High King of Fillory Eliot Waugh breaks hearts this week as Hale Appleman shows us his vulnerable side
When The Magicians first introduced us to Eliot Waugh (Hale Appleman), he was the epitome of a self-absorbed playboy with a flair for fashion and fancy cocktails. His interactions were superficial, and he approached everything as if it’s one big party. After all, he did say that
“Becoming me was the greatest creative project of my life.”
Appleman sold us on this Eliot from the very beginning. His tall, slender frame made Eliot’s mostly stylish (but sometimes outlandish) fashion seem like a second skin, and he wore guy-liner as if he has done it his whole life. Every pose and every gesture was intentional, almost as if he expected paparazzi around every corner.
Eliot’s only true companion was his partner-in-crime, Margo (Summer Bishil). She was the perfect foil, someone who saw the world as her personal oyster buffet and wasn’t afraid to say so. Appleman and Bishil played off each other so well you couldn’t convince us they weren’t lifelong friends in real life. There is a push and pull to these two that excites us every time they are on screen.
It wasn’t until later on in season one that Eliot began to show he was more than just a pretty face with a drinking problem. He kills his new BF Mike to save his friends and marrying a complete stranger for a fighting chance against The Beast (Charles Mesure). In both cases, Appleman delivered a performance balanced in vulnerability and strength and made it impossible for us not to sympathize with Eliot.
For someone who loves to talk about himself, Eliot doesn’t really say much
When The Magicians season 2 opened this week, we picked up where we left off from last season’s finale. Eliot and the others are saved from death by godlike Alice, and they must how figure out what to do next. As everyone tries to move on from their failed attempt to kill The Beast, Eliot is weighed down by his impending coronation and assumption of power.
Appleman’s portrayal of Eliot’s ambivalence over his fate is subtle but poignant. Throughout the scenes, we see an Eliot struggling with doubt and despair. He perpetually has a faraway look in his eyes, and he seems more apt to follow than to lead. Appleman keeps Eliot’s movements small and hesitant to reflect his state of mind, and he rarely lets full emotion onto his face. This gives the sense that he’s withdrawn into himself, and it leaves a strong impression on the audience. This Eliot has faced death and understands his role in saving magic, but is unsure if he can stand up to the challenge.
Even when he interacts with the others, we see less of his normally playful manner, even when it comes to his bestie Margo. He no longer demands attention, but chooses to allow others to have their moments. With these small gestures, Appleman reveals a more contemplative side of Eliot, one that will be needed for him to rule as High King of Fillory.
The coronation ceremony reveals the Eliot hiding behind sarcasm and over-indulgence
By far, the best moment from The Magicians‘ first episode of the new season has to be the test with the knight of crowns and ensuing coronation. This is where Appleman really shines, bringing both powerful monologues and touching exchanges to the table. Eliot gets a chance to be himself – every version.
Eliot begins as we often see him – confident and assured. He steps forward readily and addresses the knight in a stance that can only be called regal. When he doesn’t get questions he can answer, he insists that the knight ask him about Patrick Swayze. Appleman has admitted in interviews that he had never seen Dirty Dancing before this scene, but he still performed it with conviction.
When Quentin insists that they officially crown each other, Eliot is equal parts tender and vulnerable. Appleman nails the look of awe on when Jason Ralph awkwardly reveals his admiration for Eliot. As he crowns Margo, the feeling in his voice as he tells her he knows who she is expresses his affection for her. When he crowns Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), the hitch in Appleman’s voice as he speaks and the quick look away from her as he admits to his faults reveals his shame and guilt. The kiss on her hands adds a moment of tenderness that we never would have expected to see out of the Eliot we met on day one.
Although this is a moment in which all the actors gave stunning performances, it is Appleman who carries the scene and sets the tone. The respect Eliot gives the ceremony, coupled with the heartfelt sentiments, allows the other three (and Penny) to follow suit and respond with their own admissions. The four kings and queens, and the actors who portray them, really seem to finally come together, and we are witness to the resulting bond of friendship between the questers.
He has never been surrounded by so many friends while feeling so alone.
Once they finally make it to Castle Whitespire and into the Armory, the group figure out that they must return to Brakebills for answers. This is the final nail in the coffin for Eliot, and his response is heart wrenching and oh-so-him. When Quentin comes to say goodbye, Eliot tries to play it off by resorting to his typical sarcasm before opening up to his friend. The quiet resignation in Appleman’s voice as he jokes about being left behind is hard to hear. The fear in his eyes when he asks about relative time before admitting his belief over never seeing them again pulls at the heart strings. He tries for the casual aloofness he typically wields like an expert, but Appleman makes sure we can see the moment he breaks.
“You know, it’s considered extremely disrespectful to touch the king without permission. But um, I think you should…probably hug me.”
In this moment Quentin and Eliot switch roles, and Ralph is able to play off Appleman’s vulnerability. Quentin becomes the mentor, the one to reassure Eliot, and he takes on the strength that his friend no longer has. This hints at the potential dynamic shift between the pair in future episodes, and gives us a peek at the Quentin that helps save magic.
In spite of a rather interesting first impression, Eliot Waugh has turned out to be a man of complexity and compassion. With Hale Appleman at the helm, we will always root for our favorite wisecracking, cocktail drinking, all-loving High King of Fillory.