It’s difficult to convey sincerity in a manner that feels rich and honest. With modern television (a lot of it at least), an earnest moment will often be cut down by a biting remark mere moments after. Sincerity is a token of cheese – it makes for schmaltzy and broad storytelling when crafted by an inept or lazy storyteller. But in the hands of a writer who understands how to utilize that sincerity as a weapon – to catch the audience off guard and further pull them into the show’s orbit, well, then the outcome can be purely magical.
Such has been the case with so much of season three of The Magicians, which, even amid the chaotic mess these characters have found themselves in, has stopped to take the time and appreciate the heart at the center of the series. Said heart is unabashedly present, and while the show can still take time to explore the supernatural, the enslavement of fairies, trauma and the pains of growing up and realizing adulthood doesn’t arrive with the ease childhood may promise, they never fail to realize that at its core, it’s a show about those who feel lost and what ultimately tethers them to reality.
It’s the people they surround themselves with and the makeshift family that’s come from it. They’re splintered and broken and without hope, but when they have a moment to come together – in song no less – it allows them a moment of reprieve,. It all centers on Josh, the character they’ve left behind, who’s found himself in a purgatory of his own making. There’s a moment where Quentin, Alice and Kady are given an exit – one quite literally lit up in neon lights – and they realize their quest here isn’t just to escape a 24-hour party house. It’s also to remain, fight the musical zombies through song, and rescue their friend from once again being left behind as they move forward in their adventure. A character who at times is allotted for little more than pot jokes, he is still critical to the overall quest.
As we’ve learned in the past, all of these characters’ actions have consequences. This ranges from the obvious one where the group’s apathy for Josh leads them to a challenge they need to overcome to Margot’s treatment of the sentient boat a few episodes ago ultimately being what saves her and Eliot from an eternity of painful death. Julia’s slow recognition (and mild acceptance) of her powers is what turns back time to save the fairy from dying from the inside out for using magic, and Frey’s distrust of them is very clearly born from the loss of her daughter. No character is acting on any sort of convoluted or makeshift motivation tailored specifically to the episode at hand. They’re so wondrously constructed that each decision they make is built off a specific moment in their past.
It’s what makes their rendition of “Under Pressure” so affirming and delightful to watch play out. All of them are caught up in dire circumstances, and in this momentary blip of time, united, they have a nudge of hope. Even the way the the lyrics are delegated from Alice and Quentin’s “give love” refrain to Eliot’s line about a family being torn apart to Julia’s build on “it’s the power in knowing” is purposeful and fitting with the characters.
It may not have been the full-out musical episode we might have anticipated (and who knows, maybe season four will deliver wall-to-wall musical numbers), but with a climatic moment as satisfying as “Under Pressure,” it’s hard to ask for more.
As season three of “The Magicians” backs it ascent to its final few episodes of the year, their achievements glow ever brighter in how they’ve continuously fractured storytelling, rebuilt it and surprised us once again. It’s always a pleasure to anticipate just what they’ll catch us off guard with next.