Monday, February 8, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Magicians' - Quentin Faces a Reality Without Brakebills and Magic in 'The World in the Walls'

Syfy's The Magicians - Episode 1.04 "The World in the Walls"

Quentin wakes up in a mental hospital and must set his panic aside to seek the help of the one person he least trusts. Julia is hurt after her fallout with Quentin and commits to learning more powerful spells with the Hedge Witches.

"The World in the Walls" is certainly the most ambitious episode of The Magicians' first season so far. The show hasn't done a great job at showing just how important and vital Brakebills is to each of the main characters. It's been building up a lot of threats to this way of life without first showing the meaning and importance of it. That has created a rather scattered series that does tense moments well but is severely lacking in character work. This episode is almost completely Quentin being trapped in a fantasy world for nefarious purposes. But it's also the first time that showcases just how important it is to him that he is a magician while bringing all of the regular characters together for the same mission. Magic means something to Quentin. It's a very dangerous subject that could lead to catastrophic consequences. But he needed a personal experience like this in order to truly establish the importance of him committing to this craft.

The show even tries to play the trick of the fantasy actually being reality too. That really wasn't that necessary considering the whole purpose of the show is about Brakebills and the teaching of magic. But it's still so compelling and terrifying when Quentin wakes up and realizes he is back in the mental hospital. It's a shocking revelation to him that he may have just imagined Brakebills completely. It's simply a part of his disease. It's getting worse and worse. He's been forced to stay in this facility where the administrators have taken things much more seriously with him than in the past. That has been his greatest fear. The show hasn't spent a whole lot of time talking about the issues that plagued Quentin in the real world. It's a threat that was introduced to establish just how isolated he felt in the world and how Brakebills filled that void. But it's also vastly interesting to see just how crazy all of this can seem when given the history of such psychotic behavior.

Quentin desperately wants to believe in magic. Magic has always been comforting to him. He was able to escape into the world of his fantasy book in order to deal with the harsh realities of life. And now, both Brakebills and his beloved books are taken away from him. The fantasy forces him to confront the truth of his existence by accepting all of this as a part of his disease and that he needs treatment or risks hurting himself or his father again. He's clinging on to the hope that the fantasy really isn't just a fantasy. A terrible nightmare that he has no control over and can't wake up from. A spell has been cast on him that's forcing him to live out his worst fear in this world. He always has the fear of waking up and magic being no where to comfort him. That has become his reality throughout this episode. He can no longer do magic. The thing that gave his life purpose has disappeared. And now, he just sounds crazy to a bunch of people who will do many serious and drastic things just to get him to embrace his own reality and take responsibility for all the terrible things he has done in life.

However, magic is real. Quentin is able to get a message out of this fantasy. It shows just vital Penny is as a character in this universe. His ability to travel between worlds allows him to enter the fantasy and give Quentin a way to escape this horrible darkness. It also means that the show gets to have a bit of fun too. In order to call out to the real Penny, Quentin uses music therapy in order to do his best Taylor Swift. The joke about Quentin not being able to close his mind at Brakebills was really perfunctory when it happened in a previous episode. But now, it has immense purpose. Penny is able to wander in to this "dream" and immediately comment on just how horrible, depressing and racist it all is. This is Quentin's worst fear but everyone else seems to be having a ton of fun at his expense. This fantasy allows several characters to pop up in a completely different context as well. Alice and Elliot are fellow patients who have no idea what Quentin is taking about with magic. The dean is one of the administrators who want to help Quentin. And lastly, Julia is there to showcase just how Quentin's great love is moving on without him in her world. She went to Yale and is getting married to James. But it's also with Julia that Quentin becomes aware that not everything is at it seems.

That's meaningful too because it's Julia along with Marina and the Hedge Witches who have cast this spell on Quentin. Julia simply went along with it in order to get back at Quentin for betraying her last week. And yet, Marina has much more nefarious plans with this spell. She uses it in order to create an opportunity to break into Brakebills and retrieve the memories of magic that were taken from her. It makes her a much more dangerous adversary in the future. This episode proves just how serious Brakebills should take the threat from the Hedge Witches. This fantasy is so real and traumatizing to Quentin. He has to choose to escape from it and re-enter a world that may not be any safer than when he left it. All of the stuff with Jane (who may be communicating with him from another world) still doesn't work all that well. But it establishes how much of a coping mechanism those books have been for Quentin. That's how his mind has created the way out of this fantasy. The Dean was able to get him halfway there. But Quentin needed to be the one to get himself out of this situation. Julia is so remorseful for what she did. She was manipulated by Marina and pays for it severely afterwards. She comes clean to the Dean. But it's still up to Quentin to find the strength to return home.

Of course, Quentin does return. He choses to return to Brakebills knowing just how dangerous the world and magic can be. He has experienced the dangers firsthand. He doesn't want to return to the reality of the fantasy world. Brakebills presents an opportunity for him to truly become who he has always wanted to be in this world - despite the potential consequences. He is more committed to magic now than he has ever been before. This hour gives the audience a strong indication of what magic means to Quentin and the world he is leaving just in order to obtain it. It's compelling and playful with some really strong character work as well. This hour knew exactly what it wanted to be and did a strong job executing that vision.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The World in the Walls" was written by John McNamara and directed by James L. Conway.
  • Marina regains her memories of magic from Brakebills and immediately uses that knowledge in order to punish Julia for her betrayal. That's the only reason why she brought her back to the outside world. She wanted Julia to know what it would truly be like to have magic completely ripped away from her after she had become so skilled at it.
  • It also seems that Kady really isn't that committed to the Hedge Witches. She's reluctantly doing all of this for Marina. The why really hasn't been explained though - which makes it a very lacking plot point.
  • So, is Jane real or just a figment of Quentin's imagination? It could be seen both ways in this episode. When Quentin is able to focus enough, he is able to bring her forward into this fantasy. She is a way to make sense of this place. Or she's like Penny and able to travel between worlds.
  • Now that the Dean knows about Julia, it's not likely that she'll be out there in the world by herself for very long. He will either invite her to Brakebills to help battle the Hedge Witches or want to completely wipe her memory again.