Wednesday, February 28, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Magicians' - Penny Reads New Adventures About His Friends in 'Six Short Stories About Magic'

Syfy's The Magicians - Episode 3.08 "Six Short Stories About Magic"

Julia and Fen investigate a dangerous group of magicians as Eliot and Margo's reign is challenged.

"Six Short Stories About Magic" features The Magicians being more experimental with its structure. The show is no stranger to having a bunch of stories happening concurrently in the same hour. But here, it's telling them largely one at a time. Penny is the constant through all of them because he's the one reading them as they are being written. He has made it to the Underworld. He has gone on his quest to retrieve the fourth key from Benedict. What happens next is an adventure that leads him to the author of books detailing his entire life as well as his friends' and the quest. It's a journey that takes him back to the Library. The Underworld branch is the only place down there that still has magic. It stands in stark contrast to the last time Quentin and Julia visited this place. Back then, the system was still up and running. There were threats around every corner that wanted to keep them in this world permanently. Here, Penny is mostly able to go about this world freely. The system is down. That means everything is backed up. He is able to quickly find Benedict. He points him back to the Library where he reunites with Sylvia. She assists him on the quest because she read it in his pages that are being written by an old woman who resembles Alice though claims not to be her. This magical creature has been given the gift of foresight. She can see into the future. And so, the librarians put her to work to write out everything that happens as it's happening. It makes it a frustrating journey for Penny because he's reading everything about what's going on with his friends one page at a time. It's an amusing conceit for an episode. It once again puts Penny at the forefront of the action which is always a great position. But the show also does a number of smart and compelling things with the other characters who receive the focus for their own stories as well.

This episode is also effective because the show already did most of the groundwork for this quest to the Underworld in the previous episode. It was already established that Penny would travel there via the dragon in the Library and send the key back up the same way with Quentin, Poppy, Kady and Harriet retrieving it as well as some other items from the Library. They would travel there through another traveler, Victoria. It's a precarious mission because the Librarians are still powerful magicians. This episode establishes early on that they still have magic. It may be coming from a battery that they have retrieved on Earth. And yet, this episode still has a lot of plot it needs to lay out as well. Quentin's story is largely about going to the Library. His story establishes that Victoria will need to establish a bridge connecting the two worlds where she has to use her blood to keep the portal doors open. That's a horrifying image that proves quickly why this isn't a spell that can be used casually. It has real and immediate stakes to it. When this group heads to the Library, they have to act quickly. Otherwise, Victoria will bleed out between worlds and they'll be trapped in the Library to face the wrath of the Librarians. Quentin's story is mostly establishing that premise. It's very effective. Plus, Penny re-reading the page about Quentin and Poppy's sex provides the clue that points him back to the fourth key - which Benedict still has. That's an amusing reveal that comes late in the episode that proves just how powerful patience and awareness to one's surroundings Penny needs to be for this quest.

The show is the most playful when it comes to Eliot's story. The show needed to provide some resolution to the cliffhanger of Eliot and Margo being taken by the citizens of Fillory. It always seemed unlikely that they would die. But they have no real purpose this week because they aren't a part of the mission in the Library and the Underworld. If this were a typical episode of the show, then there would be no problem cutting over to what's happening in Fillory. But right now in this specific structure, Penny doesn't have time to read about what's going on with his friends over there. They're alive and facing an uprising. But that's mostly just a tease for now. The same is also true of what happens in Alice and Fen's stories. In truth, only a couple of these specific stories land in an effective and immediate way. The rest of them are just introducing new aspects that will be important for the season. Of course, it's a lot of fun to see Fen interact with Alice and Julia after learning her daughter is dead. Fen's grieve is real and palpable. She doesn't have time for Alice equating her own loss to it. That motivates Alice to take her own journey to the Library to recover the knowledge she lost as a niffin. And yet, that could force her to strike a deal with the Librarian that could compromise her in the ways that it has for Penny. This could be the thing that sets her on the path towards becoming the old woman Penny is interacting with.

Plus, Fen is immediately confronted with fairies once more. She just wants to chill out on Earth and get drunk. She doesn't want to be around Eliot in the world where she lost so much. This pain has hit her in a way that it hasn't for him. She is allowed to mourn the loss here. She wouldn't have that opportunity in Fillory because of the uprising. Of course, her status as being from Fillory could also help Eliot and Margo a lot right now. But instead, she's on Earth and quickly thrown into a new plot involving fairies. She's the first person to interact with Irene who has struck a deal with fairies. As such, she is allowed to see the magical creatures who serve as Irene's servants and magic donors. Here though, the fairies are different. They are enslaved creatures who must obey their master or suffer the consequences. Irene had the powder created from the fairies to give away to Julia last week. And now, she's here to collect the favor which is a simple healing spell. That proves right away that there is a cost to consuming magic this way. It's destructive not only to the fairies who lose body parts for it but for the humans as well. Irene has apparently been using a lot of magic lately. It's a mystery as to why she has used so much. It could just be her being accustomed to a certain life - like Alice's parents were. Or it could be her up to something more nefarious. Right now, Julia and Fen are investigating. Julia can feel her powers getting stronger with each good act that she does. As such, she helps both Irene and Fen. But it still leads to devastation once Julia and Fen get confirmation on what's really going on.

And then, there's the brutal reveal that the Library is using the fairy powder as well in order to utilize magic. They have large supplies of it too. As such, Harriet's information about a powerful battery was completely false. And yet, she's the focus of this episode's most powerful story. Harriet has been an interesting complication in this world. She was introduced as a new player whom Kady and Penny would have to deal with in order to get what they want. Penny represented a way in for Harriet to exploit the information in the Library. Except Kady and Penny were never able to keep their promises and do what Harriet asked of them. As such, they are continual disappointments for her. But she's still desperate to have magic and share it with her friends. She proves to be less of a sinister and mischievous figure and more of a revolutionary trying to change the rules of the system. Here, it's revealed that she was raised in the Library. The Librarian who Penny frequently interacts with and is a stickler for the rules is actually her mother. Again, time doesn't exist in the Library. It's only when people leave that they start aging. The Librarian wanted to shield Harriet from that life. She thought there were more than enough stories in the Library to escape into. But Harriet wanted interactions with other people. She wanted to explore and have her own adventures. The Librarian doesn't see a reason to trust anyone else because they are always deceptive and cruel in the stories. She has seen what humanity is actually like in so many worlds. But Harriet still left because she wanted to share the information of the Library with the world. The various times she has returned has been to argue with her mother about needing to open up the rules. She can talk about it passionately. Harriet believes her way is the proper response to the pending blank era. But the Librarian refuses to change. And that ultimately leads to tragedy. They won't hurt each other even though they both have magic. But the other librarians don't have that same connection. They attack because Harriet is an intruder looking to exploit this world. And so, it's so destructive to see the mirrors keeping the portal alive shatter. The show plays it for the beauty. But it's also a tragedy because it leaves Harriet and Victoria stranded in this world probably dead.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Six Short Stories About Magic" was directed by Salli Richardson-Whitfield with teleplay by Sera Gamble & David Reed and story by David Reed.
  • How many shows feature deaf characters and tell stories from their perspectives with the audio almost completely cut out? This show joins Switched at Birth and Master of None as the ones I can immediately think of. Plus, this episode features a Switched at Birth reunion with Stephanie Nogueras playing the college-aged Harriet.
  • Sylvia is completely willing to help Penny on his quest. She is willing to do so because she read it on one of the pages. She wasn't hostile to him because he left her to die in the forbidden room of the Library. And yet, it also seemed inevitable that she would ultimately betray him. He is still running from his contract with the Library and she does work for the Library.
  • Benedict just wanted friends. He wanted people who would come rescue him and be nice during his time of crisis. Instead, Penny just shows up for the key. Though he does appreciate that Benedict cried after learning about his death. Plus, Penny sets it up so Benedict can start working for the Library too - in the map room, of course.
  • Quentin and Poppy have an argument about what the purpose of a quest is. Quentin says that it's a journey that involves change. A quest can only be completed when the heroes emerge with the knowledge of who the world wants them to be. Poppy rejects that premise and says that perhaps quests highlight the qualities that already exist within the heroes. They just need to be more confident with themselves.
  • Eliot and Margo are pleading in front of whomever is leading this new uprising in Fillory. The show doesn't confirm the identity of that person. However, Penny does tease that it is a marsupial. So, is it actually the talking sloth who has been an advisor in the court? That creature has always been very forthcoming with information. But it also wouldn't be surprising to see Eliot and Margo betrayed by someone they know.
  • Just a few hours ago, Syfy picked up The Magicians for a fourth season. That was terrific news to receive. It means fans of the show won't be waiting in limbo after one season ends - like we were last year. There was never any real doubt that Syfy would cancel the show though. It's still one of the top performers for the network.