Well, someone finally did it. The creators of The Magicians have made an adaptation that I actually like even better than the books. The magic (pun intended) formula? No one needs an exact replica of a book onscreen; that’s boring. Make a lot of changes while keeping the spirit and heart of the books the same; it keeps the avid readers guessing and injects a whole lot of fun and mystery into the series. It’s a little funny to me that I’m even saying this, though, considering if you go back to my very first review of episode one, I absolutely hated the show and even regretted signing on to write this review column because it meant that I would have to actually watch the full season.
Fast forward 12 weeks later and the characters have developed beautifully into people I love to watch every week, and the plot arcs are surprising and at times hilarious, terrifying, or heartbreaking—sometimes all in the same episode. The audience is completely immersed into the magical world of hedge witches, Brakebills, and Fillory, and the writers continue to come up with interestingly weird fantastical elements that take hold of your imagination: Last week used acid carrots while this week includes the guzzling of ram semen to become more powerful. It’s all in the little details.
This episode, interestingly enough, starts with Quentin narrating his own Fillory book complete with chapter titles. He and Julia have entered Fillory in the past, but through an encounter with The Watcherwoman (also Jane Chatwin), they are able to fast-forward to the present and meet up with everyone else. Before they go, they set in motion the creation of a moonstone knife that will be powerful enough to kill a god. To do so, they promise to supply an Earthling king and queen of Fillory in return for the knife, and The Watcherwoman is able to sense a memory patch in Julia’s mind covering up an extremely traumatic experience. (Uh oh—I’m starting to think I was right to feel a sense of dread about Julia’s experience with the goddess last week.)
Once everyone is reunited in Fillory, the change in scenery is apparent. The Beast’s rule has taken all the beauty from Fillory and replaced it with darkness, cold, and trash. They track down the knife maker who does indeed have the god-killing knife, but for a price. Only one of them is worthy to be king of Fillory, and whomever that is must marry his daughter so she can be queen. This, strangely enough, turns out to be Eliot. And in Fillory, once you are married, there is no leaving Fillory ever again and no other partners either.
This seems to go against every fiber of Eliot’s being, but he seems eager for the change even as he and Margo share a tearful goodbye conversation. I know that Eliot’s sexual orientation is pretty fluid, but he does seem to be more into men than women, so why marry him to a woman for the rest of his life? I’m interested to see how that works out because the only woman he should ever spend the rest of his life with is obviously Margo, not some Fillorian blacksmith girl he just met.
During the wedding, Penny gets so bored that he astrally projects to the dungeon so he can try to figure out where it is and save the girl who has been calling to him for help. After the wedding, they go to the dungeon and save her, but there’s another captive being held there as well, the author Christopher Plover, and while it is apparent that he is a disgusting child predator, he’s not The Beast.
Martin Chatwin is.
Martin has been drinking from the wellspring, the source of all magic, every night, which is depleting it (that explains why Fillory has lost so much of its magical luster) and it has been taking away Martin’s humanity. I guess too much of a good thing steals your soul and makes you evil. Once again, don’t mess with magic—too much of it can overwhelm and change you fundamentally, like turn you into a niffin, or turn you into an evil villain and make your head be covered with moths.
The gang is totally ready to go fuck Martin Chatwin’s shit up, but it turns out that no one is a powerful enough magician to hold the god-killing knife; it burns their hands every time they touch it. Solution: track down Ember and Umber, the gods of Fillory, for help.
Quentin and Julia go together and are able to find Ember, and this is where Quentin really comes into his own as the anti-hero. Ember is a little, as Quentin would put it, “out of touch.” Umber has been killed by The Beast and Ember has stayed in this cave in hiding for years it seems. Quentin lets Ember know that he’s “being a whiny bitch” and just letting The Beast take over without doing anything. If Quentin calls you whiny, then you must seriously have some issues because we all know that Quentin is the whiniest of whiners there is.
That is, until this episode when he seems to grow a backbone and start making tough decisions. He volunteers to kill The Beast, and in a great moment, Ember asks Quentin if he is the champion they’ve been waiting for. Quentin’s response: “I want to be. I’m ready to be. I’ll do whatever it takes.” Ember responds with, “only the best and the purest can face The Beast,” and when it is revealed that Quentin cannot touch the knife, Ember gives him his “essence” aka semen, for Quentin to drink so he can be infused with god-like power. Later it is revealed that wanting to be a hero doesn’t necessarily mean you’re meant to be one, and maybe doing whatever it takes includes stepping aside for someone better than you to take your spot.
As they are leaving, Ember stupidly takes away Julia’s memory patch and she later tells Quentin what actually happened to her and her friends when they called who they thought was the goddess, Our Lady Underground. They actually accidentally called Reynard the Fox, the trickster god, who immediately ripped out Richard’s heart, embodied him, slit the throats of her three other friends, and then threatened to kill Cady next. Julia, in an effort to save Cady, puts herself between her and the god, and in a horrible and hard-to-watch scene, he rapes her while Cady escapes.
This scene, while absolutely disturbing, was incredibly well done. There was nothing funny or tongue in cheek: It stared at the rape head on and showed how ugly and traumatic the experience was for Julia, and Stella Maeve’s performance was incredible. I had a sick feeling in my gut during this scene because of the pain Julia experienced and the realization that she would have to live with the aftermath; she was the one who spoke to the “goddess” and put them all in that situation to begin with; the guilt and shame she must feel along with the desire for revenge against Reynard for killing her friends and raping her must be overwhelming.
The writers take Julia’s rape seriously and portray it with the respect that a scene like that deserves, showing the horror and Julia’s reactions afterward as she, sobbing and in shock, attempts to clean up the blood on her floor. We find out that she called Marina for help afterwards, and in a turn of character, Marina quickly comes to her aid. What happened to Julia is so horrible that even Marina, the baddest bitch who doesn’t care to kill someone with the snap of her fingers, is shocked and sympathetic, and she agrees to patch Julia’s memory so she won’t have to remember what happened to her.
But now this memory patch has been removed by Ember and we have a much different Julia than the Julia of the previous episode who was filled with love and light after a healing experience with a goddess. Now we have the traumatized Julia who will have to come to terms with her friends’ murders and her rape, and I don’t think we’ll fully know what that Julia looks like until next season. Sera Gamble, one of the executive producers, said in an interview that Julia’s rape will be a big part of her story next season and will be dealt with head on instead of pushed to the side, and I respect that choice to tackle such a tough topic and try to do justice to that aspect of Julia’s story.
We also are left to contend with the idea of magic and its true purpose once again. When Julia said that magic was meant to “fix things” in the last episode, she only said that because of a faulty memory. Just when we start to get a positive representation of the power of magic, this depiction is horrifically destroyed and shown to be false. Once again, magic seems to have more power to harm than heal.
As Julia is left coming to terms with the memory of what actually happened the night they tried to call the goddess, there’s still the problem of The Beast to contend with. Quentin and Alice have a cathartic conversation where Quentin admits that he doesn’t truly feel that he is the “chosen one” to kill The Beast. He tells Alice, “You’re a better magician and a better person, and I think if he [Ember] had met you, he wouldn’t be so sure it was me. I want it to be me, I do, but the adult part of me, the part that understands how magic works, keeps screaming at me that it’s you.” Quentin feels that this is the moment that his whole life has been leading up to, but as he’s put into the reality of being a hero, he realizes the truth. He’s NOT a hero. He’s NOT good enough.
And by knowing when to step aside, he does the truly heroic thing that may end up saving their lives. Quentin decides that Alice should be the one who holds the god-killing blade, which means Alice has to be the one to imbibe Ember’s semen. Yum. In a tension cutting moment, Margo gets to deliver the killer line to Alice right before she chugs the jar of Ember’s “essence,” “C’mon hun, pretend it’s prom night and you just want to shut him up.” As Alice’s eyes glow for effect, she’s able to pick up the knife and they head out to the wellspring to track down Martin Chatwin, aka The Beast. It’s now or never.
They walk into the shack that Martin goes to every night and realize it’s in the form of the writing room where Martin was abused by Plover all those years ago, showing the depth of his own trauma, as even as he becomes inhuman, he still can’t erase what Plover did to him from his mind. The Beast, played by Charles Mesure, finally reveals his face and he is still just as terrifying without the moths. It’s even more ghastly to see the man behind the moths and realize that it’s someone who looks like a perfect English gentleman who has been perpetrating such evil. Quentin tries to stupidly stall with a card trick, but The Beast wreaks havoc on everyone as Alice goes for the knife but can’t find it. He knocks out Eliot and Margo, he makes Alice start to bleed out, and in a graphic scene, he cuts off Penny’s hands.
In a twist, Julia places the knife at The Beast’s throat- just as the semen that Alice drank from Ember made her more powerful, the semen from the god who raped Julia has made her more powerful as well. I’m still not sure how I feel about the fact that for Alice and Julia to become more powerful, they have to take in semen. What is the message behind that? But anyway, instead of immediately killing The Beast, Julia sees a route to revenge, telling Martin, “You killed Umber, and you trapped Ember. You know how to deal with gods. You know how to fuck their shit up.”
The season ends with Julia and The Beast in the midst of making a deal so Julia can get revenge on Reynard the Fox, Alice dying of blood loss, Eliot and Margo passed out in the corner, Penny screaming next to his chopped off hands, and Quentin crying and whimpering in the corner.
Now, that’s how you do a cliffhanger. Everyone is in equal danger and we have to tune in next January to see who survives the ultimate showdown with The Beast. Am I disappointed that we don’t know exactly what happens with the “big bad” of this season? Well, yeah. But I’m so looking forward to the premiere of Season 2 to get the resolution we’re all craving, and it just sets it up so that the beginning of season 2 is guaranteed to be amazing. In the meantime, I’ll just tide myself over by re-reading the books and being a total fangirl by following all of the actors on every social media they have. Pro-tip- Arjun Gupta who plays Penny responds to every single tweet that he receives, trust me I’ve followed him enough to know. See ya, next season, hedge witches!