REVIEW: The Magicians, S2E5 – Cheat Day

The Magicians ended last week’s episode with Penny (Arjun Gupta) and Quentin (Jason Ralph) asking the White Lady for help, Penny with his hands and Quentin with resurrecting Alice. Instead, “Cheat Day” opens with Quentin getting a free trip home with major drawbacks, and Penny begging Dean Figg (Rick Worthy) for another way to salvage his hands. While Figg can’t do anything for Penny on his own, he offers two choices: go visit the drunken Professor Mayakovsky (guest star Brían F. O’Byrne) for advice or re-enter the real world with no magic like Quentin did.

It’s past time to let Penny be great.

Naturally, Penny opts not to become a soulless business drone and thus winds up pinned to the roof of said igloo. But we do get a glimpse of Quentin’s life at his 9 to 5 job, where he attempts to open a jar of jelly with magic only to receive a mysterious email claiming similar circumstances. After following the boys along their journey together last week, it’s very interesting to see what happens when their paths diverge. Perhaps the most interesting part about Quentin’s plot is how he immediately ran into Emily Greenstreet (guest star Abby Miller), who distracted audiences may not have remembered if not for the helpful ‘Previously On’ section. Even though Alice’s name is not mentioned until halfway through the hour, Emily’s presence keeps her memory at the forefront of the story.

Quentin’s story intertwines with Penny’s when Emily reveals that Professor Mayakovsky is the man she had an affair with, resulting in his exile. They take advantage of their “Cheat Day” and use magic to transform their appearance into lost loved ones, which is incredibly weird. Quentin kissing an Alice clone so soon after her death was perhaps meant to be moving, but instead it came off as disrespectful. Everyone deals with grief differently, though, and thankfully Quentin himself regrets the decision afterward.

Why be cute when you can be creepy?

I personally watch The Magicians for the ladies, so Julia (Stella Maeve) and Kady (Jade Tailor) hold the majority of my attention this week. Unfortunately their story takes an immediate turn for the tragic, with Julia realizing she’s pregnant with Reynard’s child. Considering how flippantly the show sometimes deals with dramatic events, the sensitive tack with which they handle Julia needing an abortion is refreshing.

Her scene at the clinic is heart-wrenching, and it’s impossible not to empathize with her need to just have the nightmare be over. When the doctor suspects abuse, she utters the line “No one is above the law,” which is devastating mostly because of how untrue it is in practice. It’s even more tragic that Julia blames herself for not knowing the difference between magic and miracles, which makes Kady’s support all the more welcome. It’s incredibly rare to hear women talking through the pain of an unwanted pregnancy without needing to talk through the morality of the procedure, and I’m grateful to The Magicians for choosing this path. Sadly Julia’s troubles don’t end there, and she remains trapped in her nightmare after all is said and done.

At the other end of the world – and of the storyline – Eliot (Hale Appleman) learns that his wife Fen (Brittany Curran) is pregnant. The poor girl was expecting a more excited response from her King, but Eliot wouldn’t be Eliot if he conformed to expectations. Of course his lack of enthusiasm has layers of childhood trauma beneath it, which is part of the reason he’s one of the most compelling characters on The Magicians. A murder attempt interrupts Eliot’s dramatic speech and Margo (Summer Bishil) heroically saves the day. The two of them then continue living up to their title of comedic relief, as they’re forced to listen to a series of terrible and snobby suggestions for punishing the would-be assassin.

Kady proves herself a true friend to Julia.

As always seems to be the case, their humorous story winds up being a more serious tale of political insurgency. Margo once again acts as the voice of reason, but this time it’s hard to know who is right. Her power struggles with Eliot are sure to come to a head later on this season, but right now they provide plenty of food for thought. The episode ends with a startling revelation about Fen, so chances are that things in Fillory are only going to get more intense.

“Cheat Day” felt unsatisfying and lacking a conclusion as a whole, but each individual story strand on The Magicians tonight contributed at least one emotionally poignant scene. Hopefully next week will wrap up some plots, like finally giving Penny his magic back, and move others forward. And more importantly, I hope new horrors are not visited on poor Julia.