Wednesday, March 8, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Magicians' - Julia and Kady Gather Everyone for an Elaborate Heist in 'Plan B'

Syfy's The Magicians - Episode 2.07 "Plan B"

Julia and Kady enlist Quentin, Margo, Eliot and Penny for a magical heist.

The Magicians has proven itself to be a ridiculously delightful and inventive show. It being set in a world where magic and other worlds exist has allowed it to really push the boundaries for the characters. Everything remains grounded so it's easy to follow and connect with the characters' core arcs for the season. But it's also fun to see them react to all the ridiculous things happening in their lives which have now just become normal. "Plan B" is a standout episode of The Magicians. On one level, it's great because it's a heist story and heists are inherently compelling and intense to watch. They are a premise that has yet to feel tired despite its frequency throughout the medium. But more important than that, it brings most of its cast together for the first time in a very long time. It allows them to bounce off of each other in interesting and fun ways. Some of them are keeping secrets. They are all dealing with some heavy stories at the moment. They could all use the gold from this heist. Plus, they each bring a unique skill set to this endeavor which further shows just how strong they are as a team. Feelings are still hunt amongst them but they are also able to set aside those differences for the collective goal of this heist. That makes this quite a fun and exciting episode to watch.

Julia and Kady need the gold from the bank in order to pay for the abortion/exorcism that Julia needs right now. Meanwhile, Elliot and Margo need it in order to finance their plans in Fillory - which now includes a war with Loria. And lastly, Quentin and Penny join in because they have complicated histories with Julia and Kady. They still feel indebted or infatuated with them. So, it's fun to see them accept this mission even though it has no personal gain for them. Bringing all of these characters together for this heist could be an impossible task for the show. The series as a whole loves to keep a number of stories going at all times. There are large stretches of time where certain characters are isolated from everyone else. Julia and Kady especially have been dealing with their own stuff away from the problems of Quentin, Penny, Elliot and Margo for awhile. They don't know about everything going on in Fillory. They are just concerned about Reynard. And yet, the show brings all of them together with ease. Julia is suddenly no longer safe out in the open and needs to seek asylum at Brakebills. It's there that she and Kady run into everyone else and recruit them for their mission.

Everyone also brings a certain amount of baggage to this heist as well. Quentin doesn't let anyone know that the niffin version of Alice is still alive and trapped inside his back tattoo. He's keeping that to himself - even though it could slowly turn him into the schizophrenic everyone thought he was before he learned of magic's existence. He's now hearing voices no one else is. Of course, the voice is real. It's from Alice who is tormenting him and wants to come out and play. It's fascinating to see when she talks and when she's silent. That first scene between Quentin and Julia is quite something because Alice is there too. Meanwhile, Julia is carrying the weight of this demon baby still inside of her. Everyone who examines her in a medical way knows how dire her situation is becoming. It's only getting worse too as the demon grows more connected to her soul with each passing day. Everyone believes she's fucked no matter what. And yet, she's still forging ahead trying to fix her problems and make sure that everyone else doesn't die because of her. And then, Elliot and Penny have certain obstacles as well. This is just the clay version of Elliot on Earth. So all it takes is him being woken up on Fillory for everything to take a tragic turn. Plus, Penny still doesn't have full use of his magical abilities. He can travel but that's about it.

Moreover, the show elevates the stakes of this heist in some wonderful ways. In a world where magic exists, it would seemingly be easy for those in the know to rob banks and get away with other crimes of that nature. And yet, Margo informs everyone that this is going to be a whole lot tougher than anyone thinks. Banks actually have strong security measures created by magicians to keep other magicians out. Standard security is difficult enough. But now, a whole new layer is added on top of that. The vault is an anti-traveler zone. There is a magician as a security guard who appears whenever a threat is detected. Plus, there's a 10-minute time limit for the gang to get in and out without getting noticed and killed. So, it's a lot of pressure that the show puts on the characters. So, it's exciting to watch them come up with a strategy to overcome all of these obstacles. Julia stay at Brakebills to stop the invisible beasts from attacking. Penny wears an anti-gravity belt to keep from touching the vault floor. Quentin and Kady seduce the bank managers to get their fingerprints. But it's also just as compelling to see all of this go awry somehow. It's an expected twist of the genre. But it sure is exciting to watch the characters have to think quickly on their feet and improvise or risk exposure and death. The stakes are very real and intense for everyone involved.

And wow, the act were everything does go wrong in the heist is very impressive. It's filled with personal stakes as well. Quentin has to ask niffin Alice for help to break into the vault to save Penny from suffocating to death. No one worries that he is suddenly talking to himself or becomes an instant safecracker in seconds. But it sets up a strong dynamic for the future when Alice gets control over Quentin's body for 30 minutes a day. She could do a lot of harm with that kind of control. And then, Julia needs to to go to the bank as well to help the team when they get trapped in the vault with the magician guard on the outside waiting to kill them. She has Richard's notes for the spell to turn back time 15 seconds. It's just wonderful that the team blows through all of their do-overs in quick succession without really strategizing at all. Of course, they do succeed in the end. They win because the magician guard strikes Elliot - killing his body on Earth which perhaps has consequences on his real one in Fillory - leaving an opening for Kady to attack. The team then heads back to the getaway van to stop the invisible beast before it kills Julia. It's a tense act where a lot of things happen very quickly. But the execution is remarkable and does a solid job just telling a very entertaining story.

However, the final beat is absolutely devastating as well. Julia recruited all of these people for the heist for the purpose of funding her abortion/exorcism. The procedure is a success. She is knocked unconscious by the invisible beast. When she finally wakes up, the demon baby has been removed. But it also comes with Kady breaking the news that there were complications from the procedure as well. I guess the audience is suppose to infer that they had to remove more than just the demon baby. And now, she can no longer conceive a child. But right now, the ambiguity works as well because it shows the true cost of all this ridiculous storytelling. These plot beats are fun and outrageous a lot of the time. But the show always has to remember the personal stakes for the characters. This is what Julia wanted. She didn't want to give birth to the demon baby in order to trap Reynard again. But the fact that removing it will have serious consequences for her moving forward shows that this wasn't all just some fun adventure. It had actual stakes. It was a success but her life will change forever as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Plan B" was written by Christina Strain and directed by Chris Fisher.
  • Dean Fogg has turned several people away seeking asylum before. And yet, he welcomes Julia under the campus' protection because it's Julia. He remembers the time loops where she actually became a student - though ultimately died in the battle with The Beast. So that makes her different than all the other hedge witches.
  • This is the first time most of the characters have reunited with Kady since the trip to Professor Mayakovsky at Brakebills South. That's when she left the program and Penny. And yet, the spark is still there between the two of them. They have sex immediately after running into each other - in the library!
  • Quentin will need to be extremely careful and diligent with his word as bond agreement with niffin Alice. He doesn't want her doing anything too dangerous while in control of his body. Of course, will he let anyone in on his secret before doing so? If not, he'll more than likely mess up somehow.
  • The special effects with the bees are pretty cool. And yet, the greatest moment of this heist has to be the ball that gets the security guards to dance their way out of the room. That is just so random and delightfully awesome. Of course that's something Elliot would have!
  • Elliot's body does die on Earth. He does feel that on Fillory - which sends Fen into a panic. Will that have any lingering consequences for him? He'll survive because he simply can't die now. But will he be the same person as before? And will he do this routine again just to be on Earth?