Wednesday, March 21, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Magicians' - Josh and Julia Face Familiar Threats in a New World in 'Twenty-Three'

Syfy's The Magicians - Episode 3.11 "Twenty-Three"

The group strategizes as Josh and Julia travel to a familiar place and are given a chance to help.

"Twenty-Three" asks the audience to have a long memory about what has happened on the show across all three seasons. It comes with a lengthy "Previously on..." sequence that reminds the audience of exactly how the team defeated the Beast, the time loops they were trapped in and what happened to Marina. Now, all of those details were easy to remember because they were important plot developments on the show. Last season made those crucial elements of the story that proved just how unique and crafty the show was capable of being. They proved just how serious and lethal the stakes of this world could be. Now, the show has been operating on a significantly better level this season. The first two seasons were strong but this season has been close to perfect so far. The mission of the seven keys has brought such a compelling focus to the overall narrative. And now as the characters are closing in on the end of their journey, the questions are really starting to pop up regarding the importance of this mission. Is it really worth it? Or has magic only traumatized their lives in numerous ways? Magic can give so much to the world. The gods apparently use magic in order to control humans. There will always be magical creatures with powers looking to exploit the world. But it has always been reckless in the hands of magicians. There have been so many different variations for how this story has ended. And now, Julia and Josh are forced to deal with the consequences of their collective pasts. It proves that the show can really be trippy with time travel and alternate realities.

Last week ended on the ominous note of the Fairy Queen having one of the keys that Quentin and company needed. It was in the fairy world. It was the thing actually maintaining the fairy world. As such, the Fairy Queen couldn't just hand it over to Julia to show her appreciation for helping free the enslaved fairies. That meant the quest had hit a roadblock. They couldn't progress to retrieve the final key until they dealt with this threat from the Fairy Queen. They've had to do things in a specific order. The book has only revealed the next chapter as soon as the characters retrieved the previous key and understood the power it wields. But now, it seems like the quest is sending Julia and Josh off on a completely different journey. They understand the threat that comes from the Fairy Queen. They want to regroup and come up with a strategy to handle all of this. They are then suddenly in the middle of a tesla spell from an alternate timeline. It's the same tool Quentin and Julia used to ask Alice about shades last season. And now, that timeline needs Julia and Josh's help. They are visited by an alternate Josh. He's the one who has appeared from a dystopia version of the world where The Beast was never stopped and magic no longer exists. They are desperate for help. The keys seem to agree because the time key sends Julia and Josh to this world. As such, they have a new mission to complete in order to retrieve the seventh and final key. It's them doing things out of order. But the quest seems to completely approve that.

As such, it's the show presenting a world that is very familiar to the one the characters and audience know but is still remarkably different. This is one of the failed experiments to defeat the Beast. It's a world where Julia did get accepted to Brakebills. But it's a world where Quentin, Julia, Eliot and Margo are now dead. The Beast is looking for Julia because of a vision he had. It's easy to connect with this story because Julia and The Beast have such a rich and complicated history. Plus, Julia is reunited with Marina. They had a tense dynamic too that was closely associated with The Beast and Reynard. It's great to see Kacey Rohl back in this world because she was such a fun recurring presence. Her death was significant last season. And now, the show is presenting a way to undo all of that and bring these actors back into the fold with just some slight differences. And so, this world is familiar but foreign as well. Julia knows she has to be very careful with whom she shares her powers. It's clear right away that this Josh and Marina plan on betraying Julia and Josh in order to enforce a new deal with The Beast. But Julia presents a new strategy that will see her use the same spell Alice used in order to kill The Beast in their timeline. That spell ultimately turned Alice into a niffin. But Julia doesn't have that same fear because of how strong her godlike powers have become following her efforts to free the fairies. The only mystery is getting that specific spell. It brings alternate Eliot and Margo into the fold as ghosts whose story can still be seen by Julia and Marina. That's beneficial. It's the show recognizing what worked in the past while also being very aware that it shouldn't tell the same story once more. There's just no fun in that.

And so, this story becomes completely different as soon as it is revealed that this version of The Beast is actually Quentin. That's such a shock. It's Jason Ralph once again playing the dark but confident version of this character. It throws the characters for a loop. They wonder how Quentin could possibly be The Beast when the time loop starts at the Brakebills acceptance exam. As such, there's a stretch of the episode that is just explaining how all of this has come to pass. It comes with the idea that things transcend all timelines. In this world, the group failed to kill The Beast. But Alice was fueled by her tesla conversation with Quentin and Julia last season to research how to restore that love. It's the same thing Quentin was desperate to do last season. But now, it's clear that bringing back loved ones is such a dangerous proposition. Alice was resentful of Quentin for making her a human again. And now, this Quentin has returned without his shade. He accumulates enough power to kill The Beast. In the process though, he assumes the villainous role because he agrees with the ideas Martin Chatwin had and sees Fillory as his only refuge in this world. In the process, he too killed Ember. That's the reason magic was turned off in this world. It's not because of the actions Julia and company did in the main timeline of the show. That action didn't transcend all alternate realities. But Ember still wound up dead. The Beast still has powers because he took them from a god. They don't come from the key around his neck. Instead, that key only gifts him with the vision of Julia being very important to the end game of this quest. All of this familiarity is important. But it's also informed by Julia not wanting to repeat the same mistakes as the past. She sees Alice and Marina and wants to do better by them this time around.

Julia still regrets what happened to Marina during her quest to kill Reynard. She was bait for a god to kill and the plan went horribly awry. Now, she tells that story to this new version of Marina. It's to get her to see that it isn't always smart to have someone pose as bait in order to defeat a powerful individual. She wants to go about things a different way. And yet, that's still exactly what occurs here. The team sneaks up on Quentin while he is in the throne room in Fillory. Alice decides to distract him in the heat of the moment so that Julia can sneak up and attack him using the blade strong enough to defeat a god. It's a plan that Quentin sees through right away. As such, he is able to deliver a fatal blow to Alice. But it's still an effective plan on Julia's part. She chooses not to strike with the weapon though. Instead, she gives her shade over to Quentin. It's a move that delivers this rush of emotions to overpower him. He is suddenly hit with all of the feelings that Julia has experienced for so long. She came to the realization that it's better to have these feelings than close oneself off to the world. She knows what it's like to live without a shade. She is willing to sacrifice that again knowing the power she wields in this world. And yet, she doesn't need to lose it. Quentin being hit with these emotions makes him very vulnerable and wanting to kill himself. He succeeds in that venture after delivering his warning to Julia about what his vision of the future teases. It's her standing on the edge of the world using the keys to unlock magic but ultimately unleashing an even greater evil. That's such an ominous note. It should be fascinating to see how it impacts Julia's judgment. The world has been warning these characters that the quest may not be worth it but the keys still keep moving them along knowing just how important all of this really is.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Twenty-Three" was written by Henry Alonso Myers & Mike Moore and directed by Meera Menon.
  • In this alternate world, it's also established that Julia and Penny were a grand love story. He was devastated when she died. And now, he's so hopeful upon being reunited with her. Of course, this isn't the same woman. She has never had these thoughts towards him because her Penny has always been so in love with Kady. But it also shows just how different these relationships would have been if Julia was accepted into Brakebills in the beginning.
  • It's also fascinating to see this Penny and Marina return to the main timeline with Julia and Josh. Marina really doesn't have a moment where she says she's making the journey. Josh just says she stormed through the door. It's something the audience just has to accept and be aware of for the future. With Penny, it's important that he's coming along. Plus, he'll probably serve as the replacement traveler while the main Penny is relaxing in the Underworld for awhile.
  • The only real purpose to it being Josh who brings Julia over to this alternate timeline is to remind the audience that he has the potential of one day turning into a werewolf. That's such a random plot device that hasn't been mentioned in so long. Plus, it allows for there to be lethal stakes in this alternate world that doesn't affect the foundation of the main story this season.
  • The other versions of the characters are all still fundamentally the same. They have just had different life experiences. Fogg and Eliot are still alcoholics avoiding responsibility. Margo still amusingly loses an eye. Josh still has abandonment issues. But it's fascinating to see how the reactions are different. This feels like a more confident version of Josh simply because he felt the need to change his life and not wait around to be rescued and noticed by the rest of the team.
  • The characters really do run the risk whenever they walk through the portal that can take them between Fillory and Earth. They don't know what's waiting for them in the forest of Fillory after Tick has put prices on their heads. Plus, they don't know if the time key will send them to their intended destination. Julia and Josh want to discuss things with the group before going on this mission. But the key sends them there anyway. There really is no rules to these keys whatsoever.