As far as Magicians finales go, at least a lot more people survived this one. Well, until that lamprey catches up with Alice.
For a finale, a lot of what happens here is less about the resolution of various season-long dilemmas, and more about setup for the new season. The last episode finally dealt with Reynard, and in this one, Ember and Umber are dispatched before too much time has passed in the episode, and the remainder of the time is used for putting everyone in place for next season. Magic is gone, Eliot and Margo are struggling with democracy, Kady and Penny have all kinds of problems, and Julia might be the only hope.
But this mix of the present and the future makes it a somewhat low-stakes finale, which is a little surprising for a show that’s generally so heavy on plot. And it’s disappointing to lose Umber so soon, since in a very short time, he proved to be one of the show’s more fascinating inventions—a god who abandons his creations, but can’t resist trying to improve upon them. Even the mannerisms they gave him were so intriguing, with the perfectionist affectation of the tablet, and his quietness, neatness, and hidden force serving as a pointed contrast to his brother. Ember was a little less of an intriguing dramatic point, since he’s basically just an ass, but the interplay between them as two necessary pieces of the same divine infrastructure was a promising thematic point. Also, there’s a way in which shows like this have to escalate the forces their heroes face every season that ends up diminishing the excitement level of each new villain. The last one was so powerful, but this one is omniscient! Those gods were really strong, but these new gods, they’re even stronger!
On the flip side, there’s no requirement that every season finale of a show has to have the kind of stakes that suggest someone is about to die. For a genre show, it’s actually kind of unusual that almost no one in this episode is ever really on the brink of death. Penny is, but not in the adrenaline-packed way that everyone was last season.
If there’s a larger theme to this season, it might be the way these people are finding ways to not be awful to each other, and to work together towards common goals. Sure, Margo and Eliot were always going to look out for each other, but they’re finally grappling with what that means in practice. And Julia and Quentin have, after a long period of conflict, figured out exactly how deep their bond goes. Friendship, and the ties that connect people even after they’ve treated each other terribly (remember when Julia helped trap Quentin in a dream from which only Taylor Swift could save him?) are proving to be as important as any given magic spell. And if they didn’t combine all of those various magic spells, they wouldn’t get anywhere. The group needs Quentin to use his Fillory knowledge to trick Umber, it needs Julia to sneak around Ember, and it needs Margo and Elliot to keep Ember in Whitespire long enough. Even Josh is needed, in the end (someone has to bake).
As the show heads into a well-earned Season 3, it’s also finding new ways to keep its characters evolving. Alice, who spent most of the first season as a tortured genius and most of the second as a nihilistic demon, will somehow have to merge those two personas, and it’s not clear which of those two sides will prove to be the dominant one. And Julia, who for much of the show’s run has been a dark reminder of dreams deferred and warped, is becoming something like the center of hope, and she’s getting there in part because of how healing it is to see her cry it out on a couch.
And Quentin finally gets to be the hero, which, inevitably, turns out to have been a massive problem. Only…was it? If he and his friends hadn’t killed Ember, Fillory would have been destroyed. Presumably all those Fillorian critters, even the uber-violent sloth, would prefer life without magic to no life at all. Are the fairies playing some kind of incredibly long game here? They were the ones who set up the Ember trap, and the end of magic has apparently had no effect on them whatsoever. Who’s the bigger threat in Season 3, them or the new gods?
No, I’ve got it: It’s the sinister plumber.
- I have a variety of Alice and Quentin questions, starting with why they were barefoot at the South Pole, and ending with the logistics of how they got back to Brakebills without magic. Does Mayakovsky have a boat?
- I expect “sad little nerd king” to show up as someone’s user name on this site now, do you hear me?
- “I am a god, and you are a hairless monkey, so nod and say thank you.”
- Margo and Eliot have a really funny conversation about her missing eye, but short of transcribing the whole thing here, I’ll say my favorite line was probably, “It’s not funny, you dick. I’m a Cyclops.”
- Deserving of its own bullet point: Margo gave up an eye for Eliot. Also, why did Josh not have to give anything up?
- I dislike ten minute long previously-ons that tell you every single plot point that you’re about to see in the upcoming episode, but I might make an exception for this one, because I laughed at Ember doing Margo’s voice.
- So, in Season 1, Kady lied to Penny because she was secretly passing information about the institution he was a part of to someone on the outside (Brakebills, Marina). In Season 3, she will be doing the exact same thing?