Wednesday, February 7, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Magicians' - Quentin and Eliot Spend a Lifetime Together on Their Quest in 'A Life in the Day'

Syfy's The Magicians - Episode 3.05 "A Life in the Day"

Julia helps Alice navigate a personal crisis as Quentin and Eliot go on an adventure.

Eliot complains about the complicated nature of time travel early on in his adventure with Quentin to find the third key. He complains about it only when the portal to Fillory takes them back to a time when magic still existed but before the Chatwins had traveled through the grandfather clock. Quentin can rationalize it by saying that in the story Jane went to this mosaic hoping to find the magical power within only to realize that someone else had beaten her to it. He now understands that he and Eliot are those people who crack this puzzle. That's the importance of their place in time at the moment. But it's also the easy concept to understand when it comes to time travel in "A Life in the Day." This is such a twisty and complicated episode of the show. And yet, it's absolutely beautiful and so personal to watch as well. Yes, it's still primarily focused on the plot in a couple of endeavors. Eliot and Quentin go off to find the third key. Alice stages a reunion between Kady and Penny. Julia tries to figure out why she still has magic. The Fairy Queen is forcing Margo to get married to forge a new alliance. All of these stories are progressing in ways that are important to the overall plot. Big changes happen in every corner of this world. And yet, the show understands that the twists and turns don't mean anything if it's not personal to the characters. That means a lot of time is spent on what these quests mean for the characters and the beauty that comes from their personal journeys. That's absolutely an awe-inspiring approach to this kind of fantasy storytelling. These characters are living such ridiculous and extreme lives. But there is beauty to be found within them as well despite how tragic a couple of them become by the end of this hour. Time travel affects some of them. But witnessing these experiences hits the audience in such a profound way.

And so, an entire act of this episode devotes itself to the Quentin and Eliot story. They have returned to Fillory in order to solve this mosaic puzzle. After creating the picture that resembles the beauty of the entire universe, the third key will be unlocked. They can then continue on their journey. But it's a quest that they have no idea how long it will take. There are over a thousand tiles in this mosaic. That creates an endless amount of possibilities for the design. And so, it means Quentin and Eliot spend a lifetime in Fillory trying to crack this mystery. It's the most important and personal thing for them in their quest to restore magic. And yet, it's not the sole thing that defines their lives here. They still open themselves up to outside possibilities of life and family. It all starts with a kiss between them. The two have always been close friends and have had sex before. But the amount of time spent with them here only brings them closer together. It's natural for it to be explored in a sexual and intimate way. This is a relationship that grows and evolves over a lifetime. It's not their sole relationship. Quentin also becomes attached to a woman who just roams around the countryside delivering plums. With her, he has a child. That child grows up and leaves the home to build a life for himself. Quentin and Eliot are still working on the mosaic. They become old men over the course of this hour. Eliot dies in his pursuit of the key. He gives his entire life to this quest. He's willing to sacrifice everything for it. He's willing to sacrifice ever seeing his friends again. He dies. It's only then that Quentin discovers a missing tile buried in the ground. It's different then the rest. As such, he learns that the beauty of the universe really can be boiled down to a single piece. Placing that at the center of the mosaic is what unlocks the key. But Quentin also has to be aware that his story extends far beyond this quest. His place in history is already important because this action already plays into his own history.

Jane Chatwin appears at the mosaic the moment that Quentin unlocks the key. He feels the need to hand it over to her because he becomes aware that its power needs to aide her on her own quest. She can only create the time loop that will help her one day defeat The Beast with the power that comes from this key. And so, Quentin resigns to a life knowing that he won't be able to see this quest to its completion. Instead, he lives a comfortable existence in this small house in Fillory knowing that he was loved and lived a full life of happiness. He is still able to ensure that the third key gets back to his friends. It just comes from a note that he has delivered to Margo on her wedding day in the present. He is long dead at that point. It's a brutal realization for Margo as she learns what her friends have been going through. She's been dealing with a lot lately as the person still stuck in Fillory facing off with the Fairy Queen. She's forced to marry someone she despises. Her husband killed his own brother in order to replace him in the ceremony. That's so wicked and destructive. It's brutal to watch. But it's still empowering to see how confident Margo is in the aftermath. She's been repressed so much in her reign of Fillory. She's not the one making decisions. She would enjoy some time all alone in a place that exists outside of time. That's the reality where she finds Jane Chatwin again. That character died in the first season. But now, the magic from the key creates this void for her to still exist. It's a place for Margo to go in order to complete this journey.

That's when things really become complicated with time travel. Jane is able to send Margo back to Earth where her body is buried at Brakebills. She is sent back so she can arrive at the grandfather clock right before Quentin and Eliot step in to go on their journey. As such, that whole reality that the episode spent a significant amount of time on was just an alternate timeline. It's a story that still has an impact on the present-day quest. Margo comes from that reality. But now, she is sent back to a world where Eliot and Quentin never embark on that journey. She arrives with the third key knowing exactly what they have sacrificed. It threatens the audience with having these characters not remember this journey and just how personal it was. It was beautiful to see that journey. But then, it's confirmed that deja vu will keep it on Quentin and Eliot's minds. They will be aware of this alternate life that they lived where they formed a family together and were completely happy. They remember growing old and dying. They remember the sacrifices they made and the time spent on this mosaic. Now, it makes no rational sense for them to have that awareness. It plays as them just remembering a distant dream that doesn't make sense. But it's important for the audience to connect with these characters and trust that they have the same experiences that we've just witnessed. It's so complicated in trying to make sense of this story. But it's so rewarding because it ensures that it will continue to reflect in their actions moving forward.

Elsewhere, the show is examining whether or not Penny and Kady's relationship was actually healthy. Was a dynamic in which Kady tried to kill herself after it was seemingly over actually good? It wasn't and the show is actually exploring that. Penny and Kady have always been a couple. Sure, there's been moments where they didn't trust each other. But they always returned to each other. They were willing to keep fighting because the other always gave them purpose in life. Kady's problems with substance abuse have always been hinted at. It's a dark story for the show. But the episodes have never really explored them in a meaningful way. She has never put in the work for a proper recovery because she always got distracted by whatever quest the other characters pulled her into. But now, she needs to take that time for herself away from magic and Penny. When Penny died, she almost overdosed to deal with the pain. She was only saved because there are magical forces working beyond her control that need her alive for the quest. And now, Alice is presenting her with a solution to return things to normal with Penny. But instead, it only makes everything worse. Knowing that she can see Penny without actually being with him is even more agonizing than if he had died. It's a reveal that makes her seem even crazier. She's forced into staying at this mental institution against her will because of it. That's destructive. That's not what Penny wants. But he also idealized this relationship and kept her from actually improving herself so that she had a better handle on these issues. And now, all of that is finally catching up with her in a very destructive way.

And then, there's everything going on with Julia's powers and the conversation around consent. She has been operating under the theory this season that she still has some magic because it rubbed off of Our Lady Underground when she was restoring her shade. That theory is proven to be correct here. It's good to get some definitive answers in this regard. Julia has a conversation with the god again. She's the being that is helping her along this journey. She explains that Julia was given the seed of power that was the only thing that still existed of Reynard after his death. The god gave it to Julia without her consent because she proved herself as worthy to have it. But again, Julia is right to say it was so destructive and traumatic for Our Lady Underground to have done this. So much of Julia's story has been about the lack of consent. Bad things have happened to her. Attempts were made to justify them because they made her more powerful. But they were still wrong. She was raped by a god. She had her shade severed during a medical procedure. She became a powerful magician because of these things. But she lost a core part of her being. Her essence was chipped away and she really struggled with the person she was becoming. Now, she's been touched by a god once more. She was made special without her knowledge or acceptance. She doesn't want these powers knowing where they come from. She now sees all gods in the same light. They are all tricksters to some extent. And now, she'll be exploring a way to potentially rid herself of these powers and gift them to Alice. That's a promising thread for the future. Alice wants magic. Our Lady Underground did tell Julia to help Alice. But this story is also bound to have complicated consequences because Julia and Alice are playing with powerful forces they don't quite understand.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A Life in the Day" was written by Mike Moore and directed by John Scott.
  • One of the best qualities of this show is that all of the characters are basically pansexual. It's perfectly fine and acceptable that any combination of them can kiss and be romantic. They are all friends who have been on this ridiculous journey together. Sometimes it's tragic and sometimes it's romantic. As such, it's perfectly fine for Eliot and Quentin to have that moment together with it not being a big deal whatsoever. That's such a powerful image.
  • Prince Ess returns to the Fillory castle mostly to remind the audience that Margo almost got married to him last season. There's no real reason for him to attend this royal wedding. He is just there to get the blame once there is an attempt on Margo's fiancé's life. She locks him up in the dungeon even though it's abundantly clear by the end of the hour that he doesn't belong there.
  • The Fairy Queen only arranges this marriage for Margo because of the vast army this community from the floating mountains that are no longer floating has. That's an ominous development. Margo has yet to consummate the marriage. She's right to look through all of her presents first. But it's also clear that the Fairy Queen is planning something big. And so, Margo better strike back quickly once she returns to Fillory.
  • The people from the floating mountains that are no longer floating believe in a matriarchy. They exist in a society where women are always the ones in positions of power with the men just being the muscle. That's a striking image as well. It makes this arranged marriage all about Margo's perspective and her desires. She is attracted to the first fiancé but is absolutely repulsed by his younger brother who kills in order to get what he wants. 
  • It's so completely tragic to see what happens to Kady in the end. She's making the right decision for herself when she's confronted by Penny. She doesn't want to understand what happened to him. She almost killed herself and that wasn't good. But she's not crazy. Her doctors see her as a mentally ill person talking to people who aren't there. She can fight back but it's not enough. She's still overpowered and that's so destructive.