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Fanservice or Queerbait?

The gang is on the hunt for the next key, but the path to get there might be crawling with hazards… and queerbait.

Recap

Alice goes on a little trip to visit Kady in rehab with the Truth Key so that she can get a glimpse at Penny. Or the astral projection of Penny. But uh, despite the whole wanting to try and bring Penny back to life thing, she’s not too pleased. For some reason. She sends Penny off packing with Alice in tow.

Margot and her courtiers are back at Castle Whitespire, conspiring to poison the Fairy Queen’s bathwater. Queenie has something else in mind though. An arranged marriage between Margot and the prince of some random barbarian tribe. Incidentally, the guests of honor are being housed in the wing of the castle where all the fairy-poison is located. So bang goes that plan. Bending to the Fairy Queen’s will, Margot is a little sweeter on the whole arranged marriage prospect once she actually meets the dude. It doesn’t last long. The prince’s ax-wielding little brother swoops in to chop off his big bro’s head. There’s a convenient little Fillorian tradition that says siblings must take their elder’s place in the case of… unfortunate demise. So looks like Margot’s marrying a homicidal minor now. Cool.

Q and Eliot are holed up in Brakebills trying to crack the next chapter of their own adventure. The Tale of the Seven Keys book paints the next trial taking place at some “Mosaic”. There was just such a Mosaic in the Fillory and Further books, and Quentin has a hunch that Fillory is yet again their next stop. Rather than waiting for the others to return, they try the Illusion Key out on the old Fillory clock that used to be a portal. Bada-bing, bada-boom, it opens up onto Fillory. In the past. Whoops. All might not be lost though. In the books, Jane Chatwin finds the Mosaic already solved. So who’s to say they aren’t the ones to solve it?

Julia gets yet another visit from the entity that likes to pop into people’s bodies and give vague messages about saving her friends. This time the entity seems concerned about Alice. They chat it out over a drink at the bar. Alice, still feeling the loss of magic sorely, prompts Julia to use the Truth Key to reveal why she is the only one with a spark left. What does Julia see when she looks in the mirror, wielding the key? Reynard’s eyes. Immediately, she’s whisked away to an alternate dimension of Our Lady Underground’s making. So I guess now it’s time to talk. You know. About how when she took Reynard’s “god-status” away, she gave it to Julia instead. Gods really do have a problem understanding consent, huh?

Back in Fillory, the Mosaic takes years for Quentin to Eliot to solve. I mean literal years. Like, I mean they literally grow old solving the Mosaic. Quentin gets married. Has a kid. Eliot dies. And then it turns out there was a missing piece to the Mosiac buried in the earth five feet away from them the entire time. Alone, Q unlocks the next Key. Then Jane Chatwin traipses along, on her own quest. She needs the Key to help defeat her brother. You might remember him. The Beast. And though Q must know Jane won’t best her brother Martin, he gives the Key to her anyway.

The solution to their woes? Quentin arranges to have the Illusion Key sent to Margot’s wedding way, WAY in the future. In his letter, he instructs her to get the Mosiac Key off of Jane Chatwin. Who in the current timeline is, of course, dead. From there, Margot is able to stop Q and Eliot before they ever open the Fillory clock. With the Mosiac Key to boot. Quest solved.

Review

It’s not a good feeling, to be a fan of a show which you feel is constantly failing you. I used to sing The Magicians‘ praises. This episode was riddled with the problems which have begun to plague the series as a whole.

Firstly, a lack of consistency in character arcs. Where was Kady coming from this episode? In full disclosure, her suicide attempt after Penny’s death last episode came on so quick and was dealt with so poorly that I failed to even understand that it WAS a suicide attempt. And this from a show that at one point was including trigger warnings after commercial breaks when random tertiary characters offed themselves mid-episode. Her sudden switch from being hellbent on bringing Penny back to her at all costs, to being mad at him for being dead and only a projection was so off that it even came across in the acting. This is an amazing cast, but the writing from this episode — even put in contrast from last episode — was so stale it felt like an entirely different show.

The fan-service. Is. Killing me. No, not in the good way. The writers for Magicians are catering to their fans so hard, they’re practically drooling over themselves. Exhibit A: this tweet.

I think I might be in the minority here. But this out of the blue, not-really romantic subplot with Quentin and Eliot felt hamfisted, false, and completely out of context. I applauded the show, originally, for succeeding where I feel author Lev Grossman might have failed. In the books, Q’s dalliance with Eliot and Margot completely writes off Eliot as a part of the equation. Whereas the show not only embraces the idea of Quentin falling somewhere on the bisexual spectrum, it places significance on the fact that he cheated rather than this “reveal” that he’s bi.

Identifying as bisexual, I thought this was a fantastic use of representation, even if it did coincidentally paint bisexuals in negative light yet again. There has been no lead up prior to this episode, or any inclination that Quentin and Eliot have become attracted to one another again. Quentin’s romantic interest has been split between Alice and Julia. Eliot’s last romance lasted briefly with the King of Loria. I know that there are plenty of people who ship Q and El, and in other circumstances, I would not be opposed to seeing them as a pairing.

But this feels like queerbait, pure and simple. That’s not even to talk about how they don’t actually fall for each other. Quentin ditches Eliot for some random Fillory girl, has a kid with her, and when she peaces out, Quentin and Eliot raise the kid like they were a gay couple this whole time. Without the sex. Even if I was jazzed for this pairing, as a subplot, this whole sequence completely disregards and abuses Eliot as a character. He exists purely to fulfill Quentin’s needs.

And no. The chat between Julia and Our Lady Underground resolves none of the complications from last season. Julia’s jab at Persephone for misunderstanding the meaning of consent is much too little, much too late. You cannot just keep Reynard’s punishment a secret for half a season, so completely out of context.

From the perspective of the viewer, which lines up with Julia’s point of view, Our Lady Underground swoops her rapist son away and does literally bupkis to make matters right. The reaction from Julia? Nothing. Now we’re meant to understand she revoked Reynard’s godliness this entire time, and gave the power instead to Julia? Without her consent? I’m sorry, why are we supposed to be cool with this? Why is Julia so fucking cool with this?

The worst part is, these are the sorts of decisions that could be saved in writing if they were just put into context. But they are not. If Our Lady Underground was set as an antagonist, an amoral god whom Julia once had faith in, this might be a different story. The writers clearly want a lot for this story, but for whatever reason, they’re not putting in the work to earn the moments they keep throwing at us. You can’t make a cake just out of frosting. And now I feel sick.


Images courtesy of SyFy

Shailyn
Written By

Shailyn Cotten is a New York-based novelist, screenwriter, and undergraduate studying film at the School of Visual Arts. If you can’t find her perusing used bookstores, or buying up games in a Steam sale that she likely won’t ever play, you might be able to find her doing something productive, like writing articles for The Fandomentals, creating content for her YouTube channel Shai, or writing blog posts for her website, shailyncotten.com.

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