Stella Maeve, Jade Tailor / Eric Milner, Syfy

Tonight’s episode of The Magicians was a prime example of how to juggle multiple storylines without losing momentum on any of them. While in the past, it’s occasionally seemed like certain subplots stall out while a main story chugs toward a conclusion, here, everything was balanced, as everyone struggled to move forward in their lives but got thwarted at every turn. Eliot and Margo just want to rule Fillory, but it turns out the Fillorians don’t want to be ruled by them. Quentin just wants to move on with his life, but even the one person who seems likely to help him can’t do it. Penny wants to fix his hands, but instead has to learn all about how magic is dying. And poor Julia’s plans to banish Reynard are hobbled when she learns she’s pregnant.

Of all of these, Penny’s story seems most likely to shake the show up moving forward. No matter what else happens, you can’t have a show called The Magicians if magic dies out. Plus, Brian F. O’Byrne always brings such a joyful nihilism to his turns as Mayakovsky, and though he’s clearly putting Penny through his paces for some more meaningful reason, it never feels like treading water. That’s just kind of Mayakovsky’s thing. The contrast between his attitude towards his dalliance with Emily and her continued inability to move past it couldn’t be more brutal, though.

Her scenes with Quentin are all over the map. Given that she’s a new(ish) character and we know she’s got a dark past, there are a lot of moments where it’s hard to decide whether she means him harm or not. She’s clearly still in the midst of struggling with what happened to her, and eventually the question becomes whether or not Quentin will sink into the temptation of what she’s offering or find the ability to move on. While he doesn’t exactly handle it well, he at least has the emotional intelligence now to tell her he’s sorry for all she’s lost. In the meantime, the show has another example of the ways in which magic can bring nothing but misery to its practitioners. If Emily didn’t constantly have the ability to summon her ex lover’s face, would she be able to get over him? How much did Quentin set back his own progress on moving on from what happened to Alice?

And across town, Julia and Kady somehow managed to have a very meaningful conversation about abortion that also serves as an ode to the importance of female friendship. The show’s treatment of abortion never feels self-righteous or ambiguous, nor does it ever suggest that there’s any right way for Julia to be feeling about what she’s going to do. There’s no dancing around the subject—she uses the word abortion, she panics about getting it done quickly, she feels conflicted about it even though she knows she wants to have the procedure. And she has a friend there who talks it through with her with empathy and understanding. This shouldn’t be something worthy of note, and yet, of course, it is.

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That it all turns violent and horrifying is par for the course for the show, given that this is a series in which bad things happen to our heroes over and over again. What this says in some larger context about Reynard is nothing but awful, but the fact that the direction and staging make this into a horror film says a lot about where the show’s priorities are. The boogeyman here may be different than, say, Halloween, but all the familiar elements are there, from the dawning realization that something is going to go wrong, to watching Julia go in alone, to the doctor’s slow fumbling with her instruments. Even Julia’s joking about the drugs she’s on adds to the atmosphere of building panic, and it all ends with a nightmarish conclusion that acts as a painful parallel to real life. The two of them may be tangling with sinister fox gods, but it does not take too much analysis to see this as a tad symbolic of the real-world reproductive rights struggle.

But before Kady and Julia resort to some very medieval methods, Quentin gets a brief moment of hope in what is otherwise an episode filled with bleak resolutions. Is he up for the challenge of some light resurrection?

Stray observations

  • “Brakebills continues its tradition of fucking my shit.”
  • The contradiction of a bloodthirsty sloth is as enjoyable as it is bewildering.
  • My friend pointed out that while the Saga comic series has Lying Cat, The Magicians has Pregnant Rabbit. I feel like Lying Cat would probably be more useful in the long run, no?
  • “When we’re the least snobby people in a room, there’s something wrong with the room.”
  • One of the best versions of Quentin is flustered/embarrassed Quentin, and his dismay at how many of his coworkers are apparently masturbating in the office was very funny. Can’t really argue with his eventual, very freaked out, “What is this place?”
  • The Fillory conflicts were fine if not as compelling as the other stories this time through. But Margo giggling about the Foo Fighters was a highlight.
  • The journalist in me was very upset that Kady and Julia acquired forty year old newspapers and then DREW ALL OVER THEM WITH MARKER. It’s called LexisNexis, guys. I feel certain they can sneak into one of New York’s universities to access it. Is microfiche still a thing?
  • “Let’s just get this pesky abortion out of the way.” May we all have a Kady in our lives for when times get tough.

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