Welcome back to my weekly coverage of The Magicians. To read past coverage, go here.
While I’ll take a wild guess that real Eliot won’t actually die despite his host body meeting its end at the end of “Plan B” having saved Quentin from a similar death, even the hint of that happening was enough to shake this fan. Eliot has often been the highlight of the series and Hale Appleman is too crucial to the series to kill off so lackadaisically.
Regardless of this moment of narrative anxiety, “Plan B” continues the strong run The Magicians has been on all season but especially since “Cheat Day” by taking a break from the requisite grief and pain that Quentin and Julia are experiencing, respectively, and allowing the whole gang to get back together for a good ol’ bank heist in order to pay for Julia’s expensive abortion and Filory’s war. Playing with classic heist scenarios but placing them on a magical edge means there is extra fun to be had with the episode. Margo gets to be the over eager ring leader, Kady gets to be the muscle and Penny the action hero surrogate as he must levitate in the floor holding all of the gold or else the oxygen will shut down. Throughout all of this the characters are met with impossible decisions-such as leaving Julia behind so she isn’t attacked by an invisible assaliant or Quentin letting niffin Alice to help save Penny at the cost of letting her control his body for an hour a day- and it gives the episode, energetic and silly at moments, a sense of real gravitas.
Here are some thoughts on the episode as a whole.
How much suffering is too much suffering?
“There were complications”.
Of fucking course there were, because it wouldn’t be a Julia storyline if her already boatload of trauma wasn’t puncture with another hole of bad news. Characters suffering, particularly female characters and especially female characters in science fiction series isn’t a new concept, hell, it in and of itself is a trope at this point about how women’s bodies are used to their disadvantage, but Julia’s onslaught of pain and misery isn’t just hard to watch these days, it’s also grown monotonous. The only thing that keeps her storyline from become unbearable is her sense of agency throughout all of it and her refusal to deal with any level of bullshit and her friendship with Kady which was granted her a sense of intimacy with another character so she doesn’t feel like she’s the lone wolf character of the series.
She’s a wonderful character regardless of the hardships she’s forced to contend with, but if we don’t get a moment of complete power or control soon it’s just going to end up seeming like tragedy for the sake of tragedy rather than well developed character suffering.
She’s essentially dead but they finally learned what to do with Alice
I’ve mentioned before that Alice was always my least favorite character on the series, much to my own disappointment. Typically such a strong willed, intelligent and powerful female character would be a favorite of mine but compared to others on the show she just came off as thinly drawn and was performed by an actress that never seemed comfortable with the bumbling and shy character she was given.
It’s wonderful then to see how much Olivia Taylor Dudley thrives as the niffin version of Alice who is power hungry, obnoxious and desperately trying to manipulate Quentin into releasing her from the trap that is his body. I was worried they were going to come up with some sort of hackneyed manner to bring Alice back from death but if we instead just get this version of the character for the rest of the season, that’s something that could open up some wonderful story opportunities.
One of the best parts of season two is….its lead?
I know. What a ridiculous assessment. However, like Alice, in season one Quentin was never a “favorite” character to most fans who watched the show, not when there was Margo, Eliot and Penny to steal the spotlight. While there was charm in how he recognized that he’d never be the real hero of the story he was living, there were far too many colorful characters that were able to douse whatever intrigue he held.
However in season two he has become an absolute highlight and in large part that’s due to Jason Ralph’s performance. I’ve missed a few weeks of coverage so I wanted to make sure I pointed out that his work in “Cheat Day” was phenomenal as he dealt with the powerful grief that was nearly able to take over him. Similarly all of his work done with Alice’s parents gave Quentin extra shades of maturity and now, dealing with the evil version of a girl he loved in his conscious, he’s playing up the easily distracted part of the character with ease. While there was character growth last season with Quentin realizing that Filory was far from the fairy-tale he thought it would be growing up, season two has gone one step further by presenting a version of the character whose grown cynical.
An excellent episode of an excellent season, The Magicians has become an absolute must watch and not simply an energetic source of escapism.