Wednesday, February 1, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Magicians' - Quentin, Alice, Penny and Margo Return to Brakebills in 'Hotel Spa Potions'

Syfy's The Magicians - Episode 2.02 "Hotel Spa Potions"

Quentin, Alice, Penny and Margo seek a new weapon. Eliot struggles with being king. Julia and The Beast find an unexpected ally.

"Hotel Spa Potions" has three distinct stories to follow throughout the hour. All of them are still about preparation. Quentin, Alice, Penny and Margo return to Brakebills in order to learn new battle magic to defeat The Beast. Julia and The Beast are gaining new tools in their upcoming confrontation with Renard the fox. And finally, Eliot is adjusting to being king of Fillory. All three stories are very distinct and different. And yet, they magically work as separate but equal parts of the show. It also helps that there is more crossover between the stories than last season. The episode ends with Quentin, Alice, Penny and Margo returning to Fillory to help Eliot with a new problem they've uncovered. Meanwhile, Marina shows up at both Julia's apartment and Brakebills. The thematic ties between the stories are so strong that they allow for these moments of crossover to occur. The show recognizes the bonds between the characters and is actually showing them despite how difficult and tense things are in each of the stories. That's a quality that should continue in the future as things only get more complicated in each of these stories.

Eliot's adventures in Fillory as the new king is perhaps the simplest of the three stories happening in this episode. And yet, it's fascinating to watch because it has a different purpose than the other two stories. Julia and Quentin's stories are about them gaining new and stronger magic in order to get what they want - revenge and to defeat The Beast. Meanwhile, Eliot is in a world where magic is dying. He loves magic but he can no longer count on it to do all the things he loves. He's the ruler of this land and can still get his way a lot of the time. But this story is about him implementing his knowledge as farmer to help the people of Fillory. The citizens are used to magic controlling this land. None of them know how to grow crops without it. So, all of them are starving. It's just one of the many problems they have because of The Beast. Fortunately, Eliot knows how to grow crops. He came from humble beginnings on a farm. It's a part of his past he has tried running away from. He doesn't like to talk about it. But now, he needs to use that knowledge in order to lead. He needs it in order to save Fillory. It's a simple mission. The stakes aren't nearly as high as they are elsewhere. But it's still quite a victory when the citizens of Fillory realize that fertilization is actually work - even though the crops aren't growing as fast as they would from magic.

Meanwhile, Julia and The Beast don't make a whole lot of progress on their plot to kill Renard out of revenge. It's moving slower than expected. Sure, that's giving plenty of time for the other characters to obtain new skills that can be used to defeat The Beast. It's just surprising that The Beast is willing to wait this long for what he sees as an inevitable outcome. Of course, that could be why he is so delighted with this new reality. He knows he can still kill Quentin and company. But now, he's just having more fun waiting. He finds himself amused by Julia - even though she is frequently annoyed up him. It's hard to take him seriously as a menacing and dangerous threat when he's openly singing and providing magical accompaniment. And yet, it is such a delight to watch. The Beast really doesn't have a care in the world. He's just eating his snacks and singing because it's what he wants to do. He doesn't care about getting revenge on the god. That's Julia's own quest. He's simply enjoying his time waiting for her to get the spell right without having to do too much of the work himself.

Of course, it's fascinating that The Beast goes out and gets Marina hoping to use her as bait for Renard. It's a good strategy. He wants to maintain an element of surprise. He doesn't want Julia to repeat the same spell to summon him. He wants to use a different tactic. Plus, he has no feelings whatsoever about what happens to Marina. Of course, Julia and Marina have quite a history. They are friendly now. Julia counted on her after she was raped. But it wasn't always so pleasant. That doesn't mean Julia wants Marina to die because of her quest for revenge. And yet, Marina agrees to join this venture because it really is her only option for protection from the god. All of the other hedge witches are being hunted down by him. All of her normal allies are being taken out. She seeks asylum at Brakebills and Dean Fogg turns her away. He doesn't remove her memories again. He gives her the ability to protect herself. But she's still all alone in this war. She may be bait in Julia and The Beast's plan. But at least, it's a strategy where the ultimate goal is to kill this god. That's a plan she can get onboard with - even though it may ultimately kill her anyway.

And finally, Dean Fogg is more than happy to help Quentin, Alice, Penny and Margo on their quest to obtain battle magic to defeat The Beast. It's almost surprising how helpful he really is. Perhaps it's because Quentin and company now know the truth about a lot of things. They were all stuck in a time loop. And now, the pattern has been broken. Quentin and his friends haven't been killed by The Beast yet. So now, Dean Fogg may actually be able to help them. He didn't want to change anything to break the loop in unpredictable ways before. But now, he's very forthcoming and helping them on their quest to find the battle magic teacher. Of course, it's a delightful story too that's filled with riddles because the teacher was a pixie who enjoys playing with humans. It's different than one would expect. The battle magic teacher isn't this serious person who speaks of how dangerous and powerful this magic can be. That's mostly Dean Fogg who outlawed it after too many students died. Instead, the teacher is just this carefree pixie who enjoys mocking humans for all of their shortcomings. Of course, she ultimately supplies Alice with the spell. But it's still up to the team to figure it all out by the time The Beast returns.

That's what makes it so meaningful when Quentin and Julia see each other again. Julia betrayed the rest of the team. That action is enough for everyone else not to trust her. And yet, her friendship with Quentin has more history. He sees how complex the situation really is. Sure, he does ultimately think her pursuit for revenge is blinding her to the danger The Beast poses to the entire universe. But he still trusts her enough to warn her of the power of the battle magic they are planning on using. Once Alice masters the spell, it will destroy anything within 20 feet. Quentin doesn't want Julia to be within that radius. So, he's doing the right thing now. Julia does that as well by telling him The Beast has a spell on the castle in Fillory. That's something that will likely take the focus in next week's episode. But right now, it's just important that the friendship between Julia and Quentin is still alive. A lot of things have happened lately that they disagree with. And yet, they still have that friendship. Of course, if The Beast is ever successful in severing Julia's shade, that could ruin all of the planning Quentin and his friends have done. It would remove the element of surprise and cement Julia's transition to villainy. So, Julia better resist the temptation or risk destroying all of her friends in the process.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Hotel Spa Potions" was written by John McNamara and directed by Chris Fisher.
  • Penny gets some help in returning his hands to normal from Professor Sunderland. Of course, things get pretty intimate between them as well. The teacher-student romance has become a pretty cliche trope. So, it's good that the show ultimately resists going down this path. Though the chemistry is there.
  • Seriously though, this may be the best role Charles Mesure has ever had. He can be menacing when it's required. But here, he just has so much delight in being able to sing for an entire episode. It's a strange detail but one that really works in the end too to help build another dimension of the character.
  • Dean Fogg and Professor Bigby have a romantic past as well. It's fun to see her try to engage in those feelings again right in front of Quentin and Alice. Of course, she's able to tell that Alice has the power of a god and that she and Quentin have had sex numerous times. Though it has been awhile since they've done that.
  • And yet, Alice's powers are starting to weaken. The strength she got from the god is no longer as strong as it once was. So, the team will have to strike quickly in order to be effective. So, that sets an urgency in the storytelling that the show should live up to. A conflict is coming soon. It should just be interesting to see what the fallout is.
  • In addition to helping the team find Bigby, Dean Fogg also gives them some magical creatures to use in their battle with The Beast. Of course, it's a very painful sequence as well. It starts with them getting their names tattooed on their backs and ends with these creatures being inserted inside of them.