I really, really want it not to be. I want Eliot to be happy, goddammit, for at least a little while. I want him to have a partner of his choosing who is not possessed by evil. And Margo wants those things too—but is also right to be concerned about the 50/50 Wellspring split and Eliot’s increased number of Fillorian marriage contracts. What does this mean for Fen, who’s accepting Eliot as her family, and her connection to the FU Fighters? Considering Eliot brokered a peace with his hot new fiancé on his own, did Margo need to make that deal with the fairies? Can anybody be happy?
(Please let Eliot be happy. At least for a minute.)
Back on earth, Quentin is certainly not happy. Thank you, Fogg, for being the person to flat-out say “There is no more Alice!” Not-Alice being in Quentin’s back is killing him, this is no good, and then it gets totally worse. Thanks to Julia.
It’s such a tell when Julia talks to niffin-Alice. Niffin-Alice gets her in a way that should be terrifying, but Julia just stands there, wondering if niffin-Alice can be of use. (Jason Ralph doing Olivia Taylor-Dudley as evil Alice? Spot. On.)
But Julia is way off the deep end, as Penny points out. Kady still feels like she owes Julia, and so cuts her more slack than she should—it’s not until Julia wants to just murder Reynard’s son, Senator Gaines, that Kady really starts to side-eye her best bitch’s motivations. And then Julia throws Quentin to Reynard, putting him in a situation where his options are free niffin-Alice … or die.
(Gaines is mostly useful in this episode as a brief but pointed exploration of white privilege—or, in this case, god privilege. Privilege that he’s never questioned, despite having passed every bill he’s ever sponsored. Of course he thinks it’s all just hard work. And of course Kady knows that’s not it at all. What will come of his time with Reynard is yet to be seen—but Reynard is straight-up bullshitting his son about his motivations.)
I have a lot of faith—possibly not entirely justified faith—in where The Magicians is going with Julia’s story, despite the way it’s teetering dangerously close to cliché-riddled trauma-makes-people-broken territory. This plot thread is one of the few things that still looks as if it could be, very loosely, following something that happens in Lev Grossman’s books, though so much more of the Reynard story happens on screen in the show. In a recent interview, co-creator Sera Gamble made the point that Julia’s story is about what happens when abortion is not safe and accessible—Julia had to go to a literal butcher shop, and the complications are serious, in a magical way. There’s a level of not-her-fault to Julia’s actions, as she’s lost the part of herself that feels.
Eventually, even Kady has to recognize that.
“I’ve been trying to understand you. At least that’s what I thought. What I’ve really been doing is trying to make excuses for you. But I can’t anymore. Not after what you did to Quentin today.”
If I trust anyone on this show to bring the tough love to Julia’s situation, it’s Kady and Penny—who is helping Kady because he loves her. He’s got little-to-no investment in Julia as a person and could be called off to the library at any minute, but he’s so on Team Kady that it’s downright sweet.
And what about Quentin, who spends much of the episode caged, dying, or betrayed by his oldest friend? He ends the week sitting in the dirt, grieving.
“I am so sorry. I just can’t do this anymore. Alice. I hope you meant it! I hope you just go and do beautiful magic. … Alice. Quentin says go free.”
This is actual grief, plain and simple. Quentin didn’t want to box or free niffin-Alice because the longer he kept her around, the longer he could put off truly letting Alice go. That hold, though, was quite literally going to kill him.
Pretty sure we haven’t seen the last of niffin-Alice, who giggles creepily before vanishing in a blaze of blue light.
- “Your face. I’m an obsessive fan. So tell.” “What’s King Daddy Fuckface doing here?” Margo is on fire this week. And the way Summer Bishil says, “Fairies?” like she doesn’t know whether to squeal or cut somebody? The best.
- Are the Fillorian councilors, uh, kind of trying to get the High King killed? They all pretend to be against the duel, but their protests are weak; their “oh gosh no don’t go to the fairies” routine also seems a little flimsy. What power do they have when there is no High King?
- “They have talking trees here?” “Not anymore.” Julia smirking about arbicide is arguably as messed up as her move with Quentin.
- The fairies wanting a royal child of Whitespire to raise, so “It will know great knowledge and even greater power” … are they angling for a fairy ruler on that throne?
Molly Templeton initially resisted the comparisons between The Magicians and Buffy, but, ok, yes, is coming around. And not just because Idri is Forrest from the Initiative.