Wednesday, March 22, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Magicians' - Eliot Heads Into Battle While Quentin Makes a Decision About Alice in 'Lesser Evils'

Syfy's The Magicians - Episode 2.09 "Lesser Evils"

Julia recklessly continues with her quest, while Eliot and Margo step up to protect Fillory.

The Magicians embraces a number of dark things. It shows the true cost and damage that comes from the knowledge of magic's existence in this world. It has changed all of the characters. Sometimes they had a choice but most of the time they do not. A number of characters are forced to make some decisions in "Lesser Evils" that will have profound effects on the story moving forward. And yet, it's also absolutely delightful that the show can stage a performance of "One Day More" from Les Miserables in the middle of this episode and have it make total sense. It plays into the whimsical nature of this narrative. The show embraces these dark themes and stories. But it also has such a profound wit to it as well that finds the light and hope in the darkness for both the characters and the audience. In this performance, it's Margo giving Eliot the confidence he needs to go into a duel. It's great to see all the Fillory characters get involved in it somehow even though they have no idea what they're singing. It's also great to see the reaction from the royalty of Loria. It's just such a delightful moment that lands remarkably well in an episode that is filled with so many great moments.

The musical performance is great but so is the duel that immediately follows it. Eliot sees that as the only option to prove himself as a strong leader of Fillory. He doesn't have the men to wage a full-on war with Loria. With magic dwindling as well, that only intensifies the problems in the kingdom. It's a precarious situation because Eliot is not skilled with a sword. It seems inevitable that magic will go out in the middle of the battle. That's what all of the blackouts from the wellspring have been foreshadowing. And yet, it still makes things tense when it ultimately happens. It's a fair fight when Eliot and the Lorian king are fighting with magic. Once it goes, Eliot is simply no match for this ruler. This story also highlights just how important diplomacy is for rulers. Magic going out forces the two of them to talk. The duel meant that one of them had to die. That would end this war. Instead, Eliot learns that he could simply marry the king and restore peace to the kingdoms. That's a solution he was able to come up with without magic at all. Sure, it's a deal that may come back to hurt him later on but he seems fully aware of how risky all of this may be.

Eliot is able to find a diplomatic solution to the war. And yet, Margo makes a deal of her own to restore the wellspring which should have some devastating consequences. She is willing to do anything to help Eliot win. She can't give him an enchanted sword like Fen can. All she can do is try to ensure that magic stays alive throughout the kingdom. All of the efforts to restore it haven't worked. She's left with only one option. It's drastic though. She has to petition magical fairies to help. They'll do it in exchange for Fen's baby. That's a harsh realization for Margo to accept. She needs to make this deal to restore magic throughout all of the worlds. But it will also come at great personal expense. Eliot may not love Fen or the child she is carrying but Margo is now ripping that away from them. She did it because she was desperate and needed Eliot to prevail in battle. She's startled when he returns victorious and engaged. That's not what she was expecting and it means Fillory will have to share the wellspring. The kingdoms may rise to greatness once more. But once more characters figure out what she had to do, it could become pretty devastating for her. That's just remarkable setup for what's sure to be one great confrontation and emotional moment later this season.

Elsewhere, Julia continues to do whatever she wants without worrying about the consequences as long as she gets Reynard. She isn't punished for blowing up the forest. Instead, she's whisked back to Earth to reunite with Quentin, Kady and Penny. Her friends have found the baby conceived by Dana and Reynard. They have discovered that he is John Gaines, a famous United States Senator who is completely clueless about magic and how powerful he really is. That aspect of the story is still in setup mode. John is introduced to the narrative and Julia immediately wants to kill him to harness his energy. That shows how far she is willing to go to stop Reynard. She doesn't want to catch John up on the true nature of his being. She just wants to manipulate it for herself. She doesn't care who she hurts in the process. She is willing to throw Quentin into battle with Reynard just because niffin Alice may be powerful enough to defeat a god. That shows how dangerous she is becoming. Ultimately, Quentin doesn't let Alice out and Reynard escapes with John. More importantly, Julia is locked up in a room without magic. Perhaps now, she'll face some consequences for her actions. Her shade being gone has changed her as a person. And now, no one can continue to deny or ignore that fact.

What Julia does also forces Quentin into making a decision about Alice. He can no longer continue doing what he has been doing. Holding a niffin in his body is killing him. There is nothing the doctors at Brakebills can do for him. He has to choose between three options: set Alice free to roam the world, box her up or die. None of these options sound all that good to him. He may be frustratingly indecisive to others but he does genuinely love Alice. This version of her is evil and manipulative. But she's still the only connection he has left to the woman he loved. He's not ready to embrace a world without her yet. So, it shouldn't be surprising that he sets her free. That's the decision that feels right in the moment. It's devastating for him to watch her go. And yet, this more than likely won't be the last he sees of her. In fact, she may be even more powerful when she returns because she's heading straight towards the other niffin. Quentin believes Alice won't use her new powers to hurt or kill people. And yet, there's just no way of knowing if she'll actually follow through on that promise. There's no reason for her to ever return to Quentin again. However, releasing her is the only option where it remains a possibility that he'll one day see her again. It could be a costly mistake though. One that he should pay the consequences for if she does make that full turn into villainy.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Lesser Evils" was written by Elle Lipson & John McNamara and directed by Rebecca Johnson.
  • One of the best parts of the big Les Mis performance is Margo's mention that she cut all of the lines that don't directly parallel their current situation. That's an amusing detail. Of course, it could also indicate that the creative team couldn't license the full number for the show. Or maybe they just didn't have the time for all of it. That's a possibility too.
  • Margo talks with Fen before she makes the agreement with the fairies. And yet, she doesn't go into detail about what the deal will actually mean for her. She just speaks in vague detail about her having to do whatever she asks after magic is restored. That seems like a mistake. It means Margo alone carries the weight of this devastating decision. She doesn't share it with anyone.
  • Fillory is completely supportive of polyamory. In fact, Eliot is surprised that it has taken this long to learn that he can have a husband and a wife. Of course, it also seems obvious which one he'll want to spend more time with moving forward even though Fen has stood loyally by his side.
  • It's great to see that Dean Fogg is no longer surprised by the crazy and ridiculous antics Quentin and his fellow classmates get into. They always look to him for help and he's had to learn to just accept that they are capable of kidnapping U.S. Senators now.
  • It's fun seeing Jason Ralph play Quentin as being controlled by Alice. Whenever she took control previously, the audience would actually see Alice in the action. But here, it's a powerful scene because Julia doesn't know what's going on but is able to figure it out quickly as well.
  • The big story of the season was magic dying throughout all of the worlds. If the wellspring wasn't healed, magic would disappear everywhere not just in Fillory. So, it's odd to see that story resolved now. It will have major consequences for the remainder of the season. But it's just a fascinating way to tell the story.