Few genres and themes have been left unturned on The Magicians. From broad humor to tragic romance, musical numbers, bloody murder and epic duels and a general sense of ennui, we’ve seemingly seen it all within the confines of this little show that could. That being said, have we ever seen them languish so completely in melancholy as we did in tonight’s beautifully peculiar and achingly earnest “A Life in The Day”?
Picking up where we last left off, the series once again subverts expectations by refusing to let us linger on last week’s massive cliffhanger. Instead, we make a small jump in time where Alice has decided to bring the truth key to Kady (who’s in a psychiatric ward following her overdose) so that she can find some relief that her boyfriend isn’t totally dead. Instead, having been so wracked with guilt over losing him and blaming herself for not at least condemning his soul to the underworld, she lashes out and in doing so convinces her doctors that she’s more ill than they once believed after seeing video footage of her shouting at thin air. Easily the least developed character despite some heavy subject matter to deal with, this both gives Kady a reason to be separated from the group while also giving her a storyline that is directly her own.
What is so great though is how it takes away the normal beat for beat ask of forgiveness storyline from Penny and the suspected joy we’d see from Kady. Instead she’s pissed and scare – terribly human- all playing well into the shows determination in showcasing these characters as wrecked with trauma and relatable fallible.
The same can be said for the Julia and Alice portion of the episode. Alice finally is given a character to play off of who brings out the best in her (sorry Alice) with Julia who, while going through her own continued PTSD, is convinced that she is needed to help Alice with her own. What they learn over a drink is startling, as Julia, with the help of the truth key learns that there’s more of Reynard left on her than she might’ve imagined, much to her horror. She learns that his power is now hers and it’s a way to double down on Julians righteous sense of agency that she’s developed and pairing the two female characters who have been so stripped of it and inhabited by other beings is an inspired choice. This is especially true when you remember both, at certain times, were fated to be the main romantic interest to who we believed would be our main hero in Quentin.
The female characters on the show have always been more than the sum of their parts , moving quickly from romantic interests and walking one liners into fully developed and three dimensional characters who arguably (definitely) are the most powerful on the series. Margo (a standout this year) is doing everything in her might to keep her kingdom together and poison the fairy queen (what a sentence). This is, yet again, derailed, as the fairy queen orders Margo be married to another clan who possess a large army. Upon meeting her betrothed she’s delighted until the weasel of a younger brother kills the eldest, at the wedding no less, all in order to enact the lands tradition of the younger familial member picking up the torch in such proceedings. Watching as Margo grapples with these piling catastrophes while simultaneously dealing with the later realization of the mess Eliot and Quentin have gotten themselves into is reminder of how strong of a presence Summer Bishil is, convincing us of both of the characters stubborn nature and near impenetrable force of will while also hinting at the vulnerability just barely being contained underneath.
The true crux of the hour however lies at the heels of Eliot and Quentin. Having been reunites they’re barely given a moments peace before the next chapter in their epic quest is upon them and they must travel back to Fillory to create the mosaic, a beacon of the utmost beauty reflected on them. Upon their return they are momentarily caught up in euphoria at the magic in the air before realizing they’ve traveled deep into the past. Believing they’ll have a decade to solve the puzzle to lead them to the next key, Eliot and Quentin instead go through a lifetime of happy moments together before they’re able to complete their task.
It’s this thread of a storyline, a mere blip on the narrative thread we’ve crossed thus far, that resonates with the viewer so above and beyond the inherent absurdity of it all and leads to the tremendously moving payoff in the final moments if the episode. It’s the build up to that sun soaked climatic moment which allows it to soar with such a clear, devastating note. We watch Q and El in the early days of their seemingly fruitless task as they grow both increasingly consumed and frustrated with their riddle. We see their highs and lows as they learn to deal with just one another. All of this is backdropped by “Evolve” by Phoria in an inspired musical choice.
In a quietly lovely moment, on their one year anniversary working on the mosaic where they sleep together again (if you’ve forgotten their threesome with Margo in season one). The Magicians has always treated sexuality with a reassuring fluidity and Quentin and Eliot having sex is hardly a blip on on another’s radar though it does compliment the electrifying chemistry that Jason Ralph and Hale Appleman share.
As the montage continues, we watch as further developments take place. Quentin is married to a local village girl and they, along with Eliot, form a family and raise a son (until the wife passes away) and they’re content with their lives. Their son eventually leaves, promising to return, and the proceed with their task, working tirelessly work tirelessly until they’re old men who can only recall their friends in dreams.
Eliot passes away and Jane Chatwin arrives, in need of the very key Quentin has just found after a lifetime of searching in order to defeat her brother, otherwise known as the Beast. Despite his efforts, Quentin sees the need for the greater good and also notes the life he’s built for himself. He’s content and he gives it up, having grown wise enough to realize that his quest isn’t the priority in a world full of conflict.
He passes away and we cut to Margo, on her wedding night, receiving a note from a long passed Quentin, telling her she is the one to continued on the quest and she does leading her back to Brakebills mere seconds before Quentin and Eliot were about to take their fateful journey.
Life is a beautiful, complex and sometimes even simplistic journey. It’s one where we spend so much of our time seeking magic in places it doesn’t exist or beauty in the mundane. “A Life in the Day” argues both that that beauty, that happiness, is all relative, and also, even when your life’s journey doesn’t take you where you expected it to go, the outcome can be just as fulfilling and life affirming as the adventure you thought you’d be setting forth on. There’s humor no doubt and the banter between Quentin and Eliot is as top notch as ever (even Quentin’s “it took us a while” to Jane’s request for the key is golden) but the real soul lies in the empathy it shows for its character and the earnest approach to the passage of time. Director John Scott does marvelous work throughout the episode (the moment Julia learns about Reynard is superb) but the montage is the utmost highlight, a perfect marriage of tone, visuals and expert pacing.
All of this is well and good and lovely but it’s those last moments that strike such a chord. With the music playing in the background as the sun illuminates the throne room, Eliot eats a peach and all of a sudden a wave of deja vu washes over them and they’re able to remember a life that wasn’t ever really truly theirs but another timelines. It’s beautiful, because they can commiserate on a life well spent but equally devastating as they have to deal with what they learned, who they loved and the losses they’ve endured without being able to tangibly hold onto that knowledge, grief or passion. The Magicians, by its nature, has always been a show happy to demonstrate its tongue and cheek humor, and with this weeks episode it pulled off its greatest trick yet in showing its heart.