Photo: Eric Milner (Syfy)

The Magicians has been finding ways all season to play with one of the most ancient storytelling tropes of all: the heroic quest. Whether it’s a quest that turns into the actual personification of depression or one that lets the show get incredibly inventive with structure, as with last week’s “Six Short Stories about Magic” and the earlier “A Life in a Day” episode, it’s been a form-stretching season. Tonight’s key quest finds a most Magicians-esque solution that may not have been quite what Homer had in mind for the Odyssey: They rescue themselves with the power of pop music.

This is, of course, hardly the only time the show has resorted to songs you’ve heard a million times to give an episode a fun twist, whether it’s Quentin using “Shake It Off” to break out of a bad dream or Eliot and Margo living out their Les Mis fantasies. But this episode’s closing performance of “Under Pressure” by the whole cast might be the most emotionally resonant one yet.

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All season, we’ve seen more separations than reunions, from the combusting love stories of Kady and Penny and Quentin and Alice to the way Margo has been trapped in Fillory with sinister fairies determined to torture her. And while this episode doesn’t come through with the full-on reunion you might have hoped for, it does give everyone a chance to be together in spirit, however briefly.

Remember Josh? Only Julia did, apparently. If it seemed like the show lost interest in him briefly, that’s only because the rest of the characters did. Josh’s pain is the pain all of us have felt at one point or another, knowing that the people we want to befriend just aren’t as invested as us. It’s terrible to know you’re on the outside. That his pocket universe involves getting trapped in a place that was never technically his home feels fitting. The demon who found him created a Josh-specific world that both provides what he wants (ie, a neverending party where he’s the star) and reminds him of the worst moments in his life–why else would that Bowie poster be in his room?

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But despite some low points, this is not, ultimately, a sad episode. This is an episode about hope, and friendship, and pop music, and how Jade Tailor is a really good singer so they found a way to have her sing.

It’s not quite a musical episode, despite Alice’s show-stopper of a rendition of the “Happy Birthday” song. Though that song choice makes sense, considering the occasion. Alice is not a person who would think of something clever to sing just then—she’s just the person who would figure out that someone had better sing something, and quick. It’s up to the others to actually figure out how to extricate themselves. Kady, often this show’s Swiss army knife character (She knows sign language! She can throw a punch! She knows burlesque!), busts out a night club routine. And if that seems slightly out of character for her, you’re probably right, since she rolls her eyes and shows up moments later in her usual clothes, having abandoned a decoy version of herself to tantalize the masses. But though Kady leads the vocals, it’s Quentin, the show’s resident quest expert, who picks the ultimate song.

No one’s problems are exactly solved here. Margo and Eliot are still deposed rulers, and Julia hasn’t figured out how to rescue the enslaved fairies, or what’s happening to her. The point, sometimes, is less about finding answers, and more about feeling, even for only the duration of a timeless pop song, connected to the people around you, and to something meaningful. Because sometimes that what art does for you. It reminds you why your friends are who they are, or it makes you feel lifted up even if everything else in your life is still a mess and you’re trapped in the underworld filing books.

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The group does still manage to come away with another key, though, leaving them just a few short of what they need to restore magic, and for the first time, they’ve learned that someone powerful somewhere is rooting for them. Or at least doing what they can to aid them in their quest, since no one on this show ever has trustworthy motivations.

As the show heads into the final episodes of its third season, it’s found ways to keep the action moving even when the title of the program is no longer accurate, while simultaneously having quite a bit to say about the role art plays in our lives. There’s something deeply satisfying in knowing that the characters on this show would also watch this show. Whatever else happens this season, whatever other battles and feuds beset them, these people will also still remember the time they defeated a demon with a good Bowie cover.


Stray observations

  • Though it was occasionally a bit heavy-handed, the writers did a good job of matching specific lyrical moments to characters for whom it was particularly meaningful.
  • I hope Trevor Einhorn got to keep some of those Josh paintings.
  • “Great, well, enjoy our death screams, I guess.”
  • Speaking of Margo, she still sometimes gets stuck playing second fiddle, so it was nice to see the eventual rescue of her and Eliot happening because of something she did.
  • “I think we found hell.”
  • Thanks for joining me for this special drop-in review!

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