Wednesday, January 10, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Magicians' - Quintin and Elliot Embark on a New Quest to Restore Magic in 'The Tales of the Seven Keys'

Syfy's The Magicians - Episode 3.01 "The Tales of the Seven Keys"

Quentin and Julia attempt to bring magic back. Elliot and Margo chafe under the fairy occupation.

The second season of The Magicians was so terrific. This show can be so extremely whimsical and terrifying in the same moment. It's a combination that has really proven to work the longer the show has gone on. It became confident with the story it was telling because it expanded its world in some wonderful and visual ways. And now, the third season opens with a bit more of a table setting premiere. The second season ended on a number of cliffhangers that left a lot of plot up in the air. There was so much going on that it takes the majority of this premiere to touch on everything that happened and how it will continue to be complicated in the story as it moves forward this year. That's messy and expositional. It's not the quality this show does best. But it's still pretty entertaining. Of course, the most pressing concern has to be the fact that magic has been removed from all of the lands after Quentin killed Ember. The old gods came out of their slumber to turn off the power. That was a devastating moment that promised to forever change this world. It also gives this season a solid hook. Everyone has been touched by magic. They understand that power and crave it. And now, it has been removed from their worlds. They feel powerless especially in the face of new threats. "The Tales of the Seven Keys" establishes right away that while magic is gone, magical creatures still exist. So, there are still many ways to keep this story dramatic and colorful even when the magicians can no longer cast spells to help them fight their new enemies.

And then, there was the reveal that Julia still had traces of magic. It was something that defied any kind of rational explanation. The students returned to Brakebills to learn the theory of magic in the hope that it would one day return to their world. They don't know if it ever will. They just hope it isn't gone for good and that they can still practice it. Meanwhile, Julia was lighting sparks. She could still do that. It was minor magic that took a lot of effort - just like it did the first time she discovered magic. But this premiere also makes it clear that it's inconsistent for her. She can't just do any random spell and have results right away. Most of the time nothing happens. But on certain occasions, something does occur. That's exciting. Quentin is the one most passionate about finding out what this means. But it becomes most personal when Julia is talking to Josh of all people. Josh has been the comic relief character of this world. He's just been a recurring face who comes in with a joke or magical drugs. But now, Trevor Einhorn has been promoted to series regular and it's clear that this season wants to take Josh more seriously. He laments losing out on something he was truly great at. He was a skilled magician who did things others could only dream about. He's at a low point when Julia welcomes him into the inner circle of knowledge by doing some magic for him. Quentin notes it's a risk to tell people she still has magic. But Julia does it in order to lift Josh's spirits. It's to prove that there is still hope in this world. That's a profound message that the show really delivers wonderfully here.

Plus, it's helpful that Julia and Josh don't really get dragged into the craziness that goes along with this party thrown by the god of parties. Quentin and Julia are struggling to figure out how to summon one of the old gods in order to talk about restoring magic to this world. They can't summon them without magic. Josh is able to take them to one of the gods who is amongst the living. This god is really just all about partying and having fun. That's amusing while still showing the dangers that comes from that kind of behavior. It's fun and wild at first but sad and tragic to witness in the aftermath. The show hints at more trauma within Julia as she continues to struggle in the aftermath of her sexual assault. She has all of those feelings back and has been able to distract from them for awhile because of this personal quest for magic. And now, those feelings are slowly creeping in which is unsettling and traumatic. Meanwhile, this god is really just trying to have fun with Quentin and doesn't want to put up with his need for answers. Quentin does hit a sensitive subject in bringing up the god's parents. That changes the tone of this discussion right away. Of course, this god doesn't ultimately seem to be all that helpful. It's just Quentin, Julia and Josh chasing down leads in the hopes that they'll find something. Instead, all they get is the mere suggestion that there may be a back door into magic that they could discover. That would be great but it's way too cryptic to actually mean anything right now. Plus, Quentin and Julia get a much stronger call to action later on in the hour.

The world of Fillory was a significant reason why the second season was so much more colorful and magical. Elliot and Margo are without magic as well. Plus, Margo is now missing an eye. But they are dealing with things much worse than starving citizens and unstable neighboring countries. They are dealing with an actual occupation from the fairies. Their queen seems omnipresent as well. No matter what Elliot and Margo try to do to catch a moment to themselves to discuss a strategy, the queen seems to know every single detail. The Queen's agenda is shrouded in secrecy right now. But it's abundantly clear that she's up to no good. She just wants to put Elliot and Margo in their place. She is making them suffer after they had to come to her for help last season in order to survive. They are fighting back because this is their kingdom. The best scene of this premiere has to be when Elliot and Margo speak in pop culture references in order to discuss what is going on in their current reality. It's a fantastic scene that touches on Battlestar Galactica, Gossip Girl, Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. Plus, it's all subtitled for those in the audience who don't understand the importance of all of this. It's just so campy and over-the-top while also completely true to the characters. This is how they relate to the world while ensuring secrecy from the Queen who appears to be seeing and hearing things through Margo's eye.

And then, Elliot quickly goes off on a new quest. He's the one tasked with finding a way to rid his kingdom of these mysterious and nefarious invaders. He has to help the people under his rule immediately. he wants to do so by catching a magical creature and demanding a wish. Instead, he discovers The Great Cock. That's just a completely ridiculous and truly fitting name for this creature who quickly establishes the premise for the next stage of episodes this season. He's the creature who sets Elliot and Quentin on this new epic quest. He underlines the trickery that typically comes from being granted wishes from beings like himself. So instead, he informs Elliot of what he must do. He must rely on his friends in order to restore magic to all of the lands. This quest will allow him to become a great king but it won't be easy. There won't be quick results. That's disappointing for Elliot but really enticing and necessary for the show. Of course, things then happen very quickly as the show races through the ending of this premiere in order to establish things for the season. That's a little unfortunate. Elliot discovers that rabbits can travel between worlds much more easily than other creatures. And so, he is able to deliver messages to Quentin. That is enough to give Quentin a new mission to embark on. The Great Cock said that the two allies were needed for this quest. And now, that partnership is forming in a really exciting way. Quentin and Julia are able to find the book they need. It turns out to be full of blank pages though. But it's also made clear that the main characters need to find these seven keys in order to return magic to all of the lands. The first key will probably be found in Fillory. And so, the pressure is now on for Elliot and Margo to find it before the fairy queen is able to enact whatever her plan is. That's very exciting and allows for an immediate focus for the season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Tales of the Seven Keys" was written by Sera Gamble and directed by Chris Fisher.
  • In addition to Trevor Einhorn, Brittany Curran has also been promoted to series regular this season. Right now, Fen is still dealing with the trauma of losing her baby to the fairies. In fact, it looks like she may be losing her mind because she's caring for something like a child but it isn't. But she's still able to help Elliot when the time comes for it as well.
  • Penny is still actively dying. A cure for his rapidly deteriorating condition hasn't been found yet. However, it only progresses while he is on Earth where time keeps moving forward. As long as he's in the Library, he doesn't age. So, the librarians are still making good use of his traveling abilities - which he still has as a magical creature and not just a magician.
  • Kady is still aligned with Harriet as well. They are working together to find a cure for Penny. Kady is doing so because she loves him and doesn't want to risk him spending any more time on Earth than he has to. And Harriet is helping because Penny will serve as a source inside the Library for her. Of course, the book that Harriet gifts Kady here will need magic in order to do anything. But Harriet also suggests that everyone is foolish to believe that all of magic is just completely gone now.
  • A member of the Brakebills board meets with Dean Fogg to discuss the future of the school. It's one of the more straightforward and lackluster scenes of the premiere. The casting of Jaime Ray Newman (mostly recently of Netflix's The Punisher) would suggest that she'll be a key addition to this season. But right now, it's also apparent that Fogg needs to make some kind of demonstration to his business partners but doesn't know what Quentin and Julia are up to.
  • Elliot and Margo are so completely in sync when it comes to that cryptic conversation they must have through pop culture references. And yet, it's also amusing to see that they have different reference points as well because Margo actually reads books while Elliot just waits until the screen adaptations come out. That's also completely in keeping with their characters.
  • Alice has left Brakebills and Quentin. She does so under the guise of still being mad at Quentin for returning her to her human body. But she's actually running from this niffin hunting her down. She's seen trading her blood for information. All she gets is a warning detector should the niffin ever get close to her. And then, she mournfully stares off into the distance while enjoying a plate of bacon.