The Magicians‘ epic second season came to a close this week, and the night started off with a voiceover by Ember (guest star Dominic Burgess) recapping everything that’s happened. His narration set the tone for the hilarious-yet-uneasy hour, and the self-awareness of his monologue posits Ember as an audience member enjoying the drama even as he is the architect of the characters’ tragedies. But has he succeeded in causing Fillory’s Last Gasp, as he so dearly hopes?
Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) remains in a depressed and angry state now that she’s been restored to life with her shade intact, and Quentin (Jason Ralph) is doing his best to help her adjust. The shows raises the question of whether or not bringing Alice back was a selfish decision on Quentin’s part, but wisely doesn’t answer it. It’s likely that anyone else would do the same for the person they loved if they could – Alice herself even tried with her brother Charlie – and that makes it hard to judge.
Another character on The Magicians bridging the gap between life and death is Penny (Arjun Gupta), who has developed an aggressive form of cancer after his visit to the Poison Room. While his demeanor remains grumpy as ever, his character development shines through as he remains more focused on helping his friends than on his own fate. Thankfully he’s now got a loving girlfriend who openly admits that she doesn’t want him to die. Of course, Kady (Jade Tailor) decides to seek help from Harriet (guest star Marlee Matlin) and makes a spy out of Penny without his knowledge, so they remain slightly dysfunctional. The fact that she’s willing to fall back on lies and deception to save his life doesn’t take away from the step she took in letting herself love him, and this way he can be alive to forgive her when he finds out.
Reuniting with her shade has brought back all the guilt and trauma that Julia (Stella Maeve) was previously keeping at bay, so she’s in a sorry state when Eliot (Hale Appleman) finds her. Their dynamic brings out a different side to both of them, and having them join forces to save Fillory helps keep both characters from wallowing. Which is good, because Eliot shouldn’t be sad for too long; it’s bad for The Magicians‘ health.
Finally, Margo (Summer Bishil) and Josh (guest star Trevor Einhorn) find Fen (Brittany Curran) in the faerie kingdom, but she refuses to leave without her baby. This story is a bit of a drag on Margo’s usually sharp one-liners and vivacious character, but they meet the Queen (guest star Candis Cayne) who gives them advice on how to deal with Ember. Offer him little cakes! It’s frustrating that they make no progress with Eliot and Fen’s baby, however, as it seems to fall into the same trap as most young adult stories on television. Why introduce pregnancy simply for drama’s sake if everyone knows it can’t end in parenthood?
After these introductory vignettes, the plot kicks into high gear with Penny providing Eliot information on the blank books and the great catastrophe that’s to come, and Kady conjuring a portal for travel before she is forced to say goodbye to her beloved. Quentin goes to see Umber in a last-ditch attempt to make him stop his brother, but he takes our hero on a trip to the most boring world ever as a detour instead. While this story line is on the surface flat, it’s also further commentary on the art of dramatic storytelling itself. Umber has done to Fillory what John McNamara and Sera Gamble have done to The Magicians, and we love them for it even when we’re worried for or angry at the characters. The difference is, of course, that Umber is playing with real lives.
Eliot and Margot’s reunion quickly turns to their usual until Margot hangs a lampshade on it, pointing out that their relationship can’t be the same due to her recent betrayal. It’s a bittersweet moment that highlights why they’re the beating heart of the show. Their pitch to make Fillory more exciting juxtaposes perfectly with the one-dimensional cubic world that Umber offers Quentin as a replacement, and watching the two opposites meet for the first time all season is as thrilling as it is terrifying.
Just as Ember appears to have killed his own brother in a fit of fury, Julia appears to battle him with a sword in hand – and the God power she and Kady received from John. While she doesn’t use it and thus winds up in a choke hold, Quentin ends up giving the killing blow. It’s a reversal of their roles from the previous Magicians finale, and nicely underlines how far their respective journeys have taken them. With the two gods of Fillory dead, the kingdom tries its hand at democracy and Alice gives Quentin a chance at reconciliation.
Lest we think the world is saved, though, Alice reminds Quentin of the dangers of killing a god. No sooner has she said the words than a mysterious “Plumber god” shows up at Brakebills – and everywhere else in the world – and cuts off all access to magic. Suddenly it’s two months later, and Fogg is still teaching students… Only this time the magic is theoretical.
There are several cliffhangers for next season: Alice’s actions as a niffin leave her in danger as a mortal, Fillory is in chaos under Margo & Eliot’s democratic rule only to learn from Fen that the faeries are coming, and Quentin meets with Julia only to learn that she may have the last bit of magic left. The hints for next season are tantalizing, but it’s a shame the cost of saving Fillory was so high. Regardless of the shambles everything is in at the moment, though, every main character experienced a large amount of growth and that alone is satisfying.