Content Warning: this review discusses spoilers and themes of suicide as depicted on the show.
First Key of the Seven Keys? Check! Magic? Still a nope.
The pages might be blank, but Quentin seems to have the Tale of the Seven Keys down pat. He starts going on about this daughter of a knight who gets kidnapped by a witch. The only way to set him free? Find the seven keys, which unlock the castle at the end of the world. The first location the daughter travelled to on this quest? A little place called After Island. As in After Fillory, or somewhere at the ass-end of the Fillorian Ocean. But for Quentin and gang to join Eliot and gang, they’d have to hop on over to Fillory. Might be a tough fix, seeing as magic is still caput. But Mayakovsky had some magic batteries, once upon a time. So maybe if they find them, they can get a jump start. With a little Googling, they find he was last seen at a Hedge Witch bar getting turned into a bear? Yeah, sure.
Eliot’s got his court hard at work scrambling up a ship to sail out to After Island, but the Fairy Queen isn’t too fond of the idea of magic being back. That would make them equals again, no? Eilot gets a tour of his new ship, the Muntjac, which in true Fillory fashion is semi-sentient. In the interest of keeping things under tight control, the Fairy Queen commands Eliot to bring Fen and one of her courtiers along: none other than Frey, Eliot and Fen’s now full-grown child. Time sure does fly when you’ve been kidnapped from birth and forced to grow up in a different dimension.
Meanwhile, Alice is on Lamprey Watch. The vampire from last episode suggested getting a kitten. Apparently they have a sixth sense for the thing. It better work, because the Lamprey’s already gotten hold of a human skinbag to play host for it.
Q and Julia need Kady to get into the Hedge bar, and warily, Kady plays along. A chat with the barkeep reveals that Mayakovsky was with his Brakebills sweetheart, Emily Greenstreet, when the whole bear thing happened. Q pays her a visit, but seeing as she’s been drunk for a week, Emily isn’t exactly forthcoming. All she can confirm is that Mayakovsky was talking with a woman, “someone he owed,” right before he hulked out.
Eliot sets sail for After Island with a tearful goodbye to Margot, who’s staying behind to make sure Fillory doesn’t fall to pieces. Shortly after landing on After Island, Eliot locates the first key. Someone slap a Staples button. But wait, a catch. It’s hanging around the neck of the island’s priest. Said priest and key are the only thing that has been keeping at bay a vicious shadow bat that’s been preying on the villagers. Psych. Turns out it’s just Illusion magic and the priest’s a huge bag of dicks. Once Eliot pieces it together, with some help from maybe-daughter Fen, he turns the dickwad over to the justice of the people. Way to go King Eliot.
Turns out the big magic didn’t stop with Mayakovsky’s shapeshifting bar trick. Weird spells have been popping up all over New York City—a dinosaur at a children’s hospital, sex magic in Central Park—and wherever the whacky crops up, the same woman is always close by. The gang splits up to check it out. At Central Park, Q bumps into Alice and her new cat. Turns out she heard about the magic spikes too, and is searching for the same person. They catch word of the lady in question. Apparently, before she lit out of the park, she talked about finding the nearest tall building to fling herself off of. Yikes. Quentin and gang hightail it to the place in question to find Professor Lipton clinging to the roof. Q tries to talk her down. Turns out she swiped the battery from Mayakovsky. Q pulls her back to safety, but not before she drops the battery.
But hey, turns out there was another battery after all. And Emily had it. Before the gang can get to her, Kady swoops in and steals it for herself. Distrustful of the gang’s motivations, she’s ready to cure Penny first, save magic later. At the hospital the gang checks Lipton into, the Lamprey makes a sudden appearance. Except, the Lamprey is actually invisible, so how do we know this? Because Alice’s cat gets hissy and subsequently explodes of course. Poor cat. You shall be missed. Alice makes a break for it, but that won’t last long. Now it’s Quentin’s turn to get possessed. Hey, it wouldn’t be a season if Q didn’t get possessed at least once, right?
We’re back in step this episode of The Magicians, but honestly, I’m a little conflicted. The show writing has grown into the habit of leaning into cliches, and justifying this by calling them out forthright. As humorous as it is, it does come across as a little lazy. Eliot and Fen’s changeling kid suddenly coming back a full-grown adult? Mayakovsky’s batteries? Being self-aware doesn’t necessarily negate the sin of being overly convenient.
As ever, I have never been married to the source material. But the show has strayed so far from the books’ beaten path that this attempt at getting back to it feels like we’re fighting through thickets with a weedwacker. The problem-solving is quick, it’s messy, and it calls attention to itself.
Still, I’m looking forward to getting to the part where we get the gang back together. I just hope that the majority of the quest takes place on the Muntjac. Quentin’s comment at the very opening of the episode, regarding the fact that the first key is “in Fillory” could possibly hint that the other keys could not be. To be frank, Brakebills and Fillory as locations are what make The Magicians unique. Considering Brakebills is bust with magic, it would seem in due process to focus a little more on Fillory this season.
Like Q and the gang, I’m kind of missing the magic. Half the charm of The Magicians has always been the theme of childlike magic. A return to nostalgia. The power of both the books and the first season lies in the material’s abilities to let us live vicariously through its characters’ sense of wonder. We, the geeks of many fandoms alike, have always dreamt of turning a corner and finding that magic was real. That there’s a place out there were fiction comes to life. This far in, the magic all feels a little jaded.
I’m ready to feel the wonder again. And what better way than by taking us far, far away from the convoluted events of the past season?
Let’s go on an adventure.