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THE MAGICIANS “Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting” Is Rife With Relationship Issues

By on February 2, 2016

Pictured: (l-r) Jason Ralph as Quentin, Olivia Taylor Dudley as Alice -- Photo by: Carole Segal/Syfy

This week’s episode title plays out pretty heavily on The Magicians, but it isn’t for lack of subtlety.

The metaphor is simply well delivered within the writing, performances and music, offering another fun and absorbing installment of Syfy’s newest (magical) masterpiece.

“Consequences of Advanced Magic” made us privy to the coolest part of magic school: sorting. This week every freshman was put to the test by being required to illustrate their strongest magic skill. From there the evaluators assigned students to the appropriate house. Alice ended up with the physicals, the same residence as our favorite duo Eliot and Margo. Penny was declared a psychic and as for Quentin, well… he sort of ended up at Brakebills exactly how he existed in the outside world: without a purpose. Deemed “undeclared,” Quentin’s unmarked status was comical, but shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

There is often something that separates “the chosen one” from the others, but what is perhaps most adorably amusing about Quentin is exactly what I mentioned in last week’s review. He’s just some ambiguously ordinary dude. All is not over for him though as he’ll have a chance to prove himself next year. In the meantime, he lands in the physical house with Alice based purely on the fact that they have extra beds.

One of the funnest moments in the episode involves the new kids getting comfortable after the magical sorting process. It all just feels so… college. For those of us that are rather fond of our post-secondary experiences, this show is a trip down memory lane. Finding your talent, taking ownership of it, and connecting with the people who share in it with you is all part of being a twenty-something. Not to mention the raving parties, longing glances from far off fellows and poor drunken decisions. That last part is in reference to Alice, who after a few shots decided to share an interest in attempting to bring her brother back again. Quentin is (thankfully) resistant to the idea, reminding Alice that, you know, someone died the last time they tried it.

Alice gives up on the idea at least temporarily, until a small event triggers a deeper glimpse into who the young woman’s brother was. It’s some solid (and totally tragic) backstory for a character who has up until now come off a bit frosty and detached. She’s logical and sharp, but as her arc this episode revealed, she’s also emotionally driven and fragile — a young woman who has lost her brother to the very place and thing that now guides her life.

That entire arc also serves as a casual reminder of the deadly dangers of magic. In conjuction with the brother reveal, we’re both shown and told about an incident at a campus fountain that put students in critical condition. It also happens to be the fountain where 15 students and a teacher took their lives on campus. As a result of the recent incident, the area is temporarily off limits. It’s attributed to a “haunting,” which raises all kinds of questions about how deep into the fantasy genre Brakebills is actually going. The scene itself is rather discomforting as well, which elevates the characters’ physical stakes. Particularly, we eventually learn, at the end of the episode.

Alice seems to think the attempted “drownings” are related to the brother she tried to contact back in the pilot. And only moments later we see both Alice and Quentin enter her room, now covered in moving glass horses. It’s a trick Alice tells us she learned from her brother. It also happens to be slightly creepy and a little menacing, reminding us that The Magician’s kind of magic isn’t for kids.

Alice is relentless in her determination to contact her brother and despite everything, Quentin eventually entertains her. Instead of using magic, Quentin suggests that she try using Margo’s natural gifts of communication and gossip. It pushes Alice and Margo to connect, and both women end up spending a lot of time with one another during the episode. Margo is actually privy to a resonating moment for the Brakebills’ freshman as Alice seeks out a girl from her brother’s class who dropped out after his disappearance. Alice and Margo are only one pair of the show’s various juxtaposing pairs, but their mild antagonism is charming. Unlike Penny and Quentin, who at times appear to be engaging in a game of Rugby when interacting, Alice and Margo feel like a dance. It’s fun–mesmerizing even–to see them slither and swerve around each other.

As Alice and Margo get acquainted, the latter’s second half enlists Quentin’s help in retrieving a book that has disappeared from campus. The endeavor requires they venture off campus to retrieve it. Simple, normal enough task, right? Yeah, no. The books at Brakebills aren’t ordinary. They’re apparently alive and one of them is freaking out because its “partner” volume is missing. Eliot points a finger at Brakebills’ outcasts, a group of “trashy” magician wannabees who steal materials from the college to practice their street level magic. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s Julia’s crew, who Eliot and Quentin eventually drop the proverbial mic on. Quentin and Julia make eye contact during the altercation, but verbally never address each other.

That bothers Julia enough for her to chase Quentin out of the warehouse, where the two go head-to-head in a brutally honest verbal spat about their forking futures. Quentin thinks what Julia’s doing is childish and beneath her. Julia feels betrayed that her best friend didn’t have her back. Ultimately, the argument — a perfectly acted scene by both Stella Maeve and Jason Ralph — boils down to this: Julia is letting her entire life go because her obsessive personality hasn’t let up, and Quentin can’t handle the fact that the girl who romantically rejected him for years can’t handle rejection herself.

I’ll admit, stringing someone along really  isn’t the nicest thing in the world, but never stepping up to vocalize your interest and then playing the “friendzoned” card isn’t the most mature thing either. Many fans had voiced concerns about whether the series would be able to bring the youthful immaturity of the book characters to life when aging them up. No worries, everyone. It is here in full force. Mind you, this is not the first time we’ve seen Quentin take this tone with Julia, but to know the seeds of it lie in another story changes how it is received. Julia’s emotional addiction to magic is becoming dangerous to her life because she refuses to live like everyone else. Meanwhile, Quentin is throwing away a friendship because the girl he liked didn’t like him back. Google search results say “Did you mean: petty?

Pictured: (l-r) Jade Tailor as Kady, Arjun Gupta as Penny

Pictured: (l-r) Jade Tailor as Kady, Arjun Gupta as Penny

As for the show’s resident bad boy Penny, he’s still clearly not about being “in touch” with himself–or letting anyone else touch him for that matter. Unfortunately for him his power lies in that higher plane of physical and emotional connection. It’s interesting to watch and foreshadows a lot about the character’s potential as a magician. If he’s struggling to keep a lid on his powers now while using every ounce of control he has, what happens when he lets go? In that way he’s also very much like Quentin, a ticking time bomb of potential power.

Overall, the episode’s most interesting theme — the duality of accepting your fate and who you accept it with — surfaced within the writing’s blunt force unpacking of several main characters. In the scene where we learn about the true fate of Alice’s brother (magic consumption),  Olivia Taylor Dudley’s performance is an understated, but stirring portrayal of the emotional impact personal loss can have. It carries over into Alice’s verbal altercation with Quentin after he stops her terrifying brother from causing her harm. Alice’s efforts definitely read as futile and emotionally blinded, but Dudley’s execution of her panicked desperation was so strong that you couldn’t help but feel for her. The very same could be said of Stella Maeve’s performance as Julia this week. We’re watching a healthy and happy character slowly get eaten by her own dark-ish desires, but can you blame her? If you could have that kind of power, what lengths would you go to? Who would you become and who would you leave behind?

Meanwhile, Penny’s arc this episode took a surprising turn with the discovery of his rare “traveler” powers. But just to be clear, it wasn’t the revelation that was most eye-brow raising. It was what Dean Fogg told Penny in the car after his path was uncovered. In true Penny fashion, he sarcastically and aggressively rejects his calling, choosing to see it as an annoyance and a burden. And according to Fogg, Penny’s existed this way pretty much his entire life. In the way Quentin, Julia, Alice and Eliot’s emotional baggage has already been splayed out on the table for viewers, we are allowed to see part of what rests at the core of Penny’s internal conflict. Where Quentin didn’t hesitate to accept his fate as a magician and as a result still ended up undefinable, Penny sits on the other side of that magical coin–a rare breed with a clear path, afraid to embrace his power.

The Magicians‘ Most Magical Moments:

  • I don’t know what’s funnier: Quentin listening to T-Swift or Penny being so offended by it he was an inch from walloping the guy.
  • How good do you have to be at gossiping for someone to declare it your magical discipline?
  • Flying books. Flying books that have feelings for one another. Flying books that have feelings for one another and get it on.
  • Kady blowing off the door to the physical house. So. Boss.
  • Our favorite magic kids got the perfect send off with Simple Mind’s “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” This show is literally the stuff of my teenage genre-loving dreams, guys.
  • More Eliot and Margo, please.

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