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THE MAGICIANS: Things Heat Up in “The Mayakovsky Circumstance”

By on March 1, 2016

Pictured: Summer Bishil as Margo -- (Photo by: Carole Segal/Syfy)

“The Mayakovsky Circumstance” is perhaps The Magicians’ most appropriately titled episode yet.

At the beginning of this week’s episode, we’re shown where those truth trials, and resulting goose condition, took our Brakebills clique: Brakebills South. Yes, there is a second school smack dab in the middle of the Antarctic that is run by a man named Mayakovsky. He’s a man who believes he’s “the last great magician,” and as such employs extremely harsh teaching methods to weed out the weak and better prepare students for their future as employers of magic.

At the beginning of this week’s episode, we’re shown where those truth trials, and resulting goose condition, took our Brakebills clique: Brakebills South. Yes, there is a second school smack dab in the middle of the Antarctic that is run by a man named Mayakovsky. He’s a man who believes he’s “the last great magician,” and as such employs extremely harsh teaching methods to weed out the weak and better prepare students for their future as employers of magic.

The students are forced, much like last week, into a string of incredibly difficult lessons where they must rely completely on magic in the purest form in order to complete them. It takes “magic in your bones” to a whole other level. Tasks include dropping nails straight into boards (without being able to speak) and mind controlling bugs. A lot of what they are learning challenges the principles they’ve been taught at Brakebills North, but it’s clear that the opposite side to the same coin educational method is being executed to give the young magicians more agency over their gift. You and you alone are responsible for the power you wield. You control it, it doesn’t control you–questionable decision making and all.

Throwing the rest of the Brakebills kids into the freezing confines of Brakebills South made room for Eliot and Margot to get some much-deserved screen time. And apparently for them, it was also much-deserved vacation time as the two planned a warm and magical getaway. Their plans, which involve magicking up a gin maker, are slightly interrupted when another student by the name of Mike catches Eliot’s eye. The blossoming relationship between Eliot and his new beau forces Margot into third wheel status, creating a pretty static jealous tension between the three. That tension physically manifests when they all realize that the gin maker is actually a genie maker, harboring a magical being who answers to Margot’s every wish (vocalized or not). It’s a funny arc that allows Eliot and Margot’s charming bond to be used as a vehicle for their present and potential development through the rest of the season.

What the tasks and teachable moments ultimately offer our students is a means of addressing some heated underlying tensions between them. Things between Penny and Kady began pretty sourly after she confessed to only using him–moments after he confessed to falling in love with her. But as Mayakovsky forces Penny to embrace his power, he begins to realize how short life can be and reaches out to Kady for the first time since their transformation incident. The result is Kady opening her mind to Penny and the two becoming closer than ever, with Penny getting himself involved with her dangerous relationship to Marina. It’s nice to see Penny and Kady so emotionally open to one another as both are the show’s most socially and emotionally distant. It’s a calm, that we should’ve recognized was coming right before a storm. As we see, Kady learns of what happened to her mother, and so does Brakebills–which means that Kady cannot return. The problem is, Penny has to in order to learn how to control his powers. It’s a move that will force the two apart, and in a surprising turn, we realize that we were rooting harder for Kady and Penny than we realized.

As for Alice and Quentin, their romantic ties begin to take form this episode, but I’m not sure enough time was spent building the attraction aspect of their relationship on-screen to explain their sudden and borderline aggressive interest in one another. Yes, the goosing incident could have brought them closer together, but this physical manifestation of their interest probably would’ve worked better had more time actually been spent illustrating that their awkwardness around each other wasn’t a direct result of two very awkward people, but rather sexual tension brewing between them. Nevertheless, it’s nice to finally see these two jump that hurdle and their partnership is cute to watch in the opposites attract sort of way.

Julia, meanwhile, is reeling from the death of Kady’s mother. After visiting the police station to report the incident, Julia’s sister arrives to do some damage control for their very controlling mother. It seems that Julia has a past relationship with mental illness, a revelation that brings a darker emotional edge to the character. It has been interesting to see Julia so driven, but now we know where that drive comes from. What’s even more interesting is the parallels it then creates with Quentin. It almost feels like the two are another two sides to the same coin relationship. Julia’s success was a result of her trauma, while Quentin’s averageness is a result of his. I am left to wonder whether Quentin knew about Julia’s past–perhaps he wouldn’t have been so loathing if he did.

What’s most interesting about this week’s storylines is that it truly feels like the first time the show is concentrated on developing interpersonal relationships. In a weird way, that’s exactly what Mayakovsky was attempting to do between each student and their magic. But instead of leaving it there, the episode applies that “magical” tension and attention to the show’s various couples and inverts the show’s focus. Don’t get me wrong, the magic is cool and it’s a decent part of what makes this show so enthralling. But this is also a show about twenty-somethings trying to navigate their way through life. It can’t be all Narnia and Harry Potter adventure all the time. Sometimes it needs to be Dawson’s Creek, and this week not only proved that the show can do it, but that it’s at its best when it embraces its young adult angst.

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