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Magicians Without Magic?

Shailyn

Shailyn

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.
Shailyn
Content Warning: this review discusses spoilers, character death, and themes of sexual assault as depicted on the show

The season finale is here. Ember is on his wrecking ball, and Fillory’s the target. Is this the end of magic as we know it?

Recap

Alice is still having trouble adjusting to her new human life. She’s been playing a little too closely with fire, trying to remember that Niffin magic. Quentin’s forced to give her a no-self-harm potion to keep her from burning herself.

At Brakebills, Penny is alive, but only for the moment. His trip to the Poison Room has left nasty magical consequences. We’re talking magical spine cancer, here. The Brakebills staff might be able to find a cure, but in the meantime, he and Kady have some errands they need to run. Penny Travels them to Mayaovsky’s, where Eliot, Quentin, and Alice are still holed up, now with the magic Fillory clock. Turns out, Penny read some pages out of Eliot’s book, or what pages were left anyway. The last 20 pages were blank, just like everyone’s last 20 pages are. Eliot knows that this magic apocalypse has to be somehow related to Ember. He’s going to have to go off-script if he wants to save Fillory.

Just as fast, POOF! Penny’s been summoned to the Library. Looks like you don’t get sick days when breaking into restricted areas at work, which happens to be exactly how you got sick in the first place. The Head Librarian Zelda is all in a tizzy. They know something big is about to go down, and they’re trying to prepare for it. Before the word “goodbye” can barely be uttered, Kady is Apparated back to Earth. Penny-less.

Eliot makes a pitstop at Julia’s place only to find that she’s not taking having her Shade back too well. With her soul now intact, the flashes of trauma from Reynard’s assault have only grown stronger. Eliot needs her god-invisibility amulet in order to help out with the Ember problem, but he’s not leaving without her too. Julia could use a little help. And Fillory needs a lot of help. Why not kill two birds with one stone?

Where have Margo and Josh been this entire time? Well, they found fairyland, and it turns out it’s just another dimension sitting directly on top of their own castle. Breaking out Fen is a bust. She won’t leave without her baby. Plus, turns out the Fairy Queen already knows they’re in the castle, and she wants an interview. Margo tries to bargain for Fen’s baby, but it’s a losing battle. In the interest of letting them put a stop to Ember, the Queen is inclined to release them. Complete with a gift of what is basically catnip for gods, Margo and Josh are ready to go on their way. But not without paying the tithe.

After giving Quentin a little pep talk, Eliot travels back to Fillory to transform King Idris from rat to human. A royal tantrum is thrown by Prince Ess when Eliot kicks him off the throne, but at least Eliot and Idris get a kiss goodbye before it’s down to business. One millisecond later, Margo and Josh have popped back into existence, but it looks like they’ve left something behind. Margo’s right eye. The price she paid to exit the fairy realm. There’s no time to process. They have a party to plan. For a ravenous god.

As per Eliot’s instructions, Quentin has been sent to parlay with Umber back in Canada. Still as stubborn as before, Umber would rather give him a tour of his new pocket world — “Cuba” — than save Fillory. The place is very… Matrix.

In Fillory, the party’s on, and Josh has baked the god-catnip into little cakes. Ember takes the lure, but between stuffing his mouth with sweets, Eliot is unable to sway him into keeping Fillory. In fact, he decides now is as good a time as ever to take a sledgehammer to it. As Ember is bringing the whole place down, Julia appears on the scene – holding Umber’s snowglobe of a pocket world. She releases Quentin and Umber from Cuba, and they spill out into Fillory. The brothers are reunited.

Until Ember murders Umber.

Yeah, he’s not too happy to find out a) Umber faked his death, and b) the bargain Umber made with the Beast for his life was Ember’s banishment.

All according to plan. Julia imbues a sword with Umber’s dying essence, and tag teaming with Quentin, they run Ember through. So ends the reign of gods in Fillory.

Free will, am I right?

Wrong.

In reconnecting with Alice after his god-fight, Quentin gets a little taste of Niffin knowledge. All gods have parents. And the old gods are a thousand times more cruel than the antics of Ember and Umber. They want payback. So they send “The Plumber”.

Not Mario. But a magical entity which starts popping into existence all over the place — Fillory, the Library of the Neitherlands, Brakebills — and shuts off the magic. Not to mention that the fairies seem to have used this to their advantage and turned up right on Castle Whitespire’s doorstep. With an army.

Two months later, still no magic. Quentin and Alice are still at Brakebills. Learning magic, but unable to cast it.

Taking a break from law school, aka dropping out again, Julia visits Quentin at Brakebills. She has something to show him. Julia still has a spark of magic left in her. The only spark left on all of Earth.

Review

As if in tandem with all that happened with Julia and Reynard in last week’s episode, nothing stuck its landing in the Season 2 finale. Big things, huge things, happened, and didn’t seem to phase our main characters. Not to mention the second weirdly placed timeskip to happen this season.

In the aftermath of “Ramifications” (02×12), Kady is still pissed and Julia, traumatized. Are we expected to understand that her choice to spare Reynard’s life was due to her soulless-ness? It’s hard to swallow, especially considering there’s just no mention of it. It just gets glossed over. This huge thing that was the focus for this entire season after Martin Chatwin bit the dust and it’s dropped? It makes the decision seem like it came lightly, which doesn’t do the situation justice whatsoever.

Then let’s take a look at Margo, who literally lost an eye. One scene later, she’s bedazzled an eyepatch, and it’s like everything is good as new. One would tend to think that losing an eye to the fairies might be, oh I don’t know, just a tad bit traumatic? Margo is tough, not a psychopath. Everything we’ve been getting this season has been working towards Margo becoming a more empathetic person, a huge bit of character growth.

To have her gloss right over a significant loss takes the punch out of it even happening in the first place. Becoming disfigured and debilitated is a big deal. Instead, it’s treated like it’s just a fun set piece. Margo in a rhinestone-encrusted eyepatch. Ooo, how badass.

I guess the guys were hogging all the character growth for the finale. Eliot’s taken some huge strides from the strung-out addict he used to embody. He’s begun to truly resemble a benevolent and incredibly competent king. The kind of king Fillory needs and deserves. And Penny has become quite selfless in all his adventures. I just wish that our last time with Penny this season wasn’t, like, watching his half-conscious body being carried out by the Head Librarian, with the Plumber on the loose.

I do find the discovery that it wasn’t Ember and Umber who would be responsible for all magic dying interesting. In trying to stop Ember and Umber from destroying Fillory, Quentin and the Brakebills gang caused what they were trying to prevent. Hence the 20 blank pages. No magic equals no spell which can write the contents of people’s lives into a book at the Neitherlands Library. What a great reveal, and a fascinating turn of events for Quentin. Not that the show takes time to talk about that revelation. It just moves on straight to the next thing.

That’s the weirdest thing to me. The second time skip.

It was one thing to essentially split the big battle from the first book into two different battles: the one at the Well Spring in the Season 1 finale (01×13), and the one just outside it in “Divine Elimination” (02×03). That was weird in its own right. Not only because this is the kind of big moment that finales are made for, but also because in essence “part two” came literally only three episodes later, which stunted that arc. But this whole episode kinda felt like getting to the end of the book and then getting to read the excerpt at the back from the next in the series. A one-two double anticlimactic punch.

Reynard doesn’t get ganked, just gently pulled back into the Underworld by his darling mommy. Ember and Umber get ganked. But so does magic. Only not really. Julia still has some. So don’t worry. I’m sure it’ll be back in an episode or two.

I’m getting a little concerned that we’re getting into Supernatural territory here. The show has become way too ambitious for its own good. The addition of threat after threat begins to wear down until eventually every enemy has lost its punch. It’s the Michael Bay-effect. The Beast plus Reynard the Fox plus the fairies plus Ember and Umber plus magic apocalypse equals…?

No shits given. You become desensitized to it. This is the mistake of shows that worry they won’t be able to play the long con, or just don’t think to do it. They play all their cards in the first round, then fizzle out.

What did you think of this season’s finale? Over the top? Underwhelming? Will you watch the next season?

Me? I wait for the next season not with baited breath, but with great concern. But I’m waiting nonetheless.


Images Courtesy of SyFy
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  • Line Boye Danielsen

    Thank you for writing this!! I too found this season finale underwhelming and I can only agree with your concern. I haven’t read the books (but something tells me that I for once should be glad I didn’t beforehand?) but them glancing lightly over all the shit happening in the end of this season seems… Odd? Just odd. And the sudden introduction of a Another Great Evil seems like they’ve just come up with it during the season’s hiatus in lack of better ideas.

    I will watch season 3 but it’s not like I’m gonna count the days until it airs..