Some story momentum achieved for Alice, Julia, and Penny.
Nothing achieved for Quentin, Kady, Eliot, and Margo. And we didn’t even SEE Eliza.
Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting
Still water runs deep…
The Van Pelt fountain is an allegedly bottomless fountain, named after a Dean of Brakebills who died in it. Fifteen students have also died it, one of whom is presumed to have been Charlie – Alice’s brother. Alice is determined to get to the truth of what happened to her brother, at any and all cost. It looks like that cost my be very high indeed for our motley crew of wannabe heroes, as Quentin and Alice clearly embark this episode on something much bigger than they can handle.
Meanwhile, Julia is hanging out in a Santa Muerte bodega, with the ‘magical D leaguers’, her beloved hedge witches. She and Quentin have a rather tense reunion, with Eliot along for the ride (who exhibits suspiciously little surprise that Quentin has a rogue witch friend hanging out in bodegas). Alongside this Margo does some stuff, Penny does some stuff, and Kady struts onscreen for about three seconds in the entire episode.
‘I’m a nothing-mancer. I’m a squat-mancer.’
Some of the storylines seem to be diverging at this point, with Penny seeming like he is about to embark on a classic hero’s journey with the discovery of his rare new talent.
Could they be splitting up the gang? Gasp.
The real action of this episode is the electric confrontation (hehe) between Alice and Charlie, leaving us wondering – how deep does she have to go to fix this now? She’s a phosphoromancer now – maybe she can make him see the light.
Between a rock and a hard place
Julie’s double life is starting to catch up with her. Her one-dimensional boyfriend is wondering where she has been going to, and her magazine-worthy apartment just doesn’t hold the charm it used to for her. She flits off constantly to magically rob ATM’s, try to do new spells and truly devote herself to the fine art of smoking. (You can tell these guys are shady because they smoke. It’s like a cartoon in the 1950’s).
Julia is still a wee bit upset at Quentin for never bothering to tell Brakebills that she is out on the street, all angsty with her magic powers and clear memories of their top secret school, and the pair hurl verbal punches at each other for a while. Their conversation seems to boil down to this: Quentin won’t share his magical fantasyland with Julie because she totally refused to date him that one time.
Not psychotic at all, Q.
Jason Ralph is becoming annoying one-dimensional at this point. The way he speaks doesn’t even change when he’s yelling. His body language never relaxes and he seems incapable of changing his verbal register at all. The fourth episode is often the limits of an audience’s patience when they are considering signing up for a show, and that deadline is approaching fast for poor Quentin and his undeveloped character.
‘With the right guidance, you may safely rise to unknowable heights.’
Julia and her ragged band of thieves are clearly going to become a thing at this point, and it’s encouraging. As this show is ostensibly set in ‘our’ world, in ‘our’ time, the links to the grey, the mortal world might actually help with audience engagement. There is a phenomenon in the real world wherein fans of fantasy literature or movies get deeply depressed because their fictional world isn’t real. What Julia and the other hedge witches feel, their searing isolation and rejection, looks very similar to that phenomenon, and chunks of the audience for a fantasy show will know how they feel – constantly resenting that simply wishing cannot make it so.
All the student housing here is so fashionable it hurts. It like the school was designed by Escher, and then built by Ikea. In contrast, though, over by the Van Pelt fountain the teaching buildings are a strange mish-mash of old sandstone gothic architecture and plate glass modern. It’s kind of nice to see that the entire place isn’t a perfect faerie wonderland of style and grace.
Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw…
Show. Don’t tell.
One of the cardinal rules of a show like this has to be: don’t waste time. Showing the sequence of the students’ talents being determined was a dreadful waste of time. The exact same impact could have been achieved with a simple mention of ‘Oh, I got this result on my talent test.’ There was some inherent humour in Sunderland simply not knowing what to do with Quentin, but if there was one thing we really didn’t need, it was more reminders of Quentin’s fear that he doesn’t belong.
‘The anger underneath, the ineffable air of tragedy you wear like a perfume.’
Margo Vs Alice, the snake and the mongoose – and Emily Greenstreet (above)
Alice glares mistrustfully at Margo from across the room until she finally has to give in and ask the other girl for information about Charlie’s death. It’s not clear what Alice’s problem is with Margo, except that she is suspicious of her. It might be an ‘I was bullied by a girl who looked like you in high school’ issue, or it might be an ‘I’m jealous of anyone who isn’t repressed and miserable’ issue. Whatever it is, she overcomes the feeling and asks the Gossip Queen for help.
Together they go and see Emily Greenstreet, who tells them the upsetting story of how she was involved with a professor (oh the cliché), who was married (so tired), and how she tried to magic herself prettier and instead mauled her own face (ok, that’s new). The scene itself is surprisingly upsetting. Charlie tried to help her by mix and matching magic, and instead he ‘went Niffin’ – meaning the magic took him over, and consumed him until nothing else remained. So… he’s not really ‘dead’ dead. Yay?
Charlie is legitimately creepy. This is a classic horror trick, taking something malevolent and putting it inside the shell of someone that a character trusts. It causes a Harmless Entity to become something frightening, and echoes the fear all people have that someone they love will turn on them (curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal). Alice had been unnerved by Charlie’s presence trying to kill the other two students but chalked it up to spirits getting ‘confused’.
The kooky meditation house Penny is in is very hippie-dippy and I love his silhouette in the filtered light of the window. Penny seems to get a kind of dreamy artistry to his scenes, and the fact that the director (Scott Smith) even thought to differentiate him in that way tells us he’s got some big things coming up in future.
‘Less talking. NO touching.’
Some of what happened this episode felt like the writers chasing their tails. Penny has a new ability but so far our investment in Penny is minimal – he’s mostly annoying. The constant determination to only wear shirts that bare his chest is almost as grating as the amount of effort Kady puts into that Back To The Future hairstyle every morning. (she just needs a colander on her head to complete the look). I imagine their costumes came from a rack labelled ‘2005 Music Festival Outfits’ and they just bought the entire lot. Accessories included.
The set up for next episode is intriguing, however, and the show overall has become more engrossing than I honestly expected it to.
Fountain of Youth(ful mortality)
The fight with Charlie at the fountain finally kicked the show into a higher gear. We now have all the players in place. Julia at the Bodeg;, Quentin nursing his old worries about not belonging anywhere (his talent having been deemed ‘Undetermined’); Eliot moping over Quentin and providing drinks for all; Penny facing his destiny; Kady mostly forgotten about on the sidelines (it’s deliberate. She’s a sleeper agent. Right now, she’s sleeping). The stage is set for the beginning of the escalation, moving he show towards whatever the ultimate showdown is going to be.
The scene itself is well-shot. Charlie standing off to the side, in profile, with all the smoke gently rising off his body is very Gunsling (Stephen King), and you can almost hear the old Western music playing. The peaceful evening setting, the pale lighting, and most of all Charlie’s twisted demeanour are all very much entrenched in classic horror tropes and it works as well here as it does anywhere else.
Obviously, Alice’s only character conflict was never going to be solved prettily in the third episode of the season, but I wasn’t expecting it to go like it did. Now that she can carry her brother around in a teeny tiny coffin, his spirit bound in there good and tight, we’re left with the burning (hehe) question of exactly what she will have to do now to get him out of there again.
Whatever it’s going to be, I’m wincing a little bit at the thought of how far she’ll go – because it will be further than the rest of us would go for our Electric Demon Brothers.
I’m thinking, Electric Charlie vs The Beast. Nobody wins.
QUESTION COMMENTS AND CONCERNS
- Alice puts A LOT of sugar in her coffee.
- Drunk Alice is fun. She is still dressed like a teacher in a porno, but the drunkenness makes her less annoying. She physically relaxes, she actually smiles, and her slightly slurred words are adorable.
- The shot of them sitting, like orphans, outside the party they can’t get into under the huge brick archway is like watching homeless kittens.
- Getting non-drinking girls drunk is a short-cut to character development, a cheat to lowering their inhibitions and having them declare inappropriate feelings. I like it anyway.
- Eliot’s mating books are a bit off-putting. But kind of cute.
The Magicians 103 Review: “Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting”