Wednesday, January 25, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Magicians' - Quentin and His Friends Recover After Their Confrontation with the Beast in 'Knight of Crowns'

Syfy's The Magicians - Episode 2.01 "Knight of Crowns"

In the aftermath of their clash with The Beast, Quentin and his friends scramble for a new plan. Julia and The Beast strike a dangerous deal.

The first season of The Magicians got more and more confident as it went along. It started with an interesting perspective and unique world of characters. And yet, there were moments where things felt too episodic or unclear if the various subplots would have any grand purpose in the overarching narrative. Of course, everything did come together in the end in spectacular fashion. There are a lot of disparate threads on this show. Some characters can be isolated for a long time with no clear path back to the rest of the group. Julia often finds himself in her own little story a lot of the time. But again, all of that was by design. It was all just the last ploy to try and defeat the Beast. The land of Fillory and the threat from the Beast was very real and palpable by the end of the season. In the beginning, it was less so. But now, the show has the confidence to continue expanding its worldview and making sure each of its characters' journeys are complicated and nuanced. "Knight of Crowns" is a strong way to start the second season. Most of it is just recovering from the events of the finale and setting up the basic foundation for the plot this year. But it moves with more precision and intent. That's something that will be very appreciated as the season continues and gets more complex.

Things were looking pretty bleak at the end of the first season for the protagonists. The confrontation with the Beast didn't go as they planned. Alice froze in her big moment to strike. That lead to her getting seriously injured, Eliot and Margo knocked unconscious and Penny getting his hands cut off. But more importantly, Julia betrayed the rest of the team and decided to make a deal with the Beast so she could get her own revenge. In some ways, this is a blessing. It means the team is able to survive this encounter. They clearly were no match for the Beast. So now, they'll have the time to prepare more and get stronger. Of course, they have to heal first. The tension is still high at the start of the premiere when Quentin is running through the forest of Fillory desperately looking for help. But once he returns, everyone emerges completely healed. Alice's new powers from the god helped her survive and save their friends. Plus, Penny can just go to a magical river that will heal his hands. So, the premiere does downplay how serious these injuries were and the effects they'll have on the team. And yet, the show has a lot of ground to cover as well. So, it's best not to linger on this moment - even though Quentin giving his blood to a local healer will more than likely come back to haunt him at some point this season.

The rest of the premiere is largely just an exploration of Fillory for the team. They are looking for a new way to take on the Beast because they don't know how long he'll be gone. In order to do that though, they have to embrace Eliot becoming the King of this world. Of course, that means he can never leave and go back to Earth. But it's also just a fun sequence when the group gets knighted. This show has a unique sense of humor as well despite all of the dark and horrible things that happen to these people. Eliot needs to prove his worth as King by answering a bunch of '90s pop culture trivia. That's just a delightful revelation that builds to Elliot doing a full-on Patrick Swayze impression. That's so much fun and shows why these characters are so interesting and entertaining. Of course, the actual crowning is important and emotional as well. These characters have been through a lot together. They almost died which does make their previous feelings seem a little petty. And yet, they also have to apologize to each other. Margo apologizes for ruining her friendship with Quentin by sleeping with him and Eliot. Quentin apologizes for ruining his relationship with Alice. These people will need to count on each other in order to rule Fillory as the new kings and queens as well as take on the Beast again.

It's also a journey that is destined to take the team back to Brakebills. The armory where the books of battle magic are stored isn't helpful at all. They only find a clue leading them back to someone who can teach them. That's a fine premise for the next episode. And yet, it also means that Quentin, Alice, Margo and Penny will have to say goodbye to Eliot. His friends are abandoning him in a strange, new world he doesn't fully understand. Plus, the passage of time may be different in the two worlds. There's no telling what kind of world Quentin and company will return to when they come back to Fillory. That's an exciting premise for the future. It means Eliot could be a changed man the next he is seen. He understands that he has character flaws that need addressing. But he wants to introduce champagne to this world as well. So, he's always going to be Eliot - even when he needs a hug from Quentin he also asks him to grab his butt. It should be an interesting journey for him. He'll have to find a way to rule while his friends hopefully find a new way to protect the kingdom from the Beast.

Things take a little darker turn in Julia's corner of the universe. Of course, that has been the case for most of the series so far. Julia has always been the one isolated and dealing with the dark realities of knowing magic exists but it always coming back to hurt her. She struck a deal with the Beast in order to get revenge on the god who tricked and raped her. Yes, it was problematic last season that Julia and Alice's big moments of character growth and strength came from being raped and drinking magical jizz. But then again, this has always been a sex-conscious show that uses it for pleasure but also darkness. It helps maintain the adult themes of the narrative. Plus, Julia is given the opportunity to eliminate this pain from her being. The Beast gives her that ability. It's a very interesting dynamic between the two of them. They broker this deal. Julia may have betrayed the rest of the team but she makes sure no harm comes to them until she gets what she wants. And when the Beast tries to remove her shade, she ultimately doesn't go through with it. This pain is defining her at the moment. The Beast could take it away. He's trying to tempt her to the dark side. He's apparently seeing something in this version of her that he has never seen before. He likes it and wants to manipulate it. The only question is: how far will Julia go to get her revenge? Will she change and join the Beast on the side of evil? Or will she continue to resist him and manage to escape somehow without being killed?

Some more thoughts:
  • "Knight of Crowns" was written by Sera Gamble and directed by Chris Fisher.
  • The Beast was a menacing force for large portions of the first season due to special effects and score changes. The audience knew to be terrified because of the visuals of the moths swarming around his face and the music suddenly becoming very dark. With Charles Mesure in the role, the show can be more subtle with these stylistic influences. Now it's up to Mesure to bring the menace and he does so wonderfully.
  • When Penny goes to the healing river, a magical being puts a spell on him that makes his hands not work as well as he wants. And yet, it's also clear this creature knows things about Penny's future which signals more importance in the future.
  • The King of Fillory is also able to crown three other individuals. So those three are Margo, Alice and Quentin. Penny is the odd man out but he didn't really want to be a king anyway.
  • I mistakenly didn't catch who the author was on the book of battle magic found in the Fillory armory. I'm assuming it's Dean Fogg because he's the easiest connection back to Brakebills. Though it should be interesting to see where this story goes next.
  • The power of the god has really helped Alice grow as a magician. She was able to revive herself and others. Plus, she can now grow a tree when before it was a spell she couldn't crack. She doesn't know her true strength. Her testing her limits should be a fun character arc for her.
  • Julia and the Beast's deal seems to be occurring very quickly. He's helping her try to find this demon. He's collecting the ingredients for the spell and they largely have a plan already. They don't carry it out. But it would be surprising if it doesn't happen within the next episode or two. And then, the Beast is free to do whatever he wants which is a terrifying thought.