Wednesday, February 22, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Magicians' - Quentin Struggles with a Normal Life While Julia Gets Surprising News in 'Cheat Day'

Syfy's The Magicians - Episode 2.05 "Cheat Day"

Quentin adjusts to his new life. Penny seeks help from an unexpected source. Elliot and Margo contend with the dangers of ruling. Julia and Kady discover another consequence of Reynard's attack.

Magic dying throughout all of the worlds seems to be the new focus for The Magicians. It's still largely just a tease of upcoming intrigue and danger. The need to replenish the wellspring in Fillory isn't at the top of Elliot and Margo's agenda as king and queen. But it's still an important story the audience should keep their eyes on. Magic has been such a complicated thing for so many of the characters. "Cheat Day" examines its power and just how necessary it is in all of their lives. This episode could be seen as scattered with the need to juggle four distinct storylines that have very little to do with one another. But it's also fascinating to see all of these characters on their own journeys. They need to make their own discoveries before they reunite once more. It seems inevitable eventually that they'll all return to Fillory to help restore magic to the universe. But right now, they are each dealing with their own personal arcs. Those are composed of dark emotions of anger, hatred and uncertainty. Magic is the thing that connects them all together. But magic can't be the only tool they have to use to protect and define themselves in life.

All of this is especially poignant for Quintin. He has decided to leave magic behind for a regular desk job. It's startling to see him in that mundane environment making small talk with his co-workers about cappuccino flavors. Of course, it doesn't take long for the episode to reveal that magic touches this story as well. This is a company connected to Brakebills. It's a place for people to go if they've vowed never to use magic again. It's the school helping them transition back to the "normal" world. But it's also important because it means they've realized just how horrifying, dark and destructive magic can be. Those who leave Brakebills to never practice magic again do so largely because they lost something very important to them. Quentin left his new life behind because his wildest fantasies turned out to be much sinister and corrupt than he thought. He lost the woman he loved because of magic. He's still alive because of her. But now, he's moping around trying to find a way forward without Alice in his life. He believes he can live this lifestyle. He has more confidence now than he did in this world before he knew magic existed. And yet, he keeps using magic nevertheless. So, it really isn't out of his system just yet.

As the show has always pointed out though, magic is like an addiction and not a diet. People can't just have a cheat day and use as much magic as they want. It's not just something they can turn off once they've embraced it once more. It's fascinating to watch Quentin and Emily bond as they turn to magic to deal with their suffering. Emily was the girl Charlie was trying to save before he became overwhelmed by magic - just like his sister, Alice, would as well. Emily and Quentin each reveal themselves to each other. It's a sequence that shows that she is still in love with Professor Mayakovsky while Quentin is still in love with Alice. It's heartbreaking to watch them trick themselves into being with the people they want to be with instead of each other. And yet, it also seems like Quentin does the smart thing in leaving this situation after it happens. It's further proof to him that magic can only compensate for so much that he lost. He may have needed this experience to happen but now he has more clarity than before. So, he removes himself from being tempted to do this again. Of course, it's right after that that he sees Alice on the busy streets of New York. She seems to be there and asking for help. But is that really her? Or is it simply Quentin's mind still playing tricks on him because he's still in love and mourning her tragic death?

Elsewhere, things only continue to get more tragic and dark for Julia. She realizes that she is pregnant with Reynard's demon baby. That's a horrifying reveal. But in her mind, having an abortion is the easiest thing she has had to do in a long time. That's a fascinating stance on that complicated issue. Here, the situation is to the extreme. Julia was raped by a trickster god. She has no idea what is actually growing inside of her. Her whole arc this season is to make Reynard pay for what he did to her. She never wants to be that stupid again. So, she feels like she's doing the right and sensible thing by getting rid of this baby as quickly as possible. Of course, it's much more complicated than that. She has the proper access to the procedure. That is never the problem. She is able to get an appointment despite a waiting list. No, the problem arises when Reynard proves himself capable of taking control of the situation as well. It's clear that the procedure won't go according to plan. But it still builds to the surprising twist of Reynard forcing the doctor to kill herself before killing his spawn. That's such a shocking moment. It means Julia and Kady need to flea or risk getting caught up in a murder investigation. But it also means Julia is still pregnant which could make her even more desperate to find a way to trap and kill Reynard. Either way, the stakes of this story are only increasing - with no one around to help them when they need it the most.

Elliot has to make a life-or-death decision as well. A citizen of Fillory tries to kill him because he doesn't recognize a child from Earth as the proper ruler of this land. The assassin has had to live here and deal with the problems while everyone else has gotten wrapped up in the arrival of a new king. Elliot is royalty now but still doesn't know how to lead. He has Margo by his side but that's about it. His royal advisors just want to kill this man in as brutal a way as possible. It's amusing and horrifying to see the many ways they think to do it. But it's still Elliot's decision to make. Despite all the evidence saying he should kill this man, he doesn't. He makes that decision because his wife is now pregnant as well. He wants to set a better example for his kid than his father ever did for him. That's understandable even though it could be stupid in the long run. And yet, Elliot gets some information out of his almost assassin as well. He wants to know how to fix the problems of Fillory. Whatever the man said earned his freedom. And yet, the audience wasn't privy to that conversation. So, it's still a major mystery whether or not Elliot will be a good ruler for Fillory and fix its many problems while winning over the support of the people. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Cheat Day" was written by Mike Moore and directed by Joshua Butler.
  • Penny returns to Brakebills South to seek guidance from Mayakovsky about what to do with his new hands. They still aren't working properly! Now, they can't perform magic. Mayakovsky doesn't think that's much of a problem since magic is already dying. But Penny is still a magician and wants to cast spells in addition to being a traveler.
  • Mayakovsky is also trying to store magic. He enlists Penny's aide to do so. That's why he helps him with his problems. Mayakovsky is planning for the future in a way that no one else is. So, that probably makes him smart and the other characters will have to rely on him more later on this season.
  • The freedom fighters in Fillory call themselves the "Foo Fighters" which quickly gets a laugh from Margo because of the obvious comparison. And yet, the radical people in Fillory take it seriously because it's them fighting for their home in a way that no one else seems to be.
  • In addition to being pregnant, Elliot's wife also reveals herself to be a Foo Fighter as well. She claims to have left that life behind because she is a part of the royal family now. But she will likely be convinced to do something against Elliot at some point this season.
  • Just last week, Dean Fogg promised to help Elliot rule Fillory. And yet, it's completely up to Elliot and Margo to research and figure out what to do with the assassin. They receive no outside help or guidance. It's still up to them to decide how to rule. Even then, Margo doesn't agree with Elliot's ultimate decision - and gets to blast the patriarchy too.
  • When Quentin is working at the company, he doesn't recognize Emily as the girl who Charlie was trying to save. But then when they are talking later on, he already knows everything that happened to her because Alice apparently told him. That's just a little too odd and doesn't track well.
  • With Emily getting a taste of magic again, how soon until she starts practicing it full-time again? If she does, will Quentin feel responsible for whatever may happen to her?