Monday, January 25, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Magicians' - Quentin Answers for His Recent Actions While Julia Faces Another Test in 'The Source of Magic'

Syfy's The Magicians - Episode 1.02 "The Source of Magic"

Quentin is distraught as he faces expulsion for his involvement in an otherworldly attack on Brakebills. Julia delves deeper into underground magic and takes  a test to prove herself to the Hedge Witches.

Today marks the official debut of Syfy's new original show The Magicians with a special two-hour premiere. However, this is just a review of the second episode of the season. The cable network aired a sneak preview of the first hour in its entirety back in December. A review of that first episode can be found here. This space is talking about everything that happens on the show following the beast coming through the mirror and attacking the class. The mysterious entity attacked the Dean and made it known that he knows exactly who Quentin Coldwater is. That was a solid cliffhanger that teased a lot of dark action to come for the future of the season. "The Source of Magic" is a little awkward with its proximity to the first episode. It's weird going from that tense scene to the aftermath and seeing what happens to the beast only in brief glimpses.

The attack at the end of the first episode showcased the severity and danger in this world. A threat was on the horizon and it finally arrived thanks to the summoning spell that Quentin, Alice, Penny and Kady cast the night before. That threat doesn't stick around for too long though. That largely gives this episode not a whole lot of meaning. It's instead focused on school procedure and the punishment that should fall on these characters for what they brought into this world. It's not all that engaging. In fact, it highlights a significant problem with the show. Quentin's paranoia really isn't that gripping or engaging to watch. It largely just plays as nervousness without being rooted in the dark psychological damage that we know is already at play within Quentin. The execution is just wonky and doesn't make him endearing or compelling to watch as he worries about being kicked out of school. That threat is very real for him - even though it seems highly unlikely that he'll leave given the amount of importance the narrative has thrusted onto him.

The show is doing interesting things in saying that Quentin really isn't that special. He was largely just chosen at random for being the fixation of this monster that wants to enter our world and bring about its destruction. But that's such a minor part of this episode. It just pops up in the end to explain why the specialist is willing to let Quentin stay at Brakebills. She knows more about the situation than she lets on. She has dreams about the world this monster comes from just like Quentin does. But she is also able to cryptically talk with the Dean - who is still alive despite not having his hands or eyes - about it as well. But it's still just a lot of teasing of events to come to make the audience want to watch more. However, it's doing so without making sure that this episode is interesting to watch as well. There's only so much of Quentin talking about Fillory being a real place that any sensible person can take. With the significance it holds to him though, it should play as more meaningful than that. But it's largely just annoying as he geeks out in front of Alice - who really couldn't care less.

The increased focus on Quentin also doesn't do a whole lot to establish the bonds of friendship or animosity between his fellow students. Quentin, Alice, Penny and Kady did this spell together - but not because they like each other or anything. They do it because they needed four people. Alice wanted to talk to her brother and the voice in Penny's head led him to the meeting place. They are all at risk of getting into trouble. Their reactions really aren't that great though. They mainly want to leave the school or not interact at all. That non-action is pretty boring though considering Alice, Penny and Kady really aren't meaningful characters yet. They are simply people on this journey with Quentin right now. It should be significant that Penny tells the truth and almost gets Quentin kicked out of school. That leads to an exciting fight with battle magic. But again, it was a rather empty threat without it seeming like anyone is going to learn anything from this experience.

Back in the city, Julia is falling in deeper with these fellow practitioners of magic. She doesn't know anything about these people. One of them even attacked her in a bar bathroom just to get her to use her powers. And yet, her search for somewhere to belong is forcing her onto this path where other people understand and accept what she is going through. That's a powerful motivator. She wants to make sense of a world where magic exists. Her memory has not been wiped. She has great power but doesn't know how to use it. This opportunity presents itself. She is willing to see what this place is like. What she finds is a very manipulative group of people with some nefarious plans of their own. And yet, Julia becomes a part of them just in order to belong and accept magic as a part of her world. That's a tragic storyline that is bound to get more intense as the season progresses - despite some plot misgivings in this episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Source of Magic" was written by Sera Gamble and directed by Scott Smith.
  • The reveal that Julia's latest test was just to prove herself to the other woman she was trapped in that meat locker with, Marina, felt very predictable. Marina just knew way too much and talked too little and cryptically for that not to be what inevitably happened.
  • The group of witches is also heading into a conflict with Brakebills. It's unclear just how that will mix with all the other big plot developments right now. But it's at least being established that all these plot pieces are important to one another - even though the reveal with Kady isn't that interesting.
  • Alice reveals that she only got into Brakebills to take the entrance exam by stealing one of her parents' administrative keys. They aren't actually that supportive of her coming to the school to learn magic. Too bad this reveal is largely treated as exposition.
  • Eliot and Margo really aren't essential to the plot yet. But they are still a ton of fun and bring some levity to the narrative just when Quentin really needs some friends to talk to. They aren't forced to take things too seriously and that really works right now.
  • The Specialist and the Dean talk about Quentin needing to be a quick study when it comes to being a magician. That's all they can do to prepare for this evil that's coming. And yet, Quentin does prove himself with being able to create that battle magic after seeing Kady do it briefly against the beast.