Wednesday, April 4, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Magicians' - The Quest Ends at the Castle at the End of the World in 'Will You Play With Me?'

Syfy's The Magicians - Episode 3.13 "Will You Play With Me?"

The group finds what they're looking for and attempt once and for all to get magic back.

The plans that the group comes up with heading into the season finales never ultimately work out the way that they were expecting. That has been a consistent feature of the show across three seasons. At the end of the first season, the Beast proved to still be too powerful despite Alice being the one to receive the power of the gods from Ember. It ended with almost everyone on the verge of death with Julia saving everyone by making a deal with the Beast. At the end of the second season, the team had acquired all of the required tools to kill Ember before he completely destroyed Earth and Fillory. They succeeded only for it to lead to the fairy occupation of Fillory and magic being turned off everywhere. And so, it was inevitable that the plan at the end of the third season would go awry in some way. The quest that the characters have been on has challenged them in unexpected ways that have altered the way they approach any given situation. It's been a season of growth for both the characters and the show. The episodes were more confident than ever before in playing with structure while also dealing with some truly heartbreaking and emotional twists. And now, all of that pays off remarkably well in a finale that could be defined as confusing because of the many different agendas working against one another. It can be hard to keep track of every new alliance and potential partnership. And yet, it all still resonants because the show actually fulfills the promise of the season by making it a story about the restoration of magic and the questioning of magic's own importance in this world. The season asked if the quest was noble and if everyone should be working together on it. They do stand united in the end. But it's also heartbreaking to think of what will happen next to the characters as soon as they finish this ultimate goal. It has to have a personal cost for them. And boy does the show deliver on that front.

All it took was a spark from Julia to know that magic still existed in this world and could be turned on once more. It was a spark of power gifted to her by Our Lady Underground. It has now blossomed into this miraculous gift that has transformed her into a god. That has been her trajectory this season. It has allowed her to solve so many problems along this quest. She allowed the spark to grow through compassionate acts. She freed the fairies. She cared for her friends when they needed their pain taken away. She restored the ecosystem of Fillory. And now, she is fully labeled as a god. But that distinction also comes with the expectation that she will leave the life of mortals to live amongst the gods creating new worlds and doing the occasional good deed. She is visited by a messenger eager to welcome her to this new life. Julia is willing to walk away from the quest. She never needed it. Magic never left her. She just had to accept the newfound power inside of her. She had to understand and grow it. She did more good than any of the previous gods the characters have interacted with. And now, she is told that she is no longer necessary for the quest. The magicians can handle it just fine. It's a personal mission for them because they need magic to restore order to their lives. Julia has much grander things to look forward to. And yet, she maintains that close connection with her friends. In the moment, she says goodbye and only gives Quentin a small taste of magic. It's powerful enough for one spell. He uses it well too to better understand the situation he is walking into. But Julia's purpose on this quest isn't over with just yet. Her power is still required as soon as things go awry.

Things are intense heading into the unlocking of the magical back door at the castle at the end of the world. Quentin, Margo and Josh track down the god who designed the castle to lock up all the mistakes the gods made over the years. She is willing to help them because her lover, Prometheus, saw value in this quest. He believed that the individuals involved would one day be required to save all of the gods from forces that threatened their very existence. Of course, he also died in creating the seven keys. It was an act of great personal sacrifice. That has been the greatest consequence of this quest. In order to restore magic, the characters are pushed to the brink of sanity and forced to make several compromising decisions. It's tragic to watch in a couple of instances. Quentin resigns himself as the replacement the knight in the castle has long wanted. He is willing to replace her in keeping these beasts at bay to protect the rest of the world. He is willing to lose his freedom just so that everyone can keep magic. Eliot and Margo carry the gun with the god-killing bullet to the castle knowing that they aren't leaving without their close friend and fellow ruler of Fillory. Alice is willing to take a potion to completely forget her life and the existence of magic. She doesn't trust herself with that temptation once more because she has caused so many people pain both as a niffin and as a restored human. And finally, the Fairy Queen is willing to hand herself over to Irene and the Library to power up their siphon in a deal that keeps anyone from hunting any fairy anywhere. It's a sacrifice she makes for her people. She views it as the best way to ensure the survival of her race in a world where they are no longer protected. The fairies will prosper. But it's tragic because Irene kills the Fairy Queen because she stands in the way of her achieving her ultimate goal of being the woman who delivered all the power to the Library.

And thus, there are a lot of betrayals that happen as soon as the door to the castle is unlocked from the inside. Quentin is ready to uphold his end of this bargain. He is ready to meet this vicious creature that his killed everything else inside this castle. He is willing to serve as the knight for the rest of his life. Then, he learns it's a spirit that needs constant attention and is basically a child. It's vicious because of just how destructive it can become when it doesn't get what it wants. Right now, it's occupied by playing a game of hide or seek. It presents as just an innocent looking man. But Eliot still takes the shot to kill it. It's a direct hit. It's then that it's revealed that this creature can move from body to body. This body dies but it can easily move to that of its protector. That's not something that anyone notices but Alice. Despite that, she is still willing to use the fairy dust to seize control of the keys and destroy them. She has this potion to completely forget her life as soon as she honors her deal with the Library. But instead, she goes against everyone to ensure that the world never changes from what it is now. She just sees magic as this toxic thing that has destroyed all of their lives. It's a crushing defeat for the rest of the team. That's when Julia makes her grand appearance. She is able to forge seven new keys the same way that Prometheus did. It drains her of her power though. She becomes a weakened god that no longer has the strength to protect herself or the people she cares about. She is vulnerable in the immediate aftermath. And yet, the quest is completed. The seven keys are turned into the backdoor and the wellspring of magic begins flowing once more. It's still slow to kick back into the world. The show set up that there's a process to it being present in this world again. It's in that time where it becomes clear that Dean Fogg has betrayed everyone by forging his own deal with the Library. He is willing to help them place their siphon on the magic wellspring in exchange for a supply of magic at Brakebills. Irene is powerful enough to fight the group because of the fairy dust from the Fairy Queen. It's such a heartbreaking moment because magic is restored to the world and immediately compromised by those wishing to exploit the system.

The most damaging twist of fate that occurs in the aftermath of all of this is Dean Fogg using his potion to completely wipe out the personalities of Quentin, Julia, Eliot, Margo, Penny, Kady and Josh. It's the Library trying to exert control and restore order. They are taking the people who have driven this story forward into all the chaos out of the equation completely. They view this gang of individuals as responsible for all of their problems. As such, this solution will allow them to be dealt with while still enjoying relatively normal lives on Earth. It's their sole focus when it comes to controlling who gets magic in this new world. They aren't concerned about the creature that exists within this castle. They don't care if it escapes and wreaks havoc on the world. They go in not knowing what to expect. They travel in at the last second knowing that the group has succeeded in their mission. They were very precise in that way while very casually dismissing this concern about the creature. Alice is the only person who understands the threat and takes it seriously. She is afraid for her friends' safety in this new world. They have no recollection of who they are but this creature knows their faces. It can attribute them as the people who took the fun away. It's freedom is now so dangerous because it has the power to do absolutely anything with no concern for the consequences whatsoever. It feeds off of that attention. And so, it's ultimately tragic to see which of the characters it lands in during this brief glimpse of the new world. Magic is in very short supply at Brakebills because the Library is being very careful with who gets what. Meanwhile, the gang is just going about their lives with new identities. They are working ordinary jobs and maintaining their hobbies. Of course, some personality traits persist. Margo is still demanding when Josh is her taxi driver. But it's so surprising when Eliot shows up seemingly aware of who Quentin really is. There is a brief moment of hope where the audience believes Eliot has somehow broken free of this spell and is trying to recruit his friends to help save magic. But that's not what's going on at all. Instead, it's the creature who has come to possess Eliot's body. It has possessed the man who killed it in the castle. And now, it's sought out the man who wanted to play with it before. But now, Quentin has no idea who this crazy man is who's stalking him and seems to appear wherever he turns. It's a very ominous ending that leaves things in a precarious state for the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Will You Play With Me?" was written by Sera Gamble & John McNamara and directed by Chris Fisher.
  • Of course, there are some major questions the show will have to answer about this latest reboot for the main characters. Specifically, what kind of magical abilities do Julia, Penny and Margo still have? Julia became a god. Even if she lost all of her powers in making the keys, she would still be immortal and unable to be killed by a human. Penny is a magical creature who still could travel despite no magic in the world. And Margo has a fairy eye that was suppose to gift her new abilities. These seem like the complications that may just pull them back to their normal lives of magic and chaos.
  • Margo was just voted king of Fillory as well. And now, she has seemingly abandoned her throne. She did so for good reason. She was a part of the quest to restore magic. Some individuals will understand that magic is back in Fillory. But no one there has struck a deal with the Library so they can actually use it. As such, that should be very fascinating to watch as Fen has to rule in Margo's stead for the time being - while having to remain very suspicious of the power-hungry Tick.
  • Alice is able to keep her memories and personality. But she is now a prisoner of the Library. She isn't allowed to see anyone. She's not even being put to work either. She attempted to break a deal and is now facing the punishment for that. And yet, Dean Fogg is still allowed to see her. That gives her the opportunity to warn him about the creature that is coming to Earth with such destructive capabilities.
  • It's so tragic to see what happens to the Fairy Queen here. She was willing to sacrifice everything in order to protect her people. She carried the burden of them always being hunted for their powers. She was willing to make a new deal to ensure that no one ever hunted and killed another fairy. And yet, it's easy to get swept up in the emotions of that moment alongside Fen even though the Fairy Queen has always been positioned as an adversary.
  • The third season of The Magicians wasn't ordered until the show had already wrapped its second season. That's not the same concern this time around. The show was confident that it would return for another batch of episodes. It had the confidence to tell a finale like this. That confidence was warranted because it was renewed halfway through the current run. That's great. This show became perfect this year. This was the best season by far and I eagerly await to see what comes next.