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THE MAGICIANS: “Impractical Applications” Illustrates Magic’s Power In Numbers

By on February 23, 2016

Pictured: (l-r) Arjun Gupta as Penny, Olivia Taylor Dudley as Alice, Jason Ralph as Quentin -- Photo by: Eike Schroter/Syfy

“Impractical Applications” revealed several truths about The Magicians’ characters and the show itself. The most interesting of which is that this show is built for fandom.

I don’t say that to slight the series. In fact, I consider it serious praise. The Magicians knows how to navigate its characters through sometimes murky and tumultuous plot waters, luring its viewers in by their heart strings and then at just the right moment releasing them into the wild and deep sea of dramatic development. It’s a hard balance to find and execute. But when it happens, like it did last night, fans generally go wild–pretty much a sure sign you’ve got a dedicated fanbase and a decently engaging story. 

This episode shifted from being as Quentin centric as last week to focusing in on some really fantastic power character team-ups. Snatched from the confines of their safe and warm houses, the first years were forced to endure a magical game that tested their fortitude: mentally, emotionally, morally, magically.  

Divided up into teams each magician had to complete a task in order to pass on to the next task and ultimately make it through the “trials.” Not surprisingly our first round saw Penny and Quentin forced together, but it also offered them a chance to finally see eye to eye. They may be very different, but they both still like to succeed and that desire can motivate anyone to work together. The next handful of trials saw our first Magicians team up, featuring Kady, Penny, Quentin and Alice before pairing our prospective couples off for their final hurdle. The last leg of the race is always the hardest though and The Magicians certainly played on that notion.

Meanwhile, on the outside Julia’s fight to stay connected to magic escalates, bringing her in touch with someone who possess quite the unique connection to Marina. In an effort to out power the menacing and manipulative Hedge-Witch, Julia comes face-to-face with just how dangerous–and deadly–magic can be.

The games aspect of the episode was interesting in terms of the task types and how it created organic character tension through its various pairings. Overall, it was exciting and engaging to watch–a testament to its execution–our characters forced into situations where they had to genuinely work together. Not only did it compel them to reveal more about themselves, but it turned them into more fully fleshed and emotionally genuine people. Even if we didn’t like what their truths had to say. 

Watching Penny and Quentin cheat together proved that opposites truly do attract and that great minds can be different but totally think alike. For as much as they aggravate one another, they honestly make a strong team. The pairing also helps show Penny’s softer, heroic edges while elevating Quentin out of his tragic averageness. Here we see that his nerdiness is clever and agile, a legitimate asset and a testament to his ability to adapt and survive. It all ultimately calls on his desperation to remain at the school–a feeling he shares with more people than he realizes. 

That part was perhaps one of the most interesting truths about the Brakebills specific storyline this week. While not everyone may like magic (or specifically their type of magic) equally, nor are any of them literally of the same caliber, they all still want to be there. Badly. So badly that it goes far beyond want into a desperate need. Penny and Alice have found weird homes there, in both people and their powers. They are anchored by their fear of their own magic but also the fear of losing people that matter. For Alice, it’s her brother. For the socially reluctant and emotionally cut-off Penny we learn that it’s now Kady, a girl whom he’s emotionally opened himself up to. Unfortunately, as soon as we see Penny emotionally vulnerable, Kady reveals what she’s been put up to, crushing the traveler completely.

As for Quentin and Kady, it’s ultimately about survival. Quentin can’t make it out in the real world and he’s learning that it isn’t just the “real world’s” fault for that. He has to grow up, but at Brakebills he’s in the perfect place to do it. A place where he doesn’t have to fear disappointment in anything other than himself. No excuses, right? As for Kady, her situation is complicated by the fact that her mother has basically sold her life over to Marina. We realize that every questionable thing she does isn’t because she’s a questionable person. She’s just a young woman trying to stay alive.

While Kady wants out of Marina’s death choke, Julia’s doing just about everything to land herself back in it. I’ll say this: Julia is smart and powerful but what makes her shine brightest as a character is her fearless dedication. This woman, for a lack of better words, is a warrior. Yes, her obsession is a literal metaphor for her addiction. But it’s also an illustration of the lengths women have to go to at times to be equal. She’s messy, but she’s real. Julia’s passion and dedication to magic has you wishing she got into Brakebills because geez hasn’t she earned it? She could be wasted potential, but unlike Quentin who simply let things happen to him and hoped for the best, Julia has taken control. Perhaps that’s what Quentin never got about her happiness and success in the “real world” versus his own. She forged hers, carving it out of stone to get to the other side. He was just looking for a door in. 

With that said, the show did something that was totally unexpected and I’m not even sure intentional, but it was a really nice narrative turn regardless. “Impractical Applications” played on gender expectations in character arc development. This week the show offered more tender illustrations of its male characters while proving the magical, emotional and physical fortitude of its female ones.

Penny put his heart out in his hand while Quentin faced his own fear of inadequacy. As for Eliot, we’ve already been told about his deep struggles to be himself in a world that tried to hate him. Meanwhile, Alice downplays herself to stay hidden, but she’s far more powerful than any of them realize. Julia has magic and personal drive radiating from her, waiting to burst. Kady’s struggle to stay alive as a result of her mother’s poor decision making is a great representation of a morally gray and very relatable character. Finally, how Margot presents herself to the world is both a dress and a defense mechanism to guard the heart and a certain innocence inside.

“Impractical Applications” was on the surface a really fun competition episode exploring powers and the show’s political and social tensions. But ultimately it proved that the series’ heart is exactly where it should be: with its characters.

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